As a follower of Christ, I’m inherently – at least at some level – a mystic. At least one dictionary defines the word as , “a person… who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.” What I’m talking about specifically is what is often referred to in Christian circles as “hearing God’s voice.” (This is almost always followed up with “I don’t mean audibly, I don’t think I actually heard anything,” as if a group of fellow semi-mystics have any right to judge if someone did claim to hear something from God.)
I do believe that there have been a few times in my life that I’ve been distinctly ‘spoken to’ by God, but the how of His voice in my life are not always easy to explain. Recently I came up with a way of describing it that is no less subjective, but, perhaps, somewhat illustrative.
God’s voice is like a migraine.
When I first got my migraines in 2004 they came on pretty gnarly, so bad in fact that I ended up getting tests done to make sure I didn’t have a tumor. They would (and continue to) start with what experts call a scintillating scotoma or a migraine-aura (see the image above) and every once in a while with one side of my face or a few fingers in my hand going numb. Thankfully, the tumor-fear-inducing numbness is now far more rare. This is how I first started knowing that my day was ruined… I wasn’t going to be able to read anything the rest of the day, driving was going to be difficult for at least a half-hour. Day ruined.
Nine years later, I can see them coming 5 minutes away; that is 5 minutes before my vision gets all trippy. I don’t have any way of describing what I’m feeling, but I have close to 100% accuracy of feeling it coming before it does. Even more so, I can always tell when it’s going to go away about 10-15 minutes before it does.
Constant Homeless Prayer
For three of those years, we lived in the Washington, DC metro area. I’d never really had experience in living in a legitimate city – the public transportation and eating-out options are still life-changing experiences in my life. Living in a city with a ubiquitous population of homeless people was even more life-changing.
People often have “rules” about how to deal with people asking for money on the street. I am not really a “rules guy,” but I am a “systems guy.” I like having processes to solve problems, I don’t like always/never guidelines. So, I had to come up with a guideline for how to deal with the situations. It seems clear to me from the Scriptures that followers of Jesus are to care for the poor, but there’s debate whether giving money is a good thing at all and I don’t know what the answer to that is. But, I believe there is a “best” in every situation and that the Lord was willing to tell me what that was.
The only always/never rule is that I will always buy a new issue of Street Sense from a vendor with his license/ID displayed.
So, here are my guidelines:
- They have to actually ask for money or something else.
- If they ask, I will quickly pray and ask God what I should do.
- I do what I’m told.
It was amazing how often I got to pray this prayer. On Metro days (as opposed to driving days) I would walk by at least 10 people asking for something. Over the three years, I probably prayed the prayer more than 1,000 times. Still, it took about a year, but I actually found out that Jesus’ promise that His “sheep hear [His] voice” was true! I honestly would get an answer just about every time.
“Give her $5.”
“Not today, but if you see him again tomorrow.”
“Reach in your pocket and the first bill you touch is his.”
That bill ended up being a $20.
“Give her your gloves.”
“I want you to take him out to dinner.”
That last one will be one of my life-long regrets. I didn’t.
So Many Voices
I think that we often struggle with hearing from God. How often have you bounced back and forth between “yeah, I think that’s the Holy Spirit,” and “nah, that’s just my own thoughts.” (It’s funny how often “it’s your own thoughts” when it’s something that is stretching or distasteful.) But, I know His voice now! When I hear it, I know it like I know my dad’s voice , my uncle Dal’s voice or my brother’s voice – a voice that kinda sounds like my inner voice, but it’s definitely not! It’s not that sneaking voice that entices me to stay on that show a few more minutes or to have just one more of whatever. That voice sounds like mine as well, but is far too easy to hear and far too similar to what I want to do anyhow.
The thing is, I can’t describe or explain why it is that I know one voice from the other. Or one tug versus another. The only advice that I can give was actually just described to me last Tuesday by my friend Jon who is a pastor in DC:
You have to keep practicing.
Learning to Hear
I hate my migraines, but I know them. I know their voice, I know how they feel coming and I know how they feel going away. But, it’s an experience that’s pretty close to solipsistic – I have no idea how to describe it. I’m impressed that someone was able to somewhat accurately create an image of what I see when it’s coming on. Just add tunnel vision. My migraines have helped me learn to hear my brain’s “voice.”
I loved our three years in DC. They were formative in a number of ways and I am hopeful that one day we’ll move back. But, even if we don’t it will still reside in a foundational location in my life it was the place I learned to hear God’s voice, tutored by the 7,000 or so homeless residents of the area.
Things to check out: