Hearing God – A Way of Life (Part 1)
In our current cultural climate, there are so many voices vying for our attention. It’s hard to know who to trust. As pastors and followers of Jesus, we want to listen first and foremost to our Good Shepherd. We long to discern his voice over all others. But how? How can we grow in our recognition of God’s voice and in our willingness to live out his will? In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard states, “God has created us for intimate friendship with Himself–both now and forever” (p. 10). Hearing God isn’t just about receiving guidance, but rather about entering into a lifelong, interactive relationship of communication, intimacy, and living our whole life in the will of God. Through this relationship, we become who God wants us to be and naturally do what he wants us to do.
The five questions below are gleaned from chapter four of Hearing God. Willard poses these questions in the midst of assuring us that God would, does, certainly can, and should communicate personally with us. They provide an opportunity to prayerfully search your soul and create a more fertile ground for a life of growing communication and intimacy with God. The questions are followed by a simple exercise to help fine tune your listening skills.
Readiness to Hear God’s Voice
- Do I want to hear his voice? As pastors, we face many challenges in ministry and in our personal lives. Our hearts cry out for direction, wisdom, for a “word from God” to guide our way. But perhaps there are times when we don’t particularly want to hear what God has to say to us. In reality, we may just want to do things our way. See Mark 4:23-24. Do you truly want to hear God’s voice? Is there one area of your life, or one situation, that you are honestly afraid to hear what God may say?
- Am I making an effort to hear? Willard points out that it is common for us to not hear what others are saying to us. Likewise, just as we can tune out or miss the numerous messages we hear on the radio, TV, or computer, we can intentionally or unintentionally fail to attune to God’s voice. The fact that we are not hearing from God doesn’t mean that he is not speaking to us. Hearing God requires intentionally creating time and space to be still before him. See John 10:27. What is one way that you can intentionally be still and listen for God’s voice?
- Am I ready to obey and change? Willard suggests another reason we may have trouble hearing God’s voice: We may have the wrong motives for seeking to hear from God. For example, we may be trying to secure our own safety, comfort or righteousness rather than being motivated by love and a desire to see his kingdom come. We may seek to hear from God with a desire for control or power rather than a desire to be fully transformed into the image of Christ. See Psalm 51:10 Is there an area of your life where you sense a resistance to change or an unwillingness to obey?
- Am I ready to be in business with God? We pray “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” Especially as pastors, we are to be devoted to the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom. When our lives are devoted to God, then it is a reasonable thing that he would speak to us. However, the weight of responsibility on pastors today can make it feel like it’s all up to us to make it happen, to rescue people, to ensure their commitment to Christ, to provide the right programs and opportunities. This can lead to advancing or holding onto pet projects without seeking first God’s will and way. Is there an area of ministry where you are in business for yourself, trying to “use a little God” to advance your projects?
- What Am I Living For? “For a willing walk in conscious, loving cooperation with God, we must come to grips with the issue: What are we living for? We must face it clearly” (p. 70). Of course as pastors, this longing to live fully for God probably led to responding to the call to vocational ministry. However, over time, exhaustion, discouragement or battle scars may begin to veer us off track. From time to time, it is healthy to gently revisit this question in the presence of our Father who loves us and wants only good for us. Perhaps we need a renewed vision of an intimate, interactive friendship with God to fuel our desire and empower us to live for that “one thing.” See Luke 10:41-42. Am I “living for one thing and one thing only. . . to be like Christ and do his work and live among his people and serve them and him in this world?” (p. 70).
Everyday Experiment in Listening:
I invite you to begin an experiment in listening to God every moment of the day, learning to recognize God’s voice in the everydayness of life.
- Choose one day this week to intentionally listen for God’s voice. Notice what catches your attention: something in nature, a conversation or particular phrase you hear, a Scripture, something you read, etc. Also, pay special attention to your emotions.
- Dialogue with the Lord about what catches your attention. What might he be showing you or saying to you? What do I want to say back to him?
- You might find yourself forgetting to pay attention. That’s OK. Show yourself grace and begin again that day or the next.
Share with someone about your experiment.
To learn more about hearing God, see the following resources:
Willard, Dallas (1999). Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Foster, Richard J. (1979). “An Everyday Experiment in Hearing God.” Renovaré Archive
Liebert, Elizabeth (2008). The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Spiritual contributor: Linda Gist is a spiritual formation director in Sacramento, California. She is a graduate of the Renovare© Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation and regularly leads retreats for pastors.
To contact Linda, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Linda’s website: Rhythms of Grace
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle