Working through a preaching series on the minor prophets, again and again I come across a phrase, “The word of the Lord that came to…”
That phrase appears more than twenty times in the minor prophets (at least 10 of those are in Zechariah alone!):
- “The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri” (Hosea 1:1)
- “The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel” (Joel 1:1)
- “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai” (Jonah 1:1)
- “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time” (Jonah 3:1)
- “The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth” (Micah 1:1)
- “The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi” (Zephaniah 1:1)
- “the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel” (Haggai 1:1)
- “the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai” (Haggai 2:10)
- “The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time” (Haggai 2:20)
- “the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo” (Zechariah 1:1)
- “Then the word of the Lord came to me” (Zechariah 4:8; 6:9)
- “The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi” (Malachi 1:1)
Many times the word was unexpected, but it was always clear.
We see this throughout the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, in characters like Noah, Moses, Hannah, David, Mary, Zechariah, Peter, and Paul. Again and again, we see these people having encounters with God that are clear, in which God clearly speaks to them and they are truly hearing from God.
This raises several questions for us about what it means to hear from God. Over the course of the next week on my blog, I want to wrestle with a few of those questions as a way to engaging more deeply with God in a lively, dynamic relationship of faith. Here is the first question I want us to wrestle with today:
Can we hear God like the prophets and these many other characters in Scripture? To put it another way: does God still speak to His people today as He did in Scripture?
This question immediately raises two more:
- If no, why not?
- If yes, how can we experience it?
So, let me do my best to walk through some answers to this question a little bit at a time.
Some would answer that question with a resounding “NO.”
- No, God does not speak to us and we cannot hear Him today like the prophets and others in the Bible
- The biblical characters are unique in a way that we are not
- They received special revelation so that we don’t need to
- The Bible is sufficient – it is enough – and we shouldn’t look for some additional revelation from God
But, I think that the answer to that question is YES.
- Yes, God does speak to us and we can hear Him today in ways that are similar to the prophets and others in the Bible
- The overwhelming testimony of Scripture is to a God who speaks
- In fact, what sets the God of the Bible apart from other purported gods is that our God speaks, uniquely in words
- Genesis – “And God said…” – God creates with words
- Exodus – Sinai covenant and the Ten Commandments – God guides with words
- Prophets – “The word of the Lord that came to…” – God corrects with words
- Jesus – “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14) – God is the Word
- The overwhelming testimony of Scripture is that God speaks and Hs people listen
- Jesus Himself said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. ” (John 10:27, NRSV).
- That is also true in the history of God’s people after the time of the Bible– the pervasive testimony of Christians in history is that God speaks to His people
- Augustine hears God speaking to Him through Scripture and the song of a child
- Teresa of Avila, a 16th century nun, speaks of hearing God and receiving visions from him
- Brother Lawrence, a 17th century French monk, speaks of developing a conversational relationship with God in the midst of his mundane duties, like washing dishes
- In more modern times, 20th century English evangelical writer Joyce Huggett tells of hearing the voice of God
- John Piper, a renowned conservative evangelical preacher and author, tells of clearly hearing the voice of God on March 19, 2007, in a way that changed his life.
Again, our first question was “does God still speak to His people today as He did in Scripture?” The testimony of Scripture itself and the history of God’s people over time and in various places is affirmative. Our God is a God who speaks, and we, His people, can hear His voice.
This, of course, raises the question: what does it mean to “hear God,” and to that question we will turn tomorrow.
 Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, VIII.29.
 Teresa of Avila, Autobiography and The Interior Castle.
 Brother Lawrence
 Joyce Huggett, The Joy of Listening to God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986).
 John Piper, “The Morning I Heard the Voice of God,” March 21, 2007; https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-morning-i-heard-the-voice-of-god.
I had the privilege to write an article on preaching in Advent for Preaching Today, which was just recently released. You can read the entire article, “Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent,” at Preaching Today, but here’s a taste of what you will find there.
In my childhood, one of the greatest moments of anticipation was Christmas. I couldn’t wait for the chance to decorate, eat Christmas cookies, and, of course, open presents on Christmas Day. Every Christmas Eve I struggled to go to bed, and was usually the first one up to see what was waiting under the tree. The anticipation and wonder were like adrenaline coursing through my body.
As we grow older, most of us lose some of our wonder. The novelty of Christmas starts to wear off, at least a little bit. Along with that, our anticipation gets trampled down under the weight of responsibilities, the rush of preparations, and, at times, the heaviness that comes on those of us for whom the holidays bring sadness.
There is a remedy for lost wonder and trampled anticipation. That remedy is not getting more expensive presents, having flashier decorations, or inviting the right people to our parties. The remedy is stepping back enough to realize what we have lost it, and then going through a journey of recovery. Like a relationship that has lost its spark or a hobby that has lost our interest, we need to take time and effort to see what’s right in front of us with fresh eyes.
The church has a recovery program of sorts for lost wonder and trampled anticipation leading toward Christmas. That recovery program is called Advent, which means “appearing,” coming from the Latin word adventus. Advent looks back with wonder at Jesus’ birth over two-thousand years ago, while also looking forward with anticipation to his future return at the end of human history.
As preachers, we have a unique opportunity to help our congregations enter into that recovery of anticipation and wonder. My hope in this article is to offer four pathways for preaching in Advent so that our congregations both taste the longing that leads us to cry out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and savor the joy that sings, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”