We were sitting around the table at Bible Study, talking about something that had sparked a discussion about something else and that lead to something else and we eventually landed on the topic of hearing God. One of the members of the study looked at me and asked me if I ever heard God speaking directly to me. Now, as a pastor, preacher and teacher, I frequently tell people things about God and things that I believe God has said that I need to pass on. I have helped many other people (I hope) connect with God and hear his message. But, as I answered the inquirer, I have never heard God speak directly to me in the same way a person would speak to me.
I know people who claim that God speaks directly to them. And I have to confess that some of them I believe–and some of them I really wonder about. I rejoice with those who hear direct verbal messages from God that are in fact direct verbal messages from God, although my personal experience is that people who receive such messages are rare and even they don’t have the experience all that often.
And that makes sense to me. As a species, we have a serious hearing problem. We struggle to hear the messages we send ourselves. We are terrible at hearing even the most basic of messages from other human beings. So it stands to reason that when it comes to God, whose reality is far beyond ours, our ability to hear him would be a problem. But that doesn’t stop us from claiming to have heard God.
Just as with our fellow humans, we let a whole long list of things get in the way of our ability to really hear God. And at the head of the list of things that prevent us from hearing God is the basic problem that we likely really don’t want to hear what God has to say to us. God is in the business of helping us become what we were meant to be, rather than confirming us in what we want to be and so many of the messages he wants us to hear are inconvenient, uncomfortable and even scary.
The messages we would like to get from God; the messages we would send ourselves if we were God; the messages we fantasize receiving–these are all much more acceptable and enjoyable and easier to hear. So, we hear them–and assume that they come from God. If I want a new computer, then it is amazing how easily God seems to agree with that need. If I don’t want to go see someone in the church, it is amazing how quickly God tells me that I shouldn’t do that.
God speaks to us all the time in a variety of ways and using many different approaches–and we, like the good listening beings that most of us are, are always ready and able to not actually hear what he has to say. And of course, when we aren’t listening to God, it is always because he is silent, a situation that causes us a great deal of spiritual frustration. That spiritual frustration has a lot in common with my frustration with people speaking too softly all the time–it had to be their fault I couldn’t hear them. I am amazed at how much better people talk these days, especially when I have my hearing aids in.
How do we hear God? Like we hear everyone else–we have to work at it. And just as our own stuff is the most serious hearing impediment with other people, so it is the most serious blockage when it comes to hearing God. My solution to this hearing problem? Well, I recognize that I don’t listen to God as I should; I commit myself to working at listening; I get my stuff out in the open by admitting what I want to hear–and then I wait patiently and expectantly, testing and evaluating everything I am hearing and seeing, looking for the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23). It is a slow process and I get lots of false messages but eventually, I do hear what God has been saying to me.
May the peace of God be with you.