Learning to Listen to God

We all know what it’s like to experience a one-sided conversation, when one person is doing most of the talking and the other is doing most of the listening. If the other person is talking and barely listens to us, then we’ll wonder if they are really interested in what we have to say. On the other hand, if we are doing all the talking and they don’t try to respond, then we’ll wonder if they are listening or if they really want to be in the conversation with us at all.

Every relationship goes through some one-sided conversations, and of course some people are more talkative than others. But over time, one-sided conversation can’t start or sustain a relationship, no matter how delightful the talker or how attentive the listener. Dialogue, not monologue, is needed to establish and maintain relationships that will last throughout our life.

It’s amazing that many professing Christians readily accept the idea of having a relationship with God, yet they approach that relationship in a very one-sided fashion. They may pray, believing that God hears them, and that he may grant them some of what they ask for. They may read their Bible, believing that it is true, and that it contains God’s guidance for their life. Yet they balk at the notion that God is speaking to them and that he wants them to listen.

But the Bible is filled with stories of people who heard God speak. Some heard God directly; others heard God through someone else who spoke the truth of God; still others heard God when they heard or read Scripture. These Biblical individuals didn’t possess any extra-human qualities; they were normal men and women, just like you and me, who wrestle with trials and fall to temptation (Jesus being the exception on that last point). Yet many of these people not only heard God speaking to them; they also believed God’s words strongly enough to act on them. This sequence happens so often in the Bible that once you realize it’s there, it’s difficult to ignore.

We can hear God in a similar fashion today. We hear him through God’s word, the truth of God, particularly the good news of Jesus Christ. If we reject God’s word, responding to him with unbelief, then it will be difficult for us to hear God speak. But when we hear and believe the word of God (which is what the Bible calls faith), then that opens the door for us to hear from God further.

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. (Romans 10:17 CSB)

I think that when I couldn’t go to sleep one night thirty-nine years ago, God was speaking to me, urging me to find out more about the good news. But I know without a doubt that he spoke to me later that night, because that’s when I believed what I was hearing about Jesus. That faith opened my ears to continue to hear from God, as long as I take the time to listen. God still wants to listen to me and he does want me to ask him for things–but he also wants to speak to me, teach me his truth, and lead me into his plan.

To avoid having a one-sided relationship with God (where we focus mostly on our own ideas, concerns, and needs), we must develop our sensitivity to hearing God speak. And one of the best ways to develop this sensitivity is to regularly read the Bible with our mind open to hearing God. Since the Bible is the word of God, then when we meditate on the Bible we are practicing how to listen to God. We are getting familiar with God’s words and ways. And as we personally listen to what God says in the Bible, we’ll sometimes hear him speak to us through the words, telling us what he’d like us to know, and believe, and do.

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