The first time I heard the voice of God was shortly after my seventeenth birthday in the fall of 1970. I was in my regular spot at the Huffman Church of God in Birmingham, Alabama, end of the pew, half-way up on the left hand side of the sanctuary. The preacher went through a litany of sinners bound for hell: adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, gamblers, and idolaters, etc. I prayed a simple, inner prayer of sincere thanksgiving, “Lord, I thank you I am not one of those people going to that place.” A voice rose up from my chest burning into my brain, “But for my grace that is exactly who you would be and where you would be going.”
I knew I had just heard the voice of God. It was from within and yet from beyond. It was exact, specific, and verbal without being audible. It was in the first-person, singular. He spoke to me, about me and what He had to say surprised and disturbed me. No one was aware of my encounter with the divine. I gave no outward response and it was in fact years before I spoke of the event.
I was not aware I was depending on my goodness to please God. Intellectually, I "knew" all salvation is by grace. But in that moment I knew there was an element of pride in me and that I was relying on my own goodness to make me acceptable to God. What I had understood now became woven into my being, salvation is entirely a gift, a gift that makes us pleasing to God. Therein lies the challenge of Christian living; I must live my life in response to the grace of God which gives and sustains my life.
Years later I had this first lesson renewed through a vision. This vision only lasted a few seconds. I was going through a great trial. Unable to sleep I went downstairs and sat at the dining room table. As I moaned a complaint of “why me?” and whispered a plea for God’s help, I saw myself streaming down a dark hill accelerating past road signs such as “Loving,” “Good,” “Kind,” “Gentle,” “Faithful,” etc. As I suddenly stopped and settled into an abyss of total darkness having left behind the signs of who I had thought I was I became acutely aware that without God I am nothing; I do not exist except that God chooses for me to be. Suddenly, I began to ascend through the darkness accelerating past other signs: “hatred,” “envy,” “bitterness,” covetous,” etc. In that traverse of a split second I heard a whisper, “By my grace neither are you these.”
I am thankful for God’s grace. By grace He formed me in my mother’s womb. By grace He gave me life, caused me to be. He sustains my existence. He has held back the power of sin to destroy me. He prepared me to accept the gift of salvation and He keeps me in the knowledge of His name and presence. By His grace I have heard His voice and responded to His call.
January 2, 2010