A key to cultivating a life of hearing God is to think about when you hear Him and make an effort to listen at those times. Not everyone will be the same, so this is not intended as a formula, but I am going to describe the times I hear Him best.
-When I am worshiping God. I often hear Him in a place designated to worship Him–church–whether or not the service is particularly inspiring. In fact, through some of the most dry services I have heard God best, not by virtue of the dryness, but because the dryness made me desperate for Him. A few years ago I started the practice of asking God if He wanted to tell me something about specific people or situations as I sat in the benches at church. Sometimes he brought a few words, an impression, or a picture, and then I would pray about whatever God brought to mind. (This is a very low-risk way to start cultivating a hearing relationship. You aren’t telling anyone what you think God’s saying, you are only praying back to God; and if you got it wrong, He’s just pleased that you tried.) I prayed for this person’s depression, that person’s relationships, another person’s grief, still another’s salvation. Many times I found out later that what I thought I heard from God was true. Other things I may never know for sure, but the risk has to be taken for growth to happen.
Music is another worship situation that often encourages communication with God. Sometimes it’s hymns, sometimes praise music, sometimes classical or choral music. During seasons of depression, I will often play music as I go about my work, and it often helps my heart feel a little less heavy and a little more able to hear God speaking. Praising God opens up my spirit to receive His messages.
-While reading Scripture. I can think of numerous times when Scripture spoke deeply to me and profoundly touched my spirit. I remember what a watershed moment it was for me to read Hebrews 10:12. For years I felt this sense of guilt because I thought I was such a bad person that God had to punish me with deafness. Then I read, “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time…” I still feel emotional when I read that verse. Jesus took care of it ALL, and I do not need to pay!
Another example–about a year ago I woke up early on Sunday morning, feeling sad and overwhelmed. We were driving to Hutchinson for church part of the time and visiting churches in Medicine Lodge the rest of the time. It seemed that regardless what we did, I would feel guilty, like we were letting someone down. The people from our former home wondered why we didn’t come around more, and the people in town wondered why we were gone so much. At that time I was doing some intensive reading of Paul’s epistles, so I got up to read through Colossians before going to church. I cried when I read Colossians 3:16. “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.” No one is to act as my judge! Not even me! I decided to stop judging myself and stop worrying about other people judging. I went to church that day and enjoyed it!
-During my daily life, as an interruption to my thoughts. When I receive an impression in the middle of doing ordinary work and thinking about something completely different, usually that’s a good indication that it’s from God. It’s not likely to be something I’ve made up when it comes as an interruption to my flow of thoughts.
One day I was washing dishes when I heard clearly in my spirit, “Buy Sarah a rosebush.” What?! I thought. I knew that my friend Sarah was going through a dark time, but I also knew our cash was running low and rosebushes are expensive. I shut off God’s voice and kept doing my dishes.
Later I heard it again, “Buy Sarah a rosebush.” But, Lord! I protested inwardly. I love Sarah so much, and I want to do something kind for her. But a rosebush…sorry, I can’t do that. How about I take her a bouquet of fresh flowers from my garden?
I kept working, putting the dishes away and sweeping the kitchen floor. I loved Sarah, and did feel deeply sorry for her. I would write her a nice card and take her some flowers. Then it came again, that persistent voice, “Buy Sarah a rosebush!”
Ok, God, I give up, I finally said. I called my sister-in-law to see if she could pick one up for me since she was in town anyway. She happily obliged. When she brought the bush to my house and plunked it on the table, she nonchalantly remarked, “Oh, and the rose bushes were 50 percent off today.” I was astounded! With much delight I delivered the rosebush to my friend.
-When I ask God questions, and wait for an answer. This is a foundational part of learning to hear from God. In any relationship, you learn to know someone by asking questions. The same is true of God. When a group of people sits quietly in God’s presence, waiting for an answer from Him, God shows up powerfully! (I hope to discuss this more in a later post on hearing within God’s family.) I can ask God questions as I wash dishes, as I take care of my children, as I drive through town, as I see people in church, as I stand in line at Dollar General. The key here is to be patient, to not push for an answer, but to remain open and expectantly waiting for an answer. This concept can transform a prayer life–prayers become much more conversational instead of a one-sided telling God things and asking for help. Don’t get me wrong, God wants us to be able to talk to Him about anything. But He also has a storehouse of wisdom, and a plan for his creation that He would like to share with His children if we can look beyond ourselves long enough to ask Him about it.
