ray trygstad:


The Next Voice You Hear...

By Ray Trygstad
A Sermon for June 6, 1999
Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville, Illinois, USA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

In 1998 an anonymous client hired an advertising agency in South Florida to put up a series of billboards. The billboards were stark and plain: white text on a black background. These billboards were unusual in that they did not advertise a product—they simply contained a brief, one or two–line quotation with a single name as the author: God. They were so popular that the entire advertising campaign was picked up last May as a public service campaign by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.

Let me read you the lines as they appear on the billboards:

  • Let's meet at my house Sunday before the game.
  • C'mon over and bring the kids.
  • What part of "Thou Shalt Not..." didn't you understand?
  • We need to talk.
  • Keep using my name in vain, I'll make rush hour longer.
  • Loved the wedding, invite me to the marriage.
  • That "Love Thy Neighbor" thing... I meant it.
  • I love you and you and you and you and...
  • Will the road you're on get you to my place?
  • Follow me.
  • Big bang theory, you've got to be kidding.
  • My way is the highway.
  • Need directions?
  • You think it's hot here?
  • Have you read my #1 best seller? There will be a test.
  • Do you have any idea where you're going?

And finally the one that seems to be everyone's favorite:

  • Don't make me come down there.

Wouldn't it be nice if God spoke to us from billboards? And we wouldn't have to figure out his will for us, because He would give us regular updates on exactly what he wants? Wouldn't it be great if He would just talk to us?

Actually, that's the theme of another pop-culture icon: The 1950 movie, based on a novel by George Summer Albee, called The Next Voice You Hear. In the movie, James Whitmore plays Joe Smith, a blue–collar family man and an all–around "average joe", and Nancy Davis—whom you might recognize better by her current married name, Nancy Reagan—plays his pregnant wife. Frustrated in his airplane factory job and stressed by the day-to-day routine of his mundane life, Joe's just too busy to stop and consider what he's really doing with his life and with his relationships with his family and friends. The Smiths, their relatives, neighbors and in fact, everyone on Earth are shaken out of their complacency when God Himself begins speaking to them over the radio. For six nights in a row, the Voice of God speaks over the airwaves (by the way, the movie audience never hears the voice, thanks to a series of clever evasive tactics). After an initial response of fear, the radio audience gradually realize that God just wants them to hear anew His age-old message: "Love Your Neighbor." With this realization comes several changes of attitude; some are minor while others are profound. And who wouldn't find hearing the actual Voice of God a life—changing experience?

Samuel certainly did! In the Old Testament, it sometimes seems as though God had direct conversations with all kinds of folks. God had one–on–one conversations with Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and Isaiah and Jonah and the prophets; it looks like everybody who was anybody got to hear from God directly. We compare the Old Testament notion of God who speaks with a real voice to people in visions, and indeed in ordinary, everyday situations; and we conclude that God is not as close to us anymore, that somehow God does not work in the same ways anymore. Whereas the pages of the Old Testament are brimming with people to whom God has spoken with a real, undeniable voice, the world today does not seem to know many such occurrences at all. If someone says today that God talks to them personally, we usually lock them up; the noted psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas Szasz of the Department of Psychiatry at Syracuse University has said—in a sarcastic vein, I might add—"If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia".

But God does talk to us. A third grader in East Sussex, England wrote this lovely poem about just how to hear the Voice of God:


Listen to....
The grasshoppers breathing,
The sea Creaking,
The music softly playing
And you will hear the voice of God.

Listen to....
The gerbil fidgeting,
The snow falling,
The cheerful cricket
And you will hear the voice of God.

Listen to....
The busy buzzing bee,
The soft velvet butterflies wings,
People whispering
And you will hear the voice of God.

Listen to....
clothes drying in the wind,
Tears falling,
Ears hearing
And you will hear the voice of God.

God does talk to us. Randall Caselman tells us that God not only blesses us with this ability to communicate with one another, but also with Him. We talk to Him in prayer and He speaks regularly to us in at least three ways:

Through nature. The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

Through Divine providence. He brings people and situations into our lives which provides us with guidance and opportunities, to serve and share the gospel.

And through His inspired Word.

Nature tells us God is.

Providence gives us opportunities.

The Bible tells us how to have a salvational relationship with Him.

