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The Power of a Whisper

Hybels.jpgI’ve heard our pastor, Bill Hybels, speak of whispers and promptings from God for years, and so I’m glad to see that he has put together all of his thoughts on whispers from God in his newest book: The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond

People get nervous about this subject. Many have stories of stupid things people have done because “God told them to do something.” Some have stories of where they thought God was telling them to do something but it showed later that it wasn’t God at all. It was dopamine or something else.
And yet… yet …. yet… go ahead and read your Bible and you will see witness after witness of God speaking to someone. Abraham and Moses and Samuel and David and … wow, the Solomon and the “Tell me what you want” episode … and prophets like Elijah and, don’t forget this one, the voice of God to return from Exile to the Land and to rebuild that Temple under Ezra and Nehemiah.
The New Testament, too, has it all over the place. Of course, Jesus, but many want to exclude him because he’s the Son of God. But God spoke to Peter and told him to head up to Joppa and we have the first gospeling of Gentiles, and then God spoke powerfully to Paul and we could go on and on. 
And the Church has had the same witness (you’ve got to read about “whispers that change the world” in chp 9). And yes all kinds of goofy things have happened (read chp. 4 on how to know when you are hearing God.)
But once we admit God does speak to us, why not now? Read this book by Bill Hybels and you will find the “spiritual” inner person that has been in prayer for decades, that has been seeking the face of God as a Christian leader, that has heard from God about parenting, and that has been listening for God — during good times and during his dry seasons — and how he has had the courage to respond to what God’s promptings were. In many ways, the history of Willow Creek is the history of God’s promptings of Willow Creekers. (Read chp. 3 and you’ll see what I mean.)
Is there any genuine Christianity where God does not communicate with his people? 
The question that kept coming to me as I went through this book: Why not now?
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posted August 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I love this idea of listening to God’s whispers to us, and I look forward to reading this book. I’ve heard Bill Hybels talk about this, and it is quite inspiring.

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posted August 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Why not now? I think we’re often too busy and too noisy to hear the “still, small voice.” I also think that at times we think that which is whispered to us is too simple to be “the answer”. We get so caught up in complexity that the simple whisperings of our Lord can go unnoticed or get minimized.

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posted August 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Dr. McKnight
I totally agree. For a long time I would brush off subjects like this and just think to myself that we’re in a new era, and God doesn’t do that anymore. However, when I look over my life, it’s so interesting to see where God has spoken to me through people, events, feelings, and Scripture.
I think He does still speak, but I also believe that we need to be still enough to hear His voice, to discern it, and focus on it. Reminds me of God speaking to Elijah out of the still small voice in the cave… His voice comes in places where we least expect it
Bill Hybels has so much wisdom to share… it’s nice to see pastors that continue to share it with not only churches, but those of us who are young and working to be faithful in pastoring churches

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Hal Seed

posted August 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Bill is a hero of mine. The combination of Bill’s speaking and God’s whispering caused my wife and I to plant New Song 18 years ago. I’m looking forward to reading his latest. Thanks, Scot.

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Kit McDermott

posted August 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I began the spiritual discipline of listening prayer in 1985. Since then, I’ve been teaching this essential way of praying and being with Christ to people on Listening in Christ retreats and through spiritual direction. It never ceases to delight me in the goodness of God when he opens the “ears” of someone’s heart. Most people I’ve talked to say it was the beginning of a spiritual awakening that changed their understanding of what it means to walk with God. I know it revolutionized my openness to the heart of the Father and and the wonder of the Son. I believe it is the normal ( and biblical) Christian life.

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posted August 1, 2010 at 6:05 pm

But if I read the Calvinist blogs, they tell me that the Book is closed and there are no personal revelations. All you need is in the Bible and searching for whispers is actually counter to the will of God. And that prayer should only consist of talking, not listening. That is my favorite. I wish I could remember the rationale but it was one of those 25,000 excruciatingly logical proofs and I bailed out.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 1, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Sounds good. Yes, and I think this is related to our thoughts over here lately on discernment. It takes some time ordinarily for a believer to discern the Lord’s voice and what it means.
Recently I’ve had the sense that the Lord is saying to me, “Slow down.” But to work that out, and what that means for me requires continued prayer, time in the word, in community, and more of the same. But I can see good fruit in my life as a result of trying to follow up and understand something of what this means, the unfolding of it.
I’m sure there’s so much more the Lord has for us this way, as we go along, and learn to listen and respond. To me it is a whisper, and all too faint sometimes, related for me to slowing down, and taking time to process life and what God may be saying….

