August Column entry: Keeping the Faith by Hearing His Voice
Column Description: Writing as a Christian who is a doctoral student at a public institution of higher learning, Lakelyn reflects on how graduate students can maintain their faith in graduate school when it seems hard to do. This column is not about how to “beat” the “other” side in debates about religion or secular ideas. It is not a column about winning arguments or converting people. Rather, it is about cultivating Christian mindsets to various struggles in graduate school and navigating what it means to be a Christian and a scholar.
Keeping the Faith by Hearing His Voice
Before a baby penguin is born, the daddy penguin will develop a unique call and will “talk” to the unhatched baby over and over again. The baby learns to hear and recognize that call even from inside its egg. The father will go through this process because, once the baby penguin hatches, it’s game on. Not all baby penguins hatch and not all those that do hatch will survive. The fathers who have lost their own babies will try to mimic the sound of other adult male penguins in order to lure that penguin’s baby to itself. The only way for a baby penguin not to be swept away by another is by intimately knowing their own father’s voice.
I first heard this narrative from Paul Epperson, a Forge itinerate speaker, during my internship with the organization. I will never forget when he paused at the end, looked around at all of us, and then said, “The Christian life is a life of competing voices.” I thought the parallel between the two – penguins and the Christian life – was not only poetic, but very accurate. As a graduate student, we are not only pulled in many different directions but the voices telling us how to be and who to be and when to be those things are relentless. And highly persuasive. These other voices in our lives are trying to mimic our Father’s voice to lure us away from Him.
Not all of the voices are bad or have mal intent. Sometimes, these voices are meant to be helpful. The pitfall is when we let these voices distract us from what God is asking of us or when we let them convince us that God is wrong. Let me be the first person to tell you how easy that can be. To give you a real-life example, when I was in my master’s program at UCF, many people told me to go someone else for my PhD program so my three degrees would all be from different places. I won’t get into all the details of it, but the advice was sound and I knew it was coming from people who had my best interest at heart. They were just telling me what the perceived standards were for a path in academia. They probably weren’t even wrong, yet God was telling me to do the exact opposite. He told me to stay at UCF and go through their new PhD program. I ended up listening to God but not before doing some serious wrestling against the voices – now existing only as an internal dialogue – that were telling me to do what the world of academia seemed to be expecting of me.
It’s a hard battle to fight because those other voices are louder and can sometimes make much more sense than God’s voice does. However, it’s important to try and ignore those voices as you seek to keep the faith. In order to do it, though, you have to know God’s voice and learn to hear Him when He talks to you. Many people I’ve spoken with feel like they don’t know how to recognize God’s voice and doubts whether He actually desires to communicate with them. Let me try to put your mind at ease. God loves you and, as a result, wants to engage with you. God also values your uniqueness and speaks to you in a way that will resonate the most with you. For me, I hear an audible voice and one that repeats a word or phrase continuously (because I’m stubborn). I know others who say God speaks to them through images or scenes that get stuck in their minds. Or others who say God speaks to them in song lyrics. The key is not to learn how God speaks to others and then try to hear Him in the same way. Rather, learn the way God speaks to you. It may be through a vision (Gen. 15; Acts 10:9-18), a burning bush (Exodus 3), a whirlwind (Job 38), a soft whisper (1 Kings 19:10-13), or even a dream (Matthew 1:20-21). Don’t underestimate or limit God’s creativity here.
When we learn to hear God’s voice in our lives, we are more likely to remain resolute in His callings, His instructions, and His will. If you are struggling to hear from God, the first thing you need to do is slow down. It’s hard to hear anything when we are constantly on the move. I don’t know about you, but graduate school sure does like to keep me busy, preoccupied, and deprived of time alone with God. Turning my ears and my heart to God, though, is one of the most effective ways I keep my faith strong amidst all of the other voices I’m prone to listen to.
As Paul Epperson lamented, “We are in constant danger of missing the majesty of God by being distracted by the trinkets of this world that will break three seconds later.” We are penguins tempted to hear the cry of every other penguin instead of our actual Father. We must remain steadfast against this pervasive persuasion by learning how to hear and obey God’s voice. Slow down. Truly listen. Ask God to reveal His voice to you. And then, don’t be surprised when He actually does.
And so we go….