At the recommendation of a friend, I have just finished reading Bill Hybel’s book entitled, The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God and having the guts to respond. It is clear from the outset that Hybels believes that God speaks to all who want to hear – not constantly, but more regularly that we realise. The challenge is to recognise when God is speaking and to do something about it.
How does God speak? There is no mention of the charismatic word, vision or prophecy – although I do believe God speaks through those too. Most often, Hybels says, God speaks through more usual channels – a whisper, not always audible but discernible to those who make time to listen. Or through a barely audible voice or a phrase that is put into the back of your mind. Sometimes it is through a verse of scripture. Hybels is big on encouraging people to read the Bible and memorize verses. An appendix to the book contains a number of verses which can help in all sorts of different situations that are worth memorizing. At the time of need, Hybels claims that God places these memorized verses back into the front of the mind. God also speaks through the words of others around you to challenge and redirect.
When does God speak? Well, God can speak at any time but he is more likely to be heard by those who are trying to listen. Every so often Hybels suggests taking time out away from work, family and the usual distractions to pray. A retreat can be great to recharge and reconnect away from the busyness of everyday life (Hybels likes to go and sail alone and be out on the lake). Often God is heard on these retreats because we take the time to listen.
What does God say? Hybels puts the whispers of God into a few broad categories: whispers of assurance that tell us that we’re ok, loved, or on the right track; whispers of admonition which are a sudden call to stop or change; and whispers of action which instruct us to do something in particular. In addition, when God speaks through scripture he can bring us a truth about salvation, assurance, fear, temptation pride, anger wisdom, security, power, peace, contentment or identity – as these are some of the themes of scripture but spoken at the right time they can make the world of difference.
How do you know when it is God who is speaking? Hybels is the first to point our that not everything you might like to do, or even feel called to do, is from God. He advocates a five-step process to discern whether a prompting is actually from God or not. Does it align with what you know of God? Is it scriptural? Is it wise? (most of the promptings from God will be deemed wise by his standards). Is it in tune with your character? and lastly, what do your trusted friends think of it?
The book is packed full of stories of times from his own life and in the lives of others when someone has discerned God’s will, has responded and has seen the effect that following God can achieve.
He begins with stories about God making dramatic turns in his own life. When he was 21 there was the beginning of the calling as he was sent on a post-graduation holiday by his father to Copacabana beach as a reward for his hard work at college. At a restaurant, he recalls overhearing a middle-aged American couple talking loudly over their dinner. The husband was saying “All those years of putting the hours into the business, working late, weekends, putting the family second are worth it to have achieved our ambition of sitting here, in this restaurant looking over this beach”. Hybels remembers thinking, well I’m only 21 and I’m already here!” This was the moment he felt God say ‘Bill, I haven’t wired you up that way. Money will never motivate you”. Some time later at Seminary, a clear whisper that “the local church is the hope of the world” was the beginning of his now global ministry to resource local churches to reach those around them. It is not all about him. One chapter contains nothing but short stories from people in his congregation who have followed a whisper of God.
I can really relate to this book for it’s down-to-earthness, clarity and practicality. Bill is not afraid to tell stories about when he has got it wrong either. In the past I have found that God has tended not to speak to me using the more obviously charismatic spiritual gifts – just once or twice. Here is a book that affirms God’s closeness to us and his willingness to speak through the everyday pattern of relationship with him, when we make the time to seek God and listen.