4 Simple Steps toward Hearing God Speak

4 Simple Steps toward Hearing God Speak

We descended into another valley late in the morning.

The pack felt heavier already today, my shoulders sore from yesterday’s start of the hike. The leaves weren't as loud beneath our feet today, the damp cool air had taken away their crunch. We were quieter too. We had exhausted the pleasantries and life updates around the fire last night, now a contented silence lingered between us.

This silence was a gift to me. With little awareness my mind casually wandered the canvas of my current life. Without completing any particular thread I pondered my next house project, recent drama at church, something my wife had said last week. We crossed over several small streams carefully as my mind flitted across various scenes and thoughts.

Suddenly I became aware that God had something to say to me. I don’t know how I knew, I just had a subtle expectation come into my mind. 

So I asked, “Is there something you want to say to me?”

My question was immediately followed by a different thought. It's something about this next season, ask Him about the next season. I knew that thought didn’t originate with me, because that wasn’t on my radar at all. Now I knew the Lord wanted to say something. I quickly took my backpack off and began shuffling through the main pocket.

The other guys went on ahead as I leaned my pack against a tree and found my seat on a boulder a few yards from the trail. The rock was cold and wetter than I anticipated. The shock of a wet bottom distracted me for just a moment, but I was too determined not to miss what the Lord was about to say.

I took a deep breath, with my journal on my lap and my pen at the ready. I wrote, What do you want to tell me about this next season?

I began to write furiously, keeping up with the thoughts as they came. There was no booming voice from the clouds, it was a stream of words that I knew didn’t originate from me. They matched what I knew to be true of the Father. He spoke generous promise over me, beyond what I could earn and requiring a stretch of my faith. It came with wisdom and caution, showing me the cost I’d endure if I chose to strive instead of trust.

When it seemed He was done I set down my pen, examining what I had written. Is this for real? I shook my head and closed my eyes. Lord, I choose to trust you. I’m going to assume this is you, redirect me as you need to. I put my journal away and picked up my pack. I picked up my pace as I hit the trail, seeking to catch up with the others. 20 minutes later I caught up and matched their stride.

“Well?” Walking in front of me, still facing forward, Jonathan inquired. “Anything you care to share?” 

The others walked in silence. I explained the affirmation the Lord had given me, then a generous promise of favor and access, beyond anything I felt I deserved. My cheeks reddened as I shared, I kept my eyes on the trail in front of my feet.

“Hm.” Jonathan broke the silence as he took in what he heard. I was glad to have Jonathan in moments like this. His high value for reason and objectivity bring balance to my tendency toward feelings and intuition. “That checks out if you ask me.”

“How do you figure?” I asked.

“Well, I mean it’s in the Bible, right? There are various stories of Him giving His favor to someone, not to mention the fact that Jesus comes declaring the year of the Lord’s favor to anyone who would receive it.” He paused, looking at the ground ahead of him as he continued. “What’s the fruit of your heart as you heard Him? Does Jesus seem bigger and more beautiful? Are you feeling drawn toward trust and surrender?”

“Yes, and yes.”

“Well then, why wouldn’t it be the Lord?”

God is eager to speak to us.

 Some will say that God has said everything that needed to be said in the Bible. I say nonsense. The Bible doesn’t present itself as the last word, it positions its readers to hear from God today.

  • Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice.” (John 10:3,16)
  • The Holy Spirit will declare things to you. (John 16:13)
  • Jesus prayed that you would be one with the Father as He is. (John 17:20-24)
  • We can understand the thoughts of God because we have the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10-16)
  • The New Testament is filled with examples of people hearing from God through angels, dreams, prophets, visions, audibly, through scripture, internally, etc.

We are meant to depend on God’s voice for our very life. When Jesus is tempted by bread in the wilderness, he responds, “Man does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Why would we assume that Jesus is only referring to scripture? He’s regularly meeting God in the wilderness, and He’s constantly referencing things the Father has shown or told Him.

Likewise Jesus tells His followers that His words are ‘Spirit and life’ (John 6:63). The things God speaks to us sustain us in this new life. Paul directs Timothy to “wage the good warfare” with the prophecies that have been made about him (1 Timothy 1:18). 

We can be fearful when people claim to speak what they’ve heard from God, because the truth is, it can be distorted or ill intended. This may have been an issue in the church in Thessalonica. Paul warns them not to despise prophecies, but to test them, and to hold firmly to what they discern to be good (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). It would be a grave mistake to disregard something simply because it can be abused.

In my opinion, there is no muscle more important than the ability to hear God speak, and to respond in faith. Would you open yourself to the possibility that God intends to speak to you, directly?

I’d like to unpack a few strategies for growing in your capacity to hear God.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these have been keys that have consistently grown my own capacity for conversational intimacy with God.

