So all of this leads us to an important question: what is the next step if I’ve convinced you? What should I tell you if you are thinking, “OK, I believe you that the God of the Bible wants to talk with me all day long and all night long, but how do I hear Him? How do we start?”
I had the privilege once of taking a three-month break from my job for the purpose of seeking God Himself about how He wanted to speak to me. I mostly spent the winter days either in a prayer room in the church basement or huddled under the covers in my own bed (it turns out under the covers in bed can be a great place to hear from God. I used to fear that people would think that was sacrilegious and lazy and a bunch of other things, but surprise surprise–see Psalm 16:7 and 63:6 for starters–this too is in the Bible!). I spent those days learning to listen to God.
Not everybody will be able to make that kind of investment (although if He leads you to, I’ll tell you that in my experience it was worth it!), but not everybody needs to. Years later, I read a book by a man who had done the same thing I did: devote a season of his life to the purpose of learning from God how to hear from God. In his case, it was a whole year he had set apart, but God was pretty eager and excited to speak to him and generously showed him the most important principles on the very first day! He boiled it down into “Four keys to hearing God’s voice,” all drawn from meditating on Habbakuk 2:1-2.
I can tell you, I was beyond encouraged when I read this testimony in his book and realized, What God taught him is exactly the same thing that God taught me! With the added benefit that this guy was a lot better at explaining it than I was! He was able to put it into words so I could explain what I was experiencing to others. So when I need to explain to people, “How exactly are you ‘hearing’ God?” I like to point people to his resources (I’ll give links below).
His first “key” was to get quiet before God. It’s a no-brainer, really–we can’t hear anybody speak to us if we won’t stop talking ourselves (or watching TV or whatever). Yet it’s so scary with God. I believed so many lies that God didn’t actually want me to be quiet before Him and listen (even though He says to be “be still” in Psalm 46:10 and recommends “quietness and trust” in Isaiah 30:15). I believed that the devil would start speaking to me the minute I stopped producing my own thoughts about the Bible–or quoting other people’s–to fill every second of space.
Maybe that’s why for the first part of those three months, the only thing I could hear God say to me was “Shhhhhhhh!”
That’s a first step to quieting a crying newborn. You have to roar a soothing shushing noise, either your own or maybe the vacuum cleaner or something, louder than the roar of their own terrified screaming that they keep hearing and getting re-terrified about! Once they hear your soothing sound, they might get quiet and stare at you. Once they get quiet, they can receive all the other nice things you’ve been trying to do for them all along, like rock them and sing to them and feed them a bottle of milk.
That’s exactly what the baby stage of daring to listen to God was like for me. God is always speaking. Always always always. He’s been singing over you your entire life (as He did in Zephaniah 3:17) and thinking more thoughts about you than the sand (Psalm 139:16-18), thoughts that can be “precious” to you if you receive that He wants to share them. The difficult part of hearing Him was not getting God to start talking but getting my fear to shut up! The loving Parent is out there, singing and shushing, whether we are hearing Him or our own roaring baby screams. And if getting quiet can take you a matter of minutes instead of a matter of years, you’ll learn to hear Him a whole lot faster than I did!
The second key is to recognize that the voice of God sounds like thoughts. The Spirit of God, joined to your spirit, doesn’t have to speak through your ears. Why should He? He’s already inside you. He can bring thoughts directly to your mind. Specifically, His “voice” sounds like spontaneous thoughts and like flowing thoughts. (That “flowing” characteristic of thoughts from the Holy Spirit makes sense. After all, Jesus said in John 7:37-39 the Holy Spirit feels like a flowing river coming out of the deepest insides of you!) He gives spontaneous, flowing thoughts that are more loving and good than your own thoughts. And we can get quiet and “tune in” or “listen for” those thoughts. This gets easier and easier with practice. It’s gotten to where I can pause any moment of any day, quiet my own worrying and listen for those Holy Spirit thoughts, receiving His reassurance and comfort and direction in the moment.
