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Can people ‘hear’ the voice of God?

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I watched the movie Breakthrough this week. It’s true story about Josh Smith, a teenage boy who fell through the ice Jan. 19, 2005, while playing with some friends on a lake in Missouri.

He was submerged for 15 minutes before being pulled from the lake. However, first responders and hospital medical staff continued CPR for 45 minutes without results.

Josh did not regain a pulse for another 45 minutes until his mother prayed earnestly that the Holy Spirit breathe life back into her son’s body.

A story published a few weeks later by Today explained the incident:

“He was gone,” said Dr. Nancy Bauer, who treated John at the Missouri hospital. “I’ve never felt someone so cold in my life.”

As doctors were telling Joyce in the trauma room about the condition of her son, the distraught mom said she started praying.

“A few seconds later, we had a heartbeat,” Bauer said. “It gave me goosebumps.”

That’s a miracle in itself, but the movie depicts another miracle that also transpired during the rescue.

One of the firefighters who had gone into the lake to find Josh reported audibly hearing the words “Go back.”

He had assumed it was the fire chief giving him orders, but the chief later admitted he was too busy tending to one of the other two victims to shout the instruction.

Yet, the firefighter was convinced he heard a voice telling him to “go back.” He did, and Josh was found deep in the water.

I know a lot of people don’t believe those “fairy tales,” and are prone to dismiss it as nonsense or hype. But it happened to me, too – twice.

A gentle whisper

I was 22 years old and living in an apartment in Madison, Wis., with one of my best friends from high school. I worked nights, so I was only able to use the apartment’s pool facilities in the afternoon.

During the summer, it was also a very popular time and place for children in the complex to visit.

I was relaxing in a very large hot tub that was designed to hold about 20 to 30 people. I was alone as kids and a few adults were swimming in the nearby pool or lounging on the deck.

Soon, a gaggle of kids of all ages came into the hot tub and ended my moment of semi-serenity.

Hot tubs are fun for kids, but only for a few minutes.  They often find them boring, unless it is relatively chilly. That was not the case that day.

After laughing, shouting and splashing at each other for about 10 minutes or so, the older children climbed out and ran away to jump into the pool. The younger kids quickly followed suit.

I was watching and listening to their reactions as they left the warm water of the hot tub to the jump into the pool’s much cooler water.

Suddenly, although I was alone in the hot tub, I heard someone next to me whisper “Look down.”

I did and saw a girl who was about 3 or 4 years old thrashing at the bottom of the hot tub.

I stood up, took a few steps, reached down and pulled her out of the water as she coughed a lot, and then started to cry.

Her crying attracted the attention of the older children, who I suspect had been assigned to watch the little girl.

As I helped her to the side of the hot tub, an older boy and a few others returned from the pool. I explained that the girl had been laying on the bottom of the hot tub, and suggested that he and the other children pay closer attention to her whereabouts.

They scampered off. The little girl eventually stopped crying and was content to sit at the shallow end of the pool and dangle her legs in the water.

Around that time, I was also going through training to become an emergency medical technician. In one of the classes, I learned that a child that young can easily faint in a hot tub. A child’s blood vessels react to the hot water by expanding, which makes it more difficult for the circulatory system to get blood into the brain.

I am certain I would have eventually discovered the girl having difficulty in the hot tub. But, hearing that gentle “look down,” very likely prevented a tragedy.

An authoritative voice

The next incident took place several years later when I was a parent myself. My daughters were still young enough to require a babysitter in order for my wife and I to enjoy any time together.

One day, we were planning a date night, and I was running late on my way to pick up the sitter. It was also likely that my mind was dwelling on a number of unimportant things.

I was at a stoplight at an intersection of Hwy. A and Main Street in Stoughton, Wis. At that location, Main Street is a four-lane roadway where cars typically travel about 25 to 30 miles per hour.

Something caught my eye and I remember thinking, “Is that what I think it is?”

Suddenly, I heard a very loud, audible, male voice shouting, “GO!”

I laid on the horn and pushed the car halfway into the intersection, effectively bringing all four lanes of traffic to a halt.

I quickly exited my car and walked to the front just as a toddler, with one leg in a wagon and the other dangling over the edge, rolled through the intersection and bounced off my right front tire.

As I picked up the terrified young boy, the driver who would have struck my car, barreled around us, flipping me off in the process.

However, the elderly woman and her passenger who most certainly would have hit the youngster, was pale white with her hand to her mouth. Her view of the lad would have been obstructed by a retaining wall hiding the hill from which the child had come down.

Soon, the child’s panicked mother was rushing down the hill. I can only imagine what was running through her mind as she heard the sound of a long, loud horn and looked at the commotion to see her wagon under the bumper of a car.

As the other drivers waited patiently, the hysterical mother came into the intersection and took the boy from my arms.

I reassured her that he was okay, just scared from his experience and the attention he was getting from a stranger.

As she cradled the crying boy, I told her I would bring the wagon to her home.

I place the wagon in the back seat, waved a sign of thanks to the other drivers for their patience, and proceeded to the child’s home.

It was any parent’s nightmare

The family lived on the corner in a three-story home. Mom was watching several children playing in their backyard, which butted up against a long driveway. It started flat, but then sloped downward at the end as it connected with the the street. The street then sloped further down toward Main Street.

She had been outside with the kids for quite a while, but was distracted – probably by another child — and stepped inside the house for just a moment.

That’s precisely when the boy took it upon himself to climb into the wagon. But, before he could get in, his weight propelled the wagon slowly down the driveway. As it picked up speed, it made a wide arc onto the street and physics drew it toward the intersection.

Because of the neighbor’s retaining wall, and the wide arc of travel for the wagon, it would have been impossible for the elderly driver to see the child, until he emerged from behind the retaining wall about 10 feet from the intersection. That’s why there is a stoplight at that location.

The child was fine, although I suspect it took a while for the young mother to calm down.

I often wonder whatever became of that young lad and what God’s plan for his life was that he orchestrated my delay just enough to ensure I was in the right place at the right time to save the boy’s life.

Perhaps the authoritative voice was so compelling and urgent because I was hesitant, wanting to confirm what was unfolding in front of me before I took action.

However, had I delayed my response just a few seconds, the lives of many people would have changed forever:

  • The child who would have been seriously injured or killed
  • His mother who would have been overcome with guilt
  • His siblings who were playing in the yard as well, and were likely told to watch their brother for a second
  • The driver who would have crushed the boy with her car
  • The other drivers who would have witnessed the accident
  • The first responders and hospital staff who would have treated the boy
  • Countless others who would have been directly or indirectly impacted by the situation

1 Kings 19:11-12 describes the voice of God. It notes:

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

I wonder how many times I have heard that whisper, but been too distracted to heed its instruction. God rarely shouts. He wants us to be listening closely for his guidance.

However, Revelation 10:30 reads, “…and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke.”

That’s the voice I recall hearing as I waited for a light to change.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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