Does God speak to you? Do you believe God is infinitely closer and more involved in your world than you give him credit for? How does God speak in Scripture and how can you learn to recognize his voice everywhere in daily life?
Bible Gateway interviewed Liz Ditty (@lizditter) about her book, God’s Many Voices: Learning How to Listen. Expectant to Hear. (Worthy Publishing, 2018).
Explain the title of your book.
Liz Ditty: In 1 Kings 19:11-13 God speaks to Elijah, who was hiding in a cave at the time. There’s a hurricane-force wind followed by a terrifying earthquake followed by a raging fire, but the voice of God came after all of them, still and small—or in a whisper. The idea of God speaking in a whisper—gentle and accessible—causing us to lean in towards closeness is one of the beautiful ways God speaks to us.
Before the whisper came, God’s voice already spoke into the cave in verse 9, asking Elijah “What are you doing here?” Elijah was scared and defensive, so what’s God’s next move?
He invites Elijah to stand in his presence and watch him pass by.
God meets Elijah right where he’s at, with exactly what he needs. Elijah doesn’t need fire or earthquakes right now, although that’s exactly the voice people would expect God to use. Elijah needed the reassurance of God’s presence—that he was not alone—and he heard it best in a whisper.
I believe we’re all invited to a conversational life with God, to be in his presence and watch him pass through our world leaving fingerprints everywhere. God has so many ways that he can speak to us; he’s not limited to earthquakes or whispers. We can count on him to meet us in ways we might not expect, with the words we most need to hear. God can and does speak to us in familiar ways, like the Bible and prayer. But the more we get to know the one true God of the Bible, the more we see him everywhere in the world around us.
Why do you begin the book with Psalm 29?
Liz Ditty: Psalm 29 is one of the many places in the Bible where God is not whispering. In fact, David depicts God’s voice manifesting itself in many ways that reads like many voices: including the ground-shaking, wind-blowing, lightning-striking fire that echoes 1 Kings 19.
If you’re anything like me, this kind of manifestation of God’s voice can be a little terrifying! Um, excuse me Lord…can we please whisper again?!
In verses 10 and 11 we’re reminded that God is not just our whisper buddy; he’s the all-powerful King. Most importantly, we see the effects of God’s power in verse 11: the power of the King gives his people strength and peace.
I think it’s important as we approach the voice of God that we “fear not,” but also that we recognize the power of his voice and let him be the unharnessed King who is strangely gentle but also fiercely strong. Only when we understand that this is the voice of God—and we don’t get to control what he has to say or when he says it—will we stand in the shadow of his greatness and draw both strength and peace from his power.
What does it mean for “God to show up” and how does a person learn to recognize that?
Liz Ditty: I used to think it was goosebumps or miracles or something like a light bulb moment for God to appear. It’s actually fascinating to me how many times God or one of his angels appears in the stories of the Bible and isn’t recognized at all. Sometimes God’s presence is blindingly obvious, but other times easily overlooked. I think it’s still that way today.
The words used for God’s glory in the Bible have to do with weight and radiance. We can help one another learn to notice and recognize the moments in our lives that seem to shine a little differently or hold a different weight in them and discern if it’s God that we’re noticing. It’s not a formulaic solution; it’s a natural result of listening to God’s words in community that we all learn to hear and recognize his voice.
What are God’s expressions that we need to recognize?
Liz Ditty: If we think about the times in Scripture that God was not recognized, it’s because he came in an unexpected way. A baby in a manger? A stranger walking on the Emmaus road? A squishy, wiggling baby or a coincidental bump-in with a stranger feel all too ordinary to be sacred interactions with God—until the blinders come off.
If we don’t disqualify our dish-piled kitchen sink from being saturated with potential for holy conversation, we might be surprised to recognize God’s heart for us there. Once we learn how to recognize his voice through the Bible and experience and prayer, we may be surprised that we begin to hear him everywhere—even in baby cries and the stories of strangers who interrupt us.
How can a person discern between “hearing imaginary voices” and God actually communicating with them?
Liz Ditty: Right! Discernment—or that ability to judge and determine truth—is absolutely essential. I’ve heard people say with complete inner conviction that God told them to have an abortion or that pornography was God’s gift to help them endure singleness. And in both cases they had prayed and truly believed it was God’s voice.
When we start slowing down to listen, we might be surprised how many voices we hear. There’s our own inner voice, the voices of people whose words lodged themselves in our brain and run on loop (I still hear my dad telling me I can’t carry a tune in a bucket), and even the voice of Satan, our accuser. Our minds are noisy places! How do we know when it’s God’s voice that breaks through?
The Bible is a great place to start, because when we get a sense for who God is and the kinds of things he says, then anything that goes against either his character or his commands can’t be his voice. Practice is really important: the more of God’s words we hear the easier it is to recognize inconsistencies. Prayer and patience will help us examine ideas to see if they’re from God. Also, our communities hold wisdom, experience, and perspective that can guide us towards God’s true voice.
As I say in God’s Many Voices, “The only thing worse than a church of people who hear God say crazy things is a church of people who aren’t listening for his voice at all.”
How should the Bible be read to hear the voice of God?
Liz Ditty: I recently saw a book of wise sayings people had gleaned from their parents. The quotes and quips were profound, inspiring, and funny. I forgot all of them. I cannot remember a single one to say here. But those words were life-changing for the person who wrote them and still (presumably) affect the ways they make decisions decades later.
What’s the difference? The words were just as wise when I read them as when they heard them, but that author heard them in the context of relationship, transposed on real life, and repeatedly over time.
The Bible is a curated collection of divinely inspired, humanly crafted literature from diverse genres. The Bible isn’t just wisdom so we can lead successful lives; it’s also how we learn who God is and the kinds of ways he acts and the kinds of things he says.
Like the wisdom in the advice book, we’ll be impacted most by God’s words in the Bible when we read them in the context of our ongoing relationship with him, transposed on real life, and consistently over time.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Liz Ditty: Bible Gateway is on my internet toolbar! It’s my go-to resource for quickly finding a verse that I’m thinking of. I’ve used it responding in this interview! I use several online Bible study tools online but Bible Gateway stands apart in its simplicity and uncluttered interface. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone looking to search out the words of God in the Bible.
Bio: Liz Ditty is on the teaching team at Westgate Church, a multi-site non-denominational church in Silicon Valley. She also preaches at other local churches, and loves to speak to leaders, women, and college students. Author of God’s Many Voices, she is a trained Spiritual Director through the Sustainable Faith program and believes we can all see God more clearly when we look for him in the stories that surround our everyday life. Liz and her husband live in San Jose, California, and love exploring the Bay Area with their two young kids. Connect with her at www.LizDitty.com.
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