Imagine you are ...hired to open up an office in Anchorage, Alaska. Your new boss gives you a high-tech looking two-way radio, a policy and procedure manual, and tells you that you will receive instructions once you arrive, and off you go. Upon arrival you hear your boss's voice over the radio, saying, "I will communicate to you through this radio unit. But take note: our competitors, our enemies, also have access to this channel. They will try to impersonate my voice with false messages to thwart our purposes." "Oh no!" you panic, "Then how will I know if it is you or the enemy giving me instructions?"
Your boss's voice comes back over the radio: "Three ways. First, considering the situation, check every message supposedly from me against the policy and procedure manual. Since I wrote it, I'm not likely to ask you to violate it, right? Also, if I am not talking, don't focus in on the noise, pretending that I am. If I am not speaking, let the manual be your guide. Don't let any impersonating voice mislead you, or your own overactive imagination."
"Second, since the Manual does not cover every situation, you will have to get to know my voice. I know, this will take time, and so I am not likely to ask you to do anything radical until we both have some low-risk successes under our belts. Remember, I understand the situation perfectly well, so I'll go slow at first. A time will come when I will be able to tell you to do the wildest things, and you will know it is me. In the short-term, you must be trained through low-risk experience."
"Third, over time, my overall purpose for your work will begin to come into focus. You will begin to see the grand strategy in the policy and procedure manual, and the overall pattern of my true instructions. When this happens, you'll know instantly if what you hear through your unit is 'of me', just your imagination, or enemy misinformation. False instructions will begin to appear silly to you then. So take heart, and get to work."
After reflecting on this a few moments, you hear your boss's voice again on the radio unit. "Take all of the money from petty cash and give it the next person that walks in, no questions asked." Hmmm... You look in the policy and procedure manual, and this is specifically forbidden. Besides, you know your boss wouldn't tell you to do something that risky right off. And also there was an certain "twang" to the voice, an appeal to something different within you, and a plan that was not in the long-term interests of the company. So, even though you are on a hostile channel, you are beginning to have hope that you can indeed do this job.
God speaks to us through our minds and hearts. God occasionally speaks audibly to His children when He has placed them in situations that require great faith. Thus, the miraculous aspect of a physical voice coming from nowhere allows us to believe in situations that are beyond us.
John 12:28 [Jesus prayed,] "Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine."
Why did Jesus go out of His way to point out that the voice was not for His benefit? Because He heard God all the time. He was in constant communion with the Father. But the disciples needed to hear it, so they could have faith to believe. Remember, Jesus was about to be rejected by the religious establishment, taunted and humiliated, and executed. So God spoke audibly. God knows when we need a sure word, and works around our lack of maturity in times of great need.
2 Pet 1:16-19 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
Discerning God's Voice
Mat 17:5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"
Outside of miraculous visitations and audible voices, our general problem is one of hearing God's "still small voice". What would the Spirit have us do next? This leadership comes through "promptings" to our hearts or minds, which are generally low-risk until we mature. God tells us to call someone late at night; to give someone the money in our pocket; to offer to pray with someone about something very specific that we couldn't have known. Often, we'll go wrong, but if we humbly reflect on our errors we can gain confidence for future promptings.
If we have learned to discern God's voice in small things by acting on God's low-risk promptings and finding them validated with fruit that lasts, then God may prompt us to "tell that person I am going to heal them". At this point of maturity, those practiced at knowing God's voice need not pretend or merely hope. They can speak with authority, conviction, and results (Rom. 12:2). They need not be double-minded or resort to psychological gymnastics (James 1:5-8). They can pray in real faith (James 5:15). For "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).
Jer 6:10 "To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it."
Orders From On High
Isa 30:20-21 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."