Listening to God
There’s an old joke that goes: “When you talk to God, we call it prayer, but when God talks to you, we call it schizophrenia.”
We do a lot of stuff for God. We do a lot of external things and that is good – teaching, serving, praying for others. God told us to do that. We also try hard to get right with God in our hearts. We are aware of our sins, confess them, and ask God to help us do better. This too is right and good.
But there is one thing that most of us desperately want but may have a lot of trouble getting there: sensing the presence of God and listening to what He has to say to us.
He actually lays it out to Moses, Aaron and Miriam when Aaron and Miriam were plotting against their brother.
“When there is a prophet among you,
I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,
I speak to them in dreams.
7 But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
8 With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?” (Num. 12:6-8)
“Listening to God?” Yes. Certainly we listen to Him in the pages of His Word. That is first and foremost. But God also talks to us. Why wouldn’t He? What kind of a friendship is it when your friend never talks to you and even if He did, you never listen? Not much.
Besides, even in the Bible He spoke directly to people:
- Conversation with Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah
- Conversation with Moses at the burning bush, and many others throughout Moses’ life
- God speaking to the crowds when Jesus was baptized (“This is my beloved Son…”)
- Jesus appearing to Saul on the road to Damascus (“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”)
- And the whole history of visions and prophecies
But since a lot of the time we don’t listen, listening to God takes practice like any worthwhile thing does. It does get easier over time. And if its’ hard in the meantime? “’For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’” (Mt. 16:25) The hard yet incredibly rewarding practice of listening absolutely qualifies.
The Bible on Listening to God
The LORD said to his people, “Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is. Walk in it, and you will live in peace.” (Jer. 6:16a)
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jer. 33:3)
To the Church
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev. 3:20)
Noah and the Ark
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. (Gen. 6:11-13)
Moses and the Burning Bush
1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Ex. 3:1-6)
Saul and Ananias
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. (Acts 9:1-7)
Paul’s companions lead him to Damascus, where he waits for 3 days. He was blind and didn’t eat or drink anything. Then God speaks again.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:10-16)
Peter hears God’s voice in a dream
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)
Where and When does He Speak?
We check out every other kind of listening by what God says in the Bible. I’m pretty amazed that a lot of churchgoers do not actually read the Bible. Some of them are Christian and some of them aren’t, but if you don’t read your Bible two things will happen:
- You cut yourself off from the power of the living Word of God.
- You fall into all sorts of seriously wrong beliefs. I’m NOT talking about disagreements about the timing of the Rapture or whether infant baptism is all right. I’m talking about faith-killing beliefs like reincarnation, or that Jesus was a great teacher but not God, or that being “spiritual” is all you need to go to heaven. (Whatever that means.)
Read your Bible! Read is slowly and prayerfully and the Holy Spirit will speak to you from its pages.
Many times God deliberately works through other people to reach us. Most often these others are Christians who are listening to God, but God can work with anyone in this way. Morton Kelsey, an Episcopalian priest who wrote many books on Christian journaling and imaging prayer, was helped immensely by his Jewish therapist.
Other times the Holy Spirit directs us to tell someone else something. I experience this as a sudden filling of air in my lungs and a feeling of electricity, other people experience it differently. But is sure happens and it’s happening all the time.
This can be a hard one because sometimes we often grow through hard circumstances. When we are going through something painful and we cry out to God, He WILL answer us.
The Bible is His immediate answer, always go there first, middle and always! Throw yourself onto the Lord in prayer. And remember how God worked through other past circumstances is another way to listen to Him, because we can look back and see where He led us through the darkness.
Does this mean we don’t have scars from hard circumstances? Of course it doesn’t. The Risen Christ still has scars in His hands and feet. And does that mean we’re glad something happened? No – I don’t jump for joy at two divorces, the women in this group who have lost husbands and children aren’t giddy. But God led us through and will again, and made us stronger and more loving for it. And once we get to heaven there will be more sorrow ever again. He speaks through circumstances.
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
The Still Small Voice.
This phrase “the still small voice” comes from the book of 1 Kings, chapter 19. Wind, earthquake and fire passed by but God’ voice was not there. He spoke in a still small voice that Elijah heard when he quieted his heart and mind enough to listen.
The still small voice often speaks to us today as a feeling of peace when we think about a decision or action. You still have to judge your decision against the Bible – getting a feeling of peace when you want to cheat on your income tax isn’t from God! But the Holy Spirit very often encourages and direct us with feelings of peace and rightness.
The Actual Voice of God.
Sometime God actually speaks to us out loud. The voice may echo in our minds as if spoken aloud and sometimes we can actually hear his voice audibly. You know absolutely that He said something. These times are really important! Write them down or be sure that you will remember. Then act on it! I’ve told you just recently about my decision to stay engaged to Alan or not. I heard “Stay. Stay. Stay.” Good thing or Alex would ever have been born.
