Find Your Voice
I was in inner city Melbourne for a conference last week and experienced an ugly contrast between the world and the Church. Walking down Swanston St I came across a very conspicuous brothel with a neon sign reading, “Come in and select from one of our Summertime Beauties.” Such grievous things are part of our sin-saturated society, but back my hotel room I opened my computer and found an email about a Perth pastor trained by the “Reformation Now” network, a movement dedicated to raising up vocal advocates for gay rights. Things people were once ashamed to speak of in public are now being proclaimed with pride; and it is getting worse all the time. Back in the conference I found myself in a workshop setting that seemed to be reflecting some foundational problems in Christianity today. At one point I was so provoked by the spiritual dynamic that I walked across the room and sat with “the silent majority” as a prophetic statement that the speaking was being dominated by experienced Christian leaders so that the “ordinary people” were silent. Illustrating the scope of this passivity a little later in the meeting a zealous African lady living in Melbourne shared how it took a long time for her to discover that there were actually other Christians in her work place because they had kept so quiet about their personal faith.
The spiritual crisis in Australian culture today is that though there are professing Christians in every trade and profession and from the Prime Minister through to the lowliest person sleeping in the streets the voice of Jesus is being drowned out by other voices. These voices include the so-called “new atheists”, like Richard Dawkins, advocates for the legalisation of all drugs, like the Greens, campaigners for transgenderism, zealots for euthanasia or the promoters of same-sex marriage. In every case they are full of confident self-assertion and their voices are being magnified by the media. Our country is sliding is sliding into an abyss of darkness because these very humanistic voices are carrying the day. But flesh and blood voices are not the real problem, behind them we should discern the voice which “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship” this loud, boastful and blasphemous voice is the voice of all that opposes the kingdom of Christ, the spirit of antichrist (Eph 6:12; 2 Thess 2:4; 1 John 2:18; Rev 13:5).
All Australians are aware that soon after the next election there will be a plebiscite on the issue of “Equal Marriage” when we will have an opportunity to make our voice heard. Unless there is some great miracle between now and then the nature of marriage in our country will be fundamentally redefined. It is not my voice or your voice however which can make a difference to what is happening, only if the voice of Jesus is heard everywhere speaking to everyone from politicians to prostitutes, can our society be saved from an increasingly hellish future. Paul prayed for the church in Rome, “May…God…grant you to live in such harmony with one another 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (15:5-6). This wonderful picture of the transforming power of the gospel is far from the reality of Christian witness today. How can the Holy Spirit bring us all into a unity in our testimony to Jesus? To answer this question we must go back to the story of the origin of evil in Eden.
Hearing the Voice of Evil/Losing the Voice of God
“The voice of the Lord” which formed the world “is powerful…full of majesty” and must have deeply moved the first human beings as it radiated throughout creation (Ps 29:4 cf. Ps 8; 19; Rom 1:19-20). But a more glorious and beautiful word than that spoken through nature was spoken directly to Adam; it was a word revealing God’s deepest heart; ““You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Gen 2:17). No doubt when Adam and Eve first heard this loving warning they accepted it by faith, but the integrity of every faith commitment needs to be tested in order to go deep into our hearts. Such testing required that Eve hear a rival voice to the voice of God.
The entry of Satan into Eden was a divine opportunity for Adam and Eve to speak out God’s commanding word to the devil in a way that would banish temptation from the earth forever. Instead of rebuking evil Eve listened to the voice of Satan and Adam listened to the voice of his wife (Gen 3:12ff.). Ever since this fall we have all been seduced into thinking that we have authority to speak on our own behalf rather than uniting our voices with the voice of our Creator (2 Cor 11:3). Fallen people love to hear their own thoughts above the voice of God. In western society in particular people glory in their ability to speak up for themselves, go deeper however and underneath this self-confidence is the knowledge that every voice will be silenced by death; this is the shame no one can avoid (Gen 3:7-8 cf. John 5:44).
