27 Aug Hearing the Voice of God
Hi there! My name is Doug White, and I am one of the facilitators for Leadership 215, a 2-year theological equipping program at Mosaic in conjunction with Every Nation Churches. I’m glad to be with you today!
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear in Christian circles is “How can I hear God’s voice?” I have also heard this same question presented by those who believe in a “higher power”, but are unsure of who or what that higher power is. As fellow Christians, most of us have at least a general understanding that God speaks to us in many ways whether through Scripture, other people, events, our conscience, a still small voice, our circumstances….the list goes on!
Today, I want to take some time to encourage you to listen for God’s voice by developing spiritual disciplines in your life. To help us, I’m going to be bringing in some key voices in the history of the church as well as contemporary voices today. Historic Christian voices such as St. Francis, Clement of Alexandria, John Wesley, John Henry Newman, and Simone Weil have given insight to this very question, as well as have contemporary Christian voices such as Mark Labberton, Susan S. Phillips, Parker J. Palmer, J. Philip Newell, and Ruth Haley Barton.
Regardless of the time period, what these and many have discovered is that no matter the cultural setting, political climate, religious environment, geography around a place, or the issues of the day, God’s voice has always and will always be spoken to His people.
Here’s my question: Are our ears and hearts open, humble and eager to listen?
The following are a few ways of thinking and disciplines that theologically and practically could be considered in aiding us in hearing God’s voice:
Have Victory Over One’s Self
Known specifically for his radical poverty and service for the Lord, St. Francis felt that “to be a knight of Christ one must begin with victory over one’s self.” To have victory in this way, St. Francis believed a person must have “contempt for the world.” This means that we must put aside the desire to fulfill our worldly lusts of wanting what the world has to offer. Therefore, our life becomes focused on God instead of self. By denying worldly desires in this way, a person can begin to have victory over one’s self, so he or she can properly hear and seek God. In Romans 12, Paul says to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice – do not be conformed to this world, but instead transformed by the renewing of our minds so that you may discern what is the will of God.”
Not Being Rich in the Passions
Clement of Alexandria defined the rich man from Luke 16:19-31 by the motives of his heart, not simply his material possessions. He said that a person can “cast away worldly wealth, but still be rich in the passions even though the material (for their gratification) is absent.” For example, if a person gives all one’s riches away, but the desire and yearning for those riches burns within oneself, the actions do not reflect the heart. The motives of our heart must line up with God’s will. John Wesley’s definition of a steward takes this a step further. According to Wesley, a steward is “not at liberty to use what is lodged in his hands as he pleases, but as his Master pleases.” Wesley believes we must first understand that all we have is from God. Therefore, we are not the owners of what God has given us but are entrusted to properly make use of what has been given to us. This is how one avoids being rich in the passions!
Practice Prompt Obedience with Earnestness
John Henry Newman gives the example of Samuel hearing God’s voice and promptly responding, ready to serve (1 Sam. 3:10). He also gives the example of when the disciples were out fishing, noting that they straightaway and immediately leave their boats to follow Jesus. The very life of Jesus was a life that reflected active and prompt obedience to the will of the Father. The idea is that we do not hesitate when God calls us, but we promptly obey instead. Newman goes on to define earnestness as being “simply set on doing God’s will.” Thus, our desire is pointed to the sole purpose of doing God’s will. By obeying with earnestness, we cannot help but act quickly.
Public media, the internet, cell phones, constant work, and empty vegetative activities are constantly pulling our attention away from what matters most. In response, Phillips says, “Christians are called to direct that attentive energy to the One who is the Bread of Life.” Furthermore, Palmer adds that vocation (our “calling” in life) only comes from listening. One of the most difficult things to do is to find a quiet place to just listen to the Lord without our mind racing one-hundred different ways. The practice of being attentive requires us to put the busyness of our lives on hold and move toward God so that we can clearly hear his voice. Newell stresses the need to be alert and attentive to Christ moving among us in creation, in Scripture, in people around us, and in our conscience. When we are attentive in these ways, God sees that the motive of our heart is set on hearing and obeying him.
According to Simone Weil, “the quality of the attention counts for much in the quality of prayer.” Using a classroom comparison, if a student is not attentively listening to the geometry teacher during class, that student will most likely do poorly on the homework. The quality of the homework is directly affected by the quality of attention given in class by the student. Likewise, Weil points out that our attention is too easily swayed during prayer as many aspects of life pull our attention in multiple directions throughout each day. Her assumption is that God’s voice can be heard most clearly when our entire attention is turned toward God.
Cultivate Spiritual Friendships
Each of us long to know others and be known, but according to Labberton, “the subculture teaches us to practice superficiality rather than honesty, to share competencies, not weaknesses, and to hide skillfully rather than seek genuine trust.” By cultivating spiritual friendships, we practice the opposite of what the subculture teaches. This type of relationship requires us to share the deepest parts of our hearts so that we can support one another in a way that is congruent with God’s will for our lives. We do this by “stepping into one another’s lives, listening and hearing one another’s stories, honoring one another’s unique gifts, and carrying one another’s burdens.” Jesus is the prime example of what spiritual friendship looks like when cultivated properly. Philips says, “In spiritual friendships, like those Jesus shared with his friends, we allow our souls to be heard and our prayers voiced.” She goes on to say that spiritual friendship resembles a three-fold cord (Ecclesiastes 4:12) that “braids two human lives together with that of the Holy Spirit.” By cultivating spiritual friendships, we can receive guidance and begin to hear the voice of God through those closest to us.
Our lives are consumed with busy schedules pulling us in various directions. Even well-intended busyness, such as church functions, can get in the way of finding true rest in God. Barton states that the point of the sabbath is “to honor our need for a sane rhythm of work and rest – the body’s need for rest, the spirit’s need for replenishment and the soul’s need to delight itself in God.” To practice Sabbath-keeping, a day, morning, or evening during the week must be set apart and devoted to rest, worship, and delighting in God. To accomplish this wholeheartedly, the majority of the week must be lived in a productive way to make sabbath possible. This means of practicing sabbath is a great way of remembering God each day as one prepares to reach that special time of rest. Experiencing the quality of presence with God and the appreciation for rest that is realized, make sabbath keeping an amazing time to rest and remember the Lord. After all, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
Be Still, Be Silent
We need to practice being still and knowing that he is God (Psalm 46:10). In the knowing, we come to realize the importance of listening to God who knows all. In the last few years, I have purposely tried to practice the “60/40 rule” in regards to communication. In any conversation, the “60/40 rule” means we should seek to allow the other person to speak 60% of the time to our 40% of the time, at a minimum. Studies have shown that the person who leaves the conversation having spoken the most tends to feel more fulfilled and encouraged. God has really dealt with my heart recently about this rule when communing with him. I realized that I practice more of a “98/2 rule” when speaking to God about all my needs, desires and imperfections. These are great and important things to come to the Lord with, but how often do we stop speaking and allow Him to speak to us?
As I reflect on each of the spiritual disciplines above (and there are so many more), each one positively impacts my life by enabling me to have more tools to mature and develop in the context of hearing and listening to the voice of God. Hearing God’s voice can be difficult! By purposely instilling a few practical exercises and disciplines in your life, just as so many of our Christian brothers and sisters have done in the past and the present, the motives of your heart will be pointed more directly towards God, and His voice will be much easier to recognize and obey. Just as God has spoken to so many lives in the past and present, I know He also wants to speak to you, to me, and to our lives, wherever we are.
Thanks for thinking with me today!