1-5 "Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he's up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won't follow a stranger's voice but will scatter because they aren't used to the sound of it."
We have many opportunities to listen and to respond to many voices each day. There are individuals we admire that speak words of advice - easy to embrace as a voice we want to listen to. There are individuals that are passing acquaintances in our lives - we listen to them, but are more selective in what we act upon when they speak. Then there are individuals that are only influential because of their position, prominence, or popularity - we'd be surprised how often we lean toward their voices without even realizing it.
Each voice represents a unique place in our lives - some are more intimately "in tune" with the deep spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of our lives. That is what Jesus was referring to when he said the sheep hear his voice. As a matter of fact, they listen for it! Why do they know his voice? Simply because they have become familiar with it. It is a pretty well-accepted fact that we respond to what we are most comfortable with. If we are comfortable with the voice of Jesus, it stands to reason that when he speaks, we will respond.
Look at what Jesus says about the "other voices" we listen to:
- They are deceptive - they don't come at you with honest intentions. There is an agenda in mind that is contrary to your good.
- They are misleading - they promise on thing, but end up leaving you in a more chaotic place than you were in the first place.
- They are not reliable - they not only deceptive and misleading, but they cannot be counted on when the rubber meets the road.
The voice of God is entirely different:
- It is trustworthy - his voice is well-known by his disciples. He comes with words that encourage, exhort, and direct. As he speaks, the words settle in deeply.
- It is directive - his voice gives clarity, never bringing chaos or uncertainty. In fact, his voice is instructive to those who know him.
- It is loving - his voice comes at times when we need to know his presence and care the most. His words are those which uplift, keep us safe, and afford us the opportunity for shelter.
This is a new year - an opportunity to clarify the source of the "voices" we listen to. The voice of God - simple, direct, and loving - comes at us "straight on". As our shepherd, he has direct access to our lives - no need to weasel his way into our lives because he has been granted open access to our hearts, minds, and emotions. If the voice we are choosing to listen to is coming at us in a forced, uninvited way, it is likely not the voice of God.
There are many choices in life, but none so rewarding as choosing to listen to the still small voice of our loving God. Choose wisely who and what you will listen to in 2011.