We are all on a journey through life. Some of us like to stick to the open paths with wide spaces and clear views. I tend to enjoy wandering the narrow, twisty mountain trails that lead to high places. Most of the time when I go hiking, my dog, Ginger, is my companion. In our adventures, she has taught me a lot about journeying with God.
Some of those lessons have been about learning how to “hear” God. Rarely in life have I had the privilege of verbally hearing God speak instructions with clear sequencing of what to do and how to do it. Most of the time I get impressions or single words. Let’s take a look at how a man and a dog communicate on the trail.
Knowing the Master
Ginger is coming up on 12 years young, so we’ve had a few years together to get to know each other. She is most definitely my dog. Dallas can give her instructions but she doesn’t listen as well to Dallas as she does to me.
She knows my voice just like we need to know the Lord’s voice (See John 10:27). I have different tones that communicate urgency or playfulness. How I say “hey” can mean different things, and she knows each version and how to respond accordingly. This didn’t happen instantly. It developed over time as we lived and journeyed through life together.
I’ve been asked, “How do you know it is God speaking?” I don’t have a scientific answer – I just know. I’ve been walking with the Lord since I accepted Christ as my Savior in April 1977. Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of time together. I’ve developed an understanding of what His voice sounds like and the different tones.
When learning the Lord’s voice, we do need to be careful not to be fooled by a counterfeit. We also have a tendency to self-talk and say that it is God so we have to be careful not to deceive ourselves. I have two tests for knowing if it may be God. First, He will not say anything that is contradictory to Scripture. Second, He will not tell me to do anything that is outside of His character. For example, if I sense He is speaking and the instructions are not loving, then I know that it is not God because He is love and everything He does, and tells us to do, is loving.
We learn how to hear God best by spending time with Him. By studying His Word, the Holy Bible, and talking with Him, often called prayer. And by worshiping Him with adoration as we learn more about Him and enjoy His creation.
When Ginger and I are hiking and come upon a fork in the trail, if she is leading, she will pause and look back at me. I will give a subtle nod with my head or motion with my hand. Once she gets the instruction, she’s on her way up the correct trail. If you are walking with us, you will likely not even notice my instruction to her. However, she sees it and knows what to do.
There are times that she will wander a little off the trail, smelling the scents of a chipmunk or squirrel. To get her back on trail, I simply tap the locking feature on her leash so that it makes a click sound. Without looking back, she knows what to do and comes back on the trail. Occasionally, I will need to give a verbal grunt or “hey”, but not most of the time.
Do we know God’s subtle gestures? When He gives a simple nod, are we quick to respond in obedience? If we’re wandering off the trail a little bit, do we hear the click and return to the path?
We want to hear God speak in words, but I’ve found that much of the time He communicates through subtle ways. A word that seems out of place may be of great importance. A check in our spirit may be the instruction we need.
When we are walking on wider, more open trails, Ginger is most often out in front of me. Checking out the smells, excitedly wandering from side to side, enjoying the experience. But she doesn’t go far away from me. It’s important that she stay close so that she can receive the subtle gestures I give for instructions.
When we are on narrow or difficult sections of trail, or when she is tired, she will walk close beside me. She’ll be at my left leg just to the side and back of my stride. So close that my pant leg will brush her as we walk. I can’t see her without looking down, but I know she is there as we are almost touching.
When our life journey gets difficult, we need to be close beside the Lord. Walking so closely that we are brushing Him along the way. There is little room for error. Staying close is vital to our safety.
God will pick us up when we are unable to navigate the way. On the really difficult sections, I may have to pick Ginger up and carry her. This is common when walking across a log over a creek, or if we have to go over a tree or boulder that is bigger than she can jump. It is important that she cooperates with me in these times. Mostly, she will press her body into mine as we cross to the other side. Are we willing to let God carry us, surrendering our control to His, pressing into Him?
When walking on a leash, Ginger has about 15 feet that she can come and go around me. Where allowed, I will hike with her off-leash. Because of our close relationship, with few exceptions, she doesn’t go wandering off. The times she does go chasing after a marmot or other creature, we say that she has momentarily lost her mind.
We do that with God as well. We’ll see something that gets our attention, and we’ll momentarily lose our senses and chase after it. His response will depend on the situation, but I know that it will always be a response of love, even when correction is required.
When Ginger chased after the marmot, she got scolded and put back on the leash. Most of the time, she’ll come remorsefully, apologizing with her body language and step back close to me. I give her correction, love on her, and then we continue journeying together.
When we wander off the trail, or leave the Lord’s side, we need to be quick to repent and come back. It is our choice to come back or to wander. He may put us back on the leash, so to speak, but that is still a better place to be than out of our Lord’s presence. He desires to journey with us and is quick to restore us to right standing as His child.
What a joy to be journeying with my Father through all of life. I hope that you also know His voice and walk close with Him. Let’s go to higher places as He takes us on the journey of a lifetime.
Click here for a short audio file where I share some of these concepts and expound on others.
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