There is a story about a dog who had been trained by his master to respond to her whistle. In a crowded arena, the trainer whistled and guided her dog through a series of obstacles before an adoring crowd… until someone in the audience got an idea. He let out a loud whistle like the one the trainer was using, and the dog suddenly ran in his direction. Someone on the other side responded with another whistle, and immediately the dog rushed toward that sound. Soon the entire arena was filled with whistles, calling the dog from one side to another. After a few minutes, the dog, exhausted and confused, collapsed in the middle of the arena. The show was over.
Do you ever feel like that dog? Running from one whistle to another? Trying to do this, trying to accomplish that, trying to please him, trying to satisfy her? Are there days when you’re that dog in the middle of the arena, worn out and wondering what you were chasing after in the first place and why?
You’re not alone. Many of us are all too familiar with the lure of the whistle. Often, we’re not even sure where it’s coming from or who is the one calling us, but we pursue it nonetheless. We lack the knowledge and clarity about which call to follow, and as a result, we end up responding to far too many of them. Exhaustion and confusion reign – or worse. Like that dog, we may decide that it is pointless to keep running and that lying down seems preferable to our never-ending, fruitless chase.
But when Jesus spoke of his followers, he did not call them dogs. Instead, he referred to them as sheep.
Contrary to popular belief, sheep are not as dumb as you might think. They can recognize faces, solve problems, and they have great memories. But they are prone to the herd mentality. Where one leads, the others will follow, which is why they need a shepherd.
Knowing this, Jesus referred to himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10:11. In verse 27, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” According to Jesus, his sheep know his voice. But how? In a world of so many voices and competing distractions, how do we know which one belongs to Jesus?
That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. Jesus, knowing that his time on earth was almost done and that he would be leaving his disciples alone without his guiding presence, promised another Guide to go with them. And although they were sad about his leaving, Jesus said:
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”
— John 16:7
The Spirit is the voice we must follow that will lead us to Christ:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
— John 16:13–14
My wife often jokes that, in times of indecision, she longs for a blimp to fly across the sky with a message telling her what to do. But God doesn’t speak by blimp. His ways are much more subtle and easily missed if we are not listening.
So how do we listen?
Since God’s voice is rarely audible, we can’t use our ears. And because blimps aren’t his thing, our eyes won’t do us much good either. Neither will taste, smell, or touch. There is another sense we need beyond these five senses: a spiritual sense.
This is not the sixth sense of the movies. It is a much more important one. Our spiritual sense is not based on the outer world of stimuli and reactions but on the inner world of faith and response. According to the Scripture, that is the only acceptable way to follow him:
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.
— Hebrews 11:6
Your senses are a gift from God and an important part of your human existence, but they are not sufficient to lead you to him. Instead, our response to his word, rooted in faith, is the only thing that can move us in that direction. In that sense, the still, small voice is really more of a still, small choice. It is our choosing to obey and trust him that allows us to follow. Only steps of faith will bring us closer to our ultimate destination of knowing him.
So listen closely for the voice of your Master, but understand that you won’t hear it in the whistles. As convincing as they may sound, any callings that are not rooted in scripture are only counterfeit. Train your spiritual ears to his word and your spiritual eyes to his face, and you will find yourself less drawn in the direction of the other voices, those whistles that do not have your best interests at heart like the Good Shepherd does.
You may have some pretty impressive tricks in your repertoire, but if you’re being pulled aside by every convincing voice, those abilities will be ineffective and exhausting. Instead of being a show dog, content yourself to be a sheep, patiently listening to — and following — the voice of your Master, one still, small choice at a time.