We had four kids in six years. Robbie’s job kept us on the move (it got so that people would ask if I were a Navy wife and, when I said no, they’d squint their eyes and take a step back, like maybe we were in Witness Protection). Without any family nearby, I reached out to anyone who looked nice. Including potential babysitters. I didn’t check references; if you had a pulse, you were hired.
I must have had the look of the blitzkrieged back then, because all sorts of strangers gave me advice. Some of it was not super helpful (like the lady who said it was “not safe” to put four children into one grocery cart, especially when they were covered by boxes of Captain Crunch, Kraft Mac-n-Cheese, and some cheap Chardonnay. “Can the baby breathe under there?” she wanted to know. But did she offer to babysit so I could go by myself to the store? I don’t think so).
Some tips, though, were really good. Like, a gal in one of my Bible Studies (I went to at least two, whenever we moved, because Childcare) told me that I would never remember all the funny/cute/awful/wise things my kids said, down the road.
“Just write what they say on a napkin, or a receipt or whatever,” the sage woman said, “and then throw it into a drawer. Later, you will be glad.”
Well, it’s later.
And I’m glad.
Because I accidentally found the contents of the drawer (which, during one of the moves, got transferred into a filing box) last week. Consider the following:
Annesley (and if you’ve read my books or been around this blog for awhile, this won’t surprise you) was always a girl with a plan. And her questions were usually deep:
Mom, when you die, can I have this ring? (She was a five-year old, eyeing my wedding diamond.) Like, if I just slip it off your finger real gently and quick…would you mind?
I wish I’d recorded my answer. I have no idea what I said. I hope it was something wise and comforting, something along the lines of, “Oh honey, it will be a long time before Mommy dies.”
(Or maybe something a bit more to the point. Like, “Get thee behind me, Child.”)
On the plus side, the file also revealed Annesley’s keen ear for the Lord. How, she wanted to know, could you tell if it was God speaking to you, or if it was just your own voice in your head?
A fair question. And one that many of us might be asking today. And my answer started out well.
“Well,” I said, “For one thing, God’s voice will never contradict Scripture.”
Annesley looked a bit blank, so I plowed ahead (and here’s where things got a bit dicey). “Like, the Bible says things like Thou shalt not kill, and Honor your father and your mother. So if you felt like God was telling you to kill your mother, you could be sure that that wasn’t his voice.”
(Okay, okay. I had four kids in six years, remember? I was not at the top of my intellectual game.)
“Kill your mother?” Annesley repeated, incredulous (which I took as a good sign, given the whole wedding ring thing). But then she folded her arms, and gave it some thought.
“Well,” she finally said, “it that was God, he’d have to have a PRETTY GOOD reason.”
Anyhow. I know my example might not be the most appropriate one, but the principle remains true: When God tells us something, it will never run counter to what he says the Bible. That’s one sure way we can check to see if it’s him.
Another telltale sign that it’s God is that he may convict or correct us, but he never condemns. You know that inner voice that says, “You’re pathetic… You stink… Shame on you…”? Yeah. That one. That one is not God. That’s our enemy, the accuser. Also known as the father of lies. Don’t listen.
Listen, instead, for encouraging words. Words that build you up and prepare you to live a purpose-filled life. God’s voice is like his written word, “useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training” so that we may “be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
And finally, God’s voice is never scattered or frantic, and it’s rarely loud. Instead, it might come as a whisper. And it might take awhile to discern. Which is one of the reasons why the Bible is so keen on us biding our time. “Though [the revelation] linger,” Habakkuk 2:3 reminds us, “wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”
These three signs – consistency with Scripture, convicting rather than condemning, and focused rather than frantic – are hallmarks of God’s voice. There are others, of course (and you can discover more via studies like Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God, which I quote in the upcoming Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, because I think one of the keys to writing a half-decent book is tapping into the wisdom of people way smarter than you).
But at least I’ve got these three markers down. And the next time someone gives me advice – whether it’s a lady in the grocery store, a gal at my Bible study, or a voice in my head – I’m gonna be ready. I will stack the words up against the counsel of God.
(And the next time one of my kids comes up with a question, I am for sure going to have a better reply.)