The premise was that God desires to speak to us to guide our actions and decisions both big and small, therefore we need to listen so that we are aware of His guidance.
Along the way we wrestled with questions such as:
- How did God communicate to us?
- How do we know if what we're hearing is God or something else?
1. The Bible is our starting point for knowing what God is saying to us. It is His written communication to us where He clearly tells us what to do and what not to do. As we obey what we read in the Bible, we begin to understand what God is like and have a sense of what He wants us to do.
The Bible also acts as a filter. As we think we've heard something from God, we can compare it to what the Bible says to discern whether this thing is of God or from ourselves.
2. As we develop an intimate relationship with God, we become familiar with what His voice sounds like. When I was in college, I was waiting for my parents to arrive to take me home. They were to arrive Sunday morning to attend church with me. I waited as long as I could outside of the campus church, but according to the rules it was time to be in my seat. Still they had not arrived and I was anxious. The auditorium was large with seating for 7,000 people. I searched for my parents, but in a room that size, I could not find them. I had difficulty focusing because my mind was on them, until I heard one small sound. I heard my mom's cough. A cough? really? In a room of several thousand people? Yes. I heard her cough. I knew her. I knew her cough and when I heard it, I knew they had arrived safely and I could focus on the service. Listening to God is like that. The more intimately we know God, the quicker we will be able to distinguish His voice and know what He is saying to us.
3. We will experience confirmation from others who are also seeking to follow God. When we believe that we sense God is telling us to do something, it is good to look for confirmation from others who we respect, who are also seeking God. It is easy to be influenced by our emotions, by our natural tendencies or appetites, and our friends and fellow sojourners can help us see pitfalls that we might not see. They can also confirm a thing is of God as they sense a distinct, yet separate and uninfluenced yearning toward the same thing we are feeling.
4. Prayer is important to the process of listening to God. Prayer is the place we typically think of us talking TO God, however prayer can also be a space where we LISTEN to God - a place where we pause and allow God to speak to our spirit and give us direction.
5. What about the circumstances? Do the circumstances seem impossible and suddenly there is a shift and you are able to do what you've felt God telling you to? that's a confirmation. Do circumstances line up perfectly to allow you to follow what God's telling you? that's a confirmation. Several years ago, I had left my job and was leaving my ministry as a youth leader and I didn't know what was next for me. Over a period of a few months, I had felt compelled to pray for a church with a school that I had only been in once. I called a friend who attended this church to ask him to pray about a difficult situation. He invited me to visit. A couple days before I was to visit, he called and asked if I would be interested in a job teaching at the school . . . well, yes. That was part of my dream when I had quit my job. I filled out an application during my visit and talked with the administrator of the school. Things moved quickly. In less than a month, I had been interviewed and hired and found an apartment. The circumstances lined up perfectly with the thing that I had been sensing God wanted me to do.
Our journey of learning to listen to God was filled with experiments . . . and learning. Often we were not sure if what we heard was God, but obeyed when we were reasonably sure that it was. Sometimes our actions led to confirmation that we had indeed heard God, at other times we miserably decided that the voice we'd heard had been our own. Over time, we grew to recognize God's voice more and more and to develop a deep and intimate relationship with God.
How do you discern what God wants you to do?
If you would like to pursue Listening to God more, here are two books that have had a powerful impact on me:
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King