Who do we turn to when things go wrong? Who can be counted on to never leave our side? To always be there when we need them? Scripture tells us that God can be trusted for this, that in fact Jesus died and was raised again so that we could have a deeper connection with God the Father, that through Jesus the Spirit of God lives in us. No matter what happens in our lives, no matter what we go through, God is always looking out for us.
Who can we count on to tell us who we are? To remind us when we forget, or when we just aren’t sure anymore. Our culture has many answers to this question. Corporations try to tell us who we are and what we need every day. Sociologists have told us that we are nothing more than the sum total of the influences of our social environment; including our family, our friends, the TV, movies, and anyone and everyone we happen to meet along the way. At least that’s what the sociologists I’ve talked to have to say about it.
But let us not forget society itself, which is proud to tell us that we are either a man or a woman, pink or blue, normal or not normal. Society never fails to tell us when we transgress the written and unwritten rules of who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do.
Yet here again, the real answer is that God can be counted on to tell us our real identity and to remind us when we forget. God transcends the limits of culture, family, the media, and society. Many well meaning people can twist God’s words to us and tell us lies about who we are. I’ve certainly experienced that, have you? But though God loves all of his children, He doesn’t necessarily speak through all of them. He will always be honest with you, may even tell you things you don’t want to hear. Yet he never speaks guilt or shame into you when He speaks.
Anytime you hear a voice speaking guilt or shame into you, be it external or internal, know that this is not God. God is always proud of you, even when you mess up. He may correct you, but God’s correction will always build you up, not tear you down.
In the course of our lives we may hear many voices that try to tell us who we are. We may hear it from the movies or TV shows we watch, we may hear it from people trying to sell us something. We may hear it from family or friends, from politicians, or our own church leaders. We may hear it from strangers on the street who are bursting with opinions, willing to share them anyone owning a functional pair of ears.
Every day we are bombarded with messages about who we are or what we need, most of which are either false or irrelevant. Some sound good and yet simply aren’t true. Others are hurtful and are definitely untrue. Some of the most negative messages come from within ourselves; they can sound like still small voices and doesn’t God speak in a still small voice? And yet these inner voices can speak condemnation to us, telling us we are worthless, not normal, not right with God, etc. But again, we must remember that God does not speak condemnation to us. Often our inner voices are fed by culture, by media, by our social environment. Some days our past can speak lies to us: “You won’t amount to anything. You never have, don’t you remember?” or “You poison everything, look at the number of friends you’ve lost over the years.”
But God can cut through all these voices if we listen for Him, remembering that His words always encourage, even when they aren’t what we want to hear. It is sometimes difficult to hear God through the many voices of culture, society, and the inner dialogue of our own thoughts. Some people may even have other obstacles between them and God’s voice, such as my friends who suffer from schizophrenia. But God’s voice is always there, patiently reminding us who we are, we just have to listen; some of us may have to listen harder than others. And even if we can’t hear Him, we must remember that He is still there.
A simple trick to remember if we can’t hear God is this one that I use all the time: anytime you have a negative thought or feeling that’s weighing you down, embrace its opposite, even when it doesn’t feel true. God’s voice is never oppressive, so if you’re feeling oppressed it’s not from God. This technique deceptively simple, so simple we may be tempted to dismiss it. “It can’t be that easy,” we think. But in a way it is.
I myself have spent a significant portion of my life battling depression. The last few years of my life have not been good ones. I’ve lost friends, been denied many job opportunities, and am currently struggling with a mountain of student debt I acquired while studying for a degree that has yet to pay off for me. Time and time again I apply for work, sometimes I even get an interview, but I’m always passed up.
My depression would have me believe that there is no future for me, that I am beyond hope. But this is not what God has to say to me, I know that because it is not in His nature to be so cruel. And in my worst moments I find that reminding myself of this opens the door to hearing from God. I start remembering other things my God has promised me, and before long it’s like God and I are having a lengthy chat about what He thinks of me.
This approach isn’t perfect, it’s just as prone to human error as any other, but with practice it can be a useful tool. God always meets us halfway anytime we attempt to find Him in the midst of our circumstances. The truth is, when we try to seek him, we often find He’s already been trying to get our attention for quite some time.
God is always speaking, and if we let it, His voice can be much louder in our ears than any of the other voices speaking in or around us. Many will try to distract us from the voice of our God, but in the end it is we who choose what voices to listen to. Practice makes perfect.