Learning to Listen Lets God Take the Lead in Your Life
Some of the most incredible experiences in my life were the result of either hearing things God said to me or receiving help from someone else God spoke to about me. I have received answers to puzzling questions, picked up timely information that saved me in emergency situations and heard things which have helped to resolve critical issues for others. The Lord has led me to pastor churches, preach in far away places and even move to different cities with the sound of His voice. Others have surprisingly searched me out and blessed me when I least expected in obedience to the word of the Lord. Dreams, visions and gifts of the Spirit manifest in my life at times for the Lord’s purposes. He told me who my wife was before I even knew how to hear from Him! Hearing God is such a powerful experience because it affects us on a deeply personal level.
He knows how to get your attention. Recently, I have had several unrelated requests for advice on how to hear from God – a key indicator that He is talking to me! I’ve learned to listen to the voice behind the voices in life so I felt it important to answer these questions, knowing that it really is a wider need being echoed from the heart of the Lord. He wants His people today to hear His voice clearly again but He knows this means teaching us to think in terms of the entire process of hearing. In the end, it really comes down to saying and doing the things hearing God gives you the opportunity to accomplish. Once we learn to pick up His sound, we are then called to responsibly repeat what He says to other hungry people and actively walk in the direction of the instructions given.
Chances are, you are like a lot of believers today who would like to improve their spiritual hearing. I think this is quite normal as Christianity in general currently suffers from the common condition of hearing impairment. I notice that so many church ‘goers’ today aren’t really. The sound of this world has become so normal in the ears of God’s people that it is normal to see them checking out on THE plan of God completely or carrying a spirit of heaviness and unbelief into their churches with them! This is a direct result of having very little or no communion with Him. The saddest part is that the atmosphere we create in so many of our church meetings today prevents others from hearing God there.
Getting the right information in the beginning or anywhere along the way is important to finishing any endeavor well. Helping believers get back in touch with God solves the source of the frustration which has lead so many to lack direction, losing touch with the reasons for walking with God. We naturally end up off course when we are fuzzy about where we are going. The ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ in life just don’t make as much sense when the ‘why’ is missing. When Jesus isn’t our ‘Why’ we are going to struggle to hear God. What He said to Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration still stands today. “You listen to Him” (Mt 17:5)!
Clarity with God begins with remembering that Jesus IS the center of all things, especially those things which effect us. He is also THE Word, which is why hearing from Him is natural for any Christian that is listening. He is the Way we need to know. He is the Truth we need to understand. He is the life we need to give our lives meaning. Recognizing His voice is the beginning point which leads to freedom.
The bottom line is hearing God just makes believers believe better. It automatically supplies the faith we will otherwise lack. Responding to what you hear results in more accurately walking out God’s will, which brings automatic increase both to yourself and those who hear you. Maybe the biggest benefit – you will naturally reach more people for Christ when you hear what He is saying to you!
So, in this article, I want to share some key biblical points that will help you develop a better spiritual sense of hearing. I will categorize what I consider to be the most important aspects of this large subject under 3 Main Sections:
- WHY Hearing God’s Voice is Important.
- HOW to Be a Better Listener.
- WHAT to Do with Godly Information
Section 1: WHY Hearing God’s Voice is Important
The Value of Voices
The first thing to know is that voices are more important than we realize most of the time. The apostle Paul said that everything spoken carries significance on some level (1 Cor 14:10). The problem is that there are so many things being said today! The explosion of communications technologies has resulted in more mouths speaking at one time than at any other time in history. Combine this with the fact that it is human nature to want to talk more than listen and you start to realize it is an audio gauntlet out there!
Speech therapy teaches us we can only accurately repeat what we clearly hear. God makes hearers voices for Himself, as in the case of John the Baptist (John 1:23). We cannot help but repeat the things we have repeatedly heard. They collect inside our hearts to eventually find release through our lips (Mt. 12:34). His word is what produces the faith to save us spiritually and the light to renew our thinking as we yield our bodies and minds to immersion in His Word and Spirit.
We were made in the image and likeness of God to be extensions of Him and His dominion. When we hear from Him, we naturally grow in the amount of divine authority we carry for Him. This is seen in the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve ‘walked’ with God as a normal part of their day. God’s voice was literally in the air, present in the atmosphere of their lives. He meant for them to hear so they would be expressions of His will as naturally as breathing. What they said was birthed in what He said. The result?…what they did was the outflow of Who He is.
