I bet no one’s ever sat you down and explicitly (and bravely) said that out loud, to your face, because no one wants to look bad if you take a risk to listen for God’s voice and then don’t hear anything. I mean, in all honesty, it does sound a little crazy, right?
But it’s true: you can hear from God. And you don’t have to have special supernatural powers to do it.
Communication That Kills
God is a God who created us to be in relationship with him. Well, what makes a relationship a healthy, vibrant relationship?
Love, trust , and . . . communication. Without communication, relationships tend to break down: “You just don’t understand me!” “You’re not listening to me!” “We hardly talk anymore.”
When I was a teenager, one of my best friends sent me an email mentioning a guy she liked. I wrote her an email back but somehow accidentally sent it to the guy.
Horrified, I called my friend and told her what had happened and that it was a freak accident and that I was incredibly sorry. My friend—shocked, hurt, and confused—hung up the phone and refused to talk to me for a period of time. Whenever I tried to call her (which was often), she wouldn’t pick up. When I wrote her a letter, she didn’t write back.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. What happened was crazy. I wouldn’t have believed me either, if I had been in my friend’s shoes. But with this serious breach of communication, our relationship was on the brink of extinction.
The sad truth is that many of us think we’re great communicators when in fact we are settling for what I like to call “one-way communication,” or talking at people.
One-way communication leads to breakdowns in relationships and can sometimes damage a relationship beyond repair—unless both people commit to practicing real communication.
God Has Something to Say
The truth is: we all want real communication.
So why shouldn’t this apply to our relationship to God?
Sometimes, we have a warped perspective of God—that he doesn’t still speak to humans . . . or won’t . . . or isn’t paying attention.
But God wants to be heard. From the beginning of time, he’s had a lot to say to us. And he wants us to hear him. God wants real communication with us because he wants real relationship with us.
But we often settle for talking at God. We settle for one-way communication.
Learning to Listen in Prayer
For those of you wondering, “So what if I try listening for God’s voice and all I get is white noise, the sound of my heart beating, or a million thoughts of other things that I need to do today?” here are some tips about listening prayer:
Listening prayer takes faith. If you want to see God revive your prayer life, it will require a little faith from you to expect to hear God speak to you. And to unlearn that the definition of prayer is only “speaking to God.” Prayer is also listening.
Listening prayer requires discernment. Comparing what you hear to the character of God found in Scripture is essential. And if what you hear contradicts God’s Word or his character revealed in Scripture, it’s not from God. Period.
Hand-in-hand with discernment in listening prayer is humility. Again, not everything that comes to mind is God speaking to you. I’ve heard God tell me—multiple times—that I would one day marry my latest crush. And I’m still single. Be aware that sometimes our pride or our desires can influence what we think we are hearing God speak to us.
You also need to get into a mental and physical space where you can settle down and practice listening carefully, rightly, and well. God may speak to you as you’re rushing around campus, driving through traffic, or studying, but settling down and giving God the honor of your full and undivided attention will do you well in the long run. Maybe this looks like going on a walk by yourself, sitting in a coffee shop and journaling, or being still in a quiet space. Try a few different things until you find something that allows you to be ready to listen to and receive from God.
You may want to find an older Christian who can be your mentor in listening prayer.
Finally, remember that God can speak to you in many different ways. As you’re listening, God might bring words, phrases, songs, lyrics, poems, images, movie clips, memories, Bible verses, etc., to mind to communicate his truth to you.
Like I said: you can hear God speak.
But did I mention that his words might just change your life?
The Words That Keep on Speaking
One of the most powerful moments of communication that I’ve ever had from God was when I was on a six-week Global Urban Trek with InterVarsity in the Philippines. I lived with trash scavengers at one of the city’s closed garbage dumps—and I was miserably sick with traveler’s diarrhea for the entire trip. About the third week in, I’d had it. Laying in bed with nothing to do but think and talk to God, I said, “God! This is not fair. I did not come all the way across the ocean to the Philippines to get sick. I feel robbed.”
Clear as day, these words came to mind: “Really, Amy? You feel robbed? Look around you.”
That day, I was both humbled and strengthened in my belief that God does in fact have a lot to say. But I also learned that when God speaks, his words can resound over the rest of your life.
Amy Hauptman is a writer on InterVarsity’s communications team. She is a former campus staff worker at UC Davis, the University of Nevada–Reno, and Truckee Meadows Community College. The three driving forces in her life, besides her love for coffee, are to see, learn, and enjoy as much as possible. She also blogs atamyhauptman.blogspot.com.
Check out these posts for additional ways to grow in intimacy with God: