A funny thing happened the other day. We had only been in our new house for a few weeks when I was inside helping my wife with some personal needs while our Australian Shepherd was out back. The pooch had quickly developed the habit of walking along the fence line, down one side, the back and then the other side before venturing off to sniff the middle ground of the yard. Suddenly I heard her frantically barking and wasn’t able to discern her intent. The problem was that I was right in the middle of something with Piper and couldn’t stop in order to check on the dog.
I was beginning to get alarmed as the barking intensity seemed to be increasing. Since our new yard backs up to a wooded area I could just imagine what kind of wild beast was attacking our dog! In my quest to get outside and save the dog, I had to jostle Piper a bit, was finally able to finish the task at hand and practically jumped over her chair as I stumbled to get to the backyard.
When I got to the deck overlooking the yard I could not help but feel a little bit foolish as I bent over in laughter. There was Mandie in the middle of the yard, lying on her back, twisting back and forth and gleefully barking at the sky! Up to that point I thought I knew the sound of her different barks. The playful bark, the “I spotted another dog going by our house” bark, her protective bark and her welcome home bark.
She had never taken this action before and it surprised me. But then again, we haven’t had a house with a real backyard for many years. I think she was just expressing her gratitude of having the freedom of a large playground! Recognizing her various barks and their different meanings got me to thinking about hearing the voice of God. His voice is one that I depend on and have done so for many years. Sometimes other voices come in from all sides to try and divert me from hearing and following His voice but I have learned (most times) to quiet those distractions and hone in on His directions for me and my family.
It is obvious from reading the Christmas story that Joseph and Mary had honed that same skill down to an unquestionable source of life for them to follow… and it literally saved their lives on more than one occasion. How good is your hearing these days? Are you able to quickly discern the voice of God as He speaks to you? Consider that as you meditate on today’s Monday, the FOURTH week of Advent reading.
Monday, the fourth week of Advent
Today’s Readings: Matthew 2: 19-23, Luke 2:39-40, Acts 9:1-8, Acts 22:6-10
In concluding the story of the first Christmas, Luke 2:39 begins by stating that “When they finished everything required by God… they (Joseph, Mary and Jesus) returned to Galilee and their own home town, Nazareth.” (The Message Bible) I would imagine that as they turned their attention back up north from which their journey had begun, they did so with a sense of relief but yet with expectancy for what lie ahead in the years to come for their small family. As I read this verse, I was over-taken with thoughts on the significance of what was meant by “they finished everything required by God.”
As I went back over the various parts of the written documentation of the event that would change the course of history for mankind, I noticed that the common thread was that each of the participants in the story began their journeys by hearing and then obeying the VOICE of the Lord spoken directly to them. Beginning with Zachariah and then continuing with Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, Simeon, Anna and the shepherds, each of these individuals heard the VOICE of the Lord through a variety of interventions and channels of communication.
I began to see that it was the recognition of that VOICE that gave them the peace, confidence, commitment and fortitude to follow through on everything required of them to the point of completion. It was the memory of that VOICE that empowered them to keep going no matter what others around them thought or said about them and the unusual mission each one of them were carrying out! Their ultimate trust in that VOICE gave Mary and Joseph the confidence and strength to begin a long journey on a donkey when their baby was due at any time. That VOICE instilled in them the ability and wisdom to set out in the middle of the night to a foreign country when their baby’s life was threatened. And it was that VOICE that led them safely back to their hometown when the coast was clear and safe.
As I look back now, I can clearly see that it was my wife’s and my confidence in that same VOICE that we heard when He told us that it was the right time to move to Oklahoma to attend Bible College. It was our trust and familiarity with that VOICE that gave us the joy, stamina and grace to endure the persecution we received from various family members concerning their disagreement to our decision to follow that VOICE and “Go Ye!” (See Matthew 28:19 KJV) during as well as after we concluded the event!
In some respects though, I can now understand some of their confusion with our following that VOICE. In Paul’s recollection of his saving encounter with that VOICE in Acts 22:6-10, he stated that “The men who were with me saw the light but didn’t understand what the person who was speaking to me said.” (Acts 22:9 God’s Word ©) John Wesley in his Explanatory Notes wrote that “they did not hear the voice – Distinctly; but only a confused noise.” It would seem that the words were only for Paul’s ears and heart to hear, and not for those around him. That would explain why others around us, even those with a close family relationship, did not understand what we were called to do. To them our move didn’t make a lot of sense. It was a confusing noise that they were determined to clear up for us!
To Joseph and Mary and the other main characters in our story of the first Christmas, that VOICE meant the difference between failing the unique mission in life they were called to complete or to be able to march in God’s planned victory parade! As you enter into this Christmas week I would encourage you to think about the many times that you may have heard that VOICE in your own life over the years. I can’t help but wonder if those who disagreed with our following that VOICE throughout the years were just unknowingly reacting to their own past experiences with that VOICE and the possibility that they may not have obeyed His directions due to their concerns with financial security, the seemingly impossibilities of the request and/or of the fear of what others might have said…
Maybe 2016 is to be a breakthrough year for you to follow that VOICE that next time you hear it, without any reservations. If that is your decision, then why not cut out a star shape from a piece of white paper and jot down that decision on the star and then hang it on your tree or among your other Christmas decorations displayed around your home. Then when you take down the decorations after the holidays, tape that star on your refrigerator or bath room mirror as a reminder of your new found commitment to faith in His love generated, faithful and faith-filled VOICE! Have a great week and keep asking yourself… “What commitment am I expecting to His VOICE today?”