Hearing from God, ‘thin silence’, receiving the Holy Spirit: thoughts from John

John on Corran Ferry

I loved Jamie’s thoughtful and insightful sermon this morning about understanding times of despair and darkness in our lives as Christians, and helping those who are passing through difficult times. He mentioned some writers about the Bible who blame Elijah for loss of faith. I think some people today still show a lack of understanding about the mental and spiritual pain others suffer, and blame them for their condition, rather than accepting that their experience is as it is and dealing with it.

This attitude can be devastating to Christians passing through hard times. It can’t be said enough that suffering despair or depression is not a sin, not a sign of lack of faith.

Two further thoughts

I would add two thoughts to what Jamie said.  Sometimes our despair is because we have messed up badly, and made damaging choices. Where this is the case, we need to understand the cause of our pain, confess to ourselves and to others as appropriate what we have done wrong, commit to making amends as far as we are able, and receive God’s forgiveness and assurance that our lives, and the lives of any we have hurt remain in God’s hands.

The second thing is that in addition to the practical means of addressing despair which Jamie mentions, sometimes specialist counselling, and perhaps medication are helpful.  And it can’t be said too often – it is no shame for a Christian to take appropriate meds – I myself have been on anti-depressants for nearly thirty years, and they transformed my life.

We were thinking this morning about Elijah hearing the ‘still small voice’ of God; God speaking in ‘thin silence’ said Jamie, giving the literal meaning of the Hebrew. A lovely phrase – I suppose ‘thick silence’ might be oppressive, but God comes to us through ‘thin silence’ – perhaps it’s not just that silence is the environment in which God is most clearly heard, but that God comes to us as profound, stilling silence, wordless, yet speaking.

Hearing God’s whispers

I’d written somewhere about people hearing ‘God’s whispers’. But what does that mean, someone asked?  How do I know I am hearing God in the stillness?

This is a very personal view. I came to realise that I hear what I take to be God speaking most clearly not in words that come to my brain and are then applied to my heart, but in words that rise up within me.

I’m not at all good at some approaches to stillness and meditation. What works for me is to sit quietly, with a pen and a notebook, and write, dialoguing with God, and listening. And sometimes, from deep within me ideas flow, knowledge and insight comes.  Often these are things I have known before, but they come with fresh insight and energy.

Similarly if I am in the middle of writing something, words and sentences which I had not anticipated thinking or writing, come with a sense of rightness or givenness.  There’s an interaction between the brain-work of studying or thinking, and the stirring in the deep waters of the heart which brings ideas alive, and makes new connections.

And if I am facing a problem, and say ‘help’ to God, sometimes an insight, and idea, a suggestion will come to me which will help.

I don’t hear audible words from God, but do receive these little prompts which I believe are God-given.

The interesting thing is that others besides Christians would use similar language to describe the rising up of ideas within them when they are ‘in the flow.’  Does this mean that what I am describing is something which can be explained in psychological terms? Or could it be that the our wonderfully creative God is present wherever people are thinking, and dreaming, and creating, prompting beauty and love and goodness?


Of course discernment is necessary. Are these thoughts compatible with the life and teaching of Jesus? But in fact in my experience, when the ‘thin silence’ speaks, there is a loveliness, grace and positive energy and ‘rightness’ in what I hear: it bears the imprint of the Father’s heart.

Other thoughts and ideas come, of course, but they don’t come with that lovely spirit of authenticity. It’s important if there is any doubt to listen discerningly. Is this from myself serving my own superficial interests, or is it from that very deep place where God speaks?

Of course, sometimes thought will take the form of verses from the Bible, but I do not believe that God’s communication with us is limited to Scripture verses. God Fathers us, befriends us, and speaks what we need to hear.  Sometimes God speaks through the words of others, through books, poems, music, nature, love. But in my experience God’s promptings in these cases too reach me not through eyes and ears but in a heart-deep response to what I have seen and heard.

A word of warning

A word of warning though – at times when we’re passing through times of troubled mental health, verses, or ideas from the Bible can obsess us, so that we are convinced God is saying something, convinced God wants us to do something which others tell us is not helpful, convinced, perhaps that we are bad people beyond the reach of grace. What we need is rest, and peace, and treatment if necessary. In my experience God does not come with obsessive, judgmental drivenness. God comes in the thin silence, God’s starting point is that God loves us, and sustains us in our darkness, and invites us to align our lives with Love.

Receiving the Spirit

I am fascinated by the psychology of the Christian – what it feels like. It’s something we don’t talk about enough. This reflection is purely my experience – others will have different stories.

For years, as I’ve said before, I heard people talking about the liberating joy of baptism in the Spirit. I sought it, and prayed for it, but this great infusion of transforming power passed me by.  God was not in the earthquake, the storm, the thunder. But within me, all the time, beneath the troubled waters of my consciousness, beneath the unknown depths of my subconscious, a still voice was speaking, and the time came as the years that I learned to listen.

I had looked for ‘something spiritual’ to come upon me from about; instead the well of the Spirit lay buried deep, deep within me, waiting for someone to clear away the stones blocking the flow.

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