I was ten years old the first time I ever heard God speak to me personally. The new school year had just begun, and a new fad spread among my classmates, cussing.
I was raised in a conservative Christian home. At church, Sunday school teachers taught the Ten Commandments. They were vague about adultery so I wasn’t too concerned. They weren’t clear about coveting either, so I felt kind of safe.
They made up for their ambiguity when it came to cussing. Instead of an elusive, “Don’t take the name of the Lord in vain;” they precisely taught, “Don’t swear.” And that meant, “Don’t cuss.”
Cussing was a sin on the order of mass genocide.
One day, while playing schoolyard tag, I tagged my girlfriend Diane, and she shouted, “Shit!” I felt a horrific shock as though hit in the gut with a sledgehammer. Forty-five years later, I still feel that visceral punch and I can exactly picture the playground corner where Diane cussed.
Looking back it seems silly that a cuss could cause such a shock, but it did. I expected God to throw down a lightning bolt and burn her to an ash. The thought almost paralyzed me.
But not quite. I leaped backwards in case the bolt went wide.
But nothing happened
Nothing happened. Not one thing. The game of tag continued. No lightning bolt. Not even a firefly. The absence of lightening spooked me more than the cuss.
My understanding of Christianity was simple: God blesses good people and he punishes bad people. In my ten-year old mind, blessing meant being cool, and punishment meant being un-cool. But it didn’t happen. Instead, the cussing kids became cooler while the clean-speaking kids became un-cool.
The wicked flourished and the righteous were trampled.
I decided that God cannot exist. Oh, it took a week or so of watching the “wicked” flourish, but there was no doubt in my mind. God didn’t exist. It was all a cruel hoax.
The next day I unleashed the filthiest mouth of my age on the school. I said things even the wicked feared to say. They still harbored some fear of God—I knew better. I dropped “F” bombs like fall trees drop autumn leaves (and I didn’t even know what it meant). I was a poet in profanity.
At the end of that day I was in my bedroom and God spoke to me with a fierce, undeniable certainty. But all he said was, “Sam, I am real and you don’t understand.”
Above all else, God wants us to know him, but we mostly want to know answers, “Should I take this job or that job?” or “What can I do about my fears?” We want information; God wants a real relationship.
When God spoke to me, I was deeply moved, but not by an answer to “Why do the wicked flourish?” God didn’t even hint at an answer. I was moved because I began to know God. I actually heard him speak to me.
God always gives us what we most need, though not always what we think we most need. And what we most need is to know God. That’s why Paul wrote,
“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8).
Before my first date with my wife, I knew a lot about her: she was a farmer’s daughter, she studied social work, she went to Hope College; and she was cute. But on our first date, over a glass of wine, she said she told me of a secret longing. And I fell in love.
Knowing about God just isn’t enough. We need to hear God from his own lips.
How do we hear God?
When I heard God as a ten-year old, it wasn’t through an audible voice. There was no handwriting on the wall (except what I may have crayoned), nor was there a burning bush or a levitating tablespoon. I wasn’t even reading the Bible. (I was an atheist.)
Yet something stirred in my soul. It was a clear as an audible voice and as powerful as a thunderclap. Somehow I knew God had spoken real words to me personally. There was an inner resonance, a quickening in my heart. And I knew it was God.
When the Emmaus disciples reminisced about their unexpected discussion with Jesus, they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us.” That’s a better description of what happened to me. I experienced a voice burning in my heart. It thrilled and delighted me.
God is always speaking
When we learn to recognize that inner quickening, that burning in the heart, we begin to hear God speaking all the time:
- I was on a plane to New York, and the stranger next to me said something about Churchill. I heard God say he has a mission and purpose for me.
- I was at a retreat on Calling. I heard God almost shout that he loves me.
- I once watched the movie The Fisher King—a pretty dark movie—and I heard God say he sees me to the bottom and loves me to the top.
- I took a walk last week, and God interrupted my thoughts (about finances) to say that he longs for me to know him deeply.
And forty-five years ago, my girlfriend cussed, God spoke in the absence of lightening, and it changed my life.
