In the dark of night, I sat listening intently. I couldn’t see them, but I knew if I heard the soft trill or descending whinny, my little friends were near. We had hung an owl box in our back yard after a friend had done the same the year prior. She had attracted a pair of Eastern Screech Owls and had the pleasure of watching them for a season while they bonded, procreated and launched a family. One month after we had hung ours in a location we could watch closely, we noticed that a new tenant had come to occupy the box, just as we had hoped. Owls are nocturnal, though, so there wasn’t much to see during the day, unless she gave us a glimpse of an occasional sunbath in the box opening. Under the cover of the night sky, though, she would leave the box for a night full of activity with her mate, who would perch nearby. We could only listen to know they were there.
Fun fact: owls are birds in the raptor family, among hawks, falcons and eagles. They are the only nocturnal variety, though, and as such, God uniquely (and amazingly!) created their wings differently than all other raptors for their survival. They alone have the ability to fly silently. Their wing span is often at least twice the size of their bodies, and their wing structure includes feathers that disperse and break up the sound, allowing them to glide and stealthily swoop down on unsuspecting prey without warning. Every other bird species can be heard, even from a distance, as their wings move. Owls, on the other hand, are often nearby, but you would only know it when they speak.
I grew to love “our” owls as I watched their patterns of behavior. I even became familiar with their voices. As I listened each night, I could tell her higher pitched call from his more even-toned response. I was able to discern when she was calling for food after she had laid eggs or when she was agitated by a nearby bird or squirrel. Each night, I sat still on my patio, without distraction, and I listened. I learned so much and grew so attached to “Ronda” and “Champ”.
I often thought about how God reveals Himself through nature. He shows us His perfect design, creativity, majesty and splendor. Specifically in close relation, several Psalms use the analogy of God’s people being protected under the cover of His wings (Psalm 91:4, Psalm 17:8, Psalm 36:7, Psalm 57:1, Psalm 61:4, Psalm 63:7), and God is even compared to an eagle at least twice (Deuteronomy 32:11, Jeremiah 49:22). He allowed me to watch these metaphors play out in real life with our owls, as they hatched eggs and cared for their owlets.
Even more so, I was reminded to be still and know (Psalm 46:10). Life is so busy these days. Many would say hectic. It’s hard to be still and even harder to be quiet. Oh, the amount of noise, pressures and influences! There’s a lot coming at us through the many media and cultural outlets; so much of it telling us what we deserve, should expect or even demand of life or the people around us. It has us all moving and doing. Talking and thinking more than listening. Rarely sitting in stillness.
May we not forget that it’s in stillness that God meets us.
Our stillness invites God to enter. Our rest calls for Him to work. Our quiet beckons Him to speak. And the more we listen, the more we can separate His voice from the noise of the world. Just as with my owls, the practice of listening helps to discern whose voice is whose and what is being communicated.
How do we know when it’s God’s voice, versus our own or a temptation from the enemy?
Spend time with God. It’s how you get to know anyone. Time creates intimacy and understanding. The better you know someone and their heart for you, the fewer miscommunications you’ll have. Because I sat night after night listening to our owls, I could easily tell the differences between their calls. Similarly, when I am dedicating time with the Lord, I find it much easier to hear His voice and understand His direction for my life.
Most commonly, spending time with God looks like being in His Word, the Bible. One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it is “living and active”. While the words themselves remain the same, God uses His Spirit to convict our hearts as we read. Different words may have added emphasis at times and may take on deeper meaning that relates to our lives in those moment. Be still and listen. It’s a major way that God uses to speak to us, for He breathed out the scriptures through the authors for our benefit. Note: His voice will never conflict with His word. Never. We can count on that.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)
As well, if we expect to hear God’s voice, we should commit to talking to Him. Every relationship is nurtured by time and conversation shared. The same is true of God. And just like every dialogue, you spend some time talking and some time listening. This also applies to prayer!
God loves to give wisdom (James 1:5). If we ask Him to guide us, He will. But we have to listen for His voice and for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. He may not offer the exact response we’re looking for, but He will hear you and in faith He will answer and provide according to His will. If we reduce prayer to a vending machine, though, we lose the best part of conversation with God: close relationship. He is our Father and wants us to talk to Him as such, confessing our fears, emotions, dreams and mistakes. He will speak into each of them in the most loving way.
Lastly, God speaks through other people in our lives. He uses relationships such as spouses, parents, children, authority figures, pastors and friends. God wants to remind us that we need each other. He also wants us to be humble and teachable in our relations with others. Listen for advice and leading that is consistent with His Word and layers on top of what you’ve already heard from Him in prayer. Just as in scripture, He tends to echo things that are important.
We can be confident that if we believe, we will hear His voice (John 10:27). We will know it’s Him, and He will know us. We just need to be intentional to create stillness and listen. Our big God, like my little owls, is always nearby. And when we get quiet, we can hear His voice, be comforted by the assurance of His closeness and learn from what He has to say.
Lord, thank You for presence in our lives. What a comfort to know You are always near and always for us and our best. In our world of busyness, please convict my heart to slow down and to covet the quietness that draws You closer. Help me to enjoy conversation with You and let Your words be clear to me. I want to know You more, Lord. Help me listen for Your voice. In Jesus’ name, Amen.