Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. ~Proverbs 3:6 (The Message)
Recently I had a devotional featured with Proverbs 31 Ministries. I shared about a season of waiting on God for a promise and hearing Him speak words over my heart that encouraged me in my waiting–words that continue to encourage me in my waiting.
But something that completely broke my heart was reading comments women left on that post declaring that they had never heard God speak to them and they didn’t even understand what it meant to hear God.
Even as I write these words, my heart stirs and aches for those women. Oh how I long for every person to experience God’s presence, to hear His voice.
Last week we kicked off this series on prayer and we talked about how prayer is a conversation, a chance to commune with God. And I’ll be the first to go on record and admit that I haven’t always viewed prayer that way. For years it was always my way of sharing what was on my heart and asking God to do things in my life and the lives of my loved ones.
In recent years, however, God’s been showing me a depth to prayer many of us miss out on because we’re the ones doing all the talking.
A thriving prayer life is possible when we’re quiet enough to hear God speak.
What does it mean to “hear” from God?
The first time I ever thought there was something more to prayer than just talking to God I discovered an article in Brio Magazine. The author of the article shared about how she never said Amen. In church culture, saying Amen marks the end of a prayer and lets everyone else know that they can lift their heads and open their eyes.
For this girl, however, she didn’t want to end her conversation with God.
Instead of saying Amen, she left conversation open for the rest of the day, continuing to share her heart and concerns with God and listening for His voice.
Listening to God is essential if we want to grow in our relationship with Him, if we want our prayer lives to be deeper than a laundry list of requests.
The challenge comes with actually listening and knowing how to discern to voice of God.
Often in the church we throw around the phrase, “hearing from God” and understandably many people confess to never hearing God’s voice. That’s because when we think of hearing, we think of something audible.
Now, I won’t deny that God is capable of speaking to people with an audible voice. Many times in Scripture the Bible records God speaking directly with people like Abraham and Moses. Even people in the New Testament heard God’s audible voice as He spoke blessing after Jesus baptism (Matthew 3:17).
God’s voice can be audible.
More often than not, however, when people talk about hearing from God, they are referring to a still small voice spoken over their heart.
How does God Speak?
Perhaps those of us who struggle hearing from God do so because we don’t know what His voice sounds like. My prayer for you as we journey through this series together is that you would learn to discern God’s voice.
God speaks in many different ways and uses different avenues to get His points across. Let’s talk about a few of them:
His Word. One of the main ways God speaks to us is through Scripture. Over the years God has spoken to people who have written down those words so that future generations can read them. Though these words were written thousands of years ago, they are still applicable today. They still show us who God is, what He’s done, and what His heart is like. Those words reveal God’s character. And, in many cases, those words speak into our lives and our situations right now.
The Holy Spirit. For those of us who have received Jesus as our Lord and Savior and been baptized in the Spirit, God’s Spirit dwells in us. He speaks to us in quiet whispers and thoughts and assurances. He can speak in quiet nudges and gut feelings that tell us which way to move next. And when needed, He provides correction and redirects our path.
Prayer and Meditation. When we pray and enter into conversation with God, He speaks there too. As we meditate on a truth from Scripture or as we sit silently and just listen, God can speak. He might speak something from His Word or something completely unique.
Themes. I am a big believer that God speaks in themes. Somehow God puts a lot of people on the same page. Everyone writes about the same topic, much of the new worship songs focus around the same idea, and sermons have the same central thread through them. God wants His people to know things, to know Him, and often what He wants us to know isn’t just for us, but for everyone. He also knows use humans sometimes need to hear or see things multiple times before we understand how to act on them, so God plants His themes across multiple avenues.
The thought that isn’t yours. Have you ever had a thought pop into your mind and you aren’t sure where it came from? I’m not talking about those negative thoughts–those aren’t from God. I’m talking about those ideas you’d never considered before, a calm assurance your heart desperately needed, a task or change that requires a bit of faith. God’s voice is like a whisper and He can show up when we’re not expecting Him to speak truth and direction into our lives. That random thought to call that friend, visit that person from church, or buy a sandwich for that homeless guy might be from God.
A word from a friend (or a stranger). God also uses people to be His mouthpiece. Moses was the middle man between God and the people of Israel, relaying God’s commands to the newly-freed community. Jesus spoke the words of the Father to the many people He interacted with during His ministry. The Apostles presented the Gospel to various communities around the world. God uses people to affirm decisions, plant seeds, give encouragement.
Dreams. This is something I wish people paid more attention too because God still speaks through dreams. I’ve heard many stories about Muslims who encountered Jesus in their dreams. I’ve had my own where God reveals something in my heart or gives me some sense of direction through a dream. Dreams can be powerful, more than just your subconscious fueled by that piece of pizza you ate right before bed. Pay attention to your dreams.
Letters. When I was in college, my small group leader and mentor talked about how sometimes God wrote her letters. I found the idea fascinating–how is that even possible?! Curious, I asked God to give me a letter. So I sat with an open journal and a pen in hand, ready to record whatever words God gave me, and He did. He gave me words. Since then I’ve received a handful of letters from God, words He puts in my mind and tells me to write down, so I do. It’s a strange process, and I can’t say all of the words I’ve written down over the years are from Him, but many of them have spoken life and peace to my heart and given me direction or insight for what’s ahead.
Silence. This is a common complaint I hear from people who say they aren’t hearing from God: “I’m pouring my heart out to Him and He is so painfully silent.” It’s frustrating, and that silence could just be that don’t understand how He’s speaking, or it could be very intentional on God’s part. Sometimes God is silent because He’s already told us what to do, and we are still begging for answers, not wanting to take the leap. Sometimes the silence is because we’re asking the wrong things. And sometimes it’s just meant to pull us in a little closer, to seek God a little harder. Never give in to the lie that if God’s silent, He must have left. Like in our human interactions, sometimes silence in the best way He can speak to us and help us grow.
How to cultivate a listening pray life?
God desires deep, intimate relationship with us–with me, and you–and because of that He invites us into conversation. He gives us space to share and talk and listens to the concerns and joys of our hearts. But He also wants us to be intentional about listening to Him. So now that we know some of the ways God speaks, here are some practical ways you can start tuning your heart in listening prayer today:
- Listen while you read your Bible. Ask God to speak to you about who He is and what He wants you to take away from what you read.
- Make space in your daily prayer time to just listen.
- Ask God questions–about His word, about your life, anything. Strike up conversation then listen to how He responds.
- Test what you hear from other people, and ask God to confirm it.
- Pay attention to those themes that keep popping up and ask God what He wants you to do with it.
- Press into the silence and trust that God is still there. Keep conversation open and keep listening even if you don’t hear anything at that moment.
- Be patient–with yourself and with God. It’s going to take time to develop this habit, and the reality is, sometimes God takes His time to respond and speak.
If you find yourself in a season where God feels especially quiet, or if you’ve never heard God speak to you before, I pray you would be intentional about seeking Him and taking time to listen. Strike up a conversation with God. Ask Him to teach you to hear and know His voice. And I pray that you would remember God is ever-present and He loves you so very much.
Live in His love!
Next time we’ll dive in to how to move past half-hearted prayers to meaningful ones.
Related: The Power of a Prayerful Life