I think it's fascinating how different each of our voices are. I don't have much self awareness about how my own voice sounds. I don't like listening to my self. From time-to-time I listen to one of my sermons, but I start shuddering listening to my self talk, and eventually turn it off before I'm done. A lot of people feel the same way about listening to their own voice.
But if one of you called me on the phone, even though my iPhone tells me who's calling, if I didn't have that feature on my phone, I almost always know who it is after you'd say hello. Just by hearing your voice. That's what I find fascinating. That the human voice is not robotic, making us all sound the same. There must be millions and millions of variations in each human voice box that makes us all sound distinct.
As we have been finding out in Men's Bible Study, as we have been working our way through the book of Proverbs, it's not just our voice that matters. It's how we use our voice, and what we say with it. We've been paying attention to that continual theme in Proverbs that the thing that gets us most into trouble is what we do with our mouths—what we say.
Jesus develops this theme about our voices and how we use them in the parable of the sheep and the shepherd.
Our story is bracketed by two bookends—two sentences: verse 1 and verse 6. Verse 1 is a statement that Jesus makes: “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can." And then verse 6 is the result of Jesus' plain speaking: "Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about." Even in those times that Jesus tried to make things as simple as he could, still no one got it. That is, for Jesus it wasn't just a matter of people understanding his parable. It was the next step of believing in him that he was most concerned about.
Part of what may be at issue here is the people's expectations and assumptions about what Jesus talks about and how he should say it. Those expectations were probably along the lines that Jesus should talk about religious stuff, and he should use religious sounding language.
Let's look quickly at the parable of the sheep hearing and recognizing the shepherd's voice. Does Jesus mention God? (Nope.) Does Jesus use words like saved, salvation, repentance, justification, heaven, holy, etc. etc.? (Nope.) Did Jesus use religious-speak, verbiage that only seminary professors would understand? In-language? (Nope?) Our problem is that we use that kind of in-speak, religious verbiage, with people outside the faith or on the borderlands of Christian beliefs, and we expect them to know and understand exactly what we're saying. People expected Jesus to talk like that, because a Rabbi, a religious teacher, is supposed to talk like that. But Jesus didn't. So, if you don't hear the kinds of words you expect (religious verbiage), then you have to listen differently.
In Men's Bible Study, some times the version of the Bible that's read from uses a lot of words that you'd expect to find in the Bible. But we don't talk like that, so some proverbs are hard to understand. Joel uses the Bible Version called Today's English Version, put out by the American Bible Society. When we hit a hard proverb and are having trouble understanding it, we turn to Joel and ask, "What does yours say, Joel?" He reads it and we all go, "Of course; that makes more sense."
My guess is, that Jesus assumed if he talked to people in parables, they'd understand it better—easier. Not using a lot of big words, Jesus was making the people listen differently. Jesus was giving people a lot more responsibility, in that listening, to put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4. He was giving the people the chance to make their own connections in what he was saying.
I'm going to do the same thing this morning. Jesus, in his simple story, is talking about sheep and shepherds. I don't know much about that. But mainly what Jesus is talking about with the sheep and shepherds is voice. So, I'm going to say a few things about voice. I'm not going to use any religious language. I'm going to be true to what Jesus was saying, and how he said it. And I'm going to give you the responsibility to make the connections. I will stop, after each time, and ask you one question: "What connections are you making as you are listening?"
Ready? Here we go.
Voice Lesson #1
Babies as young as 4 1/2 months old are already learning to recognize their name, especially from a familiar voice. It's a recognition of a particular pattern and tone of sound. When you think about it, babies in the womb can't see others, but they are certainly picking up on voices—especially on those who are becoming more and more familiar.
Also, it's been discovered that singing lullabies to infants and children helps strengthen emotional ties with the parents who sing those lullabies. Parents use different tone of voice when singing to their children versus just singing.
An experiment was done, where parents sang a lullaby to their child. Then, they sang the same lullaby to a random group of people. What was discovered was that when singing to their children, there's an expressiveness of tone that can't be faked. Parents use a different voice when singing to their children. Babies, it's been found, associate tone of voice and familiarity of voice with their own level of security and caring.
Now, I've just been talking to you about some very religious stuff. Did you get it? So here's my question: What "religious" connections did you make as you listened to what I said?
Voice Lesson #2
After graduating from law school, a friend was having trouble finding a job. Potential employers she interviewed with commented that her voice lacked "credibility." She had excellent qualifications and professional experience. She had passed all the bar exams. But she was told her voice would irritate others, instead of inspire confidence in what she was saying.
According to research, about 40% of what we communicate comes across from your voice. Your tone of voice. The pitch of your voice. The volume you use when you speak. The way you inflect or modulate your voice when you talk.
A recent Gallup poll of what annoys people about others voices included:
talking too softly
yelling (like the old Oxyclean commercials with Billy Mays)
"mmm"; "like"; "ya' know", etc.
talking too fast
accent or regional dialect (like calling customer service and getting some guy in Sri Lanka)
All of these things don't have anything to do with the content of what you are saying, but how you say it—your voice. When you are talking on the phone with someone you've never met, within 30 seconds into the conversation, you have formed a mental image of that person:
—what you think they look like
—how smart, or stupid, they are
—what their personality is like
—if they are attractive or not
Memorability of a person often has more to do with "voice image" rather than "physical image." How you use your voice is a major key in your effectiveness and identity.
Now, again, I've just been talking about some very religious stuff. Did you get it? Thus, our question: What connections are you making with what Jesus said and what I just said?
Voice Lesson #3
The areas of your brain that govern listening, and how we interpret what we hear is closely tied to our brain's emotional systems. Of the five senses, only smell has more attachments to those emotive parts of our brain that govern emotion. When you are using your voice, you are speaking out of, what's called, your "emotional core." Also, whenever you listen to someone else's voice, their voice is generating emotions and feelings and gut level reactions in your emotional core. Why do you think so much marriage and family counseling has to do with communication?
Your voice is one of the prime determiners, not only about what kind of relationship you have, but if you have any relationship at all with another person.
So voice and the voice-brain-emotions connection determines our relationships with each other. If we're trying to determine if we have real connection with someone, we are probably paying attention to voice most of all.
Now, you guessed it. This third and final voice lesson is actually very religious. Did you understand it? What connections are you making with what Jesus said and this final voice lesson?
For Jesus, the voice is all about making connections with others. Not everyone. There were sheep in the pen, when the shepherd spoke, that didn't recognize the voice and stayed in the pen. But your voice, and how you use it, is primary in starting, keeping, and maintaining a flock of relationships. It's the voice that gives the sheep their identity, and holds them together in those relationships.