Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God by Mark Batterson
Mark is the pastor of National Community Church (NCC) in Washington DC. A few years ago, Barbara and I attended a wedding of the daughter of a dear friend in DC. The daughter and her husband attended Mark’s church so we visited it the Sunday after the wedding. We were very blessed to see so many young people there. They were meeting in movie theaters throughout the city. I love what God is doing through Mark through NCC. This book is a very good introduction to listening to God. I read “The Circle Maker” by Mark and found that it energized my intercessory prayer life. I hope that this summary will encourage you to learn to hear God’s voice. Don’t just stop with the review. If you like what you read here, buy the book. There is much great material in the book.
Mark opens the book by describing the Tomatis effect. This is the case where we lose our ability to hear certain frequencies and this prevents us from speaking at those frequencies. Mark believes that:
Learning how to hear the voice of God is the solution to a thousand problems! It’s also the key to discovering our destiny and fulfilling our potential.
“If your life is off-key, maybe it’s because you’ve been deafened by the negative self-talk that doesn’t let God get a Word in edgewise!”
He then asks us:
Is God’s voice the loudest voice in your life?
And then makes the following observations:
We live in a culture where everyone wants to have his or her voice heard but has so little to say. … The best way to get people to listen to us is for us to listen to God.
If you aren’t willing to listen to everything God has to say, you eventually won’t hear anything He has to say.
Chapter 1 – The Bravest Prayer
Mark talks about the way sound works. He says that when God breathed into Adam life – he says the God created Adam with a whisper. “The use of breath instead of vocal cords is significant.” He says that when we whisper to someone, they have to draw in close – that’s why God speaks to us in a whisper. I love the example of this game he played with the kids. I would love to make a video of this acted out.
When our children were young, I would occasionally play a little trick on them. I’d speak in a whisper so they would inch closer to me. That’s when I’d grab them and hug them. God plays the same trick on us. We want to hear what He has to say, but He wants us to know how much He loves us.
He also uses the example of the inside and outside voice. God, he says, usually uses his inside voice when He speaks to us.
God has an outside voice, and He’s not afraid to use it. But when God wants to be heard, when what He has to say is too important to miss, He often speaks in a whisper just above the absolute threshold of hearing.
When someone speaks in a whisper, you have to get very close to hear. In fact, you have to put your ear near the person’s mouth. We lean toward a whisper, and that’s what God wants. The goal of hearing the heavenly Father’s voice isn’t just hearing His voice; it’s intimacy with Him. That’s why He speaks in a whisper. He wants to be as close to us as is divinely possible! He loves us, likes us, that much.
Mark tells of a sermon series where he
challenged our church to pray the bravest prayer they could pray. By bravest prayer I mean the prayer you can barely believe God for because it seems impossible. It’s often the prayer you’ve prayed a hundred times that hasn’t been answered, but you pray it one more time anyway. For me the bravest prayer was that He would heal my asthma. And it was brave because asthma is all I had ever known.
I love the old adage that he used in this chapter:
Those who dance are thought mad by those who hear not the music.
He goes on to describe how he asked God to heal his asthma when he was young. Instead God healed some warts on the bottom of his feet. He wondered if someone else got healed of asthma who was praying about warts. But God spoke to him and told him that:
Mark, I just wanted you to know that I’m able!
Then he described how many years later he prayed the bravest prayer he could think of and that was to heal his asthma. And God did. I am in the middle of praying the bravest prayer I can pray.
Mark is a master of generating catchy adages like:
God doesn’t answer 100 percent of the prayers we don’t pray!
Good ideas are good, but God ideas change the course of history.
Next, Mark makes a case for our need for silence. He describes the following:
For the past thirty-plus years, an acoustic ecologist named Gordon Hempton has compiled what he calls “The List of the Last Great Quiet Places.” It consists of places with at least fifteen minutes of uninterrupted quiet during daylight hours. At last count there were only twelve quiet places in the entire United States!
As Hempton noted, “Quiet is a think tank of the soul.”
Yes! Our soul needs silence. Mark concludes that:
Your life is too loud.
He describes how distractions keep us from hearing God:
“I neglect God and his angels, for the noise of a fly,” said the English poet John Donne.
The noted author and professor Henri Nouwen believed that silence was an act of war against the competing voices within us. “Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved,” said Nouwen, “you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply.”
If you want to hear the heart of God, silence is key.
Next Mark tells us that Beethoven’s 5th Symphony begins with an 8th note rest. And we need many 8th note rests in our life to help us understand what God is doing.
Chapter 2 – The Voice
In this chapter, Mark shows how God uses His voice in a variety of life giving ways. In the process he repeats one of his famous maxims:
Prayer is the difference between the best we can do and the best God can do.
Chapter 3 – The Whispering Spot
I remember visiting the capitol in DC as a kid and having the Whispering spot pointed out. It is a place where acoustically one can hear voices on the other side of the hall. He believes that just as there are whispering spots in the physical realm, there are places where we can hear more spiritually. He encourages us to find those places where we can hear God’s whispers.
