Hearing a Word from the Lord: My Review of Jesus Speaks by Leonard Sweet and Frank viola


While I believe the primary way to discern the answer to a life question is through Scripture, many decisions in my life have been aided by a companion book that brings wisdom to scriptural text and life circumstance.

One of the best such books I have read has been Jesus Speaks, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. It’s the third in a trilogy on Jesus, following Jesus Manifesto and Jesus: A Theography.

In the introduction, the writers say, “Jesus is always speaking to His followers. It is up to us to learn to recognize His voice.” The writers’ goal is to help us with this task. They succeeded. Jesus Speaks is one of the most useful books about following Jesus I have ever read.

This is a review of the book with a set of quotes to help you right away and give you a glimpse at how to listen to the Lord’s voice. I encourage you to buy and read the whole thing. I cannot recommend it enough. Click here to pre-order the book.

A note about the idea of Jesus speaking

When it comes to the decisions we make as Jesus followers, sometimes we use the language of “knowing God’s will” or obeying a “calling.”

For some, the idea of calling connotes directives from the top. When we talk about listening to a calling, we think we’re on the receiving end of orders from the boss, ready to do the right thing if we could only understand what’s being said.

Sweet and Viola reframe the idea of orders from on high with the title phrase, “Jesus speaks.” When Jesus speaks, instead of a drill sergeant, he acts as a parent or mentor, who coaches and teaches in relationship. Jesus doesn’t bark orders, he asks questions. He nudges. He suggests. He lets us discover truth in our own way, on our own terms.

The tone of the book assumes that the answer you seek in your life isn’t for the purposes of making you a better employee for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want a better staff. Jesus wants a relationship.

How to read the book

Each book in this trilogy is best read very slowly and meditatively. As I read Jesus Speaks I journaled, writing down dozens of quotes and my thoughts and observations on them. I frequently re-read my journal entries, on a daily basis and in some cases, weeks later.

When you buy the book, I recommend you go slow. Take notes. After you’ve finished reading it, put it down for two months and then return for fresh insight into your own study.

From my journal, here are 20 quotations from the book, along with my notes. They are either direct quotes or my scribbled adaptations; my sometimes notations are given in italics.

How Jesus Speaks

  • Christ speaks to you in Scriptures, in questions, at the table in bread and wine (in community), and in your wounds. (25-26)

When You’re Feeling Uncertain or Confused

  • God is not hiding, but God is divine and we are human. (64)
  • Jesus appeared in person after His resurrection only to those who had known him… if an agnostic had been present at Mount Sinai, he would have heard the thunder and seen the lightning but wonder what all the commotion was about. To hear the voice of God, you must be in relationship with God. (63) A follower sees Jesus where a non-follower sees sound and fury, noise and chaos.
  • Even though Jesus had already appeared to them twice when they were staying in Jerusalem, the disciples were still confused, bewildered and unsettled. (45) Learning to hear Jesus’ voice takes time. We can’t begin trying the night before the big decision and expect to receive wisdom.
  • It is such a comfort that the disciples didn’t always understand what Jesus was saying or doing. Yet even when they didn’t get it, they stayed with Him and trusted Him. (27)
  • Some things are so confusing and complicated that the best we can do was just stop trying to juggle the complexities, throw all the balls up in the air, and tell the Holy Spirit, “You sort it out.” (88-89) Sometimes, saying “I don’t know” or “I can’t decide” isn’t a copout, but the only honest decision you can make at the time.

When You’re Feeling Defeated

  • Jesus journeys with us even when we abandon hope and run away. In fact, it is in our woundedness when Jesus walks and talks with us the most. (16) Your inability to hear from God on a decision may not be God ignoring you, but God drawing you closer.
  • Brokenness is critical for hearing the Lord. Brokenness brings openness to hearing. Brokenness beings humility for hearing Jesus. Proverbs is full of promises whereby God reveals His secrets to the humble since the high and mighty are only hearing themselves. (22)

On Growing Your Ability to Listen

  • Jesus doesn’t need our service, our programs, our gifts. Jesus desires our selves, our hearts, our lives. (9)
  • What yielded a huge catch a fish? Obedience. Obedience bears fruit. (48) Simon the fisherman said yes first, before Jesus gave the answer. He let the rabbi teach him how to do his job.
  • The reflex of reverence and trust over fear and doubt is a learned response. (28) It is hard when you’re not used to listening with your spirit.

On Hearing Through Other Believers

  • When you are in despair and doubt, the worst thing you can do is separate yourself from your brothers and sisters in Christ. You see and hear your way to Jesus through the witness of others and in company with them. (40)
  • Peter went back to what he knew best. But Jesus welcomed all of them back to what they knew best together. (49-50)

On Hearing Through Woundedness

  • When we Jesus speak to us today, what he says will be marked by sacrifice and self-denial… Only Christianity answers the question of suffering with a divine experience, not a doctrine or philosophy… Through death comes new life. (67-68)
  • For God so loved the world that he gave His son to die for us. When we hear Jesus speak to us today, what He says will be marked by giving to others. (68) You won’t hear Jesus speak if your aim is self-fulfillment. Jesus directs us away from self and to others.

The Results of Hearing Jesus Speak

  • The willingness to do what is said is necessary for hearing what is said. (22) Do you keep talking to someone when they refuse to do what you ask? If we never heed a word from the Lord, why should the Lord keep talking?
  • God does not always meet our expectations… We listen to Christ not simply to comprehend Him or to communicate with Him but to be changed into His image. (8) Most of us can’t hear what Jesus is saying because we don’t want to deal with change.
  • Sometimes Jesus asks us to stay…Staying is hard. Staying is not rewarding. In your life you will hear the word go. Go takes courage and faith. But in your life you will also hear the word stay, which takes even more courage and faith sometimes than go. (31-33)
  • Once you’re open to new possibilities, the sky is the limit. Trust his voice, and your life will exceed expectations. if you aren’t seeing”strange things,” you aren’t seeing Jesus–-strange not in the sense of exotic and esoteric, but in the sense of the unexpected in the familiar made strange. (48)
  • Jesus humbled himself to bless Peter’s best. (53) To many of our big decisions, there isn’t a single pick-this-decision-or-your-future-is-toast answer. Jesus has big plans for us, but is willing to meet us at a lesser level according to how much faith we can muster.

How to Buy the Book

Again, I encourage you to buy and read the whole thing. These few quotes are a little glimpse at a book that has hundreds of insights and ways to learn to listen to Jesus’ voice in your life. I cannot recommend it enough. Click here to pre-order.

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).

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