Excellent. It is amazing how God speaks to us differently. I clearly remember hear the voice of God, when I was 13. It started at the youth retreat, where I want to give testimony that I knew God, but I couldn’t. It was the following week at home as I was listening to the song Softly and Tenderly Jesus is calling that God said to me You Do not Know me. Wow. I finally understood that even thought I knew how to pray and read the bible and knew the sinners prayer, I did not know Him. I immediately got down on my knees and asked Jesus to forgive my sins and come into my heart.
I really Like the verses in Colossians 1:12-14
12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
It is the Father that has brought me out of darkness and placed me into the Kingdom of Jesus.
Beliefs of the Heart
I really like your summary, “Even though I knew how to pray and read the Bible and pray the sinners prayer … I did not know Him.”
I think that is the state of many–maybe most–believers. But God wants us to know him.
I also think he wants us to hear him much more than we do. We just haven’t been taught.
What an amazing thing for God to say to a 10-year-old. And so God.
I’ve also noticed that God sometimes tells us things he knows we will misinterpret. (I can cite many examples.) I’ve come to believe that too must be part of his plan. Sometimes I think we must fully invest in our wrong view of him before we can understand it is incorrect. And this can take years. And it can seem very cruel. But the dawning of the real truth in our consciousness, when it finally comes, is all the greater for it. I realize now that his intent is always, as you say, to reveal himself to us. Sometimes it takes painful measures. The glory at the end of it is far greater than we can know, even when the cost is the only thing we are able to see,
Beliefs of the Heart
I suspect God knows we have to walk before we run. The whole history of the Old Testament is an increasing self-revelation of God; and it culminates with Jesus.
Thanks, great thoughts.
It seems every time I feel the quickening of the heart to speak to someone or embrace the thoughts conveyed by others who have that deeper relationship I am encouraged to also recognize there is so much more avaialble to me.
I continually seek to take the time to draw closer and the peace of soul that comes within it. I particularly enjoy the Holy Spirit’s prompting and changing my desires to His own.
The relationship is everything!
Beliefs of the Heart
Great comment. Thanks. There are lots of “voices” in our head, the stomach saying it’s hungry, old wounds saying we are worthless (or rejected, or …), from friends, enemies, parents, siblings, Satan … and from God.
We simply need to learn to discern. I usually know when the voice is my stomach (“Feed me!”); over time I think we can all learn to recognize God’s voice … and then we’ll find he’s speaking all the time.
Enjoyed your words for sure. Never heard the phrase, “poet on profanity” before. I my journey there have been so many times that I wanted to hear His voice, cried out for that voice. Yet there are those times when His voice was unmistakable. As the journey has deepened I have come to realize that there are those things, those decisions that God is okay with…either way. I don’t have to make the perfect choice every time.
Two summers ago I worked with a contractor for about 4-5 months who was quite the “poet” himself…but the interesting thing was, he was one of the most real people i had ever met. Not a poser in any way…just, this is who I am…
Loving the journey!
Beliefs of the Heart
You make a great point. There are times that God seems silent. I think of the story of Joseph. Up until that story, we see God speaking to Adam, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Jacob and more. And then during Joseph’s trials, we don’t see a single time of God speaking to Joseph. God seems silent.
And yet Joseph’s entire story is God working in the background to make Joseph a great man, both inside and outside. The story is an incredible example of God’s presence even when he seems silent.
His silence is not absence.
That was God’s voice, all right.
How does he DO that? I mean love you, correct you and invite you on a lifelong journey in eight words!
Once, when I was swimming in cynicism (as a Christian, no less!), he did that to me in only two words: “Be open.” It turned me right around and opened me like a little bud.
Just a few minutes ago I heard him speak to one of my big troublesome questions through Cynthia’s comment. Thanks, Cynthia. Thanks, God.
Beliefs of the Heart
Thank you Cynthia indeed.
I really, really, (really) want people to hear God’s voice more. It is the difference we all need.
Thanks for … being open.
We want information, and we assume all God wants is good behavior.
Beliefs of the Heart
And God wants us to know him.
And deep down inside, I think that’s what we want as well.