Sometimes when Will asks God a question, he gets an answer in the form of a Bible reference. Several years before we moved to Medicine Lodge we wrestled with the thought of moving, and spent quite a bit of time praying about it. One morning as Will was driving to church, he felt almost desperate to hear from God about our situation, and pled with God for wisdom. As he sat down in church, a reference came to his mind. “Genesis 12:1.”
“Oh, that’s just a genealogy or something,” Will thought disappointedly. But he picked up his Bible and looked up the verse. This is what he found. “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.'” Will was so shocked that he slammed his Bible shut and thunked it on the bench beside him! But at that point we knew that, yes, God wanted us to move.
-When I associate with people who hear God. Have you ever been around someone who exuded God’s presence? I have. And in those times I have also been able to hear God more clearly. This doesn’t mean we should spend all our time in a holy huddle with our favorite Christians, but occasionally getting together with our spiritual friends can encourage and stimulate us on our journey. Sometimes it even catapults us twice as far as we’ve already been! And this works in the reverse as well–always being with people who do not believe in hearing God can deal harsh blows to our faith.
-When I associate with people who need God. Being with people who are spiritually hungry really pulls at my heart, and I will often hear from God about them. I feel God’s presence with me; I also feel Him yearning over them as I relate to them. When God talks to me about people, it never makes me feel condemning or judging. Instead I feel intense compassion. I truly enjoy the people He places in my path.
-During the night, either as a dream or I wake and hear Him in my spirit. If God often talks to you in the quiet hours of the night, breathe a prayer for His presence before you go to sleep. Sometimes I will bring a problem to God when I go to bed, and then during the night the answer comes.
When do you hear Him? Is it at the same times that I have mentioned, or is it different for you? Think about when you hear Him, and you will likely begin noticing his voice more as you listen for Him at those times. If you feel like you don’t ever hear Him, try asking questions and waiting for an answer.
Another step in the practice of hearing God is to create space in which you are able to hear. Developing a relationship with God is like any other relationship, it takes time. I can’t expect to skimp on this relationship and have it turn out well. I need to communicate, take time to listen, clear my mind so that I can concentrate on God (put down that mental newspaper!), and yes, talk to Him even when I don’t feel like it.
If you have a relationship in your life that is working well, evaluate what makes that relationship tick. What do you do for each other? What do you like to do together? The chances are very good that the same basics will work with building a friendship with God. Do you like to spend a lot of time talking with your friends? Carve out spaces to just talk with God. Do you enjoy working with your best friends? Keep an ear open for God as you work. Do you love sharing exquisite music with your besties? Take time to sing or listen to beautiful music with a heart turned toward God at the same time.
I love the outdoors; some of my favorite times with Will and the children are times we spend camping, hiking, picnicking by the lake, swimming. When I am outside in nature, I often feel close to God. So when life feels dry and hard, sometimes a long walk alone will help me reconnect with God. Even hoeing weeds in the garden will bring about that sense of re-connection.
When learning to hear God, pay attention to the witness of God’s Spirit within you, and the Word He has given you in the Bible. Sometimes we may not be sure if what we are thinking is from God, but often if we pay attention to our spirits, we will know. And it goes without saying that if we think we hear something that is unscriptural, it isn’t from God.
If life feels dry for you and God seems distant, try these exercises: think about when you hear Him best, create the space for Him to speak, and check what you think you hear with God’s Word and Spirit within you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes–it’s all part of growth and God is pleased with your effort. The beautiful blessing of obeying God’s voice is that over time His voice becomes easier to hear. Some of my most-admired mentors tell me they developed that spiritual sense by years of careful listening paired with radical obedience.
When do you hear God best? What are some ways you create space to be able to hear Him?