We Need to Listen as God Speaks to Us
By: Barb Ho
When was the last time you’ve personally heard from God? I don’t mean in a vague, distant way; I mean personally? Do you hear the Lord speak to you? This should be commonplace both in our lives in Christ as well as when we pray. Listening to the Lord is completely linked with having an effective prayer life. Without it, we’re not praying as we should!
Listening for the Lord’s Leading
I learned an important principle many years ago that’s guided me throughout most of my Christian life. Not every good deed is God-led. Let me put it this way: just because something is good to do doesn’t mean it’s the will of God for you. I’ve learned not to assume doing or giving something is the best choice unless I’ve sought the Lord for direction.
I remember a man who attended our church many years ago. He was single and had a very good job. The amazing thing was that the time came when he lacked sufficient funds to pay his basic bills! He finally came to my husband and shared how he was giving all his money to homeless men, one in particular. How could that be wrong? Now, giving money to the poor is a great act. But in this case it was not God-driven.
This is where hearing from the Lord plays an important role in our Christian lives. Without truly listening to God, our prayers are ineffective. We need to take steps under the direction of his sovereign leading. That takes committing our ways to the Lord and listening to him for guidance. This is walking by the power of the Spirit. When we don’t walk under the leading of the Spirit of God, we’re walking by the flesh. When we’re not praying with the intention of listening and following the voice of God, we’re praying in the flesh. It’s that simple! I don’t care how good an option may seem: when we act according to our own understanding, it’s not God-blessed. Because of this, we need to cry out to the Lord for clarity and guidance and listen intently for his leading.
Faith plays an important role here. Is God who he says he is? Is his Word real? “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” I take these words from John 10:27 literally. I listen for his voice, then I follow his leading. He’s not going to expect me to follow when I can’t hear him. I know that in spite of the fact that I’m a pretty dumb sheep at times, God is able to convey his will to me in a way that I’ll recognize. I place my trust in him, not in my limitations, and stand in assurance that his grace is working in my life.
When I’m seeking direction, the first thing I do is surrender. That may sound simple, but it’s the most important part of hearing from the Lord. I remember that when other kids would taunt me as a child, I would put my hands over my ears and yell, “I can’t hear you!” I get that picture of us sometimes when we’re asking God for direction! We have to give God full control, with the attitude of “Whatever you say, Lord, I will do!” We need to trust that as Philippians 2:13 promises, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (nkjv).
After I’ve surrendered, I wait. Trusting is the key here! I’ve talked to some who are seeking God’s direction with a “we’ll see” kind of attitude. It’s like they’re waiting with their arms crossed saying, “I’ll see how much I can trust him!” It’s as if God has to somehow prove he’s in control. Where’s the faith in that?
How long do I wait? Until I receive an answer. If deadlines come, I let them pass. I heard a great teaching about this from Charles Stanley many years ago. He stressed that we should never let deadlines determine our decisions. If God hasn’t revealed clearly what to do, keep waiting till he does. He’ll show us at just the right time!
Listen and expect.
And finally, I listen and expect. As I study the Bible, I open my heart to any direction he may lead me. I’m sensitive to his voice. My ears are tuned to him and my heart is open to his leading. Can you see the freedom this brings? I can have joy in the waiting because I know I’m where I should be for this time. If and when he wants me to move, he’ll make it clear.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:5-8)
I love God and I know he loves me more than I can ever imagine. My security is in the fact that God never has and never will let me down! At the right time, he will make the way clear. My role is to wait and listen. When fear or the dread of “what ifs” enters my heart, I stand against it. God is in control! He is sovereign. He knows my limitations. I know he wants the best for me and my desire is to serve him, so I stand in faith and peace. Trust me in this; God’s will is not a hidden treasure. He will make it clear at just the right moment.