Mark points to some worn depressions in the floor in John Wesley’s prayer room indicating how much he prayed. During a tour of the house, a very young Billy Graham was seen staying back and kneeling in that spot praying: “Do it again.”
So we need to find our whispering spot where God speaks to us:
Listening doesn’t happen by default; it happens by design. You have to go outside the camp and build a tent of meeting. You have to seek solitude, seek silence. You have to ruthlessly eliminate distractions.
He closes the chapter with one of his well worn maxims:
change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.
Part 2 – The Seven Love Languages
Mark often introduces something he has learned. Usually it relates to his topic but not always. He opens this chapter talking about Howard Gardner’s different types of intelligence:
His original categories had eight types of intelligence: word smart, number smart, picture smart, body smart, music smart, people smart, self smart, and nature smart.
I introduced this to my 11 year old granddaughter last week. We talked about each category. I asked Ashlynn what she thought each meant. She got most right. When I asked her what it meant to be people smart, she said:
It means to be a good socialist.
She meant – “good socially” – but I thought I would send it to Bernie Sanders.
Out of this, Mark concludes that because we are all different and it affects they way we hear God.
God speaks to different personalities in different ways.
We need to not rely on the way God speaks to others.
At some point most people settle for secondhand spirituality. But listening to those who listen to God is no substitute for seeking Him yourself.
Mark covers seven ways God speaks in the next seven chapters:
Chapter 5 The Key of Keys – The First Language: Scripture
Mark figures it takes two years to write a book. So every book he reads he obtains an additional 2 years of experience from the author.
To date, I’ve read at least thirty-five hundred books, so I’m at least seven thousand years old in book years!
Here are some insights about God speaking through Scripture:
According to rabbinic tradition, every word of Scripture has seventy faces and six hundred thousand meanings.
“A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” Charles Spurgeon
When the Bible says something more than once, we ought to listen to it at least twice.
When encouraging us to use Lectio Divina he draws on neurological science to encourage us to think with our eyes closed:
alpha waves are amplified by closed eyes, which might be a physiological argument for praying and meditating that way.
“I wonder what would happen,” said Peter Marshall, “if we all agreed to read one of the Gospels, until we came to a place that told us to do something, then went out to do it, and only after we had done it…began reading again?”
Chapter 6 The Voice of Gladness – The second language: Desires
Mark says that one way we hear God is through our God given desires.
Tell me how much you enjoy God, and I’ll tell you how spiritually mature you are.
Frederick Buechner noted the challenge of choosing the right voice to listen to in his book Wishful Thinking. Buechner cited three default settings: society, the superego, and self-interest. If we don’t turn them down or tune them out, those become the loudest voices in our lives. Society bombards us with its messages all day, every day. Billboards, commercials, click ads, and social media are the tip of the iceberg. Superego has the loudest voice. And self-interest is not easily tuned out. If you give those voices your ear, you’ll conform to the pattern of the world around you.
Buechner then flipped the script and revealed a litmus test I’ve learned to love. “The voice we should listen to most as we choose a vocation is the voice that we might think we should listen to least, and that is the voice of our own gladness. What can we do that makes us the gladdest?…I believe that if it is a thing that makes us truly glad, then it is a good thing and it is our thing.”
Chapter 7 The Door to Bythinia – The third language: Doors
This was an interesting chapter to me given the research I am doing on the role of circumstances in discerning God’s voice (watch for my upcoming book entitled Circumstantial Evidence). F.B. Meyer, in his famous classic, “The Secret of Guidance,” instructs us to look for the following three lights to line up in order for us to discern God’s will: (Circumstances, the Word, and the Still Small Voice). Meyer says that:
Sometimes [we] sigh for an angel to come to point the way [but] the time has not come for [us] to move. If you do not know what you ought to do, stand still until you do. And when the time comes for action, circumstances, like glowworms, will sparkle along your path. You will become so sure that you are right, when God’s three witnesses concur, that you could not be surer though an angel beckoned you on.
The thesis of my research is that God never intended circumstances to be the first in a line of lights when attempting to hear His voice. Too often, in my opinion, followers of Jesus wait for circumstances to line up like glowworms and then move out. We say things like: “That was a God moment.” or that was “A God thing.” I contend that we hear God speak and then circumstances confirm the word from God. We don’t see some circumstantial alignment and think – God is speaking to me in that. Mark makes a helpful clarification on this.
Before detailing the language of doors, let me remind you that we don’t interpret Scripture via signs; we interpret signs via Scripture. And generally speaking, God uses signs to confirm His Word, His will. Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course. After all, God writes the rules.
We must remember that “God writes the rules.” Mark says that the casting of lots would be a great way to simplify discerning God’s voice.
It’d be a lot quicker and easier than trying to discern God’s voice, wouldn’t it? But that would take intimacy out of the equation, and intimacy is the end goal.
That is a helpful reminder as I research Circumstantial Evidence. If it were just circumstances, it would take intimacy out of the equation.
