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by Karen Burkhart
“Karen, go to Africa!” a haunting voice called out of the darkness as I walked alone through the college chapel to my dorm. My feet froze and my heart raced as I considered the possibility that God may actually be speaking to me. The sound of laughter and a familiar face popping out of the shadows quickly ushered me back to reality. Yep, he’d got me—playing on my eagerness to hear from God and a common fear among women at my college that God would call us overseas before we earned our MRS degrees! What my friend didn’t know, though, is that what I feared even more than singleness was not recognizing the voice of God when He spoke. You see, I was well aware that the God who spoke the universe into existence did not have a communications problem; I knew if there were ever to be a breakdown it wouldn’t be on Him. Back then, I was sure that if there were a way to clog the reception, I’d find it.
In today’s Scripture we see an example of the breakdown I had feared: God spoke, and some people missed it. The Father had called out, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again!” and the first thought of many who were present was that it had thundered. That seems like a pretty strong case of spiritual deafness, doesn’t it? I’ll cut some slack for the folks who thought an angel spoke because at least they attributed the sound to the right realm. Imagine how perfectly frustrating this would have been for Jesus to witness, knowing the voice was intended as a gift .
Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine." (John 12:30)
These words of Jesus are curious to me. Why would the Father’s response to Jesus’ request to glorify Himself not benefit Jesus? Typically, when we make requests of others, especially of God, we are seeking at least some modest benefit for ourselves. These words remind me how unlike me Jesus is—everything He does is for the benefit of others and the glory of His Father. In these words, I also pick up on the security of Christ in his identity—He didn’t need His Father, or anyone else, to validate Him. Oh, how I would love to be so secure in who I am (in Christ) that I have no need for external or public validation.
Another question I have is how the voice of God was intended to benefit those present. God was already speaking to them through the person of Jesus. What more did they need? For those who recognized the true Source of the sound, I think it was intended as confirmation of their trust in Christ and His words that would follow. Think of the sound as a heavenly drumroll, causing those with ears to hear to sit up and lean in. Don’t you so appreciate the generosity of God to give His children what they need to keep on believing and trusting? But, for those who were spiritually deaf, who dismissed the voice of God as a natural occurrence, I doubt they received any benefit at all. Notice how these spiritually deaf people weren’t even far-off from Christ: they were with Him! Tragic.
The possibility of missing God’s voice should sober us—even more than God calling us to forsake our long-sought plans. So, what can we do to guard ourselves against spiritual deafness? First, let’s open our Bibles and keep them open. God primarily speaks to us today through the Bible. Second, let’s pray continuously for God to give us spiritual ears to hear and eyes to see. Third, let’s keep our lives clear of sin, which always has a way of hardening our hearts and clogging up our receptors. That doesn’t mean live perfectly; no one can do that. It does mean, however, to agree with God about our sin and to regularly confess it and seek deliverance.
Spiritual deafness is not only evident when we misattribute, or write off, God's voice, but when we hear "God's voice" speaking in and through everything, especially our emotions. This false "voice of God" acts as a sort of white-noise that can make His actual voice less perceptible. We can guard against this type of spiritual deafness in the same way: Read the Bible, pray, and repent of sin.
May God give us spiritual ears to hear His and only His voice as we seek to follow Him.