What I sensed in the workshop last week is that shame is so ever-present that we often fail to recognise its power. When the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 disciples at Pentecost they were all inspired to testify to Jesus with one mouth and voice (Acts 2:4). They all spoke out because they had experienced a “weight of glory” and like all creatures in the presence of God could not keep silence about his might and majesty (2 Cor 4:17; Eph 5:18-20; Isa 6:3; Rev 4-5 etc.). Shame is the inner witness of our loss of the glory and beauty of God as sinners. Passivity and silence about spiritual things is a sure sign of a weight/cloak of shame lying over a group. In an age of church consultants, intense theological training and the professionalization of ministry most believers have given away to religious experts their glorious freedom to speak up for Jesus. Anyone who has the conscious or unconscious thought, “You know what I don’t know.” will feel uninspired and rendered mute. When I was lecturing I would hear things from students like; “Is it alright to ask a question?” or “I know this is probably a stupid question…” I had to teach my students that whatever knowledge or wisdom I had from God existed for them and it was for their glory not for their embarrassment (cf. 2 Cor 1:6; 4:15; Eph 3:12). When we speak of the Church finding its voice, which is another way of speaking about revival, we are speaking of the people of God being freed from the depths of a deception that has long strangled them. But silence is not the only fruit of shame. Whilst some fall silent others cannot keep silence.
By its very nature shame always tries to cover itself up. Adam and Eve began with fig leaves and human history is saturated with self-inspired ideas about life’s meaning. If we can persuade ourselves and others that our ideas about spirituality and morality are true we feel important. Anyone who thinks, in the least way, “I know what you don’t know.” has an arrogant heart that God opposes (Mark 7:21-22; 1 Pet 5:5). We find it so difficult to let go of our conviction that we can rightly judge right and wrong for ourselves because we are creatures of pride. Underlying all inability to listen ONLY to the Lord is pride. Leaving aside the empty utterances of the world which carry no weight of glory I sometimes think of the billions of words spoken by preachers who think they know what they are saying but whose testimony seems to have so little effect on their hearers (Eph 5:6-7). Self-confidence concerning morality and spirituality manifest a spirit that is the exact opposite of Christ; this spirit is intensifying inside and outside the Church today and finds perfect expression in the speech of “the beast…given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words” (Rev 13:5; cf. Ezek 28:17; 1 Tim 3:6). We all suffer from pride and to deny this would be prideful.
Sometimes God embarrasses us when we least expect us. We were visiting some of Donna’s relatives recently when someone remarked that we had been given a car as a gift; something moved me to say that in fact we had been given both our cars. All of a sudden I felt terribly convicted because I could sense I was suffering from spiritual pride; which would have to be the worst sort of pride of all.
Whether shame shows its fruit in silence or prideful speech such things go so deep and are so culturally a part of life that only one person can give us a pure heart and clean lips releasing our voices to testify of the mighty works of God. Only Jesus can deliver us from the impotency of Christian testimony in Australia today (Acts 2:11).
The Voice of the Son of God
While much of human life is an inner dialogue swinging between “You know what I don’t know.” and “I know what you don’t know.” Jesus never compared himself to others (2 Cor 10:12-13 cf. John 5:44). He always spoke the words of God because he listened only for the voice of the Father (John 3:34). Satan’s voice tried to tempt Jesus to be somebody in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11) but he was unashamed to testify “the Father is greater than I am” (John 14:28). “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10). Great as his works were Christ humbly knew the limits of his earthly words. One of the greatest miracles of Jesus occurred when he stood at the tomb of Lazarus and “cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”” The man who had died came out” (John 11:43-44). But Lazarus would grow old and die again (cf. John 12:9-11). Jesus however prophesied of a coming time when his voice would fully bear the weight of the glory of God; “for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29). Part of the mystery of Christ is that his voice could not attain the authority to issue in a new creation until his obedience was perfected through the suffering of the cross (Heb 2:10; 5:7-9). When Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus he intentionally spoke aloud free from all self-consciousness, ““Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 …you always hear me,” (John 11:41-42), but on the cross however he must enter into a state of not being heard by God at all.