The third “key” is the one we discussed in Part 4 of this series. There are lots and lots of Bible passages about it and we discussed many of them there. But this key is, so simply, to picture Jesus. Imagine Jesus. Turn the eyes of your heart on Jesus. Focus on Jesus. Gaze at Jesus. Look at Jesus. I don’t know what you want to call it, but you have a screen on your mind and you can choose to put Jesus there. And when you do, the Holy Spirit will take over. After all, revealing Jesus to you is what the Holy Spirit is all about. As well as giving us “flowing thoughts,” He gives “flowing pictures.” One of my first “flowing pictures” was that picture of Jesus trying to quiet the screaming baby that was me. Later we graduated to where I was sitting on His lap actually having fun with Him. I can also pause any minute of any day and “look” for the picture of where I am with God that He is giving me. I usually look back for the last picture He gave me, and pick up where we left off.
And the fourth and final key is to write down the flowing pictures and flowing thoughts that He is giving you. You don’t have to write it down in order to hear God–obviously, when I’m listening to God while driving the car, I’m not writing it down–but the writing really helps. It helps so I can have it later. It helps so I don’t get distracted. It helps so I can later test what I heard by running it by wise counselors and the Scriptures. It helps so I keep listening to the flowing thoughts in the moment and don’t stop listening to start analyzing it, because I know I can analyze it later. Many people have found they can “hear” a sentence or so from God in their heart if they aren’t writing, but if they start writing down the flow of thoughts while they are still “listening,” they can hear and write paragraphs or even pages! (In fact, this is so helpful that sometimes when I’m in the car or in the middle of a conversation and I can’t write, I’ll imagine writing. I’ll think, “If I was writing down right now what I feel like God is saying to me, what would I write?” and picture His giant finger tracing it in the clouds. Right away, I’ll start seeing, “Don’t be afraid, I love you, I am with you, I am here…” as if written there). The book about the four keys uses the term “two-way journaling” for this practice of writing down daily conversations with God.
If you want to learn more, the book that helped me put these experiences into words is called Four Keys to Hearing God’s Voice and its author is named Mark Virkler. I started with the book, but the teaching is now available in so many formats (CDs, DVDs, even an online class!) that you can find your favorite way to learn. This page has a 62 minute audio message, an article if you scroll further down, and links to other free resources.
Another resource that really helped me is the book Can You Hear Me? by Brad Jersak. I love how he says that he speaks in churches, people often introduce him by saying “Brad is here to teach us how to hear God’s voice” and he always clarifies, “No, I’m here to teach you how to recognize the ways in which you are already hearing God.” He gives a helpful list of ways you are probably already hearing God, including through song lyrics, Bible verses, unexpected thoughts, other people, and the time God first called you to believe in Jesus, and then he begins to teach how to recognize God’s voice more often.
Can You Hear Me? also gives the helpful illustration of the three-legged stool of 1) the Bible, 2) the church/other people, and 3) the Holy Spirit/hearing His voice. If you take away even one leg of a three-legged stool. let alone two, you’ll wobble and perhaps fall. But if you have all three, it holds you. That illustration has helped me so many times as I seek for that balance in my life. Which “leg” of the stool is strongest in your life right now? Which is weakest? What might God have you do about that?
Brad Jersak has also written a children’s picture book called Children Can You Hear Me? Even though he wrote it for kids, this is my favorite book to teach adults about “seeing Jesus” by the Holy Spirit too!
All of these resources have helped me a lot. At the end of the day though, ask Jesus to teach you. He made the most beautiful promise to all those who would just “come” to Him and “learn from Me.”
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30, ESV.
“Hearing God” is just one part of the beautiful life of learning from Jesus, and letting Him reveal his Father to you. So turn to Him and start the conversation. I’ll close with a quote from my own “two-way journaling,” as I was writing down the flowing thoughts He was bringing to my mind:
“As you meditate on My word ‘day and night’ (Psalm 1:2), you commune and converse with the Holy Spirit who inspired it, and you are blessed. You are close to Me. I can answer any question. If you draw near to Me, I will draw near to you (James 4:8). You can ‘draw near’ by just saying ‘Hello.’ It’s not rocket science. I am SO ready to talk to you. Jesus was crucified for that.”