How to Listen to God
How to Listen to God
Suppose I go to the doctor and say, ‘Doctor, I have a lot of problems: I twisted my knee... my eyes itch... my finger is swollen... I have backache...’ Then, having got through my list of complaints, I look at my watch and say, ‘Goodness me, time is getting on. I must be off.’ The doctor might say, ‘Hang on, do you not want to hear what I have to say?’
If we only speak to God and never take time to listen, we make the same mistake. We do all the talking and we don’t actually listen to him. But our relationship with God is meant to be a two-way conversation. When I’m praying, I find it helpful to write down thoughts that come into my mind that may come from the Spirit of God.
In a media-saturated age we have many voices that come to us on TV, radio, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email and text message. We have the voices of family, friends and colleagues. And sometimes we have the voice of Satan tempting us to disbelieve God’s word and to doubt that God has our best interests at heart.
How do you hear the voice of God in the midst of the noise and distractions of life?
Listen to God’s voice in the ScripturesProverbs 3:1-10
The main way in which God speaks to us is through what he has already spoken in the Scriptures – his ‘teaching’ and ‘commands’ (v.1). As you read the Bible, pray that God will speak to you and that you will hear his voice.
‘Don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track’ (vv.5–6, MSG).
Learning verses in the Bible is one of the ways you can write God’s word on the ‘tablet of your heart’ (v.3). Pippa and I learnt these verses on our honeymoon and have tried to live by them.
- Be guided by ‘Love and Loyalty’
These should be our guiding principles in every decision we take. ‘Love and Loyalty’ (v.3, MSG) should be deeply embedded in our hearts. Loyalty means, for example, speaking about others as if they were present. We establish trust in those who are present by our loyalty to those who are not present. If you live like this, God promises you a good reputation ‘in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people’ (v.4, MSG).
- Run to God! Run from evil!
We are to trust in God rather than becoming arrogant and thinking that we are clever. Fear of God, in the sense of healthy respect for him, should lead us to ‘Run to God! Run from evil!’ (v.7, MSG). God promises that ‘this will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones’ (v.8). In other words, there is a connection between the spiritual and the physical.
- Become a generous giver
It really matters what you do with your money. Give God ‘the first and the best’ (v.9, MSG) (that is, the first part of your income not the last). I have found this to be an extraordinary principle; that if you get your giving right, you discover the truth of the promise that God will supply all your needs: ‘your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine’ (v.10).
Lord, help me not just to read your words, but to learn them, live by them and to bring honour to your name.
Listen to God through the words of JesusMatthew 16:21-17:13
The words of Jesus are the words of God. God says, ‘Listen to him’ (17:5). When you read Jesus’ words and take them to heart, you are listening to God.
Jesus warns his disciples to expect attack. We are never going to avoid criticism (16:21). Twice in this passage Jesus talks to his disciples about the suffering he is going to experience – explaining to them about the cross and resurrection (16:21; 17:9–12).
However, rather than listening to Jesus, Peter argues with him (16:22). Jesus’ rebuke to Peter is of profound importance. In every key decision we take, we must ask ourselves whether we have in mind the concerns of God or human concerns (v.23). What Jesus is saying to Peter is the heart of his mission and it has huge implications for all of his followers (vv.24–28).
We are not to seek a life of comfort and security. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?’ (vv.24–26, MSG).
Following Jesus involves denying yourself, taking up your cross and following him (v.24). This is the way to find life in all its fullness.
Wealth, in one sense, is utterly pointless. Purpose in life is far more important than property or possessions. All the money in the world, all the success in the world, all the fame in the world, all the power in the world is nothing if you lose your soul (v.26) and miss out on what life is all about.
On the other hand, if you follow Jesus and surrender your life to him, you find the very purpose of life. The words of Jesus are extraordinarily powerful. There has never been a time when it is more important to ‘listen to him’ than now!
Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain. Jesus’ appearance changed right before their eyes. ‘Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realised that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him’ (17:1–3, MSG). They heard God say, ‘This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him’ (v.5, MSG).
As Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus, so you too can live a life ‘talking with Jesus’. Your experience may not be as visual or auditory as that of the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, but you too can know the presence of Jesus in your life. Through reading his words and meditating on them, you can experience a conversation with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
You can, in a sense, look into his face, which shines ‘like the sun’ (v.2). You can fall down in worship (v.6). It can feel as if Jesus is actually touching you and saying to you ‘do not be afraid’ (v.7). And there are times when you may look up and see ‘no one except Jesus’ (v.8).
Lord, thank you that when I lose my life for you, I find it. Help me to listen to your voice and to follow you, daily.
Listen to God throughout your lifeGenesis 47:13-48:22
As Jacob came to the end of his life and looked back at all God’s blessings (in spite of all the trials and difficulties), he ‘worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff’ (47:31). He recognised that God had led him throughout his life. It is an evocative picture of a person who has lived a life in close relationship with God, listening to him and his wisdom. He recalled how God spoke to him and gave him a vision for his life (48:3–4). He is able to say ‘God… has been my shepherd all my life’ (v.15).
Jacob also recognised that God had led his son Joseph in an extraordinary way. Because Joseph had learned to listen to God, he was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and, as a result, he saw great blessing. Not only did he save the lives of God’s people, he also saved the lives of all Egypt (47:25). As Jacob’s life draws to a close he blesses Joseph’s sons, expressing his trust in God’s promises and blessings for the future.
When the writer of Hebrews comments on Jacob’s life of faith, he focuses on this incident: ‘By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff’ (Hebrews 11:21). As he came to the end of his life, Jacob’s trust in God did not peter out. He ended with a flourish of faith.
Remain faithful in worship and listen to God throughout your life. Trust God to lead and guide the next generation – that they too will listen to the voice of the Shepherd (see John 10:3–4).
Lord, thank you that you promise to lead me and speak to me. Help me to listen to you daily and throughout my life.
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart… In all your ways submit to him’ (Proverbs 3:5–6). It is wholehearted, ‘all your heart… all your ways’ – that means wholehearted, total commitment to God. Are there things in your life, worries or successes that you might need to re-commit to God, to make sure they are, and remain, ‘totally’ committed to God?
Verse of the Day
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…’ (Proverbs 3:5).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.