But in knowing Him, He also wants us to change our behavior, yes? “This is love for God, to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” That’s in 1 John. It’s not all about good behavior, but behavior is still a factor.
I vividly remember sitting across the room from you at 5:30 AM at a calling retreat in Southern MN both of us in silent contemplation and I heard God speak to me… “Thank Sam for listening well”…. I did, and you do! Please keep listening well and writing about it for the rest of us! “Iron sharpens iron” and most of us are pretty dull. Continue your work as a sharpening stone, we need it!
Great, great story, Sam! I am reminded of someone’s comment that the closer relationship you have with someone, the LESS needs to be said! (Think of quiet times with close friends or spouse…)
Don’t know if it was a “Freudian slip” (i.e., unconsciously intentional) to spell “lightning” correct the first time, but then spell it “lightening” (as in “enlightening”) two other times–I could see extra, though perhaps unintentional, meaning there…
Blessings. I appreciate your insights, but more so, the focus on relationship with God as primary–lines up with Hebrews 8:8-11, which is a quote of Jeremiah 31:31-34 [new covenant written in the heart], as well as John 6:45 [Jesus’ comment that we will ALL be taught by God] and other similar scriptures, about God’s heart for relationship–deep and intimate relationship–with us–the meaning of “Immanuel”!
thanks sam that was excellent ..pure honest and amazing
Although this was a couple of weeks ago and you may not get back to this, I only recently was directed to the blog.
As a new (26 yr old) believer many years ago I was eagerly seeking daily treasure but often confused by what I felt were conflicting voices. The Lord gently introduced me to 1John 4:1-4 and delivered me into a lifetime of recognizing His voice and being able to confidently ascertain his whenever I felt confusion. Today our relationship is as sweet and as real and as close as I allow it. He glorifies Himself through us as He chooses. Just as Samuel, our response needs always to be “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
I love all you share here. I believe God wants you to hear his voice even more, and I believe you will more and more over time. It’s simply a matter of learning to recognize, and it’s okay not to get it perfect the first time. You probably didn’t learn to ride a bike perfectly the first time either.
Here are some links to some past articles on hearing God. See what you learn, and connect back with me with any questions:
When I was a foolish teenager, one night I was lying in bed and I was wondering if the devil was real, or if he was just something that people had dreamed up like Santa Clause to blame bad things that happen to them on. So I started talking to him just to see what would happen more or less.. I don’t remember what all I said now, it’s been so long ago.. But as I was talking to him, this feeling came over me, and I became very frightened.. Then I guess I did what anyone would have done at that point, what seemed like the natural thing to do.. I cried out for God… Then I heard a voice in my head.. It was loud and not my own thoughts… It simply said.. Why did you call upon me if your not going to serve me?
To this day, I still struggle with was this God or the Devil that spoke to me that night? But I knew then and still know that it was a real experience.
Thanks for sharing that story. What do you think–now that you are a less-foolish adult–what do you think about that voice? Could it have been God?
The first question we must face is, “Does God speak to us?” If he doesn’t, then it was just your imagination. But what if God does speak?
God uses multiple metaphors for our relationship with him. We are his servants, his sheep who know his voice, his friends, his children, and even–if we can believe it–in the end he calls us his spouse. The common element in all these metaphors is: they are relational. God says he wants a relationship.
They are personal relationships; and what kind of relationship have you ever had that didn’t involve close communication?
It sounds like God said to you he wants a relationship, for you to hear his voice and speak to him, and he to you.
To serve him is to love him, and to love him is to serve him.
It sounds like God gave you an invitation.
If that was God’s voice, how are you responding to it even through today?
Thanks for sharing.
That’s beautiful, and is exactly the kind of message that God would give someone! God has spoken to me too–four times in my life. The first time was when I was 23. It was nothing prophetic just personal messages of guidance. I don’t tell many people that. I’ve found that even my own family is skeptical. I told a friend recently, and she hasn’t spoken to me since. It makes me sad that I can’t share something so awesome with the people I care about. I guess people feel threatened when something challenges their beliefs.
Great sharing, sort of bitter-sweet. But I love the fact you are hearing God; may you hear him more!!
Thank you, Sam. God bless you.