I've thought a lot about being able to discern the voice of the Lord lately. Two common, everyday things have helped me better understand this process.
When I got home from my mission I remember that my natural inclination would be to speak Spanish to my little brothers and any other young children trying to talk to me. At first I was puzzled why it was only children that seemed to evoke this response from me. Sure there were a few Spanish words that would slip into conversations as my mind would pull up words that most easily and accurately expressed my thoughts. But never did I open my mouth to speak to an adult and Spanish sentences came out. As I thought about this, I realized that children's speech was harder for me to understand. I had to switch modes to be able to put together their fragmented sentences and r's sounding like w's. I had to tune my ear in to discern what they were saying. It was similar to Spanish. I had to switch from English mode to Spanish mode and pay a little better attention than I would to someone speaking my own native tongue. So for both children gibberish and Spanish, it was if I had to change modes and tune into a different frequency.
The other night I had a dream. I remember the tv was on and I couldn't understand it... that is until someone pointed out that the program it played was Spanish. As I realized this, I sat down and began paying attention and saw that I could understand everything all the while, I had just not been paying close enough attention. I was trying to listen with my English discerning ears and had not tuned myself in to listen for Spanish.
Now for those that have never learned a foreign language and are having a hard time relating with my above examples, I give my last example.
The other day I was walking to my sister's house while listening to my ipod. It was a beautiful sunny day and I found myself listening to a song sung by the Mormon Tabernacle choir from their Consider the Lillies soundtrack. I don't remember what particular song it was, but I found myself paying special attention to the lyrics. "Those are cool lyrics", I remember thinking. "I've listened to this song so many times and never have known all the lyrics". I payed better attention. The song played on and I realized that even with paying special attention, I still could not discern all that the song said. I hit the rewind button to replay the lyrics to see if I could better discern the song's message. Even with multiple repeats, there's lyrics that I'm still oblivious to. I realized that the process of discerning the song's message required me tuning my ear in to be able to comprehend the words of the song. I had listened to the song multiple times and knew much of the chorus, but there was so many lyrics that I had never understood because I hadn't tuned my ear in to listen and discern.
Now, applying these examples to discerning the voice of the Lord. How much are we really receptive to? How much could we benefit by taking the time to be still and closely listen, not so much a physical stillness where we drop everything and sit in some yoga stance and not so much just listening with our ears that hear audible sounds. We have to switch modes to discern those things which the Lord communicates on a different frequency. I think of the nephites in 3 Nephi 11. In verse 3 they hear a voice that sounds like it came from heaven. It says they "cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice". I can imagine them looking all around at each other and at their surroundings, maybe wondering if their neighbor understands and can explain. Maybe hoping to find the source of the voice. Maybe wondering if others hear it too. There were those that maybe had been prepared to hear because it says "them that did hear" were pierced to the center. Maybe those that did hear were those that had practice discerning and hearing the voice of the Lord. Then the multitude heard the voice again. Once again they didn't understand. Are they thinking the same things again? Then a third time the voice is heard. This time they are ready. No wandering eyes. No looking to their neighbor. Their gaze is fixed towards heaven "from whence the sound came". And their ears are open to hear it. Perhaps it's not so much their physical ears that are now receptive. They had previously discerned a noise or sound or voice before. But this time their hearts are quieted, tuned in and ready to hear.
The Lord is in the details of our lives and wants to help us overcome our challenges but sometimes it is us that are ignorant of his presence because we trust to much in our own judgment and ideas. We must take the time to quiet our hearts in humility and tune our ears into his will if we are to hear the voice of the Lord.