Actually in the days when God spoke directly to the young boy Samuel, we're told it was not very common then, either. The first verse of First Samuel 3 says: "The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread". In Today's English Version, it reads "... there were very few messages from the Lord, and visions from him were quite rare. " Samuel certainly never expected to hear from God directly; even Eli, who had spent his life as a priest, did not expect it, resulting in the little comedy routine we heard in verses 4-8 with God calling Samuel and Samuel rushing out to ask Eli why he had called him. Even then it took Eli a while to catch on to what was happening, because, quite simply, the words of v. 1 were more true than we initially realize: "the word of the Lord was rare in those days..." In other words, this kind of thing didn't happen every day and may have been a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for Eli well as for Samuel! So we find that this story may have a lot more to do with us than it would appear at first glance. Like Samuel and Eli, we go though life not expecting God to speak to us. But what if we were suddenly the subject of one of God's conversational urges? How could we be prepared to hear the voice of God?

We've already established that it's pretty unlikely that God will speak to us directly, but after all, He is God and we certainly can't rule out the possibility. It is far more likely that we will hear Him speaking to us though his Holy Spirit in a voice in our heart calling us to do His will, or through His Word as revealed to us in the Bible. Regardless of how God does choose to speak to us, how can we know we will be ready; and perhaps even more importantly, how can we be sure we will not miss the significance of what He has to say to us? We don't want to miss His call, as Samuel nearly did by thinking it was Eli calling him.

Eli was prepared because he took three important steps, steps that we can take as well.

First, where was Samuel when God called him? In God's House. Just as Samuel bedded down in the Tabernacle of God, we must spent time in His house to truly know Him. Zeke Moore tells us

"If I am frustrated because I feel that I need guidance and direction from God, and I cannot seem to hear any word from God, I cannot seem to sense any evidence of his Spirit guiding me; and yet at the same time I have not been spending adequate time in God' s house, worshiping him and seeking to study and apply his Word, then I have no right to complain! Do we have the right to expect, even demand, that God speak to us and give us guidance and comfort, when we are not willing to commit ourselves to worshiping God in his house? The first step in preparing to hear God speak is: We must spend time in God's house! "

The second step Samuel took was to seek the advice and counsel of God's servants. He went to Eli and asked him what he must do. Just as Samuel went to speak to Eli, even when his news was bad news, we must speak with our fellow servants of God. Even if is only to lighten our load by sharing the knowledge of our burden with others , it can prepare us for more serious burdens. Again, Zeke Moore says:

"If you sense that God may be trying to speak to you, but you are unsure of what to do with the words: Seek the advice [of others]! Don't be afraid to "share your burden"—for a load that is a burden when carried by one person becomes surprisingly light when carried by two or three. Don't be afraid to admit that you don't have all the answers yourself—no one has. "

Finally, the third step in Samuel's preparation was to submit to God. Just as Samuel did,

"So must we approach God with an attitude of submission; that is, we must be willing to do whatever God might require of us. If we decide now that we are going to "pick and choose" what we will do in service to God, then we more than likely will never hear the voice of God speak to us in any way—because we are not truly listening for it! We must stand before God even before he ever begins to speak, and say up front, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening...' ...Follow the example of young Samuel: Commit to spending time in God's house—not empty, shallow time, but rather time of genuine worship and genuine desire for learning. Seek advice from the other servants of God around you; don't be afraid to share your 'burdens' with others! [And] submit completely to God, letting him set the agenda for you. "

Next Tuesday evening several of us will wrap up our nine months of Disciple Bible Study. In Disciple I have learned the relationship of the words Disciple and discipline. I have learned how God spoke to men in ages past. I relearned that when God spoke His word, His Word was incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ, who removed the barriers of sin and God's condemnation to for those who believe in His Resurrection, and opened the fountain of God's boundless love for us. And I have truly learned that God does still speak to us, through reassurance in times of prayerful reflection, through the pages of His Word, and through His servants among us today.

I hope and pray that as I stand before you hear today, my words will enable you to hear the Voice of God speaking to you in your own life. Worship Him, uphold each other as His servants and listen by submitting your will to His, and you will hear Him. Not from a billboard or on the radio, but He still does speak to us. God speaks His Word, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Let us pray: O God of power and ultimate love, we ask you to grant us the patience and strength to be your servants as Samuel was, to hear Your Voice when You call us, and to be ready to respond to Your call in love and humility. We pray this in the Name of Your Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Copyright 1999 Raymond E. Trygstad; all rights reserved. May be copied and distributed freely in its entirety if accompanied by this statement.

Copyright 1999 Ray Trygstad, Naperville, Illinois
Email: trygstad@trygstad.org
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