1. Hang around people with a proven track record

When a friend tells me about a recent meal they greatly enjoyed, I typically find myself eating that same thing within a week. Their testimony fuels my desire, and it also tells me where to get it. It’s the same with the things of the Spirit. When we see or experience someone who’s walking in closer proximity with the Spirit, it stirs up longing and inspires confidence that there’s more available than we are presently experiencing.

There was a season when all of this was new to me, and I lived vicariously through the experiences of others. I read their books, listened to their stories. I would stop my friends mid-story and ask them clarifying questions. Desire grew in me with each story I heard. I would try things that had worked for them and nothing would come of it. But the more I listened to them, the larger my conviction grew. God was really speaking to these people, and if He would speak to them, I know He would speak to me.

Hanging around people who not only have a conviction, but who are living as though God is actively speaking and engaging in everyday life is like taking vitamins. We begin to recognize deficits in our faith, and we receive spiritual nourishment from their testimonies of God’s active involvement. This leads to a richer, healthier experience of what has become available to us through Jesus.

2. Create Space.

God loves to fill space that’s open to Him. He’s looking for places He can rest, and He prefers to rest with people. When Jesus comes for a visit, Martha struggles to create space. She wants to be hospitable, but she’s missing the proximity Jesus intended for her. She’s described as “distracted,” which is more aggressive than it sounds. The term being used can literally mean, “to be dragged away.” 

We live in a culture so infused with distraction that if we’re not intentional, we are constantly dragged away from various levels of connection and engagement. With a little effort, we can create various pockets of space. Look for the places and postures that promote stillness and quiet. For me, the wilderness is ideal, but I can make do with a walk or a coffee shop or a room with a lock. What might it take for you to get quiet?

Martha was described as anxious and troubled. Anxiety can take up precious space, but if we learn to name the things that are consuming us, those things can become the space in which we meet God. If you wait until the list in your head goes away, you’ll never get there. The list however becomes a ladder when you bring each concern before the throne. “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

3. Initiate Conversation.

If you want to hear God speak, ask Him questions! We ask questions when we expect someone to respond. Questions are an invitation. When I’m troubled about a particular situation, I’ll ask something like, What are your thoughts about this issue? Is there anything you want to say to me about it? How do you feel about it? God has thoughts and feelings about all the various situations and dealings of our life. Have you ever asked Him about what you’re facing?

Earlier this week, I found myself angry and confused after a young mom died of an overdose. At first I wanted to disengage from all of the feelings and thoughts that swirled in my head. Then I sat down with the Lord, I told Him all the things I felt and thought, then I asked Him what He thought about it. I didn’t hear any particular stream of thought, but I began to sense His desire to simply be with those who were grieving the loss. Just two hours later, I received a call asking me to officiate the funeral. The Lord invited me to join Him in being present with the hurting.

4. Learn to Discern His Voice.

Apparently the majority of attempts to use counterfeit cash are with the $20 bill. The experts can spot a counterfeit because in their training they spend such a large amount of time with a real $20 bill. The more you get to know Jesus, the easier it will be to discern His voice. Jesus is the “exact imprint” of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:1-3), the more clearly we see Him, the more clearly we see God. Read the Gospels. Watch how Jesus interacts with people. Notice how He responds to various situations. 

When God speaks to us, it causes Jesus to grow larger in our hearts and minds. Our circumstances come into perspective as our awareness of Jesus looms larger still. As Jesus is magnified in us, our capacity for love expands. Our courage grows. Even when God brings correction and discipline it doesn’t lead us to guilt and shame, we find that we’re empowered to live differently. We discover a joy in apologizing or giving a sacrificial gift.

When you think you’ve heard something from God,

Does it line up with who Jesus is revealed to be in Scripture?

Does it cause Jesus to become bigger and more beautiful to you?

Does it cause you to move toward Jesus -in trust, surrender, etc?

Does it cause you to grow in the fruit of the Spirit? (Galatians 5:22-23)

What do other believers have to say about it?

Give it a Try

If you want to give it a try, set aside 15 minutes and find a space where you won’t be distracted. Take a minute to quiet yourself. Slow your breathing, let go of tension in your body. Say something like, “God, I know that you want to speak to me, and I want to hear from you. Is there something you want to say to me today?

Give God the space to respond. Wait and listen. If particular thoughts come to mind, take note of them. If you feel stuck, tell Him what’s on your mind. Be open about your own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we have trouble hearing with Him because we haven’t learned to sit with our own voice. Be patient with yourself in the process. Learning to relate to God is a muscle to be developed. 

If you persist in the process, you’ll eventually begin to sense the Lord’s engagement with you.

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

-Jeremiah 29:13


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