Listening to the Spirit when we’re Afraid of His Voice

She looked me in the eyes, square in the eyes. Each shaking hand trying to stabilize the other, and tears filling each lower lid. “I’m afraid,” she said plainly. Not trying to hide her anxiety, but also unaware of the exhaustion expressed in her sign. “I’m afraid to listen to God because I’m afraid of what He might ask me to do.”

You and me both, sister.

Her comments came following a nourishing group discussion on the work of the Holy Spirit. The women around the living room had shared openly and honestly about their confusion of what it means to live in the Spirit, about their past church baggage on the topic, and about how they wanted to grow in walking in awareness and openness to the Spirit. We had shared and listened and reflected together. Except this woman. This woman, somehow overlooked in the middle of the room, was quiet, reserved, and afraid. As the dialogue slowed, her quaking lower lip drew our attention, and her honest words, the unspoken fears of every heart in the room, drew our tears. “I’m afraid to listen to God because I’m afraid of what He might ask me to do.”

Her honesty has provoked me. In the weeks since this conversation, I can’t seem to stop her words from running through my mind. Both unbeckoned and unwelcome, her words resound in my heart at the most inopportune times: in the middle of a meeting, in the middle of my devotional time, in the middle of making dinner. Fear is not easy to shake, and it stuck to my heart.

There have been seasons where I have, in self-deciet, told God that I would follow Him anywhere. And I sincerely thought I meant it. I was willing to go overseas as a missionary, willing to preach the Gospel despite my nerves, willing to move across the country to attend seminary.

But my more honest self knows the truth: I was willing to follow God into anything that was interesting and untangled. I would heed His call anytime He called me to an exciting task of faith or a sexy new adventure. I was quick to obey if the task of faith wasn’t messy or emotionally complicated. Those are the words of the Spirit that I do not want to hear, that is the call that I like to pretend not to hear. If I open my ears to the voice of Spirit, might He call me to reconcile with that friend I have diligently distanced myself from? Could He call me to be faithful in a difficult situation I’m trying to escape? Might He ask for me to share my faith openly and honestly with a co-worker? If I am honest, I’m afraid of what He might call me to, too.

As I sit before our God this morning, bringing these fears with both honesty and need, I am reminded of this speaking God we worship. I am reminded of His Words. He is the One whose very words erupted with power and life at the dawn of time (Genesis 1:2), and who whispered to the prophets of old of His great plan to rescue a lost people (1 Kings 19:11-14). He is the God whose words are full of pursuit, resounding with the language of “Return to Me” (Malachi 3:7) and “Come home” (Luke 15:11-32). His words are ferocious and tender, commanding and compassionate, mysterious and yet made known to us in Christ (John 1:1).

And this God – our God – speaks to us. Unlike any other god we can name, our God speaks to us (Psalm 135:16). And His ultimate call is to a Kingdom with a good King, where all people live in peace and unity and joy (Revelation 21:1-4). His call is riddled with words of invitation to participate in Gospel-life and in building His Kingdom (Matthew 25:34, Matthew 11:28, Mark 1:15, Revelation 22:17).

This is the God who daily speaks to us by His Spirit. These are the words that I have stopped my ears to. We do not need to be afraid, sister. You and I can open our squeezed-shut eyes and lower our fingers from our ears. Because He is good, dear sister, He is good. And His words to us will always be embedded with His goodness. He will never call apart from His character, He will never speak apart from His kindness. So we can listen. We can in joy and gratitude invite the Spirit of our God to speak, knowing that His words, like at the dawn of time, will bring life.

 

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