It was a real privilege to read Liz Ditty's new book, God's Many Voices. I enjoyed it so much that I suggested to my oldest daughter that we read it together as she enters her last year of high school and the college decision-making process. I wanted to talk to Liz a little bit more about her book, which I hope you'll get a copy of at Amazon or wherever books are sold.
Liz, the title of your book is God’s Many Voices. Can you talk a little about what that means?
In my work as a Spiritual Director and jail chaplain, I had many conversations with people who wanted God’s voice to be a part of their lives but didn’t think He spoke to them. They said things like “God is so silent” or “God doesn’t speak to me like He speaks to…”.
When I asked them what God’s voice sounded like, some said they didn’t know. Others talked about hearing God speak clearly in an audible voice, or getting goosebumps, or knowing a clear answer to something. Sure, God can speak in sudden clarity- but that isn’t the only voice He has.
When we have learned to listen for God’s voice and expect Him to speak in many different ways we won’t miss all of the important things He has to say to us. If the Holy Spirit is in us as believers, then God is with us and He is not silent. The Bible, Prayer, Community, Beauty, Coincidences, Desire, even Silence can be ways that His Spirit draws us closer to Him- if we are paying attention. God uses many voices, and if we know what to expect we can hear Him as much in His speaking as in His silence.
As you know, many people struggle to hear God’s voice in their daily lives. What would you most like to tell people about learning to hear God’s voice, especially in times of hardship or frustration?
One of the most famous stories of hearing God’s verse is the story of Elijah in a cave, when God’s voice came to him as a whisper. There are a couple important things we often rush past in this interaction.
First, Elijah was frustrated. Even though he had heard God’s voice clearly, the events in his life were not lining up with what he expected the plan of God to look like. By the time he wakes up in this cave, he is utterly confused and a little disappointed and feeling very alone and abandoned (1 Kings 19:10). If that is where you are, God’s invitation to Elijah is for you too.
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (I Kings 19:11)
No matter how we are feeling, we live our lives in the presence of the Lord- in a world that is saturated with spiritual realities and the fingerprints of God. Our lowest moments can be the best times to stand in the presence of God and pay attention to see if we can watch Him pass by.
See what happens next. There are flashes of wind and fire and earthquake- all the ways God has spoken in the past and the ways Elijah would expect Him to speak. But those aren’t the voices God is using with him now, instead God speaks in an unexpected whisper.
There are times I have been utterly heartbroken and turned to places I expected to hear God’s voice but came up empty. Not because He never speaks in those ways, but because He had something different to say.
For example, the Bible is the starting point for God’s voice- like the fire of the Old Testament. But there have been times I tried to read my way out of fear or hopelessness and came up dry. That didn’t mean that God wasn’t speaking to me. Just because God wasn’t in the fire, or the wind, or the earthquake that night doesn’t mean God isn’t speaking. We might have to wait for the whisper- or the unexpected call from a friend, the unbothered sunrise, or other reminders that God is still near. We can trust that one of His unexpected voices will find us when we are standing in His presence waiting for His words.
A point you make in your book is that people may not recognize God’s voice, even if He is speaking to them. What’s your advice on learning to recognize what we may already be hearing?
Our minds are cluttered with voices! Learning God’s voice and becoming familiar with who He is and the kinds of things He says is important in discerning His words. The Bible is an anchor of truth for us, especially the stories and words of Jesus in the Gospels. John 1 says that Jesus Himself is the Word of God that will point us to who God truly is, He teaches us to recognize the wild and gentle voice of God. We also get better at listening the more we listen, and our communities become an important aspect of our discernment.
With that foundation we can begin to recognize the three markers Dallas Willard attributes to God’s voice: “What we discern when we learn to recognize God’s voice in our heart is a certain weight or force, a certain spirit, and a certain content in the thoughts that come in God’s communications to us.”
In your book, you talk about the everyday distractions that make it difficult to hear God speaking to us. What is your advice on how we can better develop our discernment in a world that values a loud, busy, stressful life?
When I feel like God isn’t speaking to me, if I’m honest, I’m not spending a whole lot of time listening. Maybe a quick little 15 minutes of reading and prayer? It’s not always awe inspiring if I’m honest, but then I realize that intimacy and connection is never built by us showing up for each other in short periods of time with unrealistic expectations.
That’s not how human relationships work, and it’s not how we can expect our relationship with God to work either.
I hope as we journey together through God’s Many Voices that we aren’t just moving towards God’s voice, we are moving towards God Himself. The real invitation of listening is relationship, and slowly with many mistakes we can all learn together how to live life with God- the abundant, beautiful life of freedom and ongoing conversation that we are all invited to.