When He Speaks
I love to hear from God! There have been times when He has spoken to me so clearly that to doubt would be sin. Sometimes he speaks to me through a verse in Scripture. It will almost literally jump through the pages at me. I remember one time when I sensed God was speaking to me concerning a particular chapter in the Bible. It was a mighty word of blessing and favor. I asked, “Lord, are you really speaking to me through this chapter? Can I really claim these words?” I recorded all of this in my prayer journal. That evening we visited a church service and the pastor preached a sermon based on a verse-by-verse study of the very chapter I had read that morning. I sat in tears as I was ministered to by God in a powerful way.
Some of his words have come through others, maybe through a sermon or a song. There have been times when others have shared a “word from the Lord.” How I appreciate it when brothers and sisters have obeyed the leading of the Lord and shared these messages with me. But I can honestly say that the times I’ve heard the Lord’s voice the most was in the quiet of my prayer times alone with him. Sometimes the words come with a sense of his presence so strong that I don’t want to move. I hardly want to breathe. Other times his voice is just a knowing, an awareness. I don’t hear from the Lord every time I pray, but when I do, it is more than special to me. When he speaks to me it’s often through what people describe as “that still small voice” (see 1 Kings 19:12, kjv). It’s an awareness of information. I just know that I know! Scripture teaches that “his sheep . . . know his voice” (John 10:4). I recognize his words, be they ever so soft!
I remember when we first moved to Houston. We were doing church planting, so needless to say our money was more than tight! About a quarter of a mile from our house was a small strip mall with a large corner room for rent. The Lord began to minister to me to claim this place as our place of ministry. I remember arguing with the Lord that it was impossible. “Are you sure I’m hearing you? Are you sure?” I have to confess that I doubted God in this. It was so far beyond what we were able to do! However, I shared this information with my husband and we began praying for this place and claiming it as ours. For the first few weeks I regularly drove into the parking lot, either alone or with others, and thanked the Lord for it, praying for protection for the building and blessing for our future ministry.
As the weeks turned into months, my times of prayer for this possible opportunity began growing farther and farther apart. Soon I was barely praying and in several months, I gave up. One day, as I drove by, the Holy Spirit spoke as clearly as if he was sitting next to me: “When did I tell you to stop praying for this building?” I confessed my sin of unbelief to him and began claiming it again! Within six months we were renting this property. What a blessing it has been in our ministry! I have to tell you, the best part was not the building, but seeing the miracle of how God provided and knowing he spoke it into my life! What a joy to hear from the Lord!
There are times when we need to pray in faith without constant reassurance from God that what we’re praying for is in his will. As I pray, I ask the Lord for guidance. Many times he confirms his leading through Scripture, agreement from another Christian brother or sister, or another way of his choosing. There are those times, though, when I need to pray solely according to how I sense he’s leading me. During these times, I trust him to redirect me if I’m not praying on the right path. I remind myself that his strength is made perfect in my weakness, that he knows my flaws and human boundaries, and that his ability to work things together for good far outweighs any of my human limitations. The important thing is that I want his will, I’m fully surrendered to him, and I understand my role is that of a tool in his hands. My desire is to completely follow his leading. The answer depends on him and him alone!
It’s as if we’re coming before the Lord with our prayers and leaving them at his throne. We’re saying, “God, this is what I believe you want done in this situation. I trust you to answer as you see fit. I trust you! Show me if there’s something I’m not seeing. This is all about you.” That, my friend, takes both faith and hearing from him, as we lift our requests to the Lord.
I believe every person who serves Christ should hear from him. I have seen this principle misused, however! I was in one meeting where “the voice of God” spoke through nonbelievers giving direction for the church. This was not only accepted but encouraged! I’ve been in other meetings when a person was “spoken to from God” and frankly humiliated in front of the church body. There’ve been times when a brother or sister has shared a “revelation” they’ve received from God that I knew was not his voice. I knew this either from the content of the message or because of the details I knew about the person’s life. I have to tell you, I seriously doubt the validity of these “messages from God.”
Why We Don’t Hear
That being said, Christians should truly hear from the Lord. Unfortunately, too many Christians have thrown the baby away with the bathwater on this subject. Why don’t we hear from the Lord more often? Here are some reasons.
