So far in our exploration of hearing from God we have talked about expecting God to speak into our lives and letting Him whisper into our exhaustion. However, there is another, and perhaps more difficult, aspect of listening to God that must be considered.
We get a glimpse of this challenging aspect of listening to God in the life of the Apostle Paul. It comes at the time when he encountered Jesus in all his risen glory on the Damascus road. We read in Acts that Paul “was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1). He was en route to Damascus to imprison followers of Jesus. He was passionate and focused on his purpose.
But as many of us well know, Paul encounters the glorified Jesus along the way and his life is never the same. He has an experience of listening to God but it is not in the typical manner. We read this:
He fell to the ground and heard a voice. (Acts 9:4)
Many times, when we discuss listening to God we are looking for God to give us certain things that we need. We search for guidance from God about decisions; we are seeking His wisdom. We look for God’s presence in difficult circumstances; we are seeking His comfort. We desire to know more about God for our growth; we are seeking His teaching. We turn to God for relief or support in times when we do not know where else to turn; we are seeking His provision.
In Paul’s case, however, we encounter something quite different. Paul was not looking for something from God. No, Paul thought he already knew what God wanted for his life and for the world around him. Paul sensed clarity of purpose and direction. He was heading to Damascus with what seemed to him to be divine direction and objectives.
It was in the midst of Paul’s determined action that God breaks into his life. God interrupts Paul and shows him something unexpected and undesired. God gets Paul’s attention.
I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9:5b)
Some of the times we most need to hear from God are also times when we do not realize that we need to hear from Him at all. There are moments in our lives when, even though we operate with determined purpose and clarity, God needs to interrupt us in order to get our attention. We may not fall to the ground blinded by the glory of God, but we may find ourselves derailed, like Paul, from our focused intentions or the plans that we thought God had for us.
For Paul, God brought a different mission that was truly of divine origin: “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim My name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name” (9:15-16).
When have you had God interrupt your life in order to speak? How has God grabbed your attention in ways you had not expected? What did that look like? How did you respond?