There are two simple truths in life:
1. Christ is the Master.
2. We are His sheep.
These two truths also lead to a third simple truth: if we follow His voice He will guide us to safety. However, the not-so-simple problem is, His isn’t the only voice we are hearing. Satan, the king of confusion, is also in our midst, and he’s the best impersonator in the business.
The world is full of countless voices today, and many of them are much easier to hear than the Master’s. With mobile technology, 24/7 news coverage, social media, and Satan’s attacks growing exponentially the voices get louder and louder every day. As we make our way through this probationary state we call life, listening to the right voices is as critical as it ever has been.
From the beginning, listening to the right voice has been an important part of living a righteous and joyful life and staying to the covenant path our prophet President Russell M. Nelson has urged us to follow. In the garden, Satan’s voice tempted and deceived. In the flood, Noah’s voice was drowned out by the crowd’s. Today many who once walked the strait and narrow have listened to those in the Great and Spacious and have wandered off into the mists of darkness.
Knowing the Master’s voice, and following it exclusively, is the key to spiritual survival. Surely none of us would willingly listen to Satan’s voice, so how does it happen so often? It would seem that many of us while trying to listen to the Savior end up listening instead to an imposter posing as the Master, speaking in a counterfeit version that leads us dangerously down alternate paths. In the Book of Moses (4:5-6) we learn that Satan is the most subtle of all, and that he will use his subtlety to deceive and blind us and lead us away in captivity. Subtlety is a particularly perilous trick, because if his approach is extreme it is immediately recognized, but done in subtlety easily slips past our outer defenses to threaten our survival.
So which voice is the Master’s voice? What does it sound like? What is it saying? And how do we know we’re listening to His voice and an imposter’s? There are quite a few clues waiting in their very voices that tell you who your listening to.
The Master doesn’t yell.
The still small voice. Whispers of the Spirit. A burning in your bosom. These are all descriptions of the Master’s voice. Very seldom is it the loud voice, and never is it a screaming shrill. One dead giveaway you’re hearing the counterfeit shepherd’s voice is that the volume is turned up too high.
When Christ invited His disciples to “Come follow me” it was peaceful. When He spoke to Elijah on the mountain Horeb He wasn’t in the ferocious wind, the earthquake, or the fire; He was a “still small voice”. When he appeared to the Nephites, they could barely hear Him at first. When He revealed Himself unto the brother of Jared, Joseph Smith, and Lorenzo Snow, he simply spoke. And when He speaks to us, we have to listen carefully so as not to miss it. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” means a lot more than listening, it means actively and preemptively tuning ourselves to the proper setting to hear the right voice.
Satan on the other hand is a fan of chaos. His voice yells, screams, and disrupts. He barges in, talks over, and screams down at others. A raucous, angry voice, even one saying things masquerading as something that seems right is rarely the voice of the Master. Laman and Lemuel often yelled at Nephi. The mob who sought Christ’s crucifixion were screaming their bloodthirsty demands at Pilate. Today, the naysayers, nonbelievers, and agents of evil volley their taunts, insults, threats, and mockery in irreverence.
When listening for the Good Shepherd, we need to tune out the deafening screams, and focus carefully for the quiet voice.
The Master doesn’t talk in convenience.
The world would have us think that Christ was any anything-goes, look-the-other way leader. That Christ was all about campfire, Kumbaya feel-goods. That he stood for nothing but soft, loving sentiments. That he was a walking Woodstock bumper sticker. When in fact he was and is nothing remotely so convenient.
Christ was known as the Prince of Peace, yes, but he also referred to Himself as a sword, come to drive father from son and brother from brother. He came to direct and demand. Though peaceful and still, His voice had force because He knew perfectly the danger of sin or even apathy toward the commandments, so He spoke with a powerful insistence…and command. Commandments were not His enemy, but His loving instructions. And He expected us, as He does today, to follow them faithfully.
Even in one of the imposter’s favorite distortions of the Master’s voice, He showed us that convenience was not His tenet. It happened in one of His typically brilliant and superlative moments when the Pharisees brought Him a woman caught in adultery. They were seeking to catch Him in permissive violation of the law or have Him condemn her to death by the predicated sentence of stoning. “It’s one or the other!” they insisted…much like the world insists Christ’s followers choose today: falsely impossible ultimatums. “Condemn yourself or kill her”, they pressed. And then Jesus did what He, the Son of God, knew to do; he answered, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” It suddenly put the impossible ultimatum back on them, and they relented (having ironically been pierced by His true voice). After they left Christ turned to the woman who was inarguably guilty of a grave sin and admonished, “Go, and sin no more.”