We may not be listening.
How often do we come before God and never give him time to speak? Our focus is so much on sharing what’s in our heart that we don’t listen to what he has to say! We need to train our hearts and minds to listen to him. Learn to spend time in quiet meditation. Don’t feel the time has to be filled with constant talking or even worshipping. Learn to listen!
This includes corporate prayer times. Have you ever noticed how awkward people can feel when no one prays for a few minutes or even seconds in a prayer group? A person will often pray out just to end the deadly quiet. Silence is perfectly fine! Allow people to sit reflectively and in quiet meditation. Honestly, though, this is not natural, either when you pray alone or in a group. It takes training to break this habit of constant chatter. I guess we need to slow down and learn to listen!
We’re not expecting him to speak.
It shouldn’t surprise us when God does speak to us. The book of Acts tells us that the Spirit told Philip to go stand next to a chariot with a eunuch sitting in it. I personally don’t think Philip heard an audible voice. I believe the Spirit spoke to Philip through that still small voice, and because he had trained himself to listen to God’s voice, he heard and obeyed. Later he introduced the eunuch to the Lord and even baptized him.
Hearing from God should come as no surprise. After all, we were made for fellowship with God. Who do you know who ever experiences fellowship without mutual communication?
Some have doctrinal views that affect their hearing from God.
Many believe the Lord only speaks through the Bible . . . period. They don’t believe God will speak a prophetic word either through others or personally. I heard one man teach that God never speaks through dreams. Granted, we need to be careful and discerning when hearing the voice of God, but I strongly disagree with the conclusion that God will never speak in these ways. After all, he is God! He’s spoken in these ways throughout the Bible and I don’t read anywhere in Scripture that he’s ever stopped.
Still others believe the Lord will almost always confirm his voice or will through a prophetic word. Both views limit people hearing from God. The key here is balance. Does God speak through the Bible? Yes. Does he speak a prophetic word? Yes. But those are not his only options. He is God. Remember he spoke through a donkey to a prophet named Balaam in order to get his point across!
A few years ago I was getting ready to check out at a local grocery store. I sensed the Lord leading me to go to a particular line with a very grouchy woman cashier. For a few seconds I fought it but soon obeyed and began checking out my food. I asked her how her day was going and she responded, “You don’t want to know!” “I really do,” I assured her. She began to pour out her heart about how taken for granted she felt by her husband! The Lord miraculously gave me words to minister, and she and I were both deeply blessed. She was blessed by the fact that someone cared and hopefully by some helpful words, and I by the pure joy of being used by the Lord! How did I hear from the Lord to go through her line? It was a prodding. It was like the Holy Spirit was pushing me, ever so gently. I’ve learned to step out at these times. I usually say a quick prayer and ask Jesus to lead me.
Sometimes I don’t see a positive result of my actions or words. Just because we don’t see fruit doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. That’s okay; I follow what I sense is the Lord’s leading and I leave it on the altar. The Lord works in mysterious ways. We don’t always have to see what he’s doing. That’s his business. Ours is merely to obey.
I remember another time of hearing the Lord’s voice several years ago. During my early-morning prayer time, I was praying for a couple in our church that was getting ready to deliver a baby. The pregnancy seemed to be going well. I found myself deeply burdened to the point of tears. I began praying for them and crying out for the safety of the child. All at once I yelled out, “I take authority against that umbilical cord!” I’ll tell you, the words surprised me as they flowed out of my mouth!
A few hours later, my husband called and informed me that this couple had delivered their baby. I asked him if there were any complications and he told me he didn’t think so. I did not tell him about my prayer burden for them. We hung up the phone. Not five minutes later he called me back and said the husband had called and told him that the umbilical cord had been wrapped around the baby’s neck several times. He said it was a miracle the child was uninjured. I began to weep in thanksgiving that once again I heard and responded to the voice and leading of God!
Many people don’t hear more from the Lord because they don’t spend enough time in prayer and Bible reading.
