This is the audio recording of the first reading of week four of Start, entitled The Voice.
“The best way to start praying…is actually to stop praying. To pause. To be still. To put down your prayer list and surrender your own personal agenda. To stop talking at God long enough to focus on the wonder of who He actually is. To ‘be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”
Our God speaks and listens.
We know God speaks because the third verse of the Bible begins with the words, “And God said…”
It is through God’s speech that He creates (Gen. 1:3, 1:6, 1:11, Ps. 33:6.). It is through speech that the members of the Trinity communicate to one another (Gen. 1:26) and it is through speech that God communicates to His creation (Gen. 1:28).
Scripture shows that God speaks to us most clearly in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.” God also speaks to us through His inspired Word. 2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”
We know God listens, because Scripture repeatedly encourages us to talk with Him. “(Cast) all of your anxieties upon Him, because He cares for you,” 1 Peter 5:7 says. In Luke 18, Jesus tells a story of a widow who approaches a judge repeatedly, asking for justice, and He invites us to be like her in presenting our requests to God. God is not burdened when He listens to us. He delights in doing so.
And while it is true that God speaks and God listens, it doesn’t mean communicating with Him is easy. Many of us struggle with prayer. We feel like we should be ‘better’ at it, but there are many aspects of prayer that are confusing. The confusion we often feel talking to God is then dwarfed by the confusion we feel trying to listen to God. How can we know when the voice in our heads is from God and when it’s a meaningless passing thought? If you’ve ever asked some version of that question, you’re not alone.
We can take comfort in knowing that even if we are confused, God is not. He is patient with us, and He longs to hear from us and have us hear Him. He has a lot to say because His heart is bent toward those He loves. He desires and delights in us. Like a new parent rejoicing over their child’s first steps, He rejoices even in our stumbles as we seek to hear Him.
To know God, we must know that He speaks, so this week’s readings are dedicated to helping us hear and discern His voice. As we do this, we can receive God’s words of love for us, and let them be the foundation of transformational spirituality.
We first learn to hear God’s voice by reading Scripture. Pastor and author Pete Greig says, “When it comes to hearing God, the Bible is the very language of His heart. Nothing He says in any other way or in any other context will ever override, undermine, or contradict what He has already said in the Scriptures.” When we are saturated with Scripture, we will have a heart and mind that is attuned to the voice of God. Pastor Lance talks about this, saying:
“As our relationship with the Father grows, so does our confidence in looking to God for His heart and mind in every situation. This isn’t something we can analyze in the lab; it’s a personal, unique experience for each person as they dial into listening for the prompting of God in their hearts and minds. It’s far more relational than it is systematic. There’s a ‘feel’ to it, an art form of some kind. It’s tuning into a different listening method.”
God will never speak in a way that contradicts Scripture—and anything we sense God speaking must be tested against Scripture. But God didn’t stop speaking once Scripture was written. Today, even here and now, the Lord speaks His truth into our lives. He wants us to listen for His voice and to seek after His presence. As we immerse ourselves in Scripture, we learn to recognize our Father’s voice. That allows us to take the subjective experiences of our personal encounters with Jesus and test them against our examination of His heart as revealed in Scripture. The knowledge of God that comes through His revealed Word positions us to recognize His voice among the many thoughts and voices flying around in our heads, because when God speaks it always sounds like Jesus.
For most of us, hearing God’s voice is not a matter of desire. We sincerely want to hear from Him! The challenge is one of discernment, and this challenge presents itself in a few different ways.
First, we struggle to recognize the difference between God’s voice and our own. Our desire to hear God’s voice is matched only by a fear that we will mishear Him. Like most skills, discernment has to be practiced to be developed. The word itself means to exercise judgment. When we practice discernment, we seek to answer a simple question: Is God in this or not? This skill is partly learned by trial and error, as our life experience helps us better recognize God’s voice among the many others seeking our attention.
Two statements from Paul in Ephesians encourage us in this work.. Ephesians 5:8-10 says, “Walk as children of light and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (emphasis added). Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (emphasis added) When we earnestly desire to please the Lord — rather than simply wanting God’s stamp of approval on our actions — and when we commit ourselves to seeking His will, it puts us in a position to discern well.
There are many questions we can ask to help us in our discernment, including the following:
- Is what I hear consistent with what I see Jesus saying in Scripture?
- Is what I hear consistent with God’s character?
- Who or what else is influencing me right now? Is it possible that is clouding my judgment?
- Does it feel like what I’m hearing couldn’t have come from me?
- Am I seeking to justify my own desires, or am I seeking to follow the Spirit?
Many of us wish that God would just speak clearly to us. Certainly, life would be a lot simpler if we knew God’s exact direction all the time. And there are times when we may experience that type of clarity. The truth is, on the topics that truly matter most in this life, God has been clear in His Word. He has shown us what we must do to be saved, He has highlighted the importance of seeking first His Kingdom, and He has shown us in word and action what godly character looks like. As we seek to discern His voice on other matters, we can trust that His Spirit is at work, and if the will to please Him is there, His grace will sustain us in the discernment process. His instruction may be a bit more subtle. God has chosen to risk our mishearing to help us grow in our ability to recognize His voice. He wants us to be mature (Col. 1:29), and maturity requires practice and effort. So as we seek to hear God’s voice, we would do well to ask ourselves, is this a matter where God’s Word would lead me to believe He will give me clarity, or might He be asking me to use godly wisdom? As we ask ourselves these things, our ability to discern will grow.
- How comfortable are you with trying to hear God? What makes that idea comfortable or uncomfortable for you?
- When you look at your prayer life, approximately what percentage is spent speaking to God and what percentage is spent listening? What does that tell you?
- Take some time today to sit quietly before God and listen for His voice. It’s not a contest, but try to sit quietly for at least five minutes. Ask for direction on how to pray for the others at your Start table. Write out your prayers for them and what you hear God saying about their situation (which is likely unknown to you). If you are comfortable doing so, share your prayers at next week’s gathering.