Chapter 5: The Distinction
“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.”
I have a dear friend that I’ve known for over a decade. We’ve been through some of the darkest, and most beautiful, times together. We’ve exchanged a lot of words. And we have come to agree about an important aspect of our communication: if we have difficult or challenging things to say to each other it is best for us to not do so through any kind of text. Tone can be entirely misunderstood through an email or texting, even when the words seem black and white and you know each other well.
So it can be with God.
If all we ever do is read His text message to us, especially the difficult to understand and deeply painful parts, we are most likely going to miss much of His heart toward us.
We need to know the tone of God’s voice. We need to know how distinct His voice is from our own voice and the voices all around us.
When I’ve spoken about listening to and hearing God in prayer, one of the most common questions has been: “How can I know what I am hearing is God talking to me, and not just my own thoughts? Or some other spirit or influence?”
First, we must understand that if we have thoughts that are true, noble, lovely — if we think anything excellent or praiseworthy — the content of our thoughts is not going to be distinct from God’s. That is a good thing. We want to be entirely transformed by having our minds renewed by The Truth so that we think exactly like He does. God is the source of everything good, life-giving, and true, so don’t hesitate to credit His mind, His power, and His love as the reason these types of thoughts even exist in your mind. I pray we all have fewer and fewer distinctions between our thoughts and His, both for His glory and our joy and peace.
But there are many aspects that separate His voice from all others, like knowing that God will always communicate things that are consistent with what He has shared about Himself through the Scriptures. In this chapter, I want to highlight one key truth in knowing the distinct tone of His voice.
The Truth is this: God is love. He never, under any circumstances, stops being who He is: Love. Therefore, His voice is always the voice of Love. Always. I think this is one of the foundational reasons our Enemy works so diligently to destroy our understanding of what, and Who, love really is.
Our Enemy attempts to destroy or confuse our understanding that God always speaks to us in the voice of love in part by attacking the truth that there is one God, with one consistent character. God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will speak to you in the same tone, with the same personality, using the same content. God has different roles — just as I have three very distinct roles as a mother, a daughter, and a counselor — but that does not mean that God has a split-personality. There is one God, and He does not change.
God the Father is not the “justice and discipline-oriented God” while Jesus is the “compassionate, gracious, and mercy-focused God.” They are One and the same God. Jesus came to testify to the truth while He was on the earth. Jesus continually surprised people with what God would do, or say, and whom He would forgive and love. When one of Jesus’ disciples had the misunderstanding that He was different from God the Father, Jesus said “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work… These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me”(John 14:10,24). Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are One God. The Spirit is as all-knowing, and as all-powerful, as God the Father and Jesus. The Spirit, God’s Spirit, Jesus’ Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, teaches us, and brings to our remembrance everything God says to us.
We must stop dividing God’s personality. God’s justice is His mercy. God’s mercy is just. Or another way believers have sung about this amazing and complex character of God is “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear–and grace my fears relieved!” God is Love. He will speak in a way consistent with His character.
We won’t have the full, true understanding of God, of Love, until we see Him face to face and know Him as we are known, but there are some potent portions of Scripture that give us invaluable insight. We would do well to learn these truths by heart to train ourselves to the sound, to the tone, and to the qualities of His voice and, just as importantly, to what His voice does not, and cannot, sound like.
For a clear, thorough, and accurate description of God’s character, and therefore the tone of voice that will come from His character, I refer us to 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, starting in verse 4:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
These verses beautifully apply how love, which is about self-sacrifice for the sake of the beloved, practically unfolds in our communication with God.
- The tone of God’s voice is patient. Patience is the very first word used to describe love. Friend, trust me on this, of all the ways God speaks to you, it will so often be with a beautiful tone of incredible patience.
One of the many times when I was wrestling some things out with God, including what it really meant to be patient, He directed me to look up a definition of the word.The definition from Wikipedia reads: “Patience: is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without becoming annoyed or upset; or exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties.”
God wants to give us eternal life (knowing Him) even more than we want to know Him. He is patient with us in the lifelong development of our relationship with Him.
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
- The sound of Jesus’ voice is kind. I think this is one of the most easily identifiable aspects of His voice. So many people, in very different situations, have expressed that God communicated to them in a kind voice. Maybe it goes straight to our heart because His kind tone towards us is unmistakably tender and personal. Maybe His kindness strikes us in the deepest places, maybe we recognize and don’t easily forget it, because we don’t expect, or believe, that we deserve His kindness. If there is one thing we will learn as we grow in intimacy with God, it is this: His love for us, and His kindness, have absolutely nothing to do with what we deserve. I thank God that He does not treat us as our sins deserve.
I have long loved the scripture that says it plainly: it is His kindness that leads us to repentance. The legalistic, law-focused Pharisee in us, or that we’ve heard expressed from others, can encourage us to concentrate more on our faults than on the perfect and consistent kindness of the King. But His character is unchanging: He is kind even to the ungrateful and the wicked (Luke 6:35).
