A.J. Thomas is the Founder of Joyful Giving Group, whose mission is to cultivate a culture of generosity.
A.J. is a practiced believer in the power of generosity to transform individual lives, congregations, and entire communities.
A.J. is an ordained United Methodist pastor with over a decade of leadership experience in the local church. He is appointed to Joyful Giving Group as an extension ministry of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Say What? Series: Hearing God Speak Through People (1 Peter 4:8-11)
Hearing God speak – it’s
my hope and prayer that we will be the kind of people, the kind of church, who
listens intently to hear God speaking.That we have the expectation that God will speak to us, and then, that
we respond simply by doing what God says to do.How marvelous would that be?
Last week, we talked about
Hearing God Speak in Silence.Given that
we live such busy, noisy, cluttered lives, we can miss God simply because we
aren’t quiet enough for long enough to hear the still, small voice of God.I encouraged you to intentionally seek some
silence in your life so you could better hear from God.To make and designate some quiet space in
your home, to carve out some quiet time in your schedule, and to stop talking
in order to practice listening for
That being said, you’ve
got to be careful what you ask for – because sometimes you actually get it.By now you know that my voice gave out
halfway through the 11 o’clock service last week as some upper respiratory
thing finally caught up with me, and I ended up sick at home for the next three
days.Did I mention that I was unable to
speak?Me – not talking for three days -
oh, the humanity!
My house has never been
quieter.Three sick days for me, more
like three vacation days for Ashley – finally some of the peace and quiet my
introvert wife craves – all on the heels of my own sermon about seeking silence
and speaking less.
So yes, God speaks through
silence.God also speaks through
people.On one hand, there is nothing
too surprising or shocking about the idea that God would communicate through
people.Our faith tradition is filled
with examples of this.God spoke and is
speaking through the human authors of Scripture.God has spoken through prophets and priests
and scholars.God has spoken through
Jesus and his apostles and leaders in the Church.God speaks through pastors and teachers,
authors and artists, poets and musicians – surely we can all think of some time
we have been particularly moved or inspired through the great gift of some
person who is using their gift to God’s glory.
However, we can get so
accustomed to hearing from God through those with extraordinary and great
gifts, that we don’t expect to hear from God through regular and ordinary
people.Jimmy Valvano said, “God must
love ordinary people, because he made so many of us.But every day, ordinary people do
Ordinary people doing
extraordinary things – friends, that’s a good descriptor for what the Church
can be at its best.If you have your
Bibles, turn with me to 1 Peter 4:8-11, which is a description of the community
of faith when we are at our best:
8 Above all,
show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of
many sins. 9 Open your homes to each other without complaining.
10 And serve each other according to the gift each person has
received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts. 11 Whoever
speaks should do so as those who speak God’s word. Whoever serves should do so
from the strength that God furnishes. Do this so that in everything God may be
honored through Jesus Christ. To him be honor and power forever and always.
Whoever speaks should do
so as those who speak God’s word.Not
only those who lead, not only those up front, whoever speaks to anyone about anything should do so as those who
speak God’s word.God is not only
speaking to ordinary people – God is
also speaking through them.And with so many ordinary people in the
world, including us, God has a lot to say.
I have always loved
accents.When it comes to regional
accents, I never had a chance.My mom
was from Western Pennsylvania, and my Dad is from Northern Virginia, and
believe me, both places have their own distinct sound.I, myself was born in Oklahoma, and had the
sweetest, most syrupy drawl you’ve ever heard by the time I was three and we
moved to Western New York.I stayed
there another 19 years, and have been here in North Carolina for the last 12,
and am now married to a Western North Carolina mountain girl.
Every one of those regions
has some place in how I speak.Depending
where I am, who I’m with, characteristics of one place may come out over another.I’ve got a little bit of all of those in me,
I’m an accent mutt – not a purebred anything.My Dad’s family in Northern Virginia, they all sound like they expect
Mary and Robert E. Lee to drop by at any moment.My friends in Western New York claim they
have no accent at all – “We talk just like the people on TV” – which would be
true if everyone on TV had raisins shoved up their noses!
