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Ever spent time praying and doing everything you know to do so that you can hear God speak to your heart? You listen and listen and…silence? Join us as we dig into the obstacles to hearing from God––and how to overcome them.
But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!
Today we want to talk about hearing God. We’re Christians, we’re followers of Christ, yet many of us struggle to hear God. To know where God is leading us. To know God’s will for us. Maybe we’ve got a big decision to make, or we simply need direction, or we want a closer relationship with Christ. We hear others say things like “God told me…this or that.” We ask, we pray, we seek, and yet we hear…nothing. Why?
Reasons we may struggle with hearing God
1. We don’t know how to listen
What is listening?
One of Webster’s definitions says:
- to hear something with thoughtful attention
We would say listening is a state of thoughtful, receptive focus; sincere engagement. You’re focusing your mind AND your heart to give something your attention.
We live in a noisy world bombarding us every day. We’ve lost the ability to stop and focus, we’ve lost the ability to give quiet attention to anything, or careful consideration.
This is a skill many of us need to practice. Start by listening to people. You probably have co-workers, family, friends, who all want someone to listen to them. This will help you learn to listen to God.
There’s a difference in how I listened to tornado sirens in Oklahoma. Every Saturday at noon they tested them. When the sky was blue and the sun was shining I ignored their wailing for 5 solid minutes.
But when the sky went dark and the wind was whipping through my backyard trees swirling in scary circles, I tuned in to those sirens because they’re going to communicate when and if I needed to take shelter. Because in less than a minute, a mile-wide F-5 tornado could form and head straight for my house.
This is the kind of listening we need to do all the time. Someone might be telling you something––reaching out for help, or sharing wisdom you need. Or God might be speaking to your heart and you’re not tuned in. You’re too distracted.
2. We know how to listen, but we just don’t do it
Have you ever had a conversation where you know the other person is not listening, not considering anything you’re saying? They’re just waiting for their turn to talk? Have you had a friend who never lets you get a word in? That friendship doesn’t last long. It’s too one-sided. Sometimes we’re not hearing God because we’re too busy talking.
Or sometimes we’re too focused on our own worry. Have you ever tried to talk to someone who’s hysterical or anxious? They’re in no frame of mind to listen.
Or maybe we’re too focused on our own agenda. We come to God to give us a holy amen to our plans.
But God is about relationship, not feeding you step-by-step directions for your plans. When our attitude is that we just want an answer to our question right now, or help with a particular decision, that doesn’t build relationship. We’ll be talking more about this as the podcast goes on.
Dallas Willard’s book, Hearing God, gave us a lot of material for this podcast. We highly recommend you read it.
Willard gives an example in the book about how we can be so focused on simply wanting to follow directions that we miss the thing God wants with us: relationship.
I can fall into this because I’m duty oriented. I’m hyper responsible. But––and this is a paraphrased example from Willard’s book––imagine if you had a child who wanted to please you all the time and was constantly asking, “What do you want me to do next?”
Your joy as a parent isn’t about giving that kid orders all day long and watching them follow each one. Just as God’s delight in us is relationship. It’s in us knowing him, and in him watching our character grow so we know what pleases him. It’s in us participating with him in the work of his Kingdom.
3. We want or expect to see the big picture all at once
We want God to unfold the grand plan all at once so we can see if we like it, or so we know exactly where we’re going. If he did that, first of all, that grand plan might terrify you in its bigness and you’d run away.
Consider how Moses felt when God told him to go to Pharaoh in Egypt to lead the Israelites out. That was big enough, and it was terrifying. How much more so if Moses had known about all the plagues and that he’d be leading a rebellious multitude of Israelites around in the wilderness for 40 years?
What would become of your relationship with God if you had the grand plan all at once? Think about the other relationships in your life. They’re a process of getting to know each other, spending time together, going through a variety of experiences together. When we’ve been through tough situations with friends at our side, that’s when we develop trust and learn to appreciate each other. That’s where love for one another grows.
God wants relationship with us. He wants us spending time with him, talking to him, crying on his shoulder, rejoicing with him. He wants to be a part of every aspect of our lives, not just a master planner who gives directions and leaves us to it.
4. We’re seeking God’s direction because we want a guaranteed outcome
We think that if we’re sure God told us to write, then it’ll be worth it. It’ll be “successful.” Or if we know he wants us to go with agent A over agent B, or if he’s given the stamp of approval to a certain marketing strategy, or whatever, it’ll go well.
There again, we’ve lost the idea of hearing God in relationship. He doesn’t need our marketing success. That’s not his ultimate agenda.
