Updated: Mar 12, 2020
What comes to mind when you think about actually hearing from God?
Does the idea make you excited? Scared? Confused? Frustrated?
Philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard notes that one of the great paradoxes of contemporary Christian faith is that many modern believers agree with the idea that God speaks - they say that a real relationship with God is supposed to be personal and communicative, that conversation with Him isn’t just something that’s recorded in scripture or emblazoned across church history, but also something that’s possible today.
And yet, many modern Christians admit they remain painfully uncertain about how hearing God’s voice actually works and how such conversation should shape a modern life of faith.
In other words, many Jesus followers believe that hearing God is supposed to be a critical part of their faith experience, but they aren’t quite sure how to hear from God or what to do with what they hear.
That’s why we need more conversation about hearing God.
The following exercises have been consciously crafted to help you grow in your ability to actually hear God's voice. These exercises work best when you engage them with some friends, sharing insights and discoveries along the way. Of course, you can also try them on your own.
My prayer is that they'll expand your mind and your experience, and enable you to hear God more clearly.
A Quiet Voice
Questions to Consider
Q: Reflect on what you’ve read. What word or phrase stood out to you? Why do you think these words resonated with you?
Q: Where did you find yourself in the passage? Did you resonate with Elijah? With Jezebel? With the cave? Why?
God does speak. But His voice is frequently quieter than we’d like.
It comes to us as a whisper.
But we’re not good at hearing whispers. Our lives are too loud.
That means it’s important we get comfortable with silence.
Try sitting still silently for the next 3 minutes. Focus on breathing slowly, and calming your mind. When you feel ready, say this prayer softly in your heart “God, I want to hear your voice. I’m listening.”
Take note of any feelings or impressions that result.
Know this: Listening to God isn’t a natural skill. It grows with repeated engagement.
Would you consider repeating this exercise every day for a whole week? Carving out quiet time and inviting God to speak to you is the first step towards hearing His voice with greater frequency and clarity.
A Trusted Friend
Questions to Consider
Q: What makes it challenging for you to engage God as your friend?
Q: How would you approach life differently if you were confident that God was your friend?
Moses interacted with God as a friend.
And we can too.
But far too often, our relational motives and habits with God sabotage real friendship with Him. That's why we need to remove the common roadblocks that keep our friendship with God from deepening.
Common Roadblocks to Friendship with God
(And with Others)
Self-centeredness kills friendship. When we approach a relationship with primary focus upon how it might benefit us, we limit the opportunity for that relationship to grow and deepen. When it comes to our friendship with God, Dallas Willard observes that our extreme preoccupation with knowing God’s will for our lives may indicate, "contrary to what is often thought", that we are "over-concerned" with ourselves, and not interested "in the well-being of others" or in our connection with God.
Frequently, the words of our friends require our action. If a friend tells us they need help, or that they’d like to do something this weekend, the right response is for us to act on what they’ve expressed. Likewise, when God speaks, there are many times a way in which we ought to respond. Our repeated unresponsiveness to God’s speech can cause our friendship with Him to grow stale and unexciting.
Lack of Shared Interests
Friends have lots to talk about when they have similar interests and share the same goal. Think of sports teammates or members of the same band. Their shared aims and desires deepen their relationship. Similarly,. God has a lot to say to those who are engaged in His kingdom work. Sometimes, we find it hard to hear from God when we’re not actively involved in things that are close to His heart.
Think about the ways you have or haven't grown your friendship with God. What's one thing you could do to grow deeper in friendship with Him this week?
A Distinct Voice
Q: What differences do you notice between these two images?
There are noticeable distinctions between the image on the left and the image on the right. Similarly, God's voice is distinctive and we can grow in our ability to recognize it when we familiarize ourselves with its core characteristics.
How do you distinguish between the voice of God and your own thoughts?
E. Stanley Jones asserts, “The voice of the subconscious argues with you, tries to convince you; but the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just speaks, and it is self-authenticating. It has the feel of the voice of God within it.”
Dallas Willard suggests we can distinguish God’s voice from our own thoughts by noticing the quality, spirit, and content of what God says.
Quality - In many ways, God's voice simply stands out. To illustrate this point, Willard asks, “Can’t you tell the difference between the light of the moon and the light of the sun?” Likewise, he insists, God's voice possesses a unique quality. It feels and sounds different from our own thoughts.
Spirit- Not only is God's voice distinct in quality, it's also distinct in spirit. Willard argues it carries "a spirit of exalted peacefulness and confidence, of joy, of sweet reasonableness and goodwill". In short, he says, it resounds with "the Spirit of Jesus,” In my experience, this means God's voice sounds sweet yet firm, kind and steady.
Content - God never contradicts himself. This means, in Willard's estimation, that “the content of a word that is truly from God will always conform to and be consistent with the truths about God’s nature and kingdom that are made clear in the Bible.” If you're curious if something you've heard is something God's said, consider how it stacks up against scripture.