How do I know if the voice I’m hearing is God’s voice?
When I was in high school, I found myself asking this question. My dad was a pastor, and I was feeling called to ministry. I didn’t know if I was just hearing my dad’s wish or the call of God. I was worried I was confusing the two.
It turns out, I did know. I knew because I was raised to recognize the presence of God all around me. Once I knew what God’s presence felt like, I also knew what God’s voice sounded like.
There is a story in the Bible where the prophet Elijah is hiding in a cave, and he was told to come out when he hears God pass by. Elijah heard lots of powerful sounds—an earthquake, a strong wind, fire. But he knew those weren’t God. Then he heard a still small voice, a whisper. He came out of the cave.
How was Elijah able to identify God’s gentle presence among all those other impressive and mighty forces? He had practice.
Teenagers are bombarded with messages of what they ought to do. Sometimes the messages compete with each other. How is a young person supposed to know who and what to listen to? How will they know how to identify the presence and voice of God among the mixed messages that all promise a “good life”? They practice.
Teaching our kids about God’s presence is a simple and transformational practice that will never leave them. Knowing God is with them, not because they’ve been told it, but because they feel God’s presence and hear God’s voice for themselves, this will accompany them through all the days of their lives.
I discovered as a teenager that I was hearing God’s voice, just like Elijah knew the gentle whisper was God. I had been discovering God’s presence all my life. My parents took me to church. They taught me where God is found in nature. They read me God’s words in the Bible. They showed me what a life of seeking God looks like.
My co-author of My Love, God Is Everywhere has three kids, a little younger than my three kids. We wrote our kids’ book because all six of them have, at some point, expressed to us a curiosity about where God is. They’ve asked us if God lives at church, or in the sky, or above the clouds. They’ve asked us if God lives in their hearts, and in the hearts of everyone else, and how does God do that all at once? They’ve assumed God must be somewhere way up high if God can watch over everyone on earth at one time.
God’s location is a natural starting place to develop healthy, dependable theological language and concepts. So when we set out to write a children’s book, we chose to answer the question, “Where is God?”
We want children to associate their wonder with the natural world with the presence of God. We want children to understand God as the source of courage and comfort, not the cause of fear and grief. We want children to sense God’s presence in their sadness, anger, and loneliness as well as in their joy and anticipation.
And it matters, because God promises us a good life, but not an easy life. For as the Psalm says, God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. We are not promised no trouble. But we are promised God’s presence.
So next time you’re on a walk, point out the beauty of God’s creation. Next time your child has trouble falling asleep, take slow, deep breaths together, and feel the flow of the Spirit through your breath. Next time your child is sad, remind them that God gets sad too, and they are never alone in their feelings. Next time your child is afraid, repeat this line from Joshua, “God will be with you wherever you go.”
You can practice sharing moments when you saw God or felt God’s presence each day—your children will copy you without even realizing it. You can do this around a family meal or at bedtime. You can do it on the way to school each day, wondering aloud how God will show up.
Eventually, our children will learn that the power of God’s presence is greater than the presence of God’s power. Too often, we overvalue the presence of God’s power—those mighty, world-shifting acts—and undervalue the power of God’s presence. By practicing being present with God, our children will know how unshakeable this truth is, how inseparable we are from our Creator.
It’s never too early or too late to start looking for God with your kids. It is a gift that will serve them well, all the good and uneasy days of their lives.