Who remembers the 1970’s E.F. Hutton commercials? My favorite shows two men on a plane conversing across the aisle while disinterested bystanders sleep, read, gaze out the windows. That is, until the name E.F. Hutton drops, causing a collective hush, among the eager eavesdroppers. The ad ends with the famous, unforgettable tag line: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”
What about when God speaks? Do we lean in, hand cupped over ear, holding our breath in anticipation of His words? Speaking personally, I can say He knows how to get my attention. I’m not talking about an audible voice booming down from heaven saying stuff like “Deb, stop that!… you know better.” No, that’s more likely my own busy-body mind intruding on my peace: named “guilt.” I’m referring to a distinct voice in my head, a message arriving in an envelope of peace, reassurance, and clarity. A voice heard through the ears of my heart… or the lips of a friend… quite possibly a stranger. A voice that’s visible, seen not heard, through the staggering power of the ocean, or the knee buckling tenderness of a child’s love. Scripture, previously known, now alive, renewed. Words on a page, a billboard, a T-shirt… highlighted, back-lit, subliminally underlined.
No matter what the medium, when God speaks, there’s no confusion of authorship. You know, that you know, that you know. You just do. Even so, it’s hard to grasp that God dropped everything to send me a seemingly trivial, but deeply intimate message. However, once we stop denying His signature on the message, the essence of His ever powerful love for us is boldly evident. Yes, our God is mighty, capable of whispering sweet nothings in our ears, all while moving mountains, healing the sick and charging command over legions of heavenly angels. Yes, He is an exquisite multi-tasker.
One clear example, occurred two years ago when my husband, Sandy attended a men’s retreat in Canby, Oregon. He kissed me goodbye, grumbling that he’d rather stay home. He left discouraged, disgruntled, dis-everything (not a word, I know). In his own words, the troublesome “dis” was, “I’m tired of asking God for direction and hearing nothing.”
For months, we, meaning me and our entire church body, had been praying for him to receive words and encouragement. Some of us might admit to growing weary of the redundant prayer. Yet, we all knew Sandy’s deep desire to hear from God, promised an answer.
“I try, but I don’t hear anything. God doesn’t speak to me,” he’d say in response to our “keep seeking nudges.”
Seated among the 300 or so men who’d travelled from Vineyard churches across the northwest, he regretted saying yes to the invitation. If he’d stayed home, he could be working on the never ending projects on his ever growing list of “to-dos.” Staying busy seems to dull the pain.
While tapping his foot, waiting out the remaining 10 minutes before “getting on with it,” two men approached.
“We felt like you might need prayer. What’s going on with you?”
Sandy shared his frustrations, a familiar script, flowing off his tongue like an old song, the melody being “I don’t think God hears me.”
The men listened, praying a facsimile of the prayers sent over the past months of discontent. The prayer ended, just as the worship service started. Through worship, Sandy continued praying, seeking, yet convinced it was a one-way communication.
“Please, Father… I want to know you.”
When the key note speaker began, Sandy chuckled sarcastically at the topic – “Receiving Words from God.” When the audience was asked to participate, he prepared to go through the motions, expecting that others would receive wondrous, life changing, intimate messages from God, as he wallowed, on an island of quiet nothingness.
“There are thousands of words floating around this room right now. Please turn to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself. Then let’s spend some quiet time asking God for a word for each other.”
“My name’s Sandy… nice to meet you.”
Shaking hands, the stranger stated his name, which Sandy instantly forgot.
During the five minutes of quiet, disguised as three days of noisy head clatter, Sandy tried, in vain, to hear from God. When the time was up, he shared what he calls, generic fortune cookie stuff, derived from his own head.
“Something good is going to happen… there’s going to be a change…”
When it was the other man’s turn, he looked blank, then said.
“Philip. Right? Your name is Philip. He knows your name. That’s what I felt God wanted you to know.”
There it was… in perfect timing. Weak kneed, laughing… crying… laughing… no doubt God speaks… no doubt God hears… no doubt God knows him by name. You see, there was no way the stranger could have known that Sandy’s real name is Philip. A name spared only for legal documents. A name God shared through a stranger, knowing Sandy would hear it, An undeniable message of the His love.
That night, a phone call interrupted my sleep.
“He knows me by name!”
“God knows my name is Philip! He knows me…”
He shared the story with me, pausing for frequent voice cracking breaks, his demeanor and mannerisms out of character… chatty, fired up, super charged. To this day, he shares this story with anyone who’ll listen, never able to say “He knows me by name,” without tears. He left home with an acute case of “diseverything,” returning a changed man.
I suspect God is speaking all the time, and we are the lackeys with plugged ears. He’s a gentleman, who won’t yell over the top of the other noise in our life, and doesn’t need to. He knows exactly what it will take to get our attention, being our Creator and all.
Before my mom died, in 2002, I sat with her every day in the hospital, reading the Bible aloud, praying her seemingly sleeping mind could hear God’s word. I begged God to give me a sign that she would be in heaven… at peace and free of pain. My expectations were that she would awaken and say something reassuring, like “Jesus told me to tell you, it’s all good, you can pray about other stuff now.” That didn’t happen. Instead, moments before mom died, my sister and I walked into her room, finding her wide awake, smiling, gazing straight ahead. Whatever she was looking at, was beyond our understanding. One thing was clear, Whomever she looked upon blinded her to all else, satisfied her every need and filled her with joy. Then, she left the room, or at least in spirit. The nurses told us we could stay with her as long as we wanted. But why? She left, leaving only the parcel she rented space in, behind.
That day, God spoke, giving me everything I needed to never doubt. Like Thomas, who needed to stick his finger in the hole in Jesus’ side, I needed to see Jesus through my mother’s eyes. Nothing else would have sufficed. He knows us well. Yes, indeed.