The Framework for Hearing God
And they shall know that I am the Lord their God.(Exodus 29:46)
God created us for intimate friendship with Himself- both now and forever. This is the Christian viewpoint. It is made clear throughout the Bible, especially on such passages as Exodus 29:43-46, Exodus 33:11 Psalm 23 Isaiah 41:8, John 15:14, and Hebrews 13:5,6. As with all close personal relationships, we can count on God to speak to each of us when and as it is appropriate. But what does this really mean? And how does it work in practice?
There is no avoiding the fact that we live at the mercy of our ideas. This is never more true than with our ideas about God. Meaning we’ll is not enough. Those who operate on the wrong information are likely to never know the reality of God’s presence in the decisions that shape their lives and will miss the constant divine companionship for which their souls were made.
The subject of hearing God cannot be successfully treated by thinking only in terms of what God wants us to do if that automatically excludes- as is usually assumed- what we want to do and even what we want God to do. Hearing God Is but one dimension of a richly interactive relationship, and obtaining guidance is but one facet of hearing God.
It may seem strange, but being in the will of God is very far removed from just doing what God wants us to do- so far removed, in fact, that we can be solidly in the will of God and be aware that we are, without knowing Gods preference with regard to various details of our lives. We can be in His will as we do certain things without our knowing that He prefers these actions to certain other possibilities. Hearing God makes sense only in the framework of living in the will of God.
Jesus often spoke of “having ears but hearing not”. By this He meant that it’s possible to take words into our ears without grasping what is being said. In hospice there was a term used called “active listening”. This meant that the hearer was engaged in trying to fully understand and comprehend what the speaker was saying. It is so easy to miss what is being said if we’re just waiting for a pause so we can speak. It’s easy to hear without listening. I believe some of our issues in the world today is due to the lack of listening. Listening requires being interested in what is being said and wanting to really hear what the one speaking has to say. It requires laying aside preconceived ideas about the subject or filtering what is said through our preferences or prejudices. It requires patience, giving time and space to hear what is being said rather than impatiently waiting for our turn to speak. I remember being with a minister group a few years ago. In that gathering was five pastors from , five different denominations. Two of them engaged in a heated debate of theology. Both were defending their positions. As I listened, I became aware that they really shared the same view but were just describing it with different words. What really became obvious, however, was that both were more interested in speaking than hearing. When they finally gave opportunity for someone else to speak, some of us who had listened pointed out that they both were on the same page and after getting them to listen, they came to the point of agreement.
Our writer points out that we “are at the mercy of our ideas”. I find this to be true. What we have been taught, especially about God, controls our belief about and our approach to God. One of the things that Jesus came to do was to make humans aware that God wishes to be personally involved with them. Perhaps the most important requirement of any relationship is communication. The idea of prayer is not that we speak and God listens(we hope) but that we speak, God listens and God speaks, we listen. The full cycle of communication is when both parties are able to communicate their feelings, wishes, desires and thoughts. In counseling couples, I ask about the communication factor. You can live in the same house, be involved in the same activities and even sleep in the same bed but without communication there is no true relationship. Paul in speaking of the relationship of Christ and the church likens it to the relationship of a husband and wife. What if you were the only one who spoke? What if the other person was the only one who spoke and you could say nothing? Yet many Christians live as though they are the only one who speaks and God’s role is always the listener. I know I keep referring to the Garden, but I believe that is the picture of God’s plan and desire when He walks and talks with Adam and Eve every day.
Let us as the children of God have a revolution in our thinking. Let us no longer be influenced by a world that knows not God who tells us that if we say God speaks to us we have psychological issues. Let us instead find our thinking in the words of Jesus who says, “My sheep know my voice and another they will not follow”. Let us expect our prayer time to become a communication with our Father who not only will listen but will also speak. Why would we bring our questions and needs to God if we don’t expect Him to respond? Are we to assume that human wisdom, circumstances and human perception is how God speaks? Are we to assume that we can no longer hear the voice of God when the Bible is filled with stories of those who heard the voice of God? Are we to deny that John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is my Beloved Son”? Are we supposing that the prophets really didn’t hear the voice of God? Perhaps it’s not that God isn’t speaking, it’s that we’re not listening. Maybe like my two pastor friends, we’re so busy talking that we forget to listen. Maybe you’ve never heard God speak to you and this is a new concept. Maybe you’ve been taught that to expect God to actually speak to you is beyond the pale. So I challenge us in our walk with God to expect that if He walks with us that He will also talk with us.
Dr. John Thompson