“The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up . . .”
In the church we speak all of the time about listening to God and being guided by God, but how in the world do we actually do this? It is not hard to listen to my wife. When she speaks out loud within range of my ears, I hear her words and then understand what she is asking of me (usually). Most of us have never experienced such an audible voice from God though. So how do we hear God?
To begin with, we must not limit the possibility of God’s communication with us to only audible words. If we are to hear God, we must not wait around for the burning bush or the raging prophet or the booming voice. Although God does communicate in that way, those methods are not his primary method of sharing his will with us.
Rather God’s regular communication is more like the subtle glance of a friend or trusted mentor. God speaks to us through the urging of our mind, heart or conscience. It is seemingly intangible, but very real.
I recently visited a married couple at a retirement community in our area. The husband is not able to speak due to his failing health, but he was still able to communicate comfortably with his wife. I had only met with them a couple of times and thus had difficulties understanding what he was attempting to say. However, because his wife had been by his side for 30 years and knew him very well, he did not need to speak audibly or clearly for her to hear and understand his voice.
The clearest way to hear God is to get to know him better. The more we spend time in conversation with God through prayer . . . the more dedicated we are to learning more about God in the Bible . . . the more time we spend discussing with other believers about how God has communicated with them . . . the more likely we are to hear what God is communicating to us. Unless we know God and know him well, we will not understand when and what he desires of us. The truth is that when we think God is not communicating with us we either aren’t listening or can’t recognize his voice.
Think of learning to hear God as a baby learning language. At first all a baby hears is noise, but over time those noises become associated with particular things. Before long those noises form words and then sentences and then entire thoughts. As we get to know God better we begin to notice that God is communicating to us all the time through life circumstances, other people, the Bible, prayer and everything else. The problem is that we often do not recognize that there is communication in the noise. We have failed to take the time to learn God’s language.
One bit of caution, though. Not all of the noise that we hear is from God. We have countless voices in our lives telling us what to do and who to be, but only one voice is worthy of following. So how do we know which voice is God’s? First, God’s voice will never be inconsistent with God’s word in the Bible. By studying God’s word in the Bible we will better be able to discern his word as it is communicated to us. Second, we discern God’s voice through the church. The church, as a community of believers, functions as a support net for us. We should interpret scripture and God’s voice collectively to ensure that we are not misled. Lastly, Christian formation and maturity lead to a better ability to discern God’s voice. As we grow in our prayer life and our obedient actions, God’s word will become clearer and more readily apparent to us. We will be able to quickly recognize phony voices and push them away, opening our hearts to God’s voice.
Riverside offers countless opportunities for each of the above: Sunday Worship, Discovery Hour, Men’s and Women’s weekly studies, small groups, and so on. We all must daily commit to knowing God more fully if we expect to hear and understand his voice.
I once saw a church sign that read, “feeling far from God, guess who moved?” As we move closer to God, we will better hear what God is communicating to us through scripture, prayer, and the gentle nudging of our mind, heart and conscience.