John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me . . .
I can remember agonizing over this verse and others like them for years, wondering if I was really one of Jesus’ sheep, because I honestly couldn’t say that I had heard His voice except on a couple of special occasions. I can remember hearing people (usually preachers) say things like, “God told me this,” or “God is impressing on me to do that.” I couldn’t relate. During my quiet time (when I had one), I pretty much read the bible and prayed one-way prayers. I tried to hear from God–tried sitting still and “listening,” but generally all that would come to me were thoughts like, “Did I remember to turn off the iron?” or worse, things like “Yes, it’s okay if you do such and such” (that I really knew, in my heart of hearts, was against scripture and that yes, that passage actually did apply to me, too).
Does anybody else have this problem? Can you relate? Would you love to hear from God like others seem to do, but don’t know how? I want to share with you how God brought me through this, and how He now not only speaks to me, but I am able to discern His voice. You can do this too. Anyone who belongs to Him can, though we will all hear Him in ways that are unique to our own personalities.
Now, to clarify for those of you who might not speak “Christianese,” when a Christian says things like, “God told me such and such,” he is very seldom talking about hearing voices. God almost always speaks only to our hearts and not to our physical senses. So no, we’re not talking about an audible voice, and we’re not talking about auditory hallucinations. When we say we “hear God,” we mean this as a spiritual “hearing,” not a physical sound. On the other hand, we are talking about an actual communication from the actual God–not something we’ve worked up in our own imaginations. The goal is to hear from God, not from our own wishes, knowledge, or intuition.
I recently read a book by Mark Virkler entitled, remarkably simply, “How to Hear God’s Voice.” Now I like to think I would have come up with a better title than that. Like you can learn in four easy steps something like hearing from God? Sure. Well, they’re very good steps, though I have changed the order for clarity. Here is the first one, with commentary. I’ll post the rest shortly.
Quiet yourself. This is the first step, and the one I never got past in my own efforts. It’s not an easy one. Most of us have no idea how to get our brains to shut up. I’m convinced that this is one reason many people have the television or radio turned on constantly–because their minds just won’t stop babbling at them. “How am I going to make the mortgage payment this month?” “I’m not looking forward to the parent/teacher conferences–Cole’s teacher is such a bag.” “What am I going to do for my husband’s birthday–I have no idea what to buy him?” “I have to remember to make out my grocery list or I’ll end up with a bunch of stuff I don’t need like last week.” It never ends, does it? There are so many things. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- First, learn to be quiet. Next time you get into the car, turn the radio off and just drive in silence (after you’ve dropped the kids off at school/skating/soccer/grandma’s). Force yourself to pay attention to your surroundings. Look at the sky, the trees, the buildings (look at the road, too!) and keep your mind focused in the present. You will catch your thoughts wandering, but gently usher them back to now.
- Turn off the television. It would be really good if you are able to leave it off until you’ve mastered this skill, but if you have a need to know, or others in your household wish to have it on, at least keep it turned off when it isn’t being watched. Does your wife feel a need for the noise, and isn’t interested in learning silence? Buy her an ipod. Ditto for the radio.
- Take a walk. Pay attention to what you’re doing. Smell the air; feel the movement of your body; notice your breathing. Banish all thoughts from your consciousness except for immediate attention to the present surroundings.
- Are you a musician? Play music. An athlete? Concentrate on your sport–if you have some non-team sport that will challenge you, such as running, swimming, rock-climbing, etc., such an activity will work better for learning quiet than a team sport. Are you an artist? Do art. A crafter? Craft–but do it alone. Really get into what ever it is you’re doing. Be in the present. Keep your thoughts confined to what you are doing now. If you truly love your activity, you will find yourself slipping into that “zone” where time and outside stimuli fade into silence. This is what you want to learn to do when you prepare to hear from God.
- Are you a home-schooling mother/father? The single mother of young children? That’s a hard one, but with ingenuity, you can find a way, even if it’s only the odd half-hour when the baby is sleeping and the other kids are momentarily engaged with something safe. Ask God. Even if you don’t feel His presence, He still hears you–He’s not the one with the communication problem. No matter how hard it is to do, you must learn how to quiet your mind. God speaks to us by His Spirit in our spirits, and that communication must then pass into your mind for you to “hear” it. If your mind is all cluttered, His still small voice will never make it through the din.
- It might take you quite a while to learn the skill of clearing your mind. Don’t give up. It’s worth knowing even if you aren’t a follower of Christ, just for your own sanity. This is the first step. Until you have learned silence, you’re not going much further except in those rare instances when God shouts at you–and He pretty much reserves that sort of thing for emergency situations.
So, you’ve spent a few weeks (or more) learning how to quiet your thoughts and clear your mind. Find yourself a quiet spot. For me, this time of year (it’s snowing), that means the recliner in our bedroom. Tell your family what you’re doing so they’ll leave you alone. If that’s not going to happen, you might take a walk or even a drive–whatever you have to do. Bring a notebook with you, and your bible.
Now just sit or walk or whatever. Clear your mind of anything save Jesus only. If you’re like most people, thoughts of things you need to do will immediately pop into your mind. Write them down so you can be sure you won’t forget, then get back to the task at hand, which is silence. When you have successfully (or at least somewhat successfully) achieved silence, you are ready to move on to step two: Focusing on Jesus.
I’ll post on step two tomorrow. Until then, God bless and fill you with His grace and peace,