By Marvin Lumbard
During our devotions together the other day, I told my wife, Diana, that I’ve been struggling in prayer recently. Later that same day I opened an email from Andrea, the Message editor, asking me to consider writing an article on prayer. As I read it, my initial response was “No.” Who was I? What was I? And of all times now…when my Father’s ear seemed distant. When reading Psalms recently, I had been nodding my head in agreement as David asked God why He wasn’t answering or why He wasn’t doing the “God things” when they seemed so necessary “right now.”
Yet now as I write, the sun isn’t up yet, not because early mornings are some part of my spiritual pattern but because this morning I can’t sleep. God is speaking. Before I even took the time to formally pray about Andrea’s request, He spoke. My friend and former boss, Spencer Keroff, pastor of First Church of the Open Bible in Des Moines, Iowa, says, “Prayer is a two-way conversation with God.” I guess this is me experiencing that conversation.
Knowing His Voice – Hearing
I wouldn’t say that I receive many “words” from the Lord. Oh sure, I know His anointing when I preach or teach, but aside from the written Word of God that I have hidden in my heart, I don’t recall very many phrases that He has spoken to me. Most of His leadings, which I expect daily, are more like nudges.
One phrase from the Lord that I do remember came many years ago when I was in my quiet place. He said, “Music is not your ministry; prayer is.”
Since music had been a prominent part of my life, this word was timely. It wasn’t a corrective word, but a directive word. I knew it was Him. It bore all the characteristic features of something He would say: it was in the stillness, it was gentle, it carried with it the peace that I have come to expect with any of His leadings, it fell into a thematic pattern of what I knew He had already said in Scripture, and . . . it wasn’t something I would tell myself. His directive didn’t change much on the outside; you probably wouldn’t have seen any difference at all in my life, but it was “the voice behind [me] saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).
I cherish the story about Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Elijah was at what may have been the lowest point of his life, hiding in a cave in the wilderness afraid for his life. It was at this point that God spoke to him. I think the narrative is for us mostly (Elijah already knew the voice of God).
In essence God said to Elijah, “We need to talk. Meet me on the mountain.” As God passed by the cave where Elijah waited, rock-breaking winds tore at the mountain, then an earthquake shook the ground under Elijah’s feet, and then there was fire. (Wouldn’t we love to experience any of these as vehicles of God’s voice!) Only after the fire did Elijah hear the voice that He recognized – the quiet one, the one that required Elijah’s heart to be still enough to hear. Such a familiarity comes only with time spent in His presence.
Obeying His Voice – Doing
One of the keys in Elijah’s narrative that I missed for a long time was the part Elijah played in his meeting with God. God told Elijah where the meeting would take place, but Elijah still had to go there. Even though he was waiting in a cave on the mountain, Elijah still had to get up and go meet God when he heard God’s voice.
As much as God has done to clear the path for us to be near Him, He stops a distance away and says, “Draw near, seek, knock, ask.” Part of the maturity of knowing God is certainly the recognition of His voice, but of equal importance is saying “yes” when we hear it. Perhaps the greater struggle is not in hearing His voice but in being willing to do what we hear Him say. More often than not, the call to come is heard when there is plenty to do and we’re buried in the midst of it all.
I’m reminded of the time when I was an eleven-year-old lying under a ’66 Dodge Polara with my grandad, doing my part to swap out a 318 under a big, old tree. Suddenly Grandad stopped working, so I looked at him to see what was going on. There he was, hands raised in that narrow space between the earth and the underside of the car, giving glory to our God who had given us the strength, the provision, and the understanding to fix one of life’s necessities. Grandad had heard the voice call to him, and he responded instantly. Long before I met his God, I learned a timeless lesson.
Drawing Near is the Solution to the Dryness
I mentioned earlier a recent season where God’s voice seemed faint. I find that unless I am harboring sin, the faintness or distance is just His calling me to a deeper place.
The busier we become, the easier it is for our secret place to lose its significance. Loud and desperate voices clamor for our attention. Jesus too was called on to meet the needs of many well-meaning, loved, and godly people. I think of Lazarus’s family (John 11) and the godly Greeks with whom Jesus refused an audience in His final week (John 12:20-26). In these times of busyness the still, small voice will lead us to pray when we should pray and to pray with whom we should pray. Without this leading we find ourselves submitting to the pressures of others’ priorities. (My dad always says, “Everybody has a plan for your life.”) As we listen and obey, God leads us into deeper places of dedication, deeper places of victory, and deeper places of responsibility (Matthew 25:14-30).
Jesus was misunderstood much of the time because His teachings were from a source that was higher than that of His listeners’ understanding. His leading was also from a higher source. Not until after Lazarus’s resurrection did his family get over the offense they felt by Jesus’ tardiness. Perhaps the Greeks never did understand why he couldn’t give them a few minutes. One thing is for sure, His timing was always spot on; so was His prayer time. Walking in the peace of the Father, near to His voice, Jesus was confident that the day would be directed by the Spirit. With His mind fixed on the Father, Jesus walked in the peace of God all the time (Isaiah 26:3). We can too.
About the Author
Marvin Lumbard is the husband of Diana Lumbard. “To everyone’s amazement” (according to Marvin), she has been married to him for 43 years. After spending 22 years in the aircraft industry, Marvin’s focus became ministry. He served as the worship director/worship pastor at First Church of the Open Bible in Des Moines, Iowa, for 11 years. Ordained with Open Bible Churches, Marvin has served as pastor of Community Chapel, an Open Bible church in Des Moines, since January of 2018.