"A wise man listens to advice." Proverbs 12:15
How are you at taking advice? Could there possibly be anyone more qualified to give it than the One who made us? Yet, many Christians are wary of trying to hear God's voice for themselves.
Reading the Bible is the single most important way to hear from God. Since it is God's WORD, it follows that when you read and live accordingly, you are listening in the sense of obeying. When you "hear" the Word come alive in your heart, you are doubly "listening"--letting it speak to you at the core of who you are. However, there is still another way to listen to God, which is, during prayer and quiet Bible reading time to actually listen for God's whispers--personal promptings and urgings which you won't find elsewhere.
There are Christians who have been earnest believers for decades but have never experienced hearing just such a "God-whisper." Are you one of them? Admittedly, it takes faith. And, if you aren't already familiar with God and His Word, you can mistake your own wishes for the voice of God, so it's not surprising that some choose not to even try and hear a personal word for themselves. Generally, however, people who do not "hear" the whisper of God (and it may not be an audible voice), do not hear it because they do not listen for it. There are a few main reasons which prevent some from doing so:
A: They don't believe they can hear from God. If you simply don't believe that God can inspire your thoughts with his own, or yes, "whisper" to your heart, then you are very unlikely to have it happen. God in his sovereignty can choose for it to occur, but it's far more likely to happen in the life of a believer who lives in expectation of it. Faith ushers in the fact of occurrence.
B: They've never experienced it before. Just as people laughed at Noah when he said it was going to rain because it had never yet rained on the earth, some people scoff at the idea of listening to God simply because they've never heard him for themselves and don't think it's possible to. Often in life, we get what we expect; conversely, we don't get what we don't expect. We miss what others see, simply because they have conditioned their minds to be open to it; Which brings us to the third reason some people never will hear God's whisper:
C: They're secretly afraid to. What if God tells them to go be a missionary to Africa? On a less extreme note, what if God simply tells them to do something they don't want to do? What if their nice, ordered world is disturbed? If this is you, you are likely rushing through Bible reading and prayer, without getting still before the Lord. "Be still and know that I am God," is not one of your favorite verses. In a similar vein, some are afraid they will 'mis-hear,' and perhaps make a terrible mistake in life due to the misguided notion that "GOD SAID."
It is a good idea to be aware that this has happened to many well-meaning people. That's why the Lord also instructs us to consult "a multitude of counselors" on important matters. If your pastor, your godly friends, your spouse, or even your own inner voice is shouting "NO!" then it is unlikely you are following the voice of God, in a path that is controversial. Likewise, knowing the teachings of Christ and the Bible is a a safeguard against mis-guided ideas of your own invention.
Actually, the Lord is much more likely to gently encourage you in baby steps of growth that will lead you to become more like Him, rather than sending you straight off to Africa. Often, he wants to encouragie us in ways to use the gifts he has given us, things that will improve our lives and the lives of others; He may help you to focus on an important issue you've been ignoring or putting on the back burner too long. Another day, He may remind you of a relationship that needs healing, a step you need to take to initiate it.
Do some people abuse the notion that God speaks to his people? Absolutely. The person who constantly says, "God told me this," or, "God said that," (who wears green socks instead of black because "God" told him to) is likely mistaken. Great errors have been made based on someone's mistaken idea that "God" told him or her to do something. This is why a knowledge of scripture is vital for listening. The Lord will never direct anyone to do something outside of his revealed will in His Word!
The best way I know to "listen" for God's voice is to keep a pen and notebook with me during prayer and Bible study time. It is during those quiet times with the Lord that I get thoughts for the devotions I write. God is giving me the lesson, and I simply share it with you. So try it. Keep a pen and paper handy. Jot down the names of people the Lord brings to your mind while you pray, or during your reading. Be willing to stray from your own prayer list as the Holy Spirit reminds you of other needs. Often, I am reminded of unfinished business with a person, and sometimes I stop right there and then to shoot off an overdue email, or pick out the right card to send to someone later. I do this trusting that the Lord knows the important from the urgent, whereas I often confuse the two.
"Wise men store up knowledge." Proverbs 10:14a.
Next time you pray and read the Word, have a pen and paper with you. Make an effort to "listen" by asking the Lord to speak to your heart, and keeping an open mind. Then, see what happens! Use a notebook just for this purpose, and soon you'll be storing up knowledge-right from the mouth of God!
This article was first published on the devotional blog "Inner Fulfillment" by Linore Rose Burkard. "Inner Fulfillment" offers daily short devotions for Christians, by a group of talented writers.