My mother, like most Southern women, could say more with the tone of her voice than the choice of her words. Maybe words cost more in those days. She didn’t have to say much; it was how she said her words that mattered.
If she said your name softly in the morning, it meant it was time to get up, dress, eat breakfast, and get to the bus stop. If she had an edge when she called your name, it meant you had fallen back asleep and she had risen from her morning coffee to remind you to get up and she was not happy about it. If, however, your name was spat through clinched teeth, it meant you had missed the bus and now she had to drive you to school and you were going to be spanked, grounded, and your name would be removed from the Lamb’s Book of Life if she had anything to do with it.
You learned to listen to her tone.
Though few of us have ever heard the audible voice of God, we all imagine the tone of His voice. How you hear the tone of God’s voice has a lot to with whoever first taught you about God. When Aunt Faye taught Sunday School to us, God sounded sweet and kind. When the preacher talked about God in his sermon, God sounded mad and frustrated (I better understand now why the preacher was frustrated!).
Sometimes the Bible is clear how we are to hear God’s voice. When His people made an idol after He told them not to, the LORD said to Moses, “Get away from these people so I can destroy them.” If God has teeth, I’ll bet He was gritting them that day.
On the other hand, it is hard to imagine God gritting His teeth when He tells Abraham, “I will make you a great nation and by you, all people on earth will be blessed.” To the ear of my soul, God sounds magisterial and regal.
When Jesus talks with the Rich Young Ruler, He looks at him lovingly and says, “If you want to be complete, go and sell all you have and come and follow me.” Jesus wasn’t mad when He said that; He was saying the most loving thing He could say, in the most loving way He could say it.
How you hear the voice of God is greatly influenced by what you think of God’s character. If you think God is out to get you, it’s easy to hear His voice as angry and demandive. On the other hand, if you experienced the grace of God through Jesus, God’s voice is gentle, calm, peaceful, and centered.
Dallas Willard reminded us that God’s voice will always be confident and never excited. God’s voice is filled with authority and goodwill. Strikingly, even when God is angry, His voice is never demanding.
Maybe to recognize the real tone of God’s voice, you need to spend some time with Him – listening.