To the world, this is the condoning of sin, an excusing of accountability. To the world, the voice of the Master is one of permissive indulgence; “Hey, so you cheated on your husband, no big deal!” But to the ears that hear, this was a loving and merciful admonishment to REPENT of her sinful ways. The Master did not exact a public punishment, but did lovingly and privately call her to repentance. He loved, yet he chastised. That is the Master’s voice: abundant charity coupled with expectations of righteousness.
When the apostle Peter walked on water but then lost faith and sank, Christ reached out to Him and said, “Oh ye of little faith.” Christ pointed out in a time of Peter’s despair and literal fall from grace that he had fallen short of the Lord’s expectation. Peter had possessed and demonstrated so much faith he WALKED ON WATER (!!!), yet was still admonished for his shortfall of faith. But that admonishment came with the love of a parent; love through discipline.
The world wants you to believe the voices that say love means you can do anything you fell like, but those aren’t the Master’s words and that’s not the Master’s voice. That’s the voice of the Prince of Lies. And he’d love nothing more than for you to listen to him right into captivity.
Some voices will exclaim “Christ fulfilled the law. The old commandments no longer apply!” Seriously, that’s an argument that many make…ignorantly so, because in fulfilling the law, Christ implemented an even higher, more demanding one.
The Master’s old law: Don’t kill
The Master’s new law: Don’t even say mean things
The imposter’s law: If they start it, you finish it.
The Master’s old law: Don’t commit adultery
The Master’s new law: Don’t even lust after someone
The imposter’s law: As long as you’re in love, anything goes.
But in turn Christ is also not telling us to unrighteously judge those who do choose to do whatever makes themselves happy. “Judge not unrighteously, lest ye be judged.”
And in most recent terms,
The Master’s old law: Go hometeaching.
The Master’s new law: Become a minister and do a lot more for others than you used to, and do it even more holy.
The imposter’s law: Hey, you don’t have to hometeach anymore! Take the month off!
If the voice you are hearing is telling you to just do whatever is convenient in spite of the commandments, the prophet’s words, and your conscience, you’ve found yourself a counterfeit.
The Master speaks as a shepherd
The Good Shepherd doesn’t call out as a wolf, seeking the failure of the sheep. Tempting the sheep to go their own way. Savoring the loss diminishing of the flock. Instead, He calls for obedience. He calls for unified allegiance. He calls us home.
The imposter calls for blood. The imposter calls for brutal justice. And the imposter calls for disobedience. In the imposter’s voice are aggression, deception, and contention.
A shepherd doesn’t sneak around and doesn’t try to trick his flock. But have you ever watched a wolf stalk a flock? They move much differently than a shepherd. Likewise, they both sound very different to the ear that is hearing.
“Believe in Joseph Smith, but not in the modern prophet. He’s not really a prophet like Joseph was – those days are gone. You should fight this out-of-touch old man, and make him change his policies to be more what you think is right.” Sound familiar? Sound like a voice you may have heard recently? Does it sound anything like, “Go ahead, eat the fruit. You won’t die, in fact you’ll become so much more alive! You want to be alive, don’t you? So just do it!” The imposter’s voice is sneaky, and it wants you to suffer.
The Master calls us to Him. He doesn’t tell us to split away. He doesn’t insist we rebel. He tells us to give Him full and unquestioning obedience, as a shepherd does His flock. The shepherd gently invites us. The shepherd will at times use a staff to correct our path. The shepherd will even sometimes use sheepdogs to rein us in before we wander. We sheep all tend to want to explore the areas outside His reach, and many of us feel we are smart, strong, or special enough to do it without getting hurt, but the shepherd knows the dangers that lie beyond the safety of His guard, and doesn’t want us to find ourselves in peril. And so He gives us commandments. He gives us prophets who call us to repentance and institute inconvenient instruction and policies that make us peculiar. He tells us to humble ourselves and to quit listening to the tempting calls from the forest — the calls that tell us to quit being “foolishly blind sheep”. Those voices only want to do us harm, and to defeat the shepherd. We must choose to listen to the shepherd.
There are many voices, but really only two: the Master’s and the imposter’s. He who has ears to hear, let him hear the shepherd. And then turn a deaf ear to the imposter. Our spiritual survival depends on it.