Discerning the Voices
Nerd moment: You remember when Grima Wormtongue poisoned the mind of King Theoden (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)? It's like that. (Watch it here.) Kings, queens, and even commoners like the rest of us all benefit from wise counsel. But sometimes our counsel is manipulative and misguiding. Paul was working hard to speak words of truth to the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, but he had a voice in his ear that was leading him astray. The false prophet and magician, Bar-Jesus, filled his mind with all kinds of misleading things, trying to turn him away from faith. Paul recognized his treachery and silenced him immediately. (Quite literally, Paul blinded him until he could see the truth.)
So, how do we distinguish the voices of truth from those designed to mislead or misguide? First, I think we can be attentive and aware of our own inner voice. Most of the time I find that I can fairly easily tell the difference between the voices that will lead me toward the light and those that tempt me to darkness. The problem is not that I don't know - it's just that I don't listen to my inner voice. I do what I want rather than what my own inner voice is urging me to do. A growing awareness of the inner voice can be a great tool toward discerning which external voices are guiding me well.
Second, we can do a scan of consequences. Think it through to the end. If I follow one voice, what will be the most likely outcome? If I follow another, what then? This seems simple, but too many times I have found myself thinking only of the immediate pleasure of the choice, conveniently ignoring the likely consequences. A moment to think it through can do wonders toward making healthy choices for my life.
Third, we can check it out with others. Discuss with a trusted friend or a few, what the voices are saying to us. Sometimes an outside perspective is just what is needed to make the voices crystal clear. We will all listen to unhealthy voices once in a while. Recognize it, forgive it, and move on. Become more aware of the voices that help us be our best selves, and follow them whenever possible. Jesus' voice can be heard loud and clear when we are in a space to hear it.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Acts 13:4-12
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. But the magician Elymas (for that is the translation of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he went about groping for someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.