“For God may speak in one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it.” Job 33:14
Have you ever listened to a stream? If so, you know that it can speak in many tones. It may be soft and hushed, loud and boisterous, or almost imperceptible as it moves along its course. As I was sitting beside our creek the other day, I listened to the sounds of the water and thought of all the different voices I had heard from it over the years. There have been times when I could hear its movement from the back deck, more than 100 feet away; other times I have had to crouch beside a rocky curve in order to hear it speak; and there have been times when I didn’t hear it at all, but as I looked upon its ripples, I knew it was still on course…still moving…still communicating; even though undetectable to my ears, it was evident to my eyes.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that water and communication share some of the same vocabulary terms. After all, both involve the movement of things from a place of origin to a point of destination and, in so doing, follow a predetermined course. Both rely upon waves and currents to move from place to place and, thanks to the internet, we can now add “live streaming” to the list of shared terminologies. Unfortunately, as our accessibility to speedy communication has increased, so too has our expectation of a speedy response. And, as we have become accustomed to rapid response rates from others, so too have we come to expect them…even demand them…from God. We want to send, and receive, with the fluidity of water, but we forget that, sometimes, messages flow through the wait as much as through the waves.
In Isaiah 30:18, the prophet writes, “Therefore, the LORD will wait for you, that He may gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.” When we examine this text, we learn there is purpose in the wait. In fact, there is grace and mercy in the wait! God, the Creator of time, could answer us before we even form a question; could send the provisions before we even make the request; could live stream His response even as our knees are bending and our heads are bowing. He could, but He doesn’t. He doesn’t, because He’s gracious…because while we want to avoid the silence, He wants us to enter into it…and to listen…and to hear…and to wait. It’s the opposite of what we think communication is. For us, communication has a short shelf-life; it is sending and receiving, speaking and hearing, writing and reading, and, perhaps, ebbing and flowing…but only if it’s done quickly; there’s no time for the Lazy River Ride…we want the Tsunami Twist! But in God’s communication with us, He invites us to sit along the bank and to listen to the language of the stream.
Sometimes His voice is quiet, and we have to lean in to hear…so close that His breath brushes our cheek as “our ears hear a voice behind us saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21). Other times, His voice is clear and distinct as when He says, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27). And then there are the times we thought we heard…it seemed like there was something that just passed by our receptors…but we didn’t quite grasp it. “For God may speak in one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it.” (Job 33:14). So many nuances to His voice and to His purposes and plans not only in the response but also in the timing of the response. Just like the water in the creek, God’s messages to us move at their own pace and with their own level of sound, but they always move, they always flow.
I think David saw this connection between moving water and the living, speaking Word too. In Psalm 1, he refers to man’s need to be planted by streams of water; in Psalm 23, he walks beside still waters; in Psalm 42, he speaks of having a great thirst for the water; and in Psalm 46, David records that the streams not only flow from God but to God. There is something about the characteristics of water that draw our minds to the nature of the One who created it. It may be gentle and refreshing, powerful and foreboding, unfathomable and awesome, but it is life-giving and life-sustaining; we cannot live, much less grow, without it. Such is our need for God; such is the necessity of hearing from Him.
Sometimes we want our communication with God to resemble our communication with others; we want to quickly give and even more speedily receive. But we need to remember that God has much to tell us while we seem to be “on hold”. It is during these silences that He takes us back to what He has already told us, to what we know to be true, to the assurances of His word that never, ever change. While we await new messages, He invites us to replay the old ones; while we want to listen with our ears, He desires that we listen with our hearts, to never misinterpret the silence as indifference…to know that…at the very minimum, not only have we been acknowledged…we have been heard because God’s thoughts are always on us.
“How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them,
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I am awake, I am still with You.” -Psalm 139:17-18
I don’t go to the creek as often as I’d like and I don’t listen to God as intently as I should. I wish I could say otherwise; I wish that by writing what I know to be true, it would…by decree…happen, but that isn’t how things work. I cannot drink one day and expect to be nourished from that point on. I must go daily to the waters that flow from God; I must come with my empty cup that it may be filled, and I must learn to listen not only with my ears, but also with my heart and with my eyes. I must remember that sometimes the waters roar, sometimes they gently lap, and sometimes they flow silently, but they always move, they always proceed, they always follow their course. Live streaming? It can happen, but even when it doesn’t, the abundant waters always flow…the communication never ceases.