Mental illness can be a tough topic to dive into. I remember first learning about schizophrenia through the movie A Beautiful Mind, and the idea that someone could have a totally different reality was scary. Someone with schizophrenia hears voices telling him to do or not do certain things that without the disease, he would never imagine himself doing. Suddenly he is defined by his disease, a man who is misjudged and labeled by something he cannot control. Generally if someone hears voices, we attribute this to mental illness and label that person as “crazy.”
Could I challenge that thinking a little bit and say that we all hear voices? Ok, maybe we don’t all literally HEAR voices, but we all have influences that have a voice in our lives. Experience, for example, is a voice. Often our understanding of reality and truth are wrapped up in our experiences. Another example would be that certain people who have had a pivotal influence in our lives have “voices” that often act as triggers. Throughout college, my dad’s voice was equal to my conscience. Whenever I would want to stay out late with friends doing something crazy or I was preparing to do something a little dangerous, I would hear his voice in the back of my head and it would snap me back to the straight and narrow.
In Ecuador, I taught a workshop called the Enemies of the Believer. So often we attribute Satan as the enemy, but he is not the only one. We are also held captive by our own physical desires, whether they are sexual, emotional, or dealing with lack of discipline in various areas. Another enemy is the world – the norms and accepted things in our society. We are immersed in it every single day. What is cool and acceptable is thrown into our faces all the time, and often we are swept away by the momentum of a generation running after who knows what.
As Christians, we often struggle with knowing the difference between the voice of an enemy and the voice of God. I have seen this in my own life and have talked to others with this same struggle. We know that God disciplines His children that He loves, and we long to respond appropriately to the ways in which we need to change. Before we really know Christ, our lives are filled with lies that we have believed about ourselves and about God. Then, when we come to know Christ, we enter a process of sifting through the lies and discerning truth – ultimately establishing for ourselves a different reality than the one through which we see the world. However, the process can be messy, especially when the said enemy’s voice sounds so much like what we think is the “convicting” voice of God.
Often when we dream about the person that we desire to be, or the person we know we “should” be when we read the Bible, we get depressed about how far we have to go. It is a temptation to let that be a cycle downward from false hope to disappointment to false hope to disappointment, etc. I have learned that Satan loves it when we enter that cycle, because we become the catalyst for our own demise. It is through this that I have learned a simple way of determining whether a voice comes from an enemy or comes from God.
The secret, I have learned, comes down to the nature of the correction. Does it bring hope or discouragement? Does it foster an assurance of love or an attitude of despair? Satan or any other enemy’s voice will magnify the struggle, focus on the impossibility or the distance yet to cover, and will leave the believer grasping for hope wherever he can find it. He is left feeling crushed beneath the weight of the challenge.
However, when God speaks to His child, restoration happens and life is brought from death. Even when God banished the people of Israel to captivity in Babylon as discipline for their infidelity, His purpose was to ultimately bring them closer to Himself. His voice is firm, but filled with hope. God and I fight all the time, mostly because I can be crazy stubborn. However, He has permission to win 100% of the time, and when I find myself being given to laziness or fear, I often hear His voice in my head like a firm but gentle warning, saying, “Chelsea, come on. Let’s go.”
When I am facing a challenging situation and I am trying to discern God’s voice amidst the other voices that I hear, I ask myself that simple question – does the correction leave me with hope or despair? From there, I know clearly how to see and hear God.
May you be encouraged today to focus in on ONE VOICE – the voice of the One who loves you passionately. Walk forward in truth!