Learning to Listen
How do you hear God speak?
As a new believer, I spent a lot of time contemplating this very question. I had finally found my way back into the Arms of my Father, and as any eager child, I was so excited to hear His voice! Unfortunately, the jaw-dropping, middle-of-the-street-stopping, completely undeniable Jesus encounter I dreamed about since receiving Christ, soon seemed outdated and unrealistic. Very quickly, I started to view the Bible through a lens of disconnection, separating my Biblical heroes and their unique in-your-face experiences with God, from my “real life” and what I considered “possible” in my 21st Century walk with Him. It started to feel like God just didn’t “speak” directly anymore…
So, for a while, I was content with feeling like God “spoke” to me in other ways — through some of the alternative means that are often highlighted in the many “How To Hear God” books and sermons that soon overtook my library — family, friends, strangers, pastors, the Bible, etc. However, even with all these quite suitable substitutes, I was still unsatisfied. I wanted the real thing, without any middlemen or conduits. Now, don’t get me wrong... these are all viable ways to hear from God, and many peoples’ life-changing encounters were rooted in these means. However, I was at a point in my journey where I craved something deeper. I wanted to literally hear His voice, for real. I wanted my very own Burning Bush experience, like the storied one that changed Moses’ life forever. I wanted to be able to say “God told me to do insert grand scheme for world-domination here …” or, “but God said to me that…”
I sometimes tried to hear Him by praying, and waiting for Him to talk back, just like I was taught in Sunday School. “It is a dialogue, not a monologue”, the teacher always said. “It’s a conversation! You can’t just say your piece and walk away… you’ve got to sit there and wait for God to talk back to you.” WOW! Unbelievable! This made SO much sense when I first heard it! I then resolved to sit and wait for God’s response after each prayer. However, though I’m not particularly proud of this, if I’m being completely honest, I just ended up falling asleep most of the time, or my thoughts would slowly begin to wander until I’d eventually give up.
Needless to say, that didn’t work, and I was once again, dissatisfied. I tried a few more things that I found either via research, or by talking to my friends about the topic. Of the many recommendations I got, one of the more plausible was “God speaks in a still small voice that can only be heard when you’re still and in a quiet place”. Anecdotally, this also made enormous sense, and I tried it religiously, but to no avail, and there I was... still no Thunder, and no knee-buckling Spiritual intervention. Inevitably, my frustration grew.
So, the question remains, how does it really happen? How do we really hear from God? Do we just lock ourselves somewhere quiet and wait for tremors and earthquakes to reaffirm our faith and literally confirm the answers to our many prayers?
In the past, God appeared to people when He wanted to talk to them. You’d just be doing your thing, hanging out by the community watering well, you know, watering your cattle, and voila! Before you, stood an ethereal figure, clad in a type of white garment that literally glows, and you immediately fell on your face and worshipped. Other times, God would either send Angels, or He came down as Thunder, or Fire. Regardless of what shape or form His message took, the unifying factor is that God only spoke to certain people — priests, prophets, kings, etc.
Fast forward a few thousand years to us, today, and the situation is entirely different. Through the immense sacrifice of Jesus, we ALL have the ability to hear God. Through Jesus, our spirits have been awakened and reconnected to God, and all our spiritual senses, reactivated. When Jesus rose and ascended into Heaven, He didn’t leave us all alone. He sent a part of Himself to remain with us, to help us navigate life on a daily basis, to strengthen us, teach us, and fellowship with us... not in human form as with Jesus, but as a Spirit… as the Holy Spirit. This is why today, God doesn’t necessarily come down as a burning fire, or a cloud of thunder to announce His presence, because He doesn’t need to! He’s already here! This is the profound Truth that I just hadn't understood, and the source of my deepest frustrations. I was looking outwardly for signs, listening outwardly for sounds, and forgetting that the God I was trying to reach was within me this whole time, and all I had to do was Listen!
So, there you have it! Mystery demystified. There’s no “formula” required to hear Him… The reason I hadn’t been hearing God speak to me in the past, was because I just wasn’t spiritually equipped to Listen. I was relying on my effort, and listening with my mortal ears… but it simply doesn’t work that way, because God is Spirit and speaks to our spirit, not our earthly covering (Read: Body). It was when I received the Holy Spirit that I began to understand this.
Imagine God’s Voice being a Radio Station whose frequency can only be decoded by a particular piece of software. Without the software, it’s impossible to enjoy this Radio Station, therefore, if you don’t have that software installed, the Station could be playing the best tunes forever, but you’d never be able to hear it. In this scenario, the Holy Spirit is the software! Without Him taking residency in our hearts and spirits, hearing God would remain elusive.