“So God told you to leave your husband?” “Yes” she answered, “He said I was released from my marriage.”
These are the kind of scenarios that cause pastors to wish they’d never taught their church members that God speaks. But this woman wasn’t using God as an excuse to get out of her marriage. She wasn’t looking for an escape hatch to find a younger model. This woman was a victim of domestic abuse. A marriage of ten years to a controlling and aggressive husband had left her fragile and broken. Her life was falling apart.
Was it God speaking to her? When she told her pastor what she’d heard, he answered her with quotes from the Bible; “God hates divorce… What God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Domestic abuse has been the forefront of the Australian news of late. Stories have emerged of pastors counselling victims to stay with their husbands in spite of abuse, a high view of the sanctity of marriage informing their counsel. So was it God speaking to this lady, and if it was, how could it be if it contradicted the Scriptures?
What the pastor quoted was true. God does hate divorce (Malachi 2:16). His plan for marriage is for two people to join together in a lifelong relationship such that nothing separates them (Matthew 19:6). For better or worse, the marriage vows say. The ideal is for both parties to stay faithful to the covenant relationship; caring, loving and providing for each other. But tragically not every covenant is honoured. In such cases we’re told divorce may be necessary because of humanity’s hardness of heart (Matthew 19:8). The Scriptures cite instances of adultery and desertion, but not abuse. What do we do when faced with a situation the Bible doesn’t specifically address?
What would Jesus say to a terrorist? Just this week we’ve received news here in Australia of another terrorist plot. Our nation remains on high alert after police uncovered plans to allegedly bring down a commercial airline with a bomb or toxic gas.
It’s difficult not to feel helpless every time we hear those kinds of reports. Most of us are not politicians, international diplomats or war strategists. How are we to respond to the constant threat of terrorism we receive across the world today?
Today’s podcast looks at the ‘Jesus way’ to approach terrorism. What would Jesus say to a terrorist? In order to answer that question, we’re going to take a look at what he’s already said. This is not the first time the world has been threatened by terrorism. History has been here before – with the early church facing similar questions to what we do today. In their case the enemy wasn’t ISIS, but the Roman empire – a force that was actually far stronger and just as brutal. Some people in the church had already been martyred for holding to their faith.
It’s in this context that God speaks back and shows clearly how his people should respond. His answer is found in our Scriptures in the book known as Revelation. It’s incredibly creative (there’s lambs, blood-dipped robes and a wedding feast) and, as often the case with God, entirely different to what we’d expect.
When I was in high school, I was nominated the person most likely to be married first by my friends. My dream was to be a wife and mother and nothing more. I still remember my cousin suggesting that perhaps I should consider a career in medicine and thinking she was an alien from another planet. Why would I have a career when I would get married? I had planned my wedding dress, the style of my house, the number of children I would have and yes, even the babies’ names.
Then I went through my 20s – I had a few prospects – but it didn’t happen. Then came my 30s – with a few more – but still it didn’t happen. Now into my 40s and Mr Right is nowhere to be found. Life didn’t turn out quite the way I expected.
When I was first asked to speak on singleness at a friend’s church, I baulked. Are you kidding me? Who wants to be the poster girl for singleness? Are you sure you don’t want another message on how to hear God’s voice?
Then I realised there weren’t many people talking about it. Over 50% of us are single in countries like Australia, the US and the UK1, but we’re under-represented in church life.2 Single pastors and leaders in church are rare.3 And even when they’re there, no-one wants to talk about it.
I was 21 years old, had been in church all my life and read the Bible from cover to cover, but had never heard God speak. I knew a lot about God – the things that my parents and pastor had taught me – but I knew him in the same way you’d know the Queen of England through the pages of a magazine. I didn’t know him for myself.
Then at university I met a friend. Jill talked about God like he was her next-door neighbour. “God said this,” “God said that.” At first I was intrigued. Then I got annoyed. Why was Jill always hearing from God and I wasn’t? And more than that, why did people like Abraham, Isaiah, Paul and Phillip and all the others in the Bible hear God’s voice while I couldn’t?
I longed to know what it would be like to have a personal conversation with the Creator of the Universe. If God could speak to me, what would he say? What would the one who knew all my past and all the possibilities of my future speak to me about?
Then again, if God did speak, what if he called me to the wilds of the outback, or worse still, ask me to marry someone ugly? And what if I got it wrong?
How do we get better at hearing God’s voice? The answer doesn’t lie in a formula or a set of rules: “Follow these 3 steps, take time out or spend 15 minutes with God each day.”
Hearing God’s voice happens in the context of relationship, so if we want to get better at it, it’s the state of our relationship that becomes the focus. This week on God Conversations with Tania Harris we’re talking about how to get better at hearing God’s voice. It’s one of the most important questions to ask because it lies at the heart of knowing God.
We’ll get better at hearing God’s voice by applying the same principles that we use to grow communication in our human relationships. In the podcast, we look at three different principles that apply:
1. Make a commitment to improve your communication
Learning to hear God’s voice is a process that develops with time and practise. We learn to recognise his voice.
The prophet Samuel was a man who knew how to hear God’s voice. He was the expert. The Bible says of him that not one of his words fell to the ground – they all came to pass (1 Samuel 3:19). In fact Samuel became the prototype for all prophets to come. But he wasn’t always as good as hearing God’s voice. The first time he heard it, he thought it his mentor calling. He heard the voice three times and still he didn’t get it right! (1 Samuel 3:1-15).