The Timeless Whisper’s Been Here All Along

I grew up in the church but began genuinely following Jesus in college. After a season of deconstructing faith, I began a slow journey back toward God through a small group of guys I met with every Monday night. During that season of life, I remember hearing God more clearly than at any other time. But his voice was never audible. I never awoke in the middle of the night, like Samuel, hearing my name called from the darkness. There was never a burning bush in the distance, beckoning me to draw near and listen close. His voice was simpler, more accessible, some would even say, more basic. During that season, I began learning to hear God by living a listening life.  

That phrase, a listening life, sounds serene and effortless. In reality, it’s anything but. Hearing God requires willful effort, not because God wants to make it hard on us but because God desires our attention, and attention demands that we relinquish all other pursuits. So we listen as an act of will, focusing our minds and hearts. We do this in a variety of ways but three essential practices are paramount. 

As the online personalities rage, Prayer orients us toward the timeless voice of God. 

As the pundits make their predictions, Scripture offers us the daily voice of God. 

As the influencers cry, “See me,” the Church reminds us that God sees us. 

While you might be thinking that prayer, Scripture, and church community are too simple to resolve the challenge we face, hang with me for a moment. I’m not suggesting that reading a few verses, reciting a handful of formulaic prayers, and going to church a couple times a month is the answer. A disengaged, rote, going-through-the-motions approach to these three practices rarely leads to a life attuned to the voice of God. Consistency and repetition matter, of course. More than that, they’re necessary. We practice, not just think or feel, our way toward hearing God. But in order for prayer, Scripture, and the church to be a means to hearing God, we first need to rethink and reimagine each, particularly in an age of noise. 

In my book, Listen Listen Speak, I explore the challenges we face and how each of these ancient and timeless gifts—prayer, Scripture, church—can lead us to a listening life. But for now, there’s a second issue at hand. Hearing is not enough. God does not speak for us to be inactive or idle. God speaks in order to send us back into the world with something to say.  


After God speaks to Elijah in the gentle whisper, he instructs him this way: “Go back the way you came.” God sends Elijah back into the cacophony and chaos. He calls him back into the fray. God speaks to us in order that we might speak. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘I have put my words in your mouth.'” 

So, what does it take to speak and to be heard, in an age of noise? There are a variety of  

challenges we face, but two in particular—social media and politics—are perplexing and unnerving, especially as they intersect. 

With respect to the first, Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP of user growth at Facebook, recently said, “We are in a really bad state of affairs right now… [Social media] is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other.” Similarly, the writer Jaron Lanier says that within social media, “[we] lose sight of the reality of what [we’re] doing because the immediate power struggle looms larger than reality itself.”

Criticizing social media may feel like old hat at this point and that’s fair. Its dangers have been discussed ad nauseam. The problem is that most of us are still addicted. And when it comes to speaking good news, our addiction is shackling us. The word addiction comes from a Latin word that at the time of Jesus was used to describe a person who’d been enslaved by court ruling. In other words, it was the legal term for a slave. Addicts are slaves. And slaves have no voice. Our addiction to scrolling and swiping is stifling our ability to speak and be heard. This is frighteningly true when it comes to politics. 

The past several years have been the most challenging I’ve faced in two decades as a pastor. There are several reasons, but political division has been one of the primary culprits. It’s not that we shouldn’t be political. It’s that being political has taken on a whole new meaning in the digital age. Matt Taibbi writes that when it comes to politics, both news and social media “need you anxious, pre-pissed, addicted to conflict. Moreover, we need you to bring a series of assumptions every time you open a paper or turn on your phone, TV, or car radio. Without them, most of what we produce will seem illogical and offensive.” The mixture of our outrage, cynicism, and tribalism is the fuel that runs the 24/7 news and social media cycles. We energize it and then are in turn exhausted by it.  

In large part because our technologies allow us to take out our angst on anyone, anywhere, 

anytime, an inversion has taken place. We often neglect our local communities, where we have the greatest opportunity to truly be heard, and instead, we yell into the vast expanse of the digital world, pontificating on the national and global issues of the day, all from the safe distance of our screens and devices—though rarely changing anyone’s mind. Social media in particular beckons us to comment on things that aren’t local, to an audience that isn’t local, and our voice fades and eventually succumbs to the cacophony. All the while, God calls us to, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you.”

To a world on edge, defensive, and hurting, Christians have a responsibility to not only listen to God but also to speak Good News in a way that can actually be heard. 

Years ago, my friend Dave was studying in a journalism program in New York City. Dave is a big guy, about 6’4” with an offensive lineman’s build. One day on the subway, a man he describes as significantly bigger than him, bumbled onto the train, reeking of alcohol with a brown paper bag in hand. The man began screaming obscenities to no one in particular. His anger steadily built. His belligerence began to edge toward violence. Dave remembers thinking, “I don’t think I can take this guy if things get out of control.” The other passengers, paralyzed by fear, sat quiet and still, hoping to ignore the threat away. Then, a slight, elderly man stood up and walked slowly toward the drunk and began to speak in a voice marked by convicted calm and gentle confidence.  

“Are you drinking because you’re sad?” the elder said. 

“What did you say to me!?!” replied the drunk. 

“Are you drinking because you’re sad? Because I remember when my wife died, I was so very sad, and I drank a lot. Are you sad?” the elder said. 

The drunk looked at the elder. As their eyes met, rage gave way to grace. Fury gave way to  

peace. An elderly man stood tall inside of a crowded New York City subway train and offered a new way forward for a fellow man in pain. He spoke good news into brokenness.  

In spite of all the noise, God longs to speak and is speaking. But he is speaking so that we might speak in return. He is putting words in our mouths so that we might utter Good News into the cacophony and chaos of a world on edge. This is the shared enterprise, the participatory work, the kingdom mission he’s inviting all of us into.  

In Jesus’ own words, “whoever has ears, let them hear.”  

May we open our ears to hear God in an age of noise. 

May we open our mouths to speak Good News into the cacophony and chaos. 

Excerpted from Listen, Listen, Speak by Jay Y. Kim. (Copyright 2024) Used with permission from FaithWords, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Jay Y. Kim
Jay Y. Kim

Jay Y. Kim is teaching pastor at the Saratoga campus of WestGate Church in California, and on the leadership team of The ReGeneration Project. He is the author of Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age (IVP).