Taking God Off Mute
Pastor Sam Tidball– November 15, 2020
What a crazy few weeks it has been! I hope you all are staying healthy and sane. It’s my joy to kick off a mini sermon series for two weeks called “Taking God Off Mute.” I have been in a Pastoral role now for nearly 15 years now. Can you guess what question I get asked the most? The questions most teens ask me is, “How do I know when God is speaking to me?” This is a topic close to my heart. I must warn you that it’s a massive topic, and there will be many things we miss during these two weeks. Pastor Vannae and I are merely just scratching the surface. We hope you will still gain some new insight though. This topic is not only important to me because I am a Pastor, but hearing God’s voice has shaped me into the person I am. God’s voice is what gives me life, passion, love, wisdom, peace, and conviction leading to growth. Even as a young child I sought to hear and know the voice of God before I had much of a theological understanding of who God was. I didn’t grow up going to church regularly as a kid, but this didn’t stop me from praying and seeking a connection with the divine. In fact, my first name, Samantha, means listener. I have always had a love for listening to people, to their stories, to music, to sounds in nature, etc. Most of all, I love listening and tuning into those moments where God is speaking.
Today I want to emphasize to you, that hearing God’s voice doesn’t take someone special. Hearing God’s voice is something that can happen with any follower of Christ. Your name doesn’t have to mean anything special, and you don’t have to be a Pastor, a prophet, or a bible scholar. Hearing the voice of God is for everyone. There’s no magic formula on how to make it happen. The Bible is filled with stories where God speaks to people telling them who they are, giving them promises to trust in, or speaking words of wisdom on what to do in certain situations. After reading these types of Bible stories it may leave us wondering when and how God speaks to us today. God is alive and active in this world, but sometimes we put God on mute through our own disbelief, distrust, fear of condemnation, busyness, or our own self-absorbed nature. God speaks to us in a variety of ways but first we need to remove the hindrances that keep us from hearing God’s voice. Tuning into God’s loving and powerful voice takes practice along with a desire to have a relational connection with Jesus. We learn to hear implement God’s Word in our lives the more we seek to know and fall in love with Jesus.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
John isn’t merely just recording words that Jesus spoke, he is speaking from his experience of having a close friendship with Christ. Jesus identifies himself as the good shepherd, which would have been a powerful analogy to the people of that time. Shepherds are incredibly loyal and protective over their flock. Sheep are also very in tune with their Shepard’s voice. Sheep don’t intuitively know the voice of their master, they must learn to recognize it. Similarly, we must learn to recognize the voice of God, our good Shepherd. This starts by having a relationship with Jesus, learning about God through the Bible, and seeking out God’s wisdom in our daily lives. John knew the authority and voice of God because he had a close relationship with the Messiah. Relationship is everything!
What do I mean by relationship? There are people who know a lot of information about God and theology. Religious leaders of the time had all this knowledge of scripture and philosophical understandings of the Lord. However, the God of the universe invites us to have an intimate relationship with our Creator. I have learned so much about God from church leaders, religion classes, books etc. But do you know who taught me how to have an actual relationship with God that had the most powerful influence in my life? My Grandmother. My Grandma taught me how to pray by modeling this in her own life. My Grandma was incredibly special to me and I cherished her love deeply. My Grandma and I got to have this beautiful conversation on her death bed. She said, “You know I don’t really pray very much.” I gasped out loud responding, “Grandma, what are you talking about?! You pray more than anyone I know.” She said, “Well, I really just talk out loud and throughout the day and just tell Jesus whatever is on my mind.” I said to her, “Grandma, that IS praying.” She kind of laughed at this said and said, “I guess you are right!” My Grandmother is Catholic but rarely went to church. I think she believed that prayer was supposed to look more ritualistic. Prayer certainly can look like that, but the relationship my Grandma had with Jesus was deeply intimate and personal. She showed me what it’s like to have an ongoing conversational relationship with God. If we want to hear the voice of God in our lives, it begins with knowing Jesus AND connecting with Jesus Christ. We recognize the voice of the shepherd through time, practice, experience, AND knowledge.
The other notable part of this passage is the mention of the hired hand. The hired hand is believed to refer to religious leaders who failed to look after God’s people. The religious leaders of the time neglected and destroyed the flock for their own personal gains. Jesus, the Good Shepard did just the opposite. Jesus laid down his life for the sheep. God will seek his scattered sheep from distant places where they have been allowed to stray, and will gather them in one flock. The unity and safety of God’s people depend on their proximity to him. However, the sheep forget this and try to secure unity and safety in other ways which lead to hindrances in hearing God’s voice.