5. We don’t expect him to communicate with us
We don’t expect that he’ll actually talk to us. Maybe we think we’re not important enough, or that it’s just for the extremely holy people, or leaders, or only the people in the Bible.
But in Mark chapter 10, Jesus rebukes the disciples because they were hindering the little children from coming to him and talking to him. But Jesus wanted that connection.
That’s not a random story in the Bible, that’s a picture of how God wants it to be. Every child of God is just that––his child. God sent his son to die for you so you could be in the family. There’s a bond, a communication that takes place in healthy families.
If you come from broken or dysfunctional families, or terrible parental relationships, you may have a hard time picturing this. If so, maybe it’ll help to think about Jesus as your shepherd, leading you, as it says in Psalm 23, beside quiet waters, refreshing your soul, guiding you in paths of righteousness, and in verse 5:
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
There’s an intimacy of relationship in this whole psalm. Think of a quiet dinner for two at a nice restaurant, and it’s just you and God. Even in the midst of a noisy world, even with enemies around you, no one can intrude on your table. He’s focused on you and you alone for communication, for relationship.
6. We’re looking for big flashing signs rather than a still small voice
It’s true that God has used, and can use, many different ways to communicate with us. For example:
- some type of big phenomenon like Moses and the burning bush, or Paul with the blinding flash and audible voice
- dreams and visions
- visits from angels
We can see this in the Bible and some of you may know people who’ve experienced things like this. But we tend to overvalue those things because they seem larger than life, and somehow more “spiritual.” As a result, we undervalue simple, direct communication.
However, God communicated to Elijah in a gentle whispering in 1 Kings 19:11-12, at one of the most terrible times in Elijah’s life. Also consider how God speaks to Samuel in 1Samuel 16, when he tells him to go anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next king after Saul.
God and Samuel have a whole conversation as each of Jesse’s sons are paraded in front of Samuel. And Samuel is thinking about the first son, Eliab, “This must be the guy. He’s big and handsome.”
God’s like, “No, I look at the heart. This isn’t the guy.”
This isn’t communicated in a big flashing sign. It’s not like they have an audible conversation that Jesse and all his sons can hear. This is God speaking in Samuel’s heart and thoughts. It’s clear, easy to understand communication. And Samuel’s had a lifetime of experience listening to God’s voice, and becoming familiar with it.
This is probably the most common way God communicates with us. Through our own thoughts and words that we grow to recognize as his and not ours. There’s a different quality to them.
We’ll talk more about that, but let me also say that God speaks to us through others as well. Be tuned in to that possibility. Consider who the truth speakers are in your life. Consider how sometimes even a stranger says something that hits you hard. Helps you see something more clearly.
Friends, when that happens, it’s God. Of course, we always have to test these things, because people are fallible. But it does happen. Maybe a friend shares the perfect Scripture to minister to you, or a sermon, or book, or article, hits home in some particular way for you, in a way you feel is meant for you. It has a special emphasis, an authority that strikes home in your heart.
Or maybe––and this happened to me when I first met Karen and she was giving me feedback about who I was as a writer––it was like God was ringing a bell in my mind telling me, “Pay attention this is important.” And it was. He’s like, “Hellooo, this is what you need to hear.”
This is one of the things the body of Christ is all about. Speaking words of exhortation and encouragement from God to each other like it says in Colossians 3:16: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
7. We may be walking in sin of some sort
Sin separates us from God, and therefore from his voice. We see examples of this in Scripture and in our lives today.
Isaiah 59:1-2 (NIV) says, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”
James 4:4 (ESV) says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
God’s people, again and again, turn to idols. An idol is anything that we value or treasure more than God. That comes out in subtle, or not so subtle, ways.
Are we truly asking for God’s direction because we want what HE wants, no matter what? That requires some soul-searching. I can guarantee that what God wants isn’t going to be about our glory, it’s going to be about his glory. And about how we can become a better servant, a better reflection of who God is.
Hearing God in Relationship with him
One last thought on listening to or hearing God. We’ve talked some about relationship with God, but some of us may have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to listen to God and hear from Him. We see it as something we do, or need to do better.
But it’s far more about being. Being with God. Savoring time with God. Building relationship with Him. All of which we’ll dig into in our next podcast: Hearing God, Part 2.
We encourage you to ponder this prayerfully before going on to the next podcast episode where we’ll talk more specifically about how we recognize God’s voice.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU
Do you ever struggle to hear from God? What has helped you?
Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!
Thanks so much to our January sponsor of the month, Bobbi Updegraff! You can find out more about another important cause she sponsors at friendsofrenacer.com. It’s a wonderful organization that’s impacting the lives of children in Honduras.
Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast Production Services for their fabulous sound editing!
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