We Can’t Hear You: When God Whispers

Written by Josh Hodges:

On September 14, 2001, President George H. W. Bush stood atop the rubble of what had been the World Trade Centers. With one arm around an NYFD fire fighter and the other hoisting a bull horn, President Bush began to address the crowd. Somewhere off camera, a distant voice can be heard crying out, “I can’t hear you!” President Bush quickly responds, “I can hear you! I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” The crowd erupted with cheers, and began chanting “USA! USA! USA!” It was an emotional scene. The video still elicits strong emotion when I watch it.

Recently I began studying the book of Jeremiah. The book begins by recounting the calling experience of Jeremiah.

“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.’” – Jeremiah 1:4–8

This entire scene and conversation are significant but I want to draw your attention to the last three words: “declares the Lord.” This is one of my favorite passages. The Lord has used it to confirm His calling in my life. As long as I can remember when I read this passage, even silently to myself, my tone of voice changes when I read those three words. “Declare” is strong language and “declares the Lord” is even stronger. When I read “declares the Lord,” I imagine God situated like President Bush above the crowd, or at least above Jeremiah, with bull horn in hand pronouncing to Jeremiah that he has been appointed to a special task. There is no way he could miss it, not hear it or mistake it as something else.

The Hebrew word from which we translate declare is “ne’um. It is often defined as utterance or to whisper. Suddenly it dawned on me. God wasn’t screaming at Jeremiah through a bull horn. Jeremiah was in such proximity to the Lord that He need only to whisper to communicate His plans for Jeremiah’s life. I’ve sat with this passage for many days now. It reminds me of John 10 where Jesus says His sheep know His voice and 1 Kings 19 where Elijah hears the still small voice of God. I long to walk so closely with the Lord that He need only to whisper to me. I want to be so familiar with the voice of the Good Shepherd that I don’t question if it was Him speaking to me. I’m certainly not there yet but I’m hopeful that the Lord is improving my hearing.

If I’m being honest, that has not always been the case. I’ve spent much of my life like the man off camera screaming at President Bush, “I can’t hear you!” I wanted to hear from God, I needed to hear from God, but there was just too much distance (not for God but for me). I like many Christians hoped for a miraculous sign, a booming voice from heaven, words written in the sky, something, anything! In reality it was more than just distance. It was all that stood between me and God: my sin, relationships, desires, work, school, family, friends, hobbies, finances, ambitions, pursuits, pride, etc. I wanted to hear from God but I was unwilling to remove the obstacles in my way of drawing nearer to God. Even if there was a desire to remove those things, it was too difficult.

This may be the case for many believers today. It’s easier to scream at God, “I can’t hear you!” than it is to do the hard work of removing barriers in our lives that keep such distance between us and God. Too many times believers earnestly desire to hear from God, but settle for their own best judgement. We pray, we ask, but we get no response. In faith we use our own logic and reason and God might bless it. If not, we tried. What a pathetic way to go through life as a Christian. We label our best guess as faith and call it good. Wouldn’t you rather hear from the Lord? Maybe try inching closer. Maybe instead of waiting for something miraculous in a moment of need, try cultivating a relationship that can only develop through proximity. Try positioning yourself so close to the Lord that the moment He begins to utter even a syllable in your direction, you hear it. Then when He whispers, it’s deafening!