The other notable part of John 15 is the mention of the wolves. The wolves enter in the story when the sheep are under the authority of the hired hand who fail at their job. Some people might interpret the wolves as Satan or the enemy who wants to kill and destroy. I think the wolves could also be seen as hindrances that keep us from hearing the voice of Jesus, the good shepherd. These hindrances look like busyness, doubt, avoiding pain, selfishness, distrust in God, our sin.
Busyness- It’s hard to hear the voice of the almighty when we are never still.
Doubt- It’s hard to hear the voice of the Lord when we don’t have a firm grip on truths about who God is.
Selfishness- It’s hard to hear the voice of God when we put ourselves on the throne and are only absorbed with what we want.
Distrust- God tends to get muted when we don’t trust God is active and speaking in our lives today.
Avoiding Pain- It’s nearly impossible to hear God when we don’t allow ourselves to feel pain since we serve a God who Jesus Immanuel, present with those suffering.
When we avoid pain, we often try to numb the pain. However, when we take the time to process our pain, our emotions, and our suffering, the Holy Spirit can enter in like ointment that will soothe the soul more than ever. We have to go through the pain first. A year ago, I will never forget lying in the hospital bed. They wheeled me out of my room and took me to a different floor for some testing. I was so miserable. While they were wheeling me to a different floor I passed by other patients who were suffering too. I was sick for several months and I was wondering where God was in the whole mess. I was wheeled past other patients in the hallways and waited with some in the elevators who were sick and suffering some worse than me. When I got into the exam room I remember lying on an exam table staring up at the ceiling.
I said to God, “Look at all this suffering. Where are you?”
“I am right at the center of it.” I thought I heard in my head. Then I had visions or images in my head of all the people’s faces who have helped me and my family during this time I was suffering. I saw this communal web around me of people praying, sending texts, checking in, nurses and doctors caring for me, people helping to bless my kids, making meals, and so forth. I started weeping uncontrollably. I found joy and peace right smack dab in the middle of suffering which makes absolutely no sense. One of the biggest reasons I believe in God is because God continues to show up at times that don’t make sense. Who finds joy and peace in the midst of suffering? This in itself is a miracle. After three months of what felt like silence from God I experienced this enormous rush of Holy Spirit infused goodness. It was as if a breaker busted open and suddenly I felt God’s presence and love like never before. If we want to hear God, we have to be willing to go where there is suffering.
The first hindrance to not hearing God’s voice is you must know and have an active relationship with Jesus, our Shepherd. The second key to taking God off mute is to identify the wolves and invite the Good Shepherd to fight the wolves. Now the third hindrance I want to shine a light on is this….
When my teenagers or anyone complain they can’t hear God’s voice, the first thing I ask is, “When is the last time you sought to hear God’s voice?” The third hindrance is that we rarely take the time to simply press the mute button off. Perhaps this is because we have a set of expectations with what we WANT God to say vs what God is actually saying. I am not going to say too much more about this because Pastor Vannae is going to take us deeper on this topic next week. The third hindrance is that we don’t often make time to intentionally seek out the voice of God. I know for me I used to think this meant I had to wake up early like Jesus did to go and pray. My church I used to go to as a teen harped on “Daily Devotions” which essentially means setting some time apart for God each day to read your Bible and pray. This is a beautiful practice, but I spent many years feeling horribly guilty for not doing this every day. I thought it meant getting up early in the morning like Jesus did to pray. Clearly, I am not an early morning person, and I am basically useless in the morning. Something I keep learning in my faith journey is that the way I can connect with God doesn’t have to look like how other people do it. I connect best and I hear God the most, when I am taking my dog for a walk in the evenings. Doing the dishes. Taking a shower. God’s voice usually shows up through inner affirmations, gentle convictions, words or phrases of wisdom, and sometimes through image or feeling from the Holy Spirit. God speaks in a variety of ways to people and I am excited to hear what Pastor Vannae has to say more specifically about this next week.
Look at list of hindrances. What do you think are your biggest ones?
Not Knowing Jesus, knowing little about Jesus – Ask a Pastor how you can grow in your faith and knowledge and personal relationship with Jesus.
Doubt- prayers of faith and assurance
Avoiding Pain- Open up. Cry. Process, write it out. Let the pain in. Counseling
Busyness – Slow your role. Sabbath. Silence. Mute other noise in your life.
Blind Selfishness- Live in someone else’s shoes, find ways to serve others
Sin- Repent. Approach God with humility and trust God is not going to condemn you. God might convict but will not condemn.
Distrust- Ask God to show up and speak. Write down what you think you hear. Don’t overthink it just go with first gut reaction.
Muting Everything Else- Find a quiet time and space where you can ask God to show up. Sit in silence.
Something to Try:
Go for a walk. Ask God to show up and speak to you. Start by telling God what’s on your heart. Then wait and give space for God to show up. Don’t over analyze or over think it. Listen for words or phrases to come into your mind.