No matter where I go,
someone will always ask, “I can’t place your accent – where are you from anyway?” and none of the regions in
which I have lived will claim me as their own because anywhere I go they all think I talk a little funny, and
they may not know where I’m from, but they all know that I ain’t from around
here, wherever “here” happens to be.
Did you ever wonder if God
has an accent?If God spoke, what would
God sound like?Sure, God may speak in pristine and proper King
James English, with all the formalities of “thee” and “thine,” but God doesn’t
speak only that way.God comes to us in ways we can understand.
That’s what the birth of
Jesus was about.In Jesus, heaven comes
to earth.In Jesus, we see the fullness
of God’s love in a face like our own.God loves ordinary people and comes to us as an ordinary person.This world is full of ordinary people whom
God loves more than you can imagine, and so when God speaks, God does so in a
way that ordinary people like us can understand.
So God does have
accent?You better believe it.Whoever you are, and wherever you’re from,
God has a way of speaking in a way we can recognize and understand, a way
that’s familiar and comfortable to each of us, because God more often than not
speaks through ordinary people.
God’s accent sounds like
the person on your right or your left, and perhaps our familiarity with one
another is what makes it difficult to hear from God.We’re so used to hearing each other that
we’re not even thinking about hearing from God through each other.
And the tricky thing is
that not everything we say is from God.Anyone here ever said something that you’re pretty sure wasn’t of
God?Anyone want to volunteer what you
said?The Scripture says that those who
speak should do so as those who speak God’s word, and yet we all know that we
all say things that aren’t from God.We
say cruel things, hurtful things, gossipy things (though in church we mask
those as prayer requests), so how can we hear God speak through other people
with all the rest that’s mixed in there?
Think of it this way.Do you ever pick up someone else’s
accent?I’ve done that, in a sense, with
all the influences on how I speak, but what I’m talking about is maybe that
you’ve spent so much time with someone, that their ways are so familiar to you
that you end up sounding a bit like they do?
So what if we picked up
God’s accent?Knowing who God is, that
some of that rubs off on us, so that when we speak, it’s as if God is speaking
through us?That requires spending
enough time with God, having enough familiarity with God that we can discern
what is from God and what isn’t.That
familiarity is required both for the one who speaks as well as the one who
hears, but that familiarity is what allows us to speak as those who speak God’s
word, and to hear when God is speaking through others.
What does God’s accent
sound like?It sounds like consistency
with what we know about the character of God. God’s accent sounds like love – the unconditional
love of a father.It sounds like mercy
and grace and forgiveness.It sounds
like a will that is ever-directed toward the good of all.It sounds like words that build each other up
rather than tear each other down.God’s
accent sounds like anything that allows the fruit of the Spirit to grow and
flourish - love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and
As people of faith, we are
called to tune our ear so that we can recognize God’s accent when we hear
it.When you find people who speak in
God’s accent, stay very close to them and learn everything you can from
them.Become so familiar with God’s
accent that pick it up and start to sound a bit like God, so that as you have
recognized God in others, others will be able to recognize God in you, that
your words will have a ring of God in them, and even if people can’t place
exactly where you’re from, they’ll be able to tell that you’ve been spending
time with God.
Whenever you speak, no
matter how formal or informal the setting, don’t underestimate the impact of
what you say.Don’t underestimate the
power of your words.
Every time we open our
mouths, we are giving God an opportunity to speak through us.Let’s not miss those opportunities.Let’s pick up the accent, and speak with the
recognizable tones of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.Let the soil of our words be a fertile place
for the Fruit of the Spirit to grow, a foundation upon which we build one
another up as we pass by opportunities to tear one another down.Would it be that when we speak, we do so as
those who speak God’s word.
So, no need to be
surprised when you hear God’s accent from the person on your right or on your
left.God has a distinct sound, and once
you’ve gotten familiar enough with it, you’ll recognize it from friends and
strangers alike.Hopefully, they’ll
recognize it in you, too.