Why God's Voice Matters.
Faith without God’s voice is like food without salt - it’s missing the very ingredient that provides it flavor.
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I had the privilege of once living in one of the world’s great food cities. I certainly don’t miss the Chicago winters, but I deeply miss Chicago food. Just the thought of Portillo's, Georgio’s, or JJ Twigs makes my mouth water. There are so many small, local restaurant options that it’s honestly overwhelming to choose from. This doesn’t even take into consideration the sea of fine dining options. There is an endless about of amazing food.
Now I live in Salt Lake City. While there is much I love about our city, I have to say, the food is not one of them. We have almost unmatched mountain views and world class outdoor life. What we lack is very many great food options. We have some good food, but very little great. So here’s my overarching complaint: the food scene in Salt Lake consistently lacks flavor. How can a city with the word “salt” literally in the name, have so many restaurants that refuse to actually use it? It’s confounding to me. But enough complaining. Let me tell you why why I bring this up.
All this makes me think about the problem we talked about last week; the problem of not recognizing the voice of God. So often we feel like God isn’t speaking, but the issue is our recognition, not His silence. He’s always speaking and we have to learn to recognize His voice. And here’s why:
Faith without God’s voice is like food without salt; it’s missing the very ingredient that provides it flavor.
In John 10:27 Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus’ voice is inseparable from our ability to truly know Him. If we remove this “ingredient,” we lose the very essence of life with Him. It’s like food without salt - flavorless. So let’s look at a few things we miss out on when we lack recognition of His voice.
First, you get a story without a relationship.
I love a good story. One of my favorite books I’ve read in the past couple of years is “Storyteller” by Dave Grohl, frontman for Foo Fighters. Dave is an exceptional writer and, as the title suggests, storyteller. He tells stories from childhood, how he became a drummer, what it was like being in two of the biggest rock bands of all time, and how it felt to lose Kurt Cobain among many others stories. Dave has a way of writing that you walk away from these stories feeling like he’s been sharing them with you over coffee, or a beer. You feel like you know him. But here’s the thing: you don’t actually know Dave after reading his book. You know a great many stories about him, but you don’t actually know him. To know him, you’d have to spend time with him, become friends with him, and share life with him.
In the same way, the Bible is filled with good stories, the best of which is obviously God’s unbelievable means of rescuing His people back to Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But here’s the sobering reality: you can spend a lifetime reading the stories of Scripture and not actually have a relationship with Jesus (i.e. the Pharisees). The difference between reading stories and an actual relationship is learning to recognize God’s voice to you in the Scriptures.
So the first step in really understanding Scripture demands learning the answer to the question, “What was God saying to the original audience?” The second step is to ask, “What is God saying to me?” So we start with what He was saying to them, but we’re not done until we’ve asked, “What is He saying to me?” This is when we’ve moved from merely reading good stories, to entering into a relationship with God through His Word. These simple questions, employed time and again over a lifetime, result not only in an imagination filled with stories, but also a real relationship with the God of the universe.
Second, you get information without formation.
My favorite kind of podcasts tend to be long-form conversations with people in the entertainment industry, specifically actors and directors (technically, Smartness is my personal fave). After listening to literally hundreds of these conversations, I’ve noticed they often apologize whenever they start talking about the technical aspects of filmmaking. They always assume that the average listener doesn’t want to hear about these more dry aspects of the process. While I can’t speak for the masses, I can attest to the fact that I love it. I find it fascinating, educational and informative. I love hearing about how great films and series are made. That being said, it’s purely entertainment for me. I don’t actually do anything with this information. I’m not planning to pivot into acting. I’m not pursuing a degree in filmmaking. I just love learning about the process.
This is the same in our faith when we don’t recognize God’s voice. We can learn loads of information about who He created us to be, but lack anything resembling true transformation of our hearts, minds and lives. At the risk of turning the Pharisees into human piñatas, let’s use them as an example yet again. The average Pharisee memorized a staggering amount of Scripture. In fact, the average Jewish male was required to memorize the the first five books of the Old Testament and those training to be Pharisees were expected to memorize the Old Testament in its entirety! Yet, when Jesus stepped onto the scene, they failed to recognize His voice as the very voice they had spent such significant energy memorizing. See, reading Scripture without recognizing the very voice of God within it, produces a big head and hard heart.
What truly forms the image of Christ within us, is the grace-empowered action we take in response to what God is inviting us to. Once we’ve asked the questions, “What was He saying to them? and “What is He saying to me?” we seek to answer the question, “To what is He inviting me?” It may be a promise to believe, a lie to reject, an attitude to adopt, or an action to take. Regardless, He is always inviting us to something. The question is, how will we respond? It’s the action we take over and over that forms us, not just the information we consume.
Third, you get insight without experience.
One of my top five favorite movies of all time is Good Will Hunting. If if you haven’t seen it (which by the way is a class 5 sin in my book), it largely centers on the relationship between Will Hunting, a young and troubled genius, played by Matt Damon, and Sean Maguire, the underachieving therapist assigned to help him, played by Robin Williams. About midway through the film, Robin William’s has one of the most beautiful monologues ever written. It’s all about the difference between insight and experience. Sean is trying to help Will understand that just because his incredible mind is filled with insight, he hasn’t actually experienced the majority of what he knows.
As they sit together on a bench overlooking a lake on a cloudy afternoon, Sean says,
“If I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on about every art book ever written. Michelangelo. You know a lot about him. Life’s work. Political aspirations. Him and the Pope. Sexual orientation. The whole works, right? But I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. Seen that.”
Now for the sake of time, I won’t include this monologue in its entirety, but you should truly google it. The point is, you can again have a head filled with insight and yet live a life that never experiences it. This may never be more true than in the life of faith.
I’m not sure when you last read the book of Proverbs, but it’s shocking how much insight for daily life that is present within its pages. Each time I read it, I’m amazed at all it contains. It holds just as much relevance today as it did when it was originally written. There are insights about relationship, business, leadership, parenting, and marriage. In fact, there may not be a single part of life that its insight doesn’t touch.
The same could be said of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Its jam packed with insight into living the flourishing life for which you and I were created. But here’s the thing, you can memorize the entire book, but never experience any of it. Memorizing Scripture is good! You may even be able to help someone else with all that insight. But wouldn’t you also love to experience it? Wouldn’t you love to be stuck in some situation you’re not sure what to do with and hear God speak to you through it? To share a piece of wisdom at just the right time in a way that helps you actually experience His comfort and help? Don’t you want to experience the comforting voice of God in chaos, in addition to holding the insight that He’s with you in it?
Here’s my point in all this. Stories are great. Information is amazing. Insight is critical. But we also long for relationship, formation, and experience. The conduit through which each of these flow is the voice of God. Which means God invites us into a lifetime of learning to recognize His voice and understanding anything that would hinder our ability to hear it. It’s the latter to which we’ll turn our attention next week.
In the mean time, drop me a comment and let me know what you found most helpful this week, as well as any lingering questions you may still have…
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