They just don’t spend enough time with God! Think about it: how is it you can recognize a person’s voice? It’s not from studying about her; it’s from spending time with her. Isn’t that true? We recognize God’s voice by taking the time to get to know him more. It’s as simple as that!
This doesn’t seem to be a very popular line of thinking today. In days gone by, it was a common teaching for Christians to spend a daily time in prayer and Bible study with the Lord. It even had little nicknames like “quiet time,” “QT,” “devo time,” etc. Today, though, it’s almost not politically correct to discuss this. The emphasis is on flexibility. Maybe some Christians think spending a daily time with God is too legalistic. I’m not sure why, but I do know that Christians spend much less time with God every day than they did in years gone by. Of course we’re having a hard time recognizing God’s voice. It’s being muffled by our own busy lives.
God loves being with us. I remember a song by Larnelle Harris called “I Miss My Time with You!” It’s written from the perspective of how God misses us when we’re too busy to be with him. It’s true. After all, he’s our “Abba Father.” He loves us like a daddy would.
Way too many Christians try to fit a time with God into their day, if they spend time with him at all. The better option is to fit our day around our time with God! Try making choices based on that. You may need to cut back on some activities. Draw a timeline of your day. What can be penciled out? Where does the majority of your time go? Maybe you need to turn the TV off and go to bed earlier at night so you can get up and pray before you go about your day. You may need to invest in a good alarm clock and learn to set it! One choice I’ve made is not to turn my computer on before I’ve spent time with the Lord. Without a doubt something draws my attention away from God and before I know it, time is gone!
I’ve always had my prayer time in the early morning hours. I’m one of those crazy people who actually enjoys getting up really early. I love getting up before anyone in my house and even my neighborhood! I realize not everyone is like me, but I can assure you there is a time for you. You need only to discover it. When something’s a priority we will go out of our way to do what ever it takes to accomplish it. Let’s make our times with God that priority.
People don’t hear from God because they don’t recognize his voice.
You’ve probably heard this old story. It had been raining for many days, and a man was stuck on a roof. As the waters rose, the man faithfully prayed for God to save him. As the flood levels began to rise, a rowboat, then a speedboat, and then a helicopter all came to save him. He refused help from all and drowned. Standing before the Lord, he asked why God hadn’t answered his prayer for safety. God gave him a puzzled look and replied, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more did you expect?”
What are we listening for? What do we expect God to sound like? Some of us want writing on the wall, or a ground-shaking thunderbolt. God has never chosen to speak to me like this. He can if he wants to; after all, he is God. But I have never, personally, heard him speak this way!
It amazes me how often Christians, women in particular, have a hard time hearing the voice of God, yet are more than open to listening to messages of defeatism, failure, and poor self-worth that come from within. They have listened to these messages for so long that they no longer recognize them as lies. For some of us, these are leftover inner recordings of negative messages we’ve been told by our parents throughout our lives. For others, a negative thought may have been embraced from a traumatic emotional event.
Whatever the reason, these self-condemning themes constantly play over and over again in our minds and are often lived out as truth. I wonder how long a person would remain friends with someone who continually spoke unkind, condemning words. My guess is not long. Yet we continue to listen to these lies from within! The commandment tells us to love others as we love ourselves. Some of us need to begin loving and accepting ourselves more and stop listening to these childhood prerecorded messages! Maybe the voice of God is being shouted out by the condemning thoughts from within.
One thing to consider is that God tends to speak within our personalities and particular gifts of the spirit. He has made us diverse and those differences are what make the body of Christ so blessed! He never expects us to mimic each other. For some, he might choose to speak through Scripture. That tends to be the way my husband usually hears from God. For others, a timely prophetic word comes into play. For people like me, that inner voice becomes the spoken tool, often during, but not exclusively, in my prayer times. He will speak to us in his way according to who he is and what he wants us to know. Don’t worry: he will speak. The question is, are you listening?
Barb Ho is the author of Ultimate Connection (PrayerShop Publishing 2011), from which this article is excerpted.