“The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Ps. 19:1) Those of us who choose to live in Wrightwood love the mountains and forest. As Christians most of us are sensitive to the beauty of Creation. People like photographer Ansel Adams, poet Walt Whitman and philosopher David Thoreau were supremely talented men, but they thought nature was all the god they needed. It wasn’t. Never worship Creation, Creation points to its Creator. What are the messages that creation gives us? God’s might and beauty, His infinite care of us and the animals, hope that the new earth will be lovelier than the old.
Dreams, visions and images.
Just a few people who had God-given dreams in the Bible include Jacob, King Abimelek, King Nebuchadnezzar, Egypt’s Pharoah, Pharoah’s cupbearer and baker, Peter, Laban,
Stuff to be Aware Of
- Don’t worry if He doesn’t always answer. First, He’s not a trained dog to come running when you whistle. Second, sometimes His silence is the answer. To believe anyway, the dark night of the soul.
- Don’t think this means you have to ask him about every little nitpicking thing. (Example of the lady wanting to know if she should put her socks on, and is so which ones.)
- Always hear God in the context of what we know of Him from the Bible. The men who flew the planes into the World Trade Towers thought they heard from God too, but it sure wasn’t God who was speaking to them. Something was, but not God.
- Never give up, never surrender! “So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.” (Heb. 12:1b)
What Might it Feel Like?
Minister Patrick Morley wrote, “One of the most frequent concerns we hear is, ‘I don’t sense the presence of God in my life right now.’ Indeed, I often feel that way myself. Recently, I was sitting in our backyard before dawn, gazing into a sky arrayed with countless blinking stars, seeking a greater sense of God’s presence in my life. He seemed far, far away. I concentrated on casting all earthly distractions and cares at the foot of the cross. I tried to quiet myself, thinking of the Psalmist: “Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:2). Soon I turned my attention to my immediate surroundings. The sleeping lawn chairs, the napping picnic table, the snoring trees, and the grass soaked in early morning dew all seemed somehow more ‘present’. My mind swirled at the thought that in the silent cube of space right before me, all of the day’s news and sounds were traveling in waves from radio, television, and cellular phones. I was reminded that the Holy Spirit of God, too, was in that space. He is omnipresent. Then, after 45 minutes, it happened. I could “feel” the presence of God. It was not that God came suddenly. No, it was clear He had been there all along. Rather, it was I who had suddenly become conscious of His presence.”
How to do it
- First, ask! “[Jesus said] ‘Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice and open the door, I will come into their house and eat with them, and they will eat with me.’” (Rev. 3:20) Ask Jesus Christ to transform your mind, to help you to become the person He created you to be.
- Take Time. Breathe deeply. “Be still and know that I am God.” Quiet your spirit before God. Relax physically and mentally. Wait receptively. Find a place and time where you can be alone, and stay quiet and uninterrupted. Early morning is the best time for many people, but whatever works for you. Be quiet, don’t try to force it. And don’t get frustrated if you find yourself thinking about the grocery list for the 3rd time in 2 minutes. God understands. Just relax. Be still. Turn your attention to Him again.
- If a word or phrase comes, ask again. “Is this what you are saying to me, Lord?” It may sound nonsensical like “Rik rak!” That probably is your imagination! So ask again and just relax. Or it may be a word that you don’t quite understand yet like “Heart.” (Example of John Eldridge, hearing “heart” and realizing that it meant the shell he’d built around his heart because of his childhood abandonment.) The word may be a noun like joy, or peace or self-discipline. God wants you to work with Him on these things. The word could be verbs like stay home today or call your sister. It could also be a verb on God’s part like I love you. The word may also be a verse to read.
- When you do hear from God, act. Do what He said, including entering a period of waiting. Keep watching and listening for further guidance along the way. It may be a quality He wants you to have, a truth He wants you to know, an action He wants you to take, or a verse to read and ponder. And always check the words by Scripture in case your imagination is getting silly!
- Record what you heard. W Keep a journal with you. It can be paper and pen or on a computer. When you hear God, then write down what He told you. You are not quite done yet – you still need to do discernment on what you heard – but you really don’t want to hear from the God of the Universe and then forget what He said. Not good.
F.B. Meyer: “True knowledge of God and union with Him are only to be attained by those who will not shrink before the perils and steepness of the strait gate and narrow way. It is not necessary to leave the body to reach the inner secret of God. The path may be trodden on this side of the grave. Stony and steep it may be, but when it climbs the crest, and the whole glory of the heavens is in view, the soul is satisfied.”