Hearing God

It is a goal to which we all aspire.  In reviewing scripture, we see that God speaks to his people, and we want him to speak to us as well.  It is this direct guidance that gives us confidence that we are on the right track in life.  However, hearing from God does not always look the way we expect. If we truly understand how God speaks to us, we likely will discover that we hear from him already.  Let us uncover some of the scriptural truths behind God’s communication with us so that we can better understand the process and not miss out on the words He has for us.

Matt. 13:14-17

Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:  ” ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

I know that I am not alone in my fishing expeditions for advice.  It is not uncommon for us to seek counsel from different people on the same matter in order to compare their guidance.  At times, that is not our only motive.  It may be the case that we simply are looking for someone to validate the answer we would like to hear.  The fact that we are seeking a word from God does not mean that we do not already have our own answer in mind.  It is sometimes a matter of seeking support for the plan we already have formulated.  However, when we take this approach in seeking to hear from God, we may not be open to the answer He wants to give us.

Hearing from God depends on the attitude with which we listen.  There are times when God will speak to us in one way or another, but we simply are not listening.  We have our minds set on a certain word from him, and anything else that comes our way is overlooked.  We already have a preconceived notion of what He will say or how He will direct us, and that is what we are looking for.  When we approach our communication with God in this manner, we are not truly seeking to hear from him but are merely asking him to tell us we are right in the conclusions we have drawn.  The dull heart has grown tired of seeking after God’s truth and instead seeks after its own.  We must keep our hearts sharp, desiring to hear his word even if it is not the word we prefer.  Otherwise, we will be like those who sought out God’s voice but never were able to hear it.

John 5:19-24

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.  For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.  For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

Jesus had a perfect connection with the Father.  He tells us that He did only that which He saw the Father do.  This may be the kind of relationship we are looking for as we seek out the Father’s voice, one in which we do not doubt his leading.  We may think that hearing from God means that He will audibly direct our steps.  While we see examples in scripture of God speaking in a clear voice, it is more likely that we will not experience this on a daily basis.  Hearing from God will take many forms other than the clear, audible voice.  Jesus himself is a prime example of one of these forms.

The Son of God did only that which He was to do according to the Father. By extension, the words He spoke were only spoken at the direction of and under the authority of the Father.  Not only that, being by very nature God himself, his recorded words are the words of God. What we see in scripture is a transcript of his words that, although spoken centuries ago, still speak to us today.  It is no different than looking at a stack of old love letters and hearing the words of affection written therein as if the writer were speaking them today.  When we are seeking to hear God’s voice, sometimes we only need to dive into the words of Jesus and listen as we read.

1 Kings 19:11-13

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

One reason why we may feel as if we do not hear from God is that we are expecting him to speak to us in a certain way.  Perhaps we know others who consistently hear from God by the same method, and we then think that we must hear from him that same way.  We might even think that is the only way to hear from God.  When we think like this, we put God in a box and foreclose opportunities for him to speak to us because we are not listening the way we should.  What we must come to understand is that our openness to the many ways in which God can speak to us may ultimately determine whether we hear from him at all.

Some people regularly hear from God in their dreams.  This does not mean that there is no other way for God to speak to those people.  It also does not mean that God speaks to everyone in their dreams.  That is only one avenue of communication.  Just because God did not appear to Elijah in the strong wind does not mean that He cannot appear to us in that way.  He can speak to us in very powerful and alarming ways, and He can speak to us in the still of the evening when we are quiet and alone.  The point is that scripture provides many different illustrations of people hearing from God in various ways.  There is no cookie-cutter method.  Perhaps we should simply trust God to speak to us in the manner in which we need in order to hear from him.

Acts 10:1-6

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

When I think of hearing from someone I know, I often think of direct communication with that person.  Perhaps I receive a phone call, a text message or an e-mail, but the message is coming directly from that person.  If I want to talk to a friend, I reach out to that friend.  Although communication works like this many times and probably most times, it is not always the case.  If we think about someone of a certain prestige, such as a public figure or celebrity behind tight security, communication with that person might look a lot different.  Often times the direct message is not possible, and we can speak with such people only through an intermediary.  When we receive that person’s word, our only option will be for that word to be passed along to us by someone else.

We cannot trick ourselves into believing that God only speaks to us directly.  We must be open to the possibility of him speaking to us through various types of messengers.  In this scripture, the messenger was an angel.  Sometimes God will instead speak to us through the wise word of a child, jarring us with mature wisdom that must have come from on high.  Other times He will speak to us through a prophetic word that He gives to a brother or sister to relay to us.  Hearing from God is not necessarily about the vehicle but about the message.  When He speaks to us, we will know it.  Our discernment should show us when the words we hear are his words even though they are relayed through someone or something else.  If we know him, we will know when we receive his word.

Num. 22:7-12

So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message. And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” And Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.'” God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”

Let us set the scene.  King Balak has heard of the power of the Israelites in fleeing Egypt and conquering the Amorites, and he has begun to fear them.  Because of this fear, he wants to curse the Israelites so that he can defeat them in battle.  He asks Balaam, an established prophet of the Lord, whether he will curse God’s people on his behalf.  Surprisingly, Balaam actually asks God for a word on the matter.  At face value, it may not seem strange for a prophet of God to seek him regarding direction in anything.  However, if we look at the request being made, we see that Balaam had no reason to even pose the question to God. Being a prophet who knew God and had heard clearly from the Lord on a regular basis, he should have known that God would not want to curse his own people.

Sometimes, hearing from God is as simple as reminding ourselves of the things we already know from him.  If someone asks you to sin or help them sin, and they try to convince you by presenting the sin as serving some noble purpose, there should be no reason to ask God for direction at all.  We know that He does not want us to do evil.  He has already spoken his word on that matter.  This is one reason why we are implored by scripture to write God’s words upon our hearts.  He does not need to speak to us in every circumstance because his words within us can guide us in many instances.  Before we take our case to God and ask for a word, we must first ask ourselves whether He has already shown us the answer.  Hearing from God is often not a matter of the present or the future, but is a matter of the past.  The truths He already has spoken are still true today.

Although God still speaks to his people directly through an audible word or a dream, we also must remember that we have already heard from him in many different ways.  Hearing from God does not need to be some miraculous event.  He has spoken to us through his written word and through the living example of his Son, Jesus Christ.  As we study scripture and get to know God more and more, we will be able to rely on what He has already taught us in that written word.  Likewise, He gives discernment to those who seek him, which can answer our questions in any number of circumstances.  God also gives us messengers, like our brothers and sisters, who can speak his words over us and encourage us to move according to his will.  If we remain open to his various methods of communication, and if we continually remind ourselves of the words He already has spoken to us, we will see that we hear from God much more than we might have thought.