Am I a fully mature ewe (ram) or a wobbling lambkin?
In John 10:4 and 27 Jesus said that His sheep would know His voice and follow Him, and a stranger they would not follow. One Scripture scholar pointed out that the Greek word for sheep which Jesus used in this passage literally means “fully mature ewes.” The lambs don’t recognize the shepherd’s voice in the beginning because discernment takes time and must be learned by experience. The young lambs gradually develop an ear to distinguish the shepherd’s voice by paying attention to whose voice the mature sheep of the flock respond to.
More of my private prayer time should be spent listening to God, not in asking God to listen to me. But how do I know that what I think I’m “hearing” is really from God and not just my own thoughts or imaginations?
God can speak aloud if He wants to, but He usually doesn’t. At times in salvation history it would seem that He spoke aloud to the prophets and the leaders of His chosen people. One way God speaks today is through impressions. Christians need experience in recognizing the voice of God for personal guidance. In matters of morals and ethics and theology, however, it is not a matter of our private discernment or interpretation. God’s truth is not up for grabs at our every whim and desire. Jesus knew the capricious and vacillating heart and mind of man so before He ascended to His Father, He established the “pillar and foundation of truth” which would mandate that truth for ages to come.
Is that foundation the Bible? Not according to 1 Timothy 3:15. The New Testament canon was not formally defined and adopted until A.D. 350. The Church preceded the Bible in the form we know it today. “The Church of the living God” was to be the pillar and foundation of truth and a sure way of continuing to hear His voice on earth. As Catholic Christians, we don’t depend on guesswork or private interpretation or “everyone doing that which seemed right in his own sight” as they did in the times of the Judges in the Old Testament. Jesus gave the keys of His Kingdom to the apostle Peter and his successors. (Matthew 16:16-19)
The Magisterium, the teaching body of the Church composed of the Pope and the bishops, guards the New Testament revelation and passes it on faithfully through the generations. It cannot and does not invent anything new. Neither do we have to reinvent the wheel to keep up-to-date with our times to decide what is or is not God’s truth. Based squarely on the inspired Holy Scriptures and in line with Sacred Tradition, which is the oral teaching of the apostles on which early Christians relied before the canon of the New Testament was officially formed, we are on solid ground when we check our impressions. The greater our familiarity with the Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the better our chance of discerning God’s voice from among other voices and interpretations of Scripture we may hear. God has provided us with ample and reliable “hearing aids”!
Granted, sometimes an impression could come from my human spirit or from the realms of evil and not from the Holy Spirit. I must always square the impression carefully with what God said in His Word and in His Church because God never contradicts Himself. As I bring the Scriptures into my prayer time and ask for the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, I learn to recognize the sound of God’s voice; my fear of mistaking His voice lessens. The degree of my surrender to the Lord and my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit are vital factors in my listening perception. The more I submit and commit myself to obey the Word and will of God, the more discernment in hearing God’s voice I will develop.
I’m at some disadvantage when I try to enter the spiritual world by prayer. I’m only one-third spirit, as it were, and I’m attempting to communicate with God who is all Spirit. I almost immediately meet resistance from my physical body which operates in the flesh and from my soul. My soul operates through my senses and emotions and is not comfortable in the spirit world; in the natural it resists entering the unknown realm of God’s presence where feelings are not the dominant medium. However, my spirit is alive and well! I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit by virtue of my baptism. Jesus emphasized many times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And that means us because we do now have spiritual ears to hear God’s spiritual voice.