As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called into a relationship with Him. Christianity is not just a religion OR even a certain set of beliefs OR even a certain set of practices, as important as they are. It is about a relationship with the living God. God doesn’t want just religious activity or even only our service. He wants US – his people, in close relationship with Him. Jesus referred to his disciples as his friends not merely servants (Jn.15:15). The church at Ephesus was working hard and enduring times of pressure BUT Jesus was not pleased. Why? Because they had drifted from the love they had for him at the beginning (Rev.2:1-7). Jesus desires a relationship with us … not only our service, activity or even faithfulness.
Every relationship is built, developed and maintained on communication. Without some form of communication there can be no quality relationship at all. When communication breaks down, so do relationships. When communication is open, frequent and positive, relationships thrive. Communication is the two-way exchange of thoughts, feelings and ideas. If it is only one-way, then no relationship can develop. It is the same with our relationship with God. We talk a lot about prayer, and prayer is important but sometimes prayer can degenerate into a one-way conversation of us talking at or with God rather than us also learning to listen to His voice speaking to us. Unfortunately, we are not naturally good at listening. Jesus clearly wants to speak to us and have us know and recognize his voice when he does (Jn.10:14-16).
Hearing God’s Voice
God spoke to the young prophet Samuel but initially he did not recognize God’s voice (1 Sam.3:1-10). Eventually he learned to discern the voice of God and he developed a close relationship with God. This story teaches us the fact the God does desire to speak to us, yet it can take time for us to recognize his voice. Listening to God requires that we tune in to his voice and that we understand the different ways that he speaks to us. Jesus’ last message to the church was, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the church (Rev.2:7).”
How do we hear from God? God communicates to us in many ways, but all through the Spirit. Here are a few of the major ways that God speaks to us today:
1. The Bible. As we know, God is a person who invites us to relate to him personally. Persons have stories and you need to know these in order to know the person. That’s why much of the Bible is narrative. It tells us God’s story especially in relation to mankind. If you want to know God, you need to listen to his story. Stories reveal a person’s heart, desires, personality and purpose. The Bible also contains God’s will for us along with principles and keys to success and fulfilment in life. They have been outlined and illustrated for our instruction (2 Tim.3:16). Read, study and meditate on the Scriptures (Joshua 1:8). God’s Word is living and alive. It has been written and recorded accurately in order to give us an objective lasting record of God’s thoughts.
2. Teaching (and preaching). God speaks through other people, especially when God’s Word is taught. Peter tells those who minister to speak as one speaking the very words of God the (1 Pt. 4:11). Paul tells us that the church at Thessonalica received his messages as the very “word of God” (1 Thess.2:13). Remember, God can speak through anyone, IF our ears and hearts are open to hear. He even spoke through a donkey once to the prophet Balaam. Don’t allow your personal opinion about the messenger hinder you from hearing what God wants to say to you.
3. Supernatural or Special Revelation. Occasionally, God may speak to us through a form of special revelation such as an audible voice, a dream or a vision (Acts 2:28) or through a prophecy. Prophecy is a sharing of what a person believes is the heart and mind of God. We are not to take prophecies lightly but we are to test (or examine) them, holding on to the good and letting the rest go (1 Thess.5:20-22). The clear purpose of prophecy in the church age (see 1 Cor.14:3) is for: (1) strengthening (to build up), (2) encouragement (to fire up), and (3) comfort (to hold up).
4. The Inner Voice of the Holy Spirit. God wants to speak to us during our personal prayer time through the Holy Spirit within us. As we spend time with God, waiting on him, He will speak. Take time to listen to him. Tune in (e.g. radio). Jesus said, “My sheep hear (listen to) my voice.” Paul tells us that “those who are led by the Spirit are the children of God (Rom.8:14).” The Holy Spirit is our Helper. Our thoughts can come from 3 different sources: our self (Mt.17:3-6), the devil (Mt.16:21-23) or from God (Mt.16:15-17). As time goes by, we can train our spiritual senses to more easily and frequently recognize God’s voice.
Learning to Listen
Here are a few final thoughts on learning to LISTEN to God:
1. Desire to hear from God. Cultivate a healthy hunger and thirst for God. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Seek to know his heart and mind, his thoughts and feelings (1 Cor.2:6-19). Thirst motivates you to come and drink.
2. Slow down and pay attention more. Take time aside daily to sit before the Lord and listen for His Word. Martha was so busy and anxious about all the tasks she had to do for Jesus, that she neglected to spend time listening to Jesus (Lk.10:40-42). Like Mary, we must position ourselves to hear from God. Learn to “be still” on the inside even in the midst of a busy day (Ps.46:10). Develop the ability to hear his voice and to see what He is doing.
3. Write down what God says to you. Writing helps us to concentrate and assist us in preventing our minds from wandering. It also helps us to capture what God says so we don’t forget it. It can encourage us towards faith and obedience (Hab.2:1-3). Maybe keep a journal or a notebook.
4. Do what God tells you to do (Jn.7:17. Jas.1:22). The more we hear and obey the easier it becomes. Obedience is the ultimate act of worship.
Hearing from God is one of the most important things for a successful Christian life. If we don’t hear from God we will never really know God, we will have no sense of purpose or direction, we won’t know his will for our lives and we may end up shipwrecked. The prophet Amos prophesied that one day there would be a famine of hearing the word of the Lord (Amos 8:11) – not that God does not speak, but that people don’t listen. We are called to be a prophetic people, living out the purposes of God in our generation (Num.11:29).
Sample Discussion Questions
- What are some ways we can ensure our service for the Lord doesn’t ever replace our love relationship with Him?
- Read the story in 1 Samuel 3:1-10 and share what we can learn from it.
- Read Matthew 16:15-17, 21-23; 17:3-6. What might Peter have learned from these experiences?
- Share an experience of hearing God’s voice. What did God say and what was it like? How did you know it was God?
- Share a time when God spoke to you from your Bible reading this year or from a sermon.
- Share your experience with prophecy. Has God ever spoken to you in this way and what was the result?
- What are some hindrances to hearing from God?
- What are some ways we can learn to hear God’s voice more regularly?