Have you ever thought about how we recognize voices? It is interesting how some voices are clearly distinguishable and others not so much. When all our girls lived at home, even my husband could not distinguish our voices one from another on the phone. He began each call with, “Which one of you am I speaking to?” But when my husband’s parents call he clearly recognizes their voices. When we call our children, they recognize our voices. They also know by our various inflections, tone, and even by the volume of our voices if we are calling with something good or not so good. This happens because children know the voices of their parents; the ones who care for them, watch over them, call them by name, and go before them. In the same way, Jesus speaks of sheep hearing the voice of their shepherd in John 10:3-5 “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
There is a reason we, the sheep, hear and follow; “for they know his voice.” There is reason we will not follow a stranger but in fact will run from them “for they do not know the voice of strangers.” We must pause and consider these words of Jesus because these are declarations He makes about us.
Jesus affirms these characteristics as fact for Christians (sheep): We hear, follow, know the voice of our shepherd, will not follow but will flee from a stranger, and we do not know the voice of strangers. Notice it does not say we will learn how to hear or follow. It does not say we need to be trained to know his voice or distinguish it from others. It does not say we need to be convinced we should not follow strangers or persuaded to run away from them. Jesus maintains these qualities as a state of being!
As Christians do we recognize the fact we can hear the voice of our heavenly Father? Notice I did not ask if we could hear? But do we embrace the facts Jesus clearly brings to light in John 10:3-5? Do we turn our head when He speaks? Are we comforted when we hear His voice wooing us? God has been speaking to us since we were created in our mother’s wombs. Jesus declares to us we hear Him and we hear the voice of our shepherds (pastors). Not only do we hear but we follow because we know the voice. When we know the voice of our shepherd, unfamiliar voices are readily recognizable. To give an illustration of how this “knowing” occurs let us consider the hearing of unborn and newborn children, taking note of the progression in hearing as they mature, comparing that with our relationship to God.
Infants recognize the voices of their parents when they are born because they have heard those sounds for months. It is commonly understood it is during the fifth month of pregnancy pre-born infants begin to hear. Though their ears are filled with fluid, sounds are still transmitted to their inner ears through vibrations. They are insulated from most outside noise by the walls of the womb, but they become quite familiar with their mother’s voice. Any parent will quickly tell you how their newborn child turned their head at the sound of their voice. One of our daughters was in intensive care the first twelve days of her life. We spent as much time as possible talking to her while she fought for life. For several days she had her eyes completely covered because of the light treatment for jaundice. When we spoke to her, she would turn her head in our direction even though she could not see us. Nurses would speak but she did not turn towards those sounds. We discovered she knew and was comforted by the sound of our voices. She did not know and was not comforted by the sound of stranger’s voices even though they were helping her.
When we are newborn in the Lord, we naturally and instinctively gravitate to our heavenly Father. His Word is alive! We hear Him clearly and are exuberant as we express our love to Him. We know His voice and are comforted by His voice, direction, and love. We do not know the voice of strangers nor are we comforted by their voices. There are no question marks as to whom we love and trust.
Now take that same newborn infant and fast forward a few months. They “hear” even more clearly, recognizing what mom and dad want not only by the words spoken but by the tone and inflection of their voices. Most babies are eager to please their parents, eager to return a smile, hug, kiss, or mimic the sounds being made. This is a wonderful time as parents because the love we have poured out to our children is reciprocated. As grandparents it has been a “grand” time as our grandbabies express their mutual love for us, and in return we cannot help but pour out more accolades and love to them.
As newer Christians we too grow in relationship with our heavenly Father and are eager to please Him. We learn what makes Him happy and what makes Him sad, what His desires for us are, and how important we are to Him. We willingly respond to Him, desiring to be like Him in all ways.
Fast forward a few more months and the hearing of the child develops into understanding and they perceive the response and obedience their parents are looking for. When a child not only recognizes the sound of their parent’s voice, but “hears” what the parent is saying, and “knows” what the parent wants, then they begin to “choose” whether to attend to the voice of their parents or not. In other words, they choose to obey and follow, or they choose to ignore and proceed on their own.
Christians develop in the same manner. Once our relationship with God gets comfortable and we begin to understand at a deeper level the commitment and expectations God sets before us, we begin to “choose” whether to attend to His Word or not. We gain understanding as to what needs to happen in our lives and then choose whether we want to do them or not. Things like dying to self; crucifying our flesh; running the race with perseverance; going and making disciples; living a pure and holy life; confessing and repenting, praying at all times. Rather than “stay” in relationship with Christ and allow Him to work through us, we tend to ignore the relationship altogether and do our own thing. We, like children, do not like the word “no” and will generally push our heavenly Father to the limit to see what we can get away with, even though, we heard clearly!
We could continue this scenario all through life and we would see the correlations progress to the point that oftentimes we forgot Who our first love is- God! Whose voice did we recognize, hear clearly, turn to, and attend to in the early years? As children grow up and mature they often stop listening to the voice of their parents. Most certainly the message of the parent changes as children become teenagers and teenagers become adults. But should that mean children stop “hearing” the voice of their parents? As Christians, we grow up in the things of God. We mature. We no longer speak, understand, or think like a child but in fact, we put away childish things. However, does that make us “less” of a child of God? Does that make us unable to clearly hear the voice of our Father?
Our children will always be our children. As parents, we will always embrace, encourage, and correct them, give advice and direction, and speak into their lives. Will they always choose to hear? Probably not – but we do not stop speaking just because they will not hear. They are still capable of hearing. Parents continue to do what comes natural to them as children of God themselves, shepherding their children because they love them.
God will always embrace, encourage, and correct us. He always is willing to give direction, advice and lead us. He continues to speak into our lives even when we will not hear. Do we always want to hear? The answer is the same as with our children. No! Does that negate the fact we are capable of hearing? No! Does God stop speaking to us because we will not hear? No, He does not. It is natural for Him to be our parent and shepherd us because He loves us!
Beloved, we know His voice! Only believe the precious words of Jesus as our Good Shepherd! “The sheep hear his voice” and “The sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”