I read the account recently of a brother who traveled to the land of Israel. He was privileged to visit a shepherd there as this countryman cared for his flock. The man literally did call his sheep individually by name. Each time he did, that particular sheep trotted over to him expectantly. The affection and familiarity between them was touching.
When the visitor asked, “Would they come to me that way?”, the shepherd smiled knowingly and encouraged him to try it. He did, calling out one of the creature’s names in imitation of the way its master had done so. The sheep did not even turn its head. He tried again and again, but the fluffy animal paid no attention whatsoever.
When Jesus stated that He sheep follow Him because they know His voice, this is exactly the real-life setting to which He was referring. The listeners in His context immediately could relate to His teaching on the topic. His next statement made perfect sense to them too: “But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (v. 5).
You and I can take great comfort in that. We needn’t be afraid that the enemy could ever manage to lead us astray from our beloved Shepherd. This is His bedrock promise to us. We will never follow a stranger.
Notice that in both instances – that of following the Shepherd, and that of running away from the one who is not our Keeper – the determining factor is Voice. It’s the familiarity of Voice. I read a very interesting point about this in a devotional some time ago. This devo called attention to the fact that it’s the adult sheep that follow the shepherd. The lambs, on the other hand, follow the adults. This observation translates into the following principle: knowing His voice with perfect familiarity is both something that is innate to the believer, and something that we grow into.
How, then, do we grow in this way? How do we become intimately acquainted with His voice? Hebrews 5:14 addresses this question: “The mature… because of practice have their senses trained…” (NASB). Practice. That’s what it boils down to. The NIV calls it “constant use.” Doesn’t that make a lot of sense? After all, our faith is all about relationship with Jesus. In a relationship, the more you spend time with someone you cherish, the more familiar and beloved their voice becomes to you. As the years pass, the intimacy and trust between you continue to deepen and beautify.
This reminds me of an occasion back in 1997 when I was just starting to date the man who was to become my husband. He has always been wonderfully full of mischief. I called him one day, and he and his brother had a grand time passing the phone back and forth between themselves. Their voices are similar enough that I couldn’t tell the difference at the time. They thought this was hilarious!
They wouldn’t be able to pull that on me now. My husband’s voice is one of the most familiar sounds of my existence. I most certainly wouldn’t need caller ID to figure out, in a split second, that it’s him calling. And so it goes with the Lord. Walk with Him. Just walk with Him. Over the years, stay close to Him. More and more and more, you will come to recognize even His most subtle whisper.
Let’s finish this out by meditating for a moment on the caliber of His precious, life-giving voice. I looked up several translations for you of 1 Kings 19:12, the verse where we learn that He communicates with us in a still, small way. We’ll just focus in on the phrase that describes what He sounds like:
- “a gentle blowing” (NASB)
- “a sound of sheer silence” (NRSV)
- “a low whisper” (ESV)
- “the sound of a soft breath” (BBE)
- “a quiet, subdued voice” (CJB)
- “a sound of gentle stillness” (AMPC)
Aren’t those beautiful? Because His heart is altogether lovely, His voice is beautiful. Its sound will always bring you healing; always impart to you supernatural peace.
Quiet your heart and listen. Can you hear the still, small voice of the Good Shepherd calling your name? What does He sound like?
If you could pick one word to describe His voice, what would it be?