I believe that God is speaking to us all the time. But how do we hear?
It’s the sort of prayer advice you hear all the time. Someone very wise and probably holier than me will proclaim with great solemnity, “You know it’s especially important not only to talk to God when you pray but to listen too.”
Listen to God? How do you do that? When I pray, God’s voice doesn’t blast from a loud speaker or thunder through my ear buds. I do indeed feel God’s presence but that term “listen” is so disconcerting.
I believe that God is speaking to us all the time. But how do we hear? I started thinking about it, and I seem to hear Him–listen to Him–in three different ways:
1. Through inner thoughts.
Some might say this is our conscience speaking, but I would also label it the divine. You know, that inner voice that says, “Visit so-and-so in the hospital” or “Make that encouraging phone call” or “How hard would it be to forgive?” or “You said you’d pray for that person so do it.”
I find that the more often I act on such inner thoughts, the better I am at hearing them. I’m more present, less resistant. So is this listening to God? Yes, I think it is…but sometimes the inner voice needs to check in with other voices. That’s why I’d add:
2. From those I trust.
How do you know if what you’re hearing is really God speaking to you? Short of tripping over a burning bush, how can you tell if you’re getting God’s voice and not something made up in your head?
Turn to your faith community. Consult them. Ask them. When I’m stumbling over something, I can talk to friends at church. If I’m trying discern God’s particular purpose, I can turn to the guys in the men’s group. Chances are they’ve faced some of the same challenges.
God speaks to us through others.
3. By turning to Scripture.
This is a no brainer, but it’s amazing how often I forget it. God speaks through Scripture. Look how often Jesus and the apostle Paul referenced Scripture when they were talking to the disciples or the early Christians.
The Gospels are full of directives. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Give and it will be given to you.” “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” “Let your light shine before others.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
When you’re listening for God’s voice, look to the Bible. God showed Himself to the disciples as He shows Himself to us. Sometimes I feel like Peter, both enthusiastic and wrong-headed at once. At the end of the gospel of John, Jesus told him: “Feed my sheep.” Three times. “Feed my sheep.”
Peter listened and finally got the message.