By Pastor David M. Choi
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying “Joseph, Son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet… When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. -Matthew 1:18-22, 24
“How do I discern the voice of God and what He’s calling me to do?” Joseph, father of Jesus and husband of Mary, is an important biblical figure often overlooked by many Christians. He sets for us, however, an important example of how to hear God’s voice and to respond in quick action.
The gospel writer tells us that Joseph was an upright man. He followed God, and to the best of his ability sought to do what was most pleasing to Him. And in this unique predicament, Joseph thought that that meant divorcing his wife, Mary. For she was pregnant, and certainly not by him. Yet “unwilling to put her to shame” he resolved to go about it quietly. Think about the level of self-control this requires, how Joseph had to temper his passion and jealousy! Indeed, all of this depicts Joseph’s integrity and righteous character. So, what might we glean from this?
When it comes to discerning God’s voice, that is, God’s will and God’s command, discernment needs to run parallel to a life of Christian integrity. Hearing God’s voice means you first allow your heart to match God’s own, as it takes on the shape of the cross by way of active discipleship (i.e. feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the poor) – not just rote memorizations of bible verses.
But we should be careful to notice the purpose and limit of our righteous living (or discipleship). That is, righteousness is to better prepare us to hear God’s voice for when He chooses to speak – implying God’s will is never made completely known to us. To be sure, it doesn’t guarantee that He will, as if we can force God’s hand and rush His plans by virtue of our good deeds. (That’s what the pharisees tried to do.) We need to remember that righteousness is for our sake, not His.
Because of Joseph’s humility and faithfulness, his spirit was so amenable to God’s command that unlike his namesake (from Genesis), who interpreted the dreams of other Egyptians, this Joseph was given the greater gift to not only receive his own dreams but to also trust in them as a clear revelation from God. A revelation he could not have discovered otherwise, since it is a revelation that wholly transcends human knowledge.
What sort of revelation does God wish to reveal to you? And have you made yourself susceptible to the Spirit of God’s revelation, by allowing Him to transform you in the manner of Christ? Do you have a relationship with God, like that of Joseph’s, that is so intense, so robust, so intimate, that God encounters you in your dreams, and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is truly Him and not your own pious imagination?
After having received a clear word from God, how does Joseph respond in this passage? He obeys. Immediately. Melissa Bailey (i.e. the wife of my former youth pastor) writes, “When God calls you to obey there really isn’t a need to pray about it, to think about it or to ponder it over as you buy time to hopefully avoid the situation altogether. No, when God calls He desires immediate response, no hesitation required.”
Though it might not always be in the dramatic fashion of visions and dreams, there are times when we know very clearly what God is calling us to do. However, we hesitate to act, and we prolong obedience, because, if we’re honest, we sometimes do want the grand visions. Or, we may hesitate to act because we don’t like what God is calling us to do, and thereby look for ways to collapse His will into our own by saying things like, “I/We need to pray more about this.” But at this point, your prayers have turned into mere filibusters. If God’s called you to do something, stop praying about it and just do it, for “[w]hen Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”
Laying it out in the way that I have risks making this ‘process’ of hearing God’s call and our response to that call overly simplistic and overly formulaic. Certainly, God cannot be reduced to a static formula (i.e. “If I do this, then God will do that”), and certainly all of this is much easier said than done. Even so, we often make things more complicated than they need to be. But no hesitation is necessary. When God calls, we obey.