When God speaks, I listen… So why don’t you?

Hearing God. One of the great dillemas of the Christian life. Can we actually “hear God” and if so, what does that mean?

Some believe, for instance that God only speaks through the Bible. In some extreme cases, this leads to a subtle form of bibliolotry (worship of the Bible instead of the God therewithin). But if we take the Bible on its own terms, it seems as though the Book itself counteracts this claim consistantly.

Others believe that God speaks to them at the pace of  what Dallas Willard calls: “a word a minute.” God, in other words, tells these folks: “turn green at the light.” “Buy this car, not that one.” “Drink milk, not Gatoraide.” “Make ____ (insert important, dramatic decision) and not _______.” My friend Jan Johnson refers to this sort of thinking as the “red light, green light” approach to interacting with God. Often, it’s over-indulgent and leads to causual talk: “I got the salad you asked for, but a different type. God told me that we should eat kale and not spinach.” God, god, god… everything in this person’s life is attributed to God as if being human wasn’t in itself important to this God.

This can apply in several ways to pastors. Some pastors nonchalantly talk about how they “have a vision from God” to raise such-and-such millions of dollars for new carpet in the church building. He even comes up with a divine slogan: “Carpets for the Kingdom!” All of this casual talk about a vision from God, if we are not nuanced and wise as pastors, can become unhelpful to folks in our communities as they begin to wonder: When God speaks, the pastor listens, the “red light, green light” folks listen, so what is wrong with me? Why can’t I listen? God must not think too much of me.

This is paradoxical, as Dallas Willard points out in Hearing God. Loose talk about “hearing God” leaves others feeling as though such is an impossiblity for them. Can you relate?

I, personally, believe that we can in fact hear God. We know a couple of things from the Scriptures. God wants to give us the “mind of Christ.” God often speaks through great events or a still small voice. The question is, are we willing to allow God’s thoughts to saturate our thoughts? Are we willing to experiement with what Bro. Lawrence called: practicing the presence of God. All this means is that we attempt to be in a constant state of prayer and devotion throughout the day. As we work, play, eat, and worship. This is choosing to acknowledge Christ as a companion, even if we don’t “feel” a thing.

Perhaps we won’t all hear God in the same way. Maybe some will have pictures or visions come to mind as God’s means of communication (lets be careful how we share these). Others may have thoughts come to mind that are consistant with who they know Christ to be. Others may simply live in the satisfaction that they are giving mundane tasks to God. Whatever the case may be, hearing God need not be extraordinary, but might only require submitting to the rythmns of devotion in the everday realities of human life.

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  • In some extreme cases, this leads to a subtle form of bibliolotry ….

    Subtle? I know people who’ve practically replaced the Cross with the King James Bible. If the KJV was good enough for the Apostle Paul …. 😉

    You used the word causual several times in your article. What does that mean? Are you talking about causation? or casuistry? Is this a word I’ve never heard of or read (and am unable to find in the dictionary)?

  • Brad

    did you mean turn “right” or “left” at the light and not turn “green” at the light? and “Gatorade,” not “Gatoraide”?

  • Good thoughts, Kurt. I’m still not sure I hear from God, but I hope at least to make sure that when people hear me, it’s not dissonant with God’s voice. Peace, my friend!

  • Matthew Gaither

    Amen, Kurt. I think it is so key that we live out our days in a state of prayer and connection to the Holy Spirit. If we follow hard after God in everything that we do then we won’t miss Him when He speaks or prompts us.

  • Great article Kurt, Thank you. Could I ask your permission to repost it to my blog as a guest writer? http://www.godconversations.com

    • Sure. Just use the bio on the left side of the page. Also, please link back to the original.


    • Tania, I like the concept of your blog site. Hearing God speak is very important. Much more important than we realize. How can we walk in the light if we have no light? Our light comes through hearing God speak.

      • Thanks Jack. I also believe since communication is at the heart of relationship, we miss out on the dynamic of divine partnership without a two-way conversation! Bless you!

  • I have been mentoring others on how to hear God speak for over a decade now. It has been amazing the number of wild assumptions people have told me about hearing God. Most people simply think that they are not worthy to hear Him. I surprise them when I say; “Well, you’re right. You’re not worthy, but the Christ (the anointing), the Holy Spirit, is within you and He makes you worthy. He is the one who does the speaking to you.”

    So I go about defining it for them. It is often very similar to intuition. It can also be as a confirmation, a “nudge” in the core of our being from the Holy Spirit. It can be audible (I haven’t had this experience.) It can be from the mouth of another person (this should get a confirmation in the spirit such as above). When reading and/or meditating the Word, scripture can become real to us – just as if it jumped off the page and into our lives. That is God speaking too.

    For me, at times I get the “nudge” from the Holy Spirit in the core of my being, then an instant later, my mind hears the words spoken. I know they are not my words or my thoughts, so that’s how I know they must be from God. I have had this experience so strongly that it caused a sensation in my ears as if I was hearing an audible sound, but there was no audible sound.

    I suppose there are others as well. I made no attempt to create an exhaustive list.

    At any rate, the idea is conveyed. Those who take my words to heart wind up hearing God. That’s what really matters to me. 🙂

    • Interesting that the Bible sums up God’s main ways of speaking as prophecy and dreams & visions (Acts 2:17) – the 2 main ways experienced in the Old Covenant… as well as the nudge!

      • Agreed. I just didn’t take the time to categorize or create an extensive list. After all, it’s just a comment! I save the longer explanations for blog posts. 🙂

        Oh, and you set off a spark in me… I do recall now that I have had dreams and visions as well. So there you go. 🙂

  • Aaron L.

    Earlier in my life, I definitely struggled to find any influence from God. I watched my peers in church around me start to have some deep spiritual experiences. But I couldn’t figure it out for myself… It took years for me to begin to have my own experiences. I kept going to church because I knew there was something special there. And I discovered that the way God spoke to me was much different than I expected. But these experiences were (and still are) beautiful and I’m grateful to God for them.

    Here’s one of the coolest things I’ve learned: He’ll teach me in times of reflection. I’ll look back and He’ll “nudge” a few thoughts into my heart and suddenly it all makes sense to me. And I then find a beautiful new truth about God by learning from my own experience.

    And I love what you said: “practicing the presence of God”. I’ll put it into my own words. These kinds of experiences don’t happen without “walking with God”, as it were. I’ve found that I must put myself in a clean, holy place by my thoughts, and actions. I learned this from the story of Elijah… it took a journey from under the juniper tree to the mountain to finally find the “still small voice”… The mountain was a holy place! There, in these places, I can hear His word more clearly, and my relationship with Him becomes stronger!