I've often doubted if what I thought I was hearing was really God's voice. Or if it was just my own thoughts. And I've talked to others who feel the same way. We know God speaks, but we doubt it's actually Him when He speaks to us.
As I've been reflecting on the Christmas story these last few weeks, I've been struck by how so many of the people involved heard God speak in some way and they knew it was God. Scripture doesn't record that doubt kept them from believing that it was God speaking to them. And this after 400 years of silence from God. Even then, they still believed God about some things that may have sounded a little crazy and scandalous.
An angel appeared to Zechariah in the Temple to announce that he and his wife would be the parents of John the Baptist. He didn't believe perfectly, but he knew that it was God speaking to him. Luke 1:11 says, "Then an angel of he Lord appeared to him . . ." Zechariah knew it was God speaking to him - even if the message brought sounded impossible.
Luke 1 goes on to provide the account of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce that she would be the mother of Jesus - the promised Messiah. Mary had questions about how it would happen, but she did choose to believe. Verse 38 records her response to the message from God the angel brought, "I am the Lord's servant, may your word to me be fulfilled." Again, she heard God speak and she believed him.
Now, it could be easy to dismiss these two examples because the appearance of an angel seems like it would be easier to believe the words. But, in both of these situations, the message brought would be challenging. A son in your old age. A son when you're a virgin. Not exactly the easiest things to believe.
And then there's Joseph. God spoke to him as well, and he chose to believe God and follow through on what he was told. Matthew 1:20 tells us that "the Lord appeared to him in a dream." God's words to Joseph to take Mary as his wife even though she was pregnant wouldn't have been an easy message, but Joseph didn't doubt they were from God.
Luke 2 talks about a man named Simeon who was at the Temple when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus as required by the law. He has been told by God he wouldn't die until he saw the Messiah. When he saw Jesus at the Temple, he knew exactly who this baby was.
If Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph believed these messages from God when they heard them, what made them sure they were from God? What gave them the confidence to trust that these hard and scandalous messages were actually from God?
I think some words in how they were described provide the key to that.
Matthew 1: 19 described Joseph as "faithful to the law."
Zechariah and his wife are described this way in Luke 1: 6, "Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commands and decrees blamelessly."
Mary is described as being highly favoured by God by the angel who came to her in Luke 1:28.
Luke 2: 25 described Simeon as righteous and devout.
All of those descriptions speak of people who chose to follow God - to seek God and to know Him. It's because of their relationship with God that they had learned to recognize God's voice. They knew Who He was. They knew what He had said in the past. And because they knew that, they knew this was God, and they knew they could trust what He was saying. This was where their confidence to believe and to act on what they heard came from.
This challenges me in my own walk with God. To be continually seeking to know God better. To develop a relationship where I more easily recognize God's voice and am ready to believe and act on what I hear.