Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord’s Voice
by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola
Jesus Speaks: Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord’s Voice (2016, Thomas Nelson), is the third book in the Jesus trilogy by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. Their first book, Jesus Manifesto (2010,Thomas Nelson,) is about returning Jesus to the position of supremacy and sovereignty in the church; a position that is high and lifted up — Jesus: the head of the church. Their second offering, Jesus: A Theography (2012,Thomas Nelson,) is about Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the inspiration, the center and the fulfillment of the entire Story of the scriptures — Jesus: the heart of the church.
This final presentation, Jesus Speaks, tells about the intimate communication of Jesus with his followers, both his first-century disciples and all who have given their allegiance to Him over the centuries. Jesus Speaks examines what it means to hear the voice of the One we love as He calls, guides, and encourages us. This book is about the spoken promise of the Father, the Word made Flesh — Jesus: the voice and song of the church. Through Jesus Speaks, Christ’s followers can, as the subtitle of the book states, learn to “recognize and respond to the Lord’s voice.” The design of Jesus Speaks is clever and unconventional. The book is divided into two volumes: the first volume features Sweet’s stunning and revelatory re-framing of Jesus’ postresurrection conversations with his disciples. These are Jesus’ personal messages to his closest circle of friends –- messages that are intended for our ears, also. The second volume contains practical and direct advice from Viola which includes descriptions of practices that will help train Jesus’ followers to be intentional listeners. It also incorporates ways and means drawn from scripture to help determine whether what Christ’s followers hear is from the Lord or not. From these two sections, three reading plans are offered so that the reader can draw from both volumes in such a way that each volume enhances the content of the other.
An observation about the style of writing in Jesus Speaks: The tone of this book is very tender, lyrical, reverent and worshipful. Because the entries are short, Jesus Speaks could be a rich resource for one’s quiet time, the very occasion when one may be waiting to hear a personal word from the Lord.
In Volume One: “Hearing the Voice of the Resurrected Jesus in the Stories of Scripture,” Sweet composes a collection of narraphores (narratives integrated with metaphors) based on the conversations that take place between Jesus and His disciples starting the morning of Jesus’ resurrection and through the time of the Book of Acts. Among the many narratives offered is the story of Paul and the Damascus road. Here is a quote from that chapter:
“One of the great hide-and-seek stories of history is the Damascus road story. If ever there were evidence that Jesus comes to us, that Jesus comes to get us, that we are the hounded, the haunted, the hunted, it is the Damascus moment. Every postresurrection appearance of Jesus is at the initiative of Jesus. We have a God who comes to get us.
“On the road to Damascus, a Seeking God and Interrupting Voice knocked Saul (soon to be Paul) off his “high horse” and turned his world upside down. Once you’ve heard Jesus call your name, you fall on your knees, proclaim Jesus “Lord,” get up a changed person (even your name is new) and choose new paths…Once Paul heard Jesus speak, he could proclaim for the rest of his life, ‘I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that Day.’ (2Tim. 1:12) Jesus’ voice brings assurance.”
In the chapter called “The Hidden Voice of Jesus” Sweet writes this: “Do you want to hear Jesus speak? Go to where the wounds are. Find wounded people, hurting people, suffering people, and you will find Jesus.”
Volume Two is titled “Hearing the Voice That Has No Words.” Viola has divided his volume into three sections: “Tuning Your Ears to Hear,” “Hearing Jesus Today,” and “The Challenges of Listening for The Lord’s Voice.” Each section has several short, scripture filled, action-related chapters.
In a chapter called “Four Ways to Recognize the Lord’s Voice” Viola writes:
“Let us first point out that there is no technique, method, or gimmick to hearing the Lord speak to you.” But he goes on to say there are helpful guidelines to consider:
“There are four characteristics that will help you determine whether you are hearing the Lord’s voice:
- The content of what’s said.
2.The disposition that accompanies it.
3.The confidence we have that it’s the Lord’s.
- The impression it makes on us.
“We distinguish human voices by characteristics of their speech. It’s no different with the divine voice.”
Christians often express the desire to hear “a word from the Lord” but the very term is loaded with mystery and history. In the opening pages of their book Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola remark that they hope Jesus Speaks: Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord’s Voice will help make Christians “better equipped to hear the voice of the Lord yourself. And thereby, your relationship with Jesus will deepen, your service will be informed, and your life will be enriched.”
This final volume in the Jesus trilogy addresses both mystical and practical aspects of hearing the voice of the Lord. Together, Sweet and Viola have produced a gracious book that will inspire and encourage all those who long to hear Jesus speak.