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Voice Recognition

April 01, 2016

FROM A SERMON BY Earl Phillips

Most of us hear many voices in the course of a day. Some we recognize; some we do not. Back when I was young—before video games, television, and air conditioning—the kids in the neighborhood would play on the corner lot until late at night. As the evening progressed and it became darker, I knew the time would come when Mom would call us in. Even though she was quite a distance away, when she called, I knew it was her voice.

There are many verses in the Bible which reference God’s voice. For example, in Isaiah 30:21 we read, “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.” Jesus said of the Good Shepherd, “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice” (John 10:4). In Revelation 3:20, we find these words: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.” How important it is to know God’s voice!

God speaks in many ways. He speaks through His Word, the Bible. When we read it, He will communicate to us if we come with open hearts. He speaks to us in prayer if we will take time to listen for His voice when we pray. God speaks to us through preaching. He speaks to us through testimonies. He speaks to us through those He has placed in positions of spiritual authority. The Bible tells us that even the heavens declare the glory of God! When you are outside on a clear night and look up at the stars, you will hear the Creator if you listen.

God speaks through the Gospel songs we sing in our church services. I admit that sometimes I sing from habit, because I know the words. But the second line of one hymn says, “Hearing His voice in ev’ry line, Making each faithful saying mine.”1 We want our hearts to be open to God’s voice whenever and however it comes, and to make “each faithful saying” our own.

I remember the first time God spoke to my heart. I was probably between the ages of three and four. Do you think God speaks to little children? He did to me! It was at the old church at Sixth and Burnside here in Portland, and I was sitting with my mom. The preacher said if there was sin in your heart, it would show on your face. I grabbed my mom’s purse, took out her mirror, and looked at my face. I knew I was not saved and I wanted to see if it showed. That was God’s voice!

In my teen years before I was saved, I was under conviction. Sometimes I thought, If I could just party twenty-four hours a day I wouldn’t hear God speaking to my soul. Out at the race track, or when I was drinking beer and having a good time, I didn’t hear Him. But at three o’clock in the morning when I was all alone, I could not escape the voice of God. The question would come to me, “Where are you going to spend eternity?” I knew it was Him. It was the same voice I had heard when I was a child of three or four. I tried not to listen, but He still would talk to me.

God speaks in many ways. Elisha heard the voice of God in a mantle that was cast over his shoulders by the prophet Elijah. That call changed Elisha’s life. He left all he had and followed after the prophet, and how God blessed him! If we will just pay heed to the voice of God, it will change our lives as well—not just on the day we get saved, but it will guide our lives until we step into eternity.

Moses heard the voice of God from a burning bush. He could have just said, “Oh, there’s a bush on fire,” and kept walking. However, he went to investigate. God told him to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground. Moses obeyed, and God revealed His plan to lead the Children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt by his hand.

The prodigal son heard the voice of God in a hog’s pen. He had left home, not thinking of anything but his own desires. He had friends as long as he had money, but when the money was gone, so were the “friends.” In desperation, he took the worst job a Jewish boy could have: feeding hogs. There in the hog’s pen, though, he heard the voice of God. He made up his mind to go back to his father and say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants” (Luke 15: 18-19). When he went home, what a welcome awaited him!

King Belshazzar of Babylon heard from God in the handwriting on the wall. However, that was not the first time Belshazzar had heard God’s message. He knew how God had raised up his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar after he had lost his throne and lived in the fields like an animal. God had restored the kingdom to Nebuchadnezzar when he repented and “praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion” (Daniel 4:34). However, Belshazzar was young and arrogant—and he was king! He could do what he wanted. One night he threw a party, and as everyone was eating and drinking, he called for the vessels from the Temple of Jerusalem to be brought so he and his guests could drink from them while praising the Babylonian gods. His demand was a deliberate act of contempt to dishonor the God of the Israelites.

Then the handwriting appeared. Belshazzar knew whose hand was writing on the wall, and his knees smote together. Before those words ever were interpreted, he knew it was the handwriting of God. People think, When I hear from God, I’ll turn. But when Belshazzar heard from God, it was too late. The message on the wall was, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Daniel 5:27), and that night, King Belshazzar went into eternity.