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posted August 1, 2010 at 6:38 pm

This summer our young adult community have been exploring this very subject. We are using the book The God Who Speaks: Learning the Language of God by Ben Campbell Johnson. It’s all about how God continues to speak and developing ways of discerning his voice. I would recommend anyone pondering GodSpeech to check it out. Another recent book on this subject is Sacred Echo by Margret Feinberg. I’ve never read anything from Bill Hybels but I will check this one out.

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Lived in Wien!

posted August 1, 2010 at 7:35 pm

“The trouble with nearly everybody who prays is that he says ‘amen’
and runs away before God has a chance to reply.
Listening to God is far more important than giving Him ours ideas.” – Frank Laubach

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Jill Shaw

posted August 1, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Speaking of whispers
A friend received an email from our pastor asking if she wanted to be baptised on Sunday. As she was driving along composing her email reply in her head with all the reasons why she couldn’t be baptised right now, she switched over to a different radio station and heard very specific words concerning baptism.
“Yes, being baptised is inconvenient, embarrassing, and awkward, but it’s also obedience.”
She thought God was rather cheeky to speak directly to her when she was least expecting it!
She shared the story over lunch after being baptised with her husband, brother & cousin that morning.

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John M

posted August 1, 2010 at 8:26 pm


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kevin s.

posted August 1, 2010 at 9:52 pm

“But if I read the Calvinist blogs, they tell me that the Book is closed and there are no personal revelations. All you need is in the Bible and searching for whispers is actually counter to the will of God.”
This is not the Calvinist position, though I understand how the attitude of some Calvinists would make it seem so. In fairness to them, this is a response to a culture in which God’s revelation is often said to contradict scripture, which it certainly does not.
And that’s where we all need some balance. We need to listen for God’s leading, but also place it within the framework of his instruction. More, understand that his leading is often FOUND in his instruction.
If we are not close to the scriptures, we are ill equipped to hear God, or to interpret him. His whispers, then, get lost in the din of our flesh.

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posted August 1, 2010 at 11:12 pm

I used to hear God’s whispers on occasion. I think he stopped whispering when I stopped obeying. Or else he’s still whispering but my questioning resistance, doubt and disobedience have clogged my ears and heart.

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John W FryeYour Name

posted August 2, 2010 at 5:26 am

kevin s (#12),
“This is not the Calvinist position, though I understand how the attitude of some Calvinists would make it seem so. In fairness to them, this is a response to a culture in which God’s revelation is often said to contradict scripture, which it certainly does not.”
I rarely have heard a Calvinist appeal to “a culture in which God’s revelation is often said to contradict Scripture.” And rarely do those who believe that “whispers from God” are for now believe that those whispers will contradict Scripture. Some spiritual lunatics maybe believe so, but not the vast majority. The prevailiing Calvinist position is that the holy canon is closed; God has spoken and it has been inscripturated. God has nothing more to say than what is written. But what if as God overrode his own inspired Word *in a dream* to provoke Peter to go to a Gentile (Cornelius), should choose to do so today? God did not issue a word/dream/whisper for Peter to sin, but to obey a missional vision. Who would say that God *can’t* do that today? Most Calvinists that I am aware of, do.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 2, 2010 at 5:43 am

John (Frye),
Yes. I well remember a man, brilliant and quite gifted, and a (five point, I believe) Calvinist say that he believes the only way God speaks to us today is through the words of scripture. I guess I have a hard time believing he really meant that, or could hold to that, to this day.
I suppose he would say (though in the way that only he would say it) something like: Yes, through the circumstances of life God will speak, but only in the words of scripture, as we receive help from the Spirit, to so hear.

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posted August 2, 2010 at 10:31 am

“…the only way God speaks to us today is through the words of scripture.”
Does this turn the trinity into a duonity or something, with the Holy Spirit AWOL? I wonder what the scriptural justification is for God no longer speaking to us.

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posted August 2, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I certainly am aware of the position, most often associated with a particular brand of Calvinism, that the canon is closed and to appeal to any other “word from God” is to appeal to something that isn’t there. And I know that many people relate to that.
But for most of my youth, “hearing God’s voice” was raised to an impossible standard. The classic scenarios–who to marry, what college to attend, what job to take, etc.–all of these had to be held up until God told you want you were supposed to do. And woe to you if you misheard, because then you would be “outside God’s will” and would set yourself up for a world of hurt. I’d hear endlessly of people saying that God told them this or that, and I couldn’t fathom what exactly that would sound like or feel like because, to my knowledge, I’d never experienced it. Anything that went wrong was my fault for not hearing God properly, and I began to suspect that God might be rather enjoying tripping me up by exploiting my inability to “hear” him and then zapping me accordingly.
It sounds stupid to me now, but I was long taught that this was a good evangelical hoop I had to jump through and I was well into my 20s before I started to take a different view.
I no longer believe that I have to somehow divine a narrowly defined “right plan” for my life, just like I don’t believe that God doesn’t speak anymore. But I know from talking to others that this narrow “right plan” view isn’t all that uncommon. I haven’t read the book, but I’ll guess/hope that it wants to rescue the notion of hearing from God from either of these unhelpful extremes.

