Read original article in Relevant magazine here:
Hearing God speak to us is like an art. Much to our frequent frustrations, it’s not as easy as hearing the audible words of a friend or mentor.
We don’t always get clear direction from God. Often, we’re called to just move forward trusting Him, even if we don’t know exactly what He’s pointing us toward. After all, God is more concerned about who we are becoming than exactly what we’re doing, so we often hear His voice in moments of conviction or assurance rather than instruction. Sometimes, we just need to hear what’s true—about ourselves or about a given situation—to obtain the comfort and freedom we desperately need.
In Jeremiah 33, God tells us “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Jesus also says that we live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. This is why we long for it so much, and why it’s so worthy of our pursuit.
But how do we maneuver this task of hearing from God, especially when we’re already asking and not getting anything back? Here are some strategies that, depending on the situation, may be useful to you.
Take Time to Really Focus
We all have those moments when we pray a sentence or two while we’re going through the day. Those are great, because they reflect our belief that God is with us at all times. But, especially when we really feel we need guidance, it’s important to also take some time out of our day to really focus solely on that prayer.
Sometimes, we need to take a break from constant petitioning, just start praising and see what happens.
That may go without saying, but I find that we don’t always put forth the effort. It’s easier to speak a few pleading sentences than to really sit or kneel, and devote your time—and total mental energy—to only that petition.
Often, this means laying aside the things that are worrying us and giving our minds a break so we can be open to whatever God might have to say.
David gives us an example of this in Psalm 40: “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.”
Ask Him to Help You Hear
I don’t only ask God to speak to me. I also ask Him to enable me to hear. God’s messages are often quieter than the audible noise we are accustomed to. They require sensitivity to pick up on. They also require openness.
Sometimes, part of us doesn’t want to hear the message. Likewise, we may not expect Him to speak in a certain way or even through a certain person, so we might not recognize it when He does. The Holy Spirit, however, can help you notice and be receptive to His words—which are always those we need, even if we don’t know it—if we invite Him to do so.
Unite with God Through Praise
Praise is a special route we can take into the presence of God. It connects us with His spirit, allowing us to see beyond our circumstances. In this place, things become quieter, and we are opened to His peace. Even if we don’t yet hear something specific, we will at least leave that time with more comfort, and more readiness to receive.
Recognize the Purpose of Silence
It can be so frustrating to us when we don’t hear from God. But if we’re encountering silence, there may be a reason for it. It’s not that we’re unworthy, or that God doesn’t care or isn’t able. The purpose for silence, rather, may be the infinitely more precious thing of our development. There are times when God is simply more concerned about our inner growth than what we do with one decision (even if that decision feels huge at the time).
Ask God to Influence It All
When I continue to be unsure how to proceed, I often ask God to influence every circumstance. I like to ask God to carry me as a current carries a boat—I know He already is, but it is to remind myself. I love the image of Him directing me, without me having to figure things out or rely on myself. It allows me to rest and know everything will work out. These prayers come with the faith that God is greater than anyone or anything, and He knows how to accomplish His will in our lives.
As Philippians 2 tells us, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Discern if It’s His Voice
A common concern when people think they heard from God, is whether the message is just from their own thoughts. If you’re wrestling with this question, consider these things:
Are you likely to think this type of thought? If it’s more freeing and kind, or more insightful than something you usually come up with, it could be God. Ask yourself if it reflects the nature of God. Be aware of how it makes you feel—peaceful and loved, or confused and condemned? If it’s an instruction, see if the thought continues—does it stick with you through the next several days and months?
Putting It All Into Practice
Many of us seek a formula for how to hear from God. Do this and get that result. But that’s not the way God works. There is a healthy place of seeking God from our hearts, while being open to His leading.
Ideally, our seeking should flow from a living relationship with God. It is purposed not to reach certain outcomes, but as a reflection and development of a close communion; a relationship of love.
Scripture says the Holy Spirit helps us when we pray. Our main task, I believe, is to rest in the present moment, seek Him with genuineness, and know that He is working for and through us, each step of the way.