When I think of the voice of God, the late Everett Wayne comes to mind. He would stand in our church services and testify to the mercy of God. Everett had been a drunkard. Many times he had staggered past our church at Sixth and Burnside in Portland without coming in. Sin had robbed him of his wife and daughter. Gambling had cursed his life. His citizenship had been taken away, and he had been in and out of jail. He said he had committed every kind of sin except murder, and he had that in his heart.

One night in a card game, Everett heard a voice. It did not quote a verse from the Bible. That voice spoke words even a hardened sinner could understand: “Old feller, except you do something, you’re a goner!” Everett said, “I knew the Almighty was speaking to my heart.” He pushed the deck of cards across the table for the last time, and left that place. He remembered seeing the sign on our church building, “Jesus, the Light of the World,” and made up his mind to go there. He came into a Gospel meeting, and at the close, he went down to the altar at the front and prayed as he had never prayed in his life. The Lord heard Everett’s prayer and changed his life. He took a filthy drunkard and made him an upstanding citizen.

It took seventeen years of hard work for Everett to make restitution and pay back what he had stolen. One time he bought a new car. He had driven it for just a short time when the thought came to him, How can I drive a new car when I still owe people money? When a person listens to the voice of God, a transformation takes place.

Some of the restitutions Everett made could have put him behind prison bars for the rest of his life, and he knew that. He had gone to a minster and told him, “I have to face this.” They prayed and prayed, and then Everett set out to straighten up his past. He testified, “I went to a railroad company here in Portland and confessed to robbing their boxcars back in Idaho. I confessed to armed robbery in Utah, and to forgery in Wyoming. I had even outlawed myself with the government, having deserted both the Army and the Navy. I confessed to the federal government that I had stolen guns and clothing from them, and that I was a deserter. I had lost my citizenship, but God restored it, reinstated me, and gave me a new lease on life. I not only have my citizenship papers today, but I am also a citizen of Heaven.” What an amazing change, all because a hardened old drunkard listened and responded to the voice of God.

Every time we come to a church service, we have an opportunity to hear the voice of God. In our homes, or as we drive to work, He stirs something inside. He points out something He wants us to do, or a consecration we need to make. He speaks to each one of us.

Back many years ago, my wife, Sylvia, and I were raising four young children. For a time Sylvia felt kind of isolated and sorry for herself because she had no grown-ups to talk to and was home all the time. One day while she was vacuuming, God spoke to her heart and said, “I can be your Friend.” That was a turning point in her life. Over a period of time she found out how close the Lord would be to her as she looked His way.

In the seventeen years we had been married at that time, I had never told Sylvia that I was called to preach—but I knew. When our children would get sick, I would pray and tell the Lord, “I will do it,” but when they got well, I would push the voice of God aside. One night, while we were driving over the Burnside Bridge coming home from a church service, Sylvia reached over and took my hand and said, “Earl, are you called to preach?” I can remember that moment like it was yesterday—it was like a dagger went through me. I didn’t even answer her. She said, “The Lord told me to get ready to be a minister’s wife and you’re the only husband I’ve got.” God had showed her His call on my life. I had heard His voice but had tried to ignore it. I urge you, listen to the voice of God and obey!

Sometimes people say, “I can’t tell if it is the devil or God talking to me.” Those two voices are as different as night and day. The devil will scream in your ear, “You’re not saved!” “You’re a failure!” “Even if you get saved, you will never be able to stay saved!” Have you ever had him tell you something like that? He harasses and accuses. By contrast, God’s voice may be just a still, small voice, but we can be sure that however He speaks and whatever words He says, they will be uttered in love and concern for our souls.

God speaks to our hearts when we are open and ready to listen, and we have a golden opportunity today. God is speaking to you. Are you listening?

1. “More About Jesus” by Eliza Edmunds Hewitt & John R. Sweney. Public Domain.

About the author

Earl Phillips is a retired pastor of the Apostolic Faith organization. He currently serves on the ministerial staff of the headquarters church in Portland, Oregon.