Whilst sinful voices were speaking so loudly against Jesus as he was dying in his heart he was listening only for the voice of the Father. But heaven was silent, sacrificed for our unwillingness to listen to God Christ is totally cut off from the Father’s words (2 Cor 5:21). If muteness and pride are our sinful responses to shame Jesus will bear our sin in a spirit which is the exactly opposite way (1 Pet 2:24). In contrast to our muteness he “cries out with a loud voice” and in contradiction to our know-all pride he testifies of ignorance, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). This is the perfection of the humility of the voice of the Son of God but it came at great cost. Since for Jesus the source and substance of everything beautiful and glorious in the world is the word of his Father being cut off from God’s voice is an experience of untellable horror. To all those who saw the crucifixion in the flesh; “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2). But in dying Jesus was in fact being glorified just as he had been promised by the Father.
““Now is my soul troubled…‘…Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” ….Jesus answered, “…Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:27). The silence of the Father at the cross seemed to human eyes conclusive evidence that Jesus was no true Son of God (Matt 27:40), but the witness of the true character of the crucified Christ is his resurrection from the dead “by the glory of the Father” (Rom 6:4).Now exalted to the right hand of God Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God…and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Acts 2:33; Heb 1:3). Christ is the Word through whom the world was created, by which it is preserved and through which all things are moved to their appointed goal (John 1:1ff; 1 Cor 8:6). Today the Word of Christ radiates the glory and beauty of God through everything. This is why the holy angels who live close to the throne of God and of the Lamb in heaven cry out in unison; ““Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”” (Isa 6:3; John 12:41; Rev 5:13). Since people on earth cannot hear the heavenly angelic witness it is the call of the Church to bring this testimony to the world (Rev 5:9-10).
The Glory of Christ’s Voice in the Church
To carry “the testimony of Jesus” is much more than to tell a few people that they need to be saved, it involves bringing utterances of the wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing and power of Christ to every dimension of society (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11). That was the purpose of the conference I attended last week and why it was attended by politicians, lawyers, business people, medical and military personnel and so on (Rev 1:2, 9; 12:17; 19:10; 20:4). Here is Paul’s vision of the Church’s service of Christ. In exhorting the Colossians; “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16) he has a vision of a united voice that cannot be contained in the four walls of the Church but spills out into all the dimensions of life that were originally created for the Lordship of Jesus (Eph 2:10; Col 1:16). The voice of Jesus needs to be heard everywhere speaking to everyone from business leaders to barmaids; this is not happening across our culture because the voice of the Lord is being bottled up inside the walls of the church.
One of our problems is that a minority of Christians are asking expectantly to hear the voice of Jesus as we gather week by week. This shows that few believe in practice that the voice of the Son of God is an exceedingly glorious beautiful sweet and safe voice (SoS 2:14; John 10:27). Despite all appearances hope for our perishing depraved society consists in the glory and beauty of Christ’s life radiating through the gathered people of God into the world. As the Bride of Christ his Church should be radiant but we are rarely seen shining with such splendour (Eph 5:23 cf. Rev 20). I listened attentively when a friend made a spontaneous comment about the leader of a church she was visiting, “Last time I visited here x looked radiant, now they look tired.” From the outside the Church looks tired and irrelevant; only 1 in 4 Australians believe the Church can help meet their spiritual needs. To quote some recent research, ““The community is now able to meet spiritual needs through yoga, through listening to uplifting music, attending a motivational seminar, reading a book….That’s where Australians have moved to.” (http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/church-seen-irrelevant-australians-lives-new-survey). We need to confess we are in desperate need of “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20).
