Hearing God – A Way of Life (Part 2)

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. It’s also about learning to hear, recognize and follow his voice, his word to us. As pastors, we can get so focused on leading the flock into a deeper relationship with God that we forget to intentionally nurture our own intimacy with him. An essential part of nurturing intimacy with God is learning to live with God’s voice (John 10:3-4).

According to Dallas Willard, “God’s word [to us] is to be reliably and safely sought and found–free of mystification, gimmickry, hysteria, self-righteousness, self-exaltation, self-obsession and dogmatism. On the presupposition of such a life we can lay down something close to a formula for living with God’s guiding voice. Note, however, that it is not a formula for getting God to speak to us…it is instead a formula for living with God’s voice, for hearing his word in a life surrendered and brought to maturity by him” (Hearing God, pp. 212-213). In his book, Hearing God, Willard offers a five-point “formula” for living with God’s voice.

  1. Meditate on God’s Principles (Ps. 1:1-3). Willard encourages us to meditate constantly on God’s principles found in the Scriptures. We need to penetrate more deeply into their meaning and application for our own lives. Often, when preparing a sermon or Bible study, pastors can become so focused on application for their people that they don’t take time to reflect on what God’s word has to say to them personally. Do you have regularly scheduled times to meditate on God’s word for your own life? Think of a time when God’s voice jumped out at you through Scripture.
  1. Be Alert to Your Own Life (Lk. 15:17 & Gen. 3:9). Practice paying attention to what is happening in your life, your mind and your heart. Regardless of your circumstances, this is where God meets you and seeks to bring healing and wholeness. In the garden, God asked Adam, “Where are you?” So too, he asks us, “Where are you?” “How is it with your soul?” We want to listen and see what is happening in our own souls and learn to recognize the movements of God therein. Are there persistent thoughts or feelings that are trying to catch your attention? Talk with God about those things.
  1. Pray Constantly and Specifically (Phil. 4:6-7). An essential part of an ongoing, conversational relationship with God is speaking regularly about the things that concern us in our personal life as well as in ministry. Nothing is too insignificant or too hopeless to bring to God. Share all things with him and seek his guidance, even on those things that you think you already understand. Are there areas of your life where you feel like you have to figure it out on your own? Talk with God about one of those areas.
  1. Use a Regular Plan. We want to listen carefully and deliberately, perhaps by using a plan such as the one described below. When God does speak to you, pay attention and receive his guidance with thanks. Write down what you receive and meditate on the truths in order to assimilate them into your life. If it involves some kind of action, be sure to do it. Over time, learn to recognize the quality, spirit and content associated with God’s voice. What is the difference between not planning to hear God’s voice and planning not to hear God’s voice? Do you have an alert expectancy that God will communicate with you?
  1. When God Doesn’t Speak (Ps. 139:23-24). When God doesn’t speak on a particular matter, take the following steps:
  • Ask God if there is some hindrance within you. Take a few days to be quiet, examine your heart and listen. Don’t belabor this step or obsess over it as God is able to make it clear to you.
  • Seek counsel from at least two people whose relationship with God you trust.
  • If you find a cause that is hindering God’s word, correct it. Mercilessly.
  • If you don’t find a hindrance, do what seems best to you after careful consideration of all the options. Remember that your confidence “is in the Lord who goes with you, who is with his trusting children even if they blunder and flounder” (p. 215).

How are receiving directions from God and deciding on your own interrelated?

Exercise: One Plan for Seeking Guidance

  • Ask God to speak to you on a specific matter and then spend an hour or so doing something else that does not require much concentration.
  • Don’t worry about whether or not this is going to “work.” If God has something that he really wants you to know, he will reveal it.
  • If you receive something of the particular quality, spirit and content associated with God’s voice, write it down.
  • You may also want to discuss it with others or repeat the experiment.
  • If you don’t receive specific direction, continue to be open to God speaking to you over the next few days.
  • “Generally, it is much more important to cultivate the quiet, inward space of a constant listening than to always be approaching God for specific direction” (p. 200).

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 Archives

Liebert, Elizabeth (2008). The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Spiritual Domain 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 lindagist10@gmail.com.
Linda’s website:  Rhythms of Grace

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle