Background noise will dampen your ability to hear specific sounds. In fact, this is so true that I often use background noise to my benefit. One way that I do that is by running a fan or an air conditioner while I sleep at night. Doing so drowns out noises from the other side of my window. It deadens the racket from my children’s play (or their squabbles). It can even muffle the “sounds” of my own racing thoughts. In a way, background noise insulates me from the noise I don’t want to hear. But background noise isn’t always beneficial. Frequently, static keeps you from hearing things that are actually good to hear. As I sit here typing out this piece in the dark of an early Thursday morning, I can hear birds outside my window. I can hear my dog, Duke, breathing. If I train my ears on the distance, it’s even possible for me to hear I-75 through the trees and fields east of my property. But a few moments ago, I couldn’t hear any of it. My son’s alarm was going off. It wasn’t loud at all. It’s a quiet, rather muted alarm clock, and whatever harshness it has, was stifled by his closed door. It was almost like a background noise. It beeped on and on steadily. My ears focused on it instead of the more soothing sounds around me. I couldn’t hear the birds, or the dog, or even my own thoughts.
Interestingly, your brain and your ears have a remarkable way of working together to filter out background noise. If I had told myself to listen for the birds, my brain would have pulled up various memories of bird sounds, and guided my ears to tune into those sounds. They would have ignored the breathing dog, the humming fan of my laptop, my son’s chirping clock, and they would honed into the chirping birds in the overgrown hinterlands of my backyard. Of course, knowing what birds sound like makes that whole discernment process much easier.
Hearing God’s voice often works the same way. You either have to filter out or remove all of the background noise before you can hear what he’s saying. It’s a matter of priority. God often doesn’t raise his voice over those things you’d rather hear. It’s also much easier to hear his voice if you know the kinds of things he says. When you study your bible, you are studying the voice of God.
Finally, you must belong to him. Last night, I sat in our church and could hear a group of people meeting in another room. With laser-like precision, I was able to identify various voices from a cacophony of human speech — even though I could not see anyone at all. I was able to do that because I knew those people. In a sense, I belong to them, and they to me because of our relationship. God is no different. His sheep hear his voice (John 10:27).