The shame, silence and pride which are paralysing the progress of the kingdom of God through the Church into the world is rooted in deep deception. Most Christians have given away their glory; Eve gave false glory to the serpent by listening to his voice, Adam falsely honoured Eve by following her example and we behave as if the Church were a hierarchy with only the higher ranks given vision and authority to speak in the name of Christ. The truth is that you cannot dilute the true testimony of Jesus; in my language, “The quality of the testimony of Jesus is indivisible.” When Paul speaks of, “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” he means every Christian has as much a testimony to Christ’s glory, beauty and authority as any other believer (Col 1:27). It is time we accepted with true humility that every tongue that speaks the name of Jesus in the presence of witnesses is glorious and beautiful in the sight of God (cf. Rom 10:15). Let me use an illustration from the conference.
About 30 years ago one of the organisations that was formed to promote the rights of women to abort their children was called Emily’s List. This network has been highly successful in changing legislation in western nations. Much more recently some Christians were moved by God to set up a media and support network dedicated to preserving the lives of unborn children. Their organisation is called Emily’s Voice, a voice for the unborn. The Emily’s Voice videos we saw at the conference showed very ordinary working class people speaking out of how they decided against the odds to keep their babies. They spoke what can only be described as beautiful words of deep spiritual authority. (https://www.emilysvoice.com/). In a society whose conscience has become “seared” by so much godless propaganda (1 Tim 4:2) it is this sort of speaking with glory and beauty, rather than telling people they are “wrong” and we are “right” that can change hardened hearts.
When best-selling author Stephen Covey penned these words he struck a note that has resonated not only in the world but tragically also in the Church: “There is a deep, innate, almost inexpressible yearning within each of us to find our Voice (unique personal significance) in life….: When you engage in work That taps your talent That fuels your passion That rises out of a great need in the world That you feel drawn by conscience to meet, Therein lies your Voice, your calling, your soul’s code.” At first hearing this sounds good, but the centre and substance of this quotation about humanity finding its voice is exactly the same as that proposed by Satan in the Garden, “It’s all about you.”! This is a demonic version of finding our voice. (James 3:14-16). The voice which we must seek today is not your voice or my voice, it is not the voice of a spiritual general or great apostle or reformer, in my opinion the Western nations can no longer be revived by figures such as Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Booth or Graham, the one voice, the only voice we must be seeking with our whole hearts is a crucified and risen voice (1 Cor 1:13). This voice alone has the power of eternal life (John 6:68). The good news is that since every believer has been spiritually crucified and raised with Christ the beauty and the glory of the voice of Jesus can be heard speaking through the whole Body of Christ (Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20; 5:24; Eph 2:6; Col 3:1). Not only speaking to one another inside the Church but radiating into every the spheres of arts, entertainment, media, politics, law, health, sport, business, education etc.. Only a vision of this magnitude is capable of turning the tide against the surge of evil that is flooding our nation. One reason this is not happening is that the vision of many pastors involves maintaining their monopoly on speaking with authority amongst the people of God; most Christian leaders are afraid of losing control. When the Spirit gives utterance to all the people of God Jesus alone is Lord of the Church (Acts 2:5; 1 Cor 12:3; Eph 5:18-20). One great deficiency stands between the mess we are in and a grass roots renewal of Christ-centred spirituality in Australia; we need more humility. In his self-emptying Jesus became the one place where the wrath of God was turned away from a shameful, proud and guilty humanity (2 Chron 32:26; Rom 3:25; Phil 2:5ff). Repentance and deep humility will be provoked amongst God’s people in Australia not when we have a recognise our failures but when we have a revelation from heaven of the majesty of all our voices in Christ, that all we say for Jesus is already penetrated by his eternal glory and beauty (cf. Rom 2:4). Today the Spirit is seeking a people who have only one passion, to hear the voice of the Son of God in and through each other for the sake of the salvation of the world. May we belong to such a people; “Lord, let us hear your Voice” (Luke 9:35).