Earlier this year, in an attempt to be freed from the tyranny of the diary, I began taking one day a month out of my normal routine to spend time alone with God. The following is a reflection from one such recent day
How do I listen to God?
How do I attune my ears to hear God?
How do I know that it’s God who is speaking?
How do I drown out the things that are not God so that I can hear him?
I’m hearing God today in the swooshing of the waters lapping up against the sea wall. I’m hearing God today in the chirping of the birds. I’m hearing God today in the conversations of passers-by. How am I able to say that I’m hearing God in these things? Well, I believe God is in all of these things.
God is the Creator—the One who poured the water into the large basin of the sea and made the tides. God is the Creator who released the birds into the air and who watches over them. Indeed, he cares for each one of them. And yet how much more does he care for you and I?
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
God is in the conversations of the passers-by because he has put those people together. They may not be aware of him. They may be completely oblivious of his existence, yet we can detect in each of our fellow humans something of the fingerprint, the DNA, the mark, of our Creator. We should never forget that he put us together in his image (Gen 1.26).
So how do I hear God?
The more years I spend in ministry, the more I realise that I must be intentional in hearing God. Some days it’s very possible to go through a whole 24-hour period and give not a thought to these things. But as we block out the extraneous distractions, rather than emptying our minds (as proposed by the mindfulness movement), we are guided to a far better approach, found in Philippians 4.8.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
When we do that, and when we have successfully eliminated the busyness and noise that distracts and diverts, then we can begin to notice God. We can start listening to him in the general day-to-day of life; we can hear him speaking through all that surrounds us.
But how do we then listen in a way that’s personal? . . . In the way that Samuel was taught to listen? How do we listen in a way that elicits a response from us, which mimics that of the young boy in the temple sitting under the tutelage of his mentor, the priest Eli?
Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.
1 Sam 3.9b
Ultimately, this is about relationship.
When two people start a relationship that is heading towards marriage, there is a great deal they do not know about each other. Indeed, it is the mystery, the intrigue that is so alluring and exciting. As they move from initial romance towards the prospect of a life commitment, they do so by spending time together, driven by a desire to know and be known. In the same way, the relationship that we have with God does not begin and end on day one. Eugene Peterson calls our relationship with God ‘A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.’ For each one of us, a new day presents a fresh opportunity to listen to God, to attune our ears to him. I’m particularly drawn to the words in Psalm 40.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
In the ESV, the wording is ‘he inclined to me and heard my cry’. It’s a tender yet potent image, isn’t it? In my mind, I see a dad leaning over the cot of his newborn baby. As he does so, he tunes in to the child’s cries. He bends his shape, leaning down to hear the baby. What a kind, loving heavenly father. Surely if he takes time to seek this kind of intimacy, we should reciprocate and lean in to listen to him. Surely this is the very minimum of a heart responding in worship and trust. Indeed, he invites us to draw near, to seek him, promising us that he will respond. Hear the words of James.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
In writing this post, I’ve realised how much more I need to listen to my loving God. I must learn to block out distractions. In fact, I must cast aside anything that robs me of the pleasure of hearing him. I have a desperate need to hear him.
For he has inclined towards me and has heard my cry.
He knows me, hears me, cares for me.
Now I must listen to his voice.
Jesus himself often went off to a secluded place to spend time alone with his heavenly father. Someone once likened this to a call home from a faraway land. I wonder what you need to do today to place yourself in a position where you can hear God?
He is speaking.
Are you listening?
Editor’s Note: Recently, I (Richard) finished reading Hearing God by Dallas Willard. I cannot recommend it enough. It is full of wisdom on this important subject.