Mark discusses the role “shivers” and “goose bumps” play in discerning God’s voice.
The Celtic Christians had an intriguing name for the Holy Spirit. They called Him An Geadh-Glas, which means “the Wild Goose.” I love the imagery and the implications. There is an element of unpredictability about who He is and what He does.
My wife gets the “shivers” some times when something is of God. In 45 years, I have only seen it fail once (and that was with a business deal we made with a man who was going to revolutionize the wind power industry with his patented device. I do want to talk about that one when I get to heaven!) But Mark lists 5 tests for confirming whether something is God speaking:
- Goose Bump Test “The will of God should make your heart skip a beat.”
- “The second test is the Peace Test. The apostle Paul said, ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.’”
- “The third test is the Wise Counsel Test.”
- “The fourth test is the Crazy Test. By definition, a God-sized dream is always beyond our abilities, beyond our logic, and beyond our resources. In other words, we can’t do it without God’s help.”
- “The fifth and final test goes by a longer moniker. I call it the Released-from and Called-to Test.” God will not keep piling on more and more things for you to do. He will also release you from some things if he is calling you to something new.
Chapter 8 Dreamers by Day – The fourth language: Dreams
Mark challenged me in this chapter. I believe that God speaks through dreams. But I have been bringing my dreams before God every day for about 4 years. I rarely get anything. Mark says:
The supernatural by-product of being filled with God’s spirit is dreams and visions, and prophecy is part of the package deal too.
And then here was the challenge
… my friend Kurtis Parks … told me about his long-standing habit of asking God to speak to him through his dreams.
I have started asking God to speak to me through my dreams. Stay tuned to this blog. Mark says the following about Peter’s dream:
I love Peter’s response: “Surely not, Lord!” I’m pretty certain if you’re calling someone Lord, the two words that should never precede it are “surely not.”
Chapter 9 Hidden Figures – The fifth language: People
In this chapter Mark makes a case of how other people help us discern God’s voice. In the midst of this chapter, he has this gem:
As I see it, we have two options: an alter ego or an altar ego. Having an alter ego means pretending to be who we’re not, and it’s absolutely exhausting. The other option is to put our ego on the altar and find our full identity in Jesus Christ.
And these additional gems …
“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. “But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
We write people off. Jesus writes people in.
If you live off compliments, you’ll probably die by criticisms.
Chapter 10 The Archer’s Paradox – The sixth language: Promptings
This could be called “the still small voice.” Learning to recognize when these promptings are from God is important. But then he talks about the importance of discerning the timing:
Discerning the voice of God requires an internal clock that perceives His promptings. And it’s our reaction time to those promptings that leads to supernatural synchronicities: being in the right place at the right time with the right people.
It’s not easy discerning His timing, and it’s even harder trusting it, especially when it feels as though God is a day late and a dollar short.
Don’t underestimate the potential impact of obeying God’s prompts. Those are the whispers that will echo for all eternity!
Finally, the role of faith
But when things don’t add up, faith doesn’t always walk away in defeat. Faith knows that God can make up the difference, no matter how big a difference it is.
Chapter 11 Joystick – The seventh language: Pain
This chapter expands on Lewis statement about pain being God’s megaphone to get our attention. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.””
I love this story taken from Ghost Boy. It is about a young man who people thought was developmentally very slow. But in reality, he just couldn’t express himself. Then, his care giver, Virna changed everything.
Then she whispered words of hope: “Do you think you could do something like that, Martin? I’m sure you could.” Because of Virna’s persistence, Martin was taken to the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Using infrared sensors that tracked eye movement, a doctor asked Martin to identify pictures on the screen: first a ball, then a dog, then a television. Martin used the one thing he could control—eye movement—to identify each and every object. More than thirteen years after contracting the illness that trapped him inside his body, Martin learned to communicate with a computerized voice using a joystick. Two years later he got his first job. He went to college. He started his own company. He got married. He wrote a book. And he did it all with a joystick.
Mark warns us:
don’t be so focused on getting out of difficult circumstances that you don’t get anything out of them. Sometimes the circumstances we’re trying to change are the very circumstances God is using to change us.
Again, he calls upon one of his previous nuggets:
don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.
Epilogue – The Whisper Test
Two more gems to conclude which emphasize the importance of knowing that you are loved by God.
Justin Welby … was asked what he believed to be the greatest challenge we face as Christ followers. Without a moment’s hesitation the archbishop said, “Every Christian I meet…cannot quite believe that they are loved by God.”
To avoid the humiliation of failing the [hearing] test, Mary Ann would try to cheat by cupping her hand around her good ear so she could still hear what the teacher said. But she didn’t need to the year she had Miss Leonard, the most beloved teacher in her school. “I waited for those words,” said Mary Ann, “which God must have put into her mouth, those seven words which changed my life.” Miss Leonard didn’t choose a random phrase. Instead, she leaned across the desk, got as close as she could to Mary Ann’s good ear, and whispered, “I wish you were my little girl.”
May God whisper in your ear: “I love that you are my little girl [or boy].”