- His tone is not envious. His tone is not one of discontentment, and He does not resent us for things we possess. He doesn’t need anything from us, but instead desires to give the fullest life, the fullest joy. He wants the best for you. This desire to give you the best is an inseparable aspect of the sound of His voice.
- His tone is not proud. God is gentle and humble in heart, and from the overflow of His heart, His mouth speaks. As wildly wonderful as it is, Jesus comes to communicate with us in prayer to serve us, often in similar ways He served when He walked the earth. Jesus still humbly serves us by washing away our soul-filth with His own royal, scarred hands. There is a greatness, an incredible power and unmistakable authority to His tone — and He is the greatest because He serves all — but, in this greatness, there is a heart-drawing tone of gentleness and humility.
- The Wonderful Counselor’s tone is not rude. When we speak in a rude way to others, there is often an offensive tone in our voice, even if the content of what we say is neutral or positive. Conversely, we may take offense by the content of what God says to us, because we may not want to hear His correction, direction, or insight about the state of our soul, but His tone of voice will not be rude. The story that unfolds in Luke 4:22-30 is a fascinating example of how God can speak gracious words, but sometimes because of the content of His message we can still want to throw Him off a literal cliff. Sometimes the Lord does speak words of discipline to us. But He is clear that even His correction and discipline is in love, because He loves, because He is love.
- Jesus’ tone of voice is not self-seeking. Everything that Jesus directs us to do, or to not do, is for our good. And good things for us will also glorify God. He desires to give us complete freedom, a Spirit not of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind — abundant life, and peace unlike anything we experience from this world. This is the sound in His voice — a desire for our good.
- I thank God that He is not easily angered. The Lord knows I have tested the limits countless times. So if there is anger in His tone of voice, we would do well to pay undivided attention to the content of what He communicates. As a parent, often my anger is because of the harm and difficulty I see my children causing to themselves or others because they did not trust me and obey me. Though there are other reasons for anger, I find this to be a common provocation throughout Scripture for God’s anger, as well. He wants us to stop causing hurt and damage to ourselves and others because of our lack of trust and obedience. As a parent, I can easily understand how this anger is in no way separated from love; it is in fact because of my love for my children that I sometimes become angry and communicate, “Stop hurting yourself or that other person I love! Just trust me! Just obey!” Every word of God is flawless, and His words will be a shield for you if you will take refuge in Him. Know this: even when His tone does have anger, it does not eliminate or diminish His other characteristics. He is not like we are; He is still patient, kind, and is not self-seeking, even in His anger.
- The tone of God’s voice is not layered with condemnation or oppressiveness because of a long records of wrongs you have done, the wrongs of others, or the wrongs of this world. Dwelling on a record of wrongs almost always brings darkness to your soul. In Christ, there is no darkness at all, but rather He is Life and Light, and everywhere He goes and speaks He exposes all darkness to drive it out. God may speak some intense refining-fire words to you, to bring to the surface some ugly darkness that is buried within you, but it is for the purpose of removing that filth from you, not to label you with it or weigh you down by it.
The Accuser, your Enemy, who is a liar, brings up wrongs and darkness to say it is who you are and always will be, or he says that darkness is the future planned for your life. Make no mistake, your Enemy comes with the intent to destroy you.
The Lord’s purpose is not to destroy you, but to purify you — for the pure of heart have the incredible blessing of seeing God! The Wonderful Counselor brings dross to the surface to tell you this darkness does not belong in the pure gold He has created and is refining you to be. The voice of God is extremely distinct in this way. Our Enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy us. God comes to destroy the devil’s work in you and around you, not to destroy you. God’s plans for your future are to prosper you, not to harm you. His plans for you are full of hope and the good works He has prepared in advance for you to do.
- In the sound of His voice, there will be no delight of anything evil, of any kind of unrighteousness or wrongdoing. But in His voice, there is such rejoicing with the truth. His heart is delighted when our lips speak what is right, as an honest reflection of what fills our heart.
- The sound of His voice is one of protection, of a willingness to bear all of your burdens. In His tone toward you there is a belief, a confidence, and encouragement that you can do all things through His strength. The sound of His voice is hope. He is the God of hope, and He offers Himself to you, along with all the treasures, rewards, and blessings that inherently come with a relationship with Him.
- His voice is one of perseverance. I know this part of His character well and will love and praise Him forever because of it — even though I was incredibly annoyed with this part of His personality for a long time. His perseverance set me free.
- His love for you will never fail. He will not stop loving you. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate you from His love.
Love. That is what God’s voice sounds like.
~edited excerpt from my free eBook on Listening to God in prayer.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences! What is a distinct way God has spoken to you that let you know beyond a shadow of a doubt it was Him speaking?
Your story is so important and unique! Sharing what God has spoken to you can make all the difference in someone else’s life. Feel free to take this opportunity to share in the comments some way God has show His love to you!