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posted August 2, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Sounds like we’re back on the Wesleyan quadrilateral / experience and (versus?) scripture discussion again. Love it!
“Why not today?” Scot asks. Why not? indeed! And does the Bible suggest that God today might only speak through Scripture? Can you imagine the chaos if Sunday Schools actually brought up significant topics like this and then let the kids think it through without too much doctrinal filtering or censoring by the teachers? That would be amazing to watch. Messiness in education is often frowned on, however.

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kevin s.

posted August 2, 2010 at 2:19 pm

“Who would say that God *can’t* do that today? Most Calvinists that I am aware of, do.”
It is not clear to me what the difference is between “overriding” and “contradicting”. If scripture says ‘A’, and you believe that God is overriding ‘A’ with ‘B’, then ‘B’ is contradicting ‘A’.
Calvinists believe that the canon is closed, which is hardly an extreme position. No mainstream church or denomination is looking to add to the canon.
Could God add to the canon? Of course, but his stern warnings for us not to do so ourselves should serve, at minimum, as a strong check on any movement aiming to do so.
But this is not the same as saying God does not speak to us or lead us. Calvinists will speak of being called to ministry, or to missionary work, for example.
What I see more frequently is what Megan describes, where people are told to wait, sometimes endlessly, for God’s calling, especially in relationship situations. Calvinists tend to have an attitude along the lines of “obey God, but do what you want”, which I think is often a healthier approach than waiting for God to tell you whether so-and-so is “the one”.
But if you hear God whispering for you to get involved with a married person, or to take a job far away from any good church, or to get a divorce for unscriptural reasons, then you are simply imputing God’s motives into your own will.

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Jim Martin

posted August 3, 2010 at 8:39 am

Scot, this is something that I came to late in life. In part, I think that I was reacting to a host of abuses regarding this. However, as you say, it is there–in the Bible–in both Old and New Testaments.
So glad for this post regarding Hybel’s new book.

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posted August 3, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I’ve come to think of this this way: when I was younger my mother would tell me what she expected and what I shouldn’t do…she imparted wisdom, rules to live by, etc. She told me our family story, etc etc etc
When I got older, I didn’t need to call my mother all the time to find out how I should act. Her voice went with me.
In the same way, the more I read the scripture, and I mean really read it, sink into it, eat live and breathe the more often I hear the voice of God speaking to me.
To riff on an old saying: God speaks to those who accustom themselves to his voice.

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posted August 3, 2010 at 8:25 pm

I am on the other side of a long silence. A quiet I sought outside of the voices of human flesh and into a time of seeking only the voice of God. Somewhere in my past I had begun to equate the voices of those around me {trusted advisors, mentors and pastors} as the voice of God speaking in my life. Until the moment I found that all those voices and the voice of God did not sound anything alike. A twisting of spiritual manipulations had left me wounded. Rejected. Lost. Completely alone.
It took a long time for me to trust the “still small voice”…to know that the voice speaking in my life was not a figment of my imagination or some weird abstract hallucination. There was an intentional surrendering of all that I had known, for a reshaping and defining that only God could form.
I have a number of friends who say they have never heard the voice of God, and some who rush full ahead believing that everything they hear is Him. All I know is what seeking Him meant for me. The path I walked with an intentional heart to find.
Here are some of my recent thoughts on Hearing God with some steps I took to find the whisper:

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posted August 25, 2010 at 4:19 pm

A website has been developed associated with this book that’s dedicated to reading and sharing whispers from God.
You can view it at

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Jamie S.

posted December 15, 2010 at 9:53 am

When God spoke to people in the Bible, He spoke to them directly, either He Himself or a messenger (Angel). God never whispered to anyone. Read and STUDY the Bible. Don’t look for mystical experiences like the Gnostics. God is very straightforward. “and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”. 2 Timothy 3:15-17.

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posted January 12, 2011 at 7:08 am

1 Kings 19:12 speaks of a still small voice. Isn’t this a whisper?

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