We are no different, its just that our fall from grace as a race made everything more difficult, especially hearing spiritually. Thankfully, Jesus has restored the hearing of everyone listening. In the restored Kingdom of God on earth hearing is so important that it is now once again the standard God measures everything in a person’s life by! In Mark 4:23-24 Jesus introduced an important New Testament phrase. “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” This is in direct reference to the Parable of the Sower, a lesson on how things grow spiritually. Jesus follows up verse 23 by saying, “Be careful what you are hearing. The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you-and more [besides] will be given to you who hear.” (v 24 Amplified Version)
In learning to be choosy about what you hear, it is important to know that the Lord’s voice is far more significant than all others. His words are literally Spirit and Life themselves (John 6:63). Jesus said His own words were very Truth or reality (John 17:17). According to the Bible, God’s word is the only thing on earth able to thoroughly penetrate a person so as to separate the different sections of his being and reveal the intentions of his heart (Heb 4:12). Hearing God then is even the key to knowing yourself! Jesus taught His disciples that the mouth releases what is stored up in the heart abundantly (Mt 12:34). God’s voice is something we want to learn to hear because it is issuing from the highest, the most spiritual place of all – God’s heart. When we do, we insulate ourselves against ending up in the wrong places in life
Protection from Deception
The second thing you need to know is that God’s Word is our protection against the deception of other spiritually inspired voices. Adam and Eve fell when they listened to the wrong voice even though they knew the right voice. You will notice how important this whole subject is when you stop to count how many times God and Satan “said” things in the simple creation account of Genesis chapters 1-3. Like I said, the reason it is so hard to hear God’s voice for so many today is because our original parents listened to the wrong words in the beginning! Also notice how, when God demanded an answer for their actions, Adam and Eve said all the wrong things (Gen 3:8-21). Once sin blocks the life of a person’s spirit, right action isn’t nearly as easily accomplished as before because the ‘inner ear’ of the heart has been damaged, resulting in disorientation and confusion of thought.
Although Jesus died to restore the life of man’s spirit and save our souls from this process of degradation, we still have to wrestle with the natural tendencies of sin sown deep in our old human nature. We are instructed in Paul’s epistles to “put off” the old man and “put on” the new. Although Christ has redeemed us from the curse pronounced through the commandments of Moses’ Law on sin, it is only by the gift of the Holy Spirit given as a result of Jesus’ shed blood that we can experience lasting freedom. He is our agent in hearing from God. The apostle James taught that error in a present day believer is the result of either not listening or listening to but not doing what we hear God saying as voiced through the Spirit of His Word.
So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. James 1:16-25 NLT
On the one hand we have to be cautious enough to test what we hear spiritually (1Jo 4:1), while on the other we must act on what proves to be God. I think many believers get stuck somewhere between these two places, unsure if they want to open themselves too wide in a realm that is so unfamiliar. The Christian world at large today seems to have settled on being content to hear from God in very small doses. If you don’t believe me poll any congregation with the question, “What is God saying to you?” The silence is usually deafening because ministry had not trained believers to listen to the Good Shepherd.
Not hearing may be the most effective form of deception! Notice James says we must be, “Quick to listen.” This implies an openness to the things of the Spirit and a willingness to risk hearing things you may not want to hear. This is why it is immediately followed by the command to be, “slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” Hearing is an art form which requires processing what is heard in order to progress further into the will of God. After being saved a few years you realize that He doesn’t tell you more than He wants you know. This can be frustrating, especially when you have talked so much about what He did say that you have created an emotional demand within yourself for more knowledge.
We end up with people in the church who either don’t want to know any more than they have to, or those who run to prophets, true or false, for a ‘fix’ of revelation they didn’t have to listen for themselves nor intend to do anything about! When we are not careful to handle God’s Word with respect we can easily bounce from one extreme to the other.
It costs something and can be a burden at times to take the time yourself to hear and carry around God’s thoughts on a particular subject when so many others don’t care. If you’re not sure about that check with all the prophets in the Bible for confirmation. Hearing sounds great at first but the ramifications cause a lot of believers to try taking shortcuts. Hearing God can mean long periods of time sitting on revelation knowledge that you wish you could talk about or talking about it but waiting for other people to catch the importance of something you are so zealous about.
Do you really want to hear from God? I don’t mean to scare you, just to prepare you by warning you about our tendency toward self-deception. You know the old saying, “be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” It reminds me of Peter being told that his ability to hear from God was the essence of what Jesus is building His Church (the one believers freely check out of these days) on and how the very forces of hell cannot stop truly heavenly-minded people (Mt 16:13-19). He didn’t have time to enjoy the recognitions Jesus gave him before He was suddenly being rebuked for speaking for the devil. He had no idea how real the battle would be once he heard a few spiritual things and neither do we!
Remember, what comes out of God’s mouth is what really comes out of His heart. This is why it so perfectly fits into the context of the human heart. His word is the very origin of our own being and thus the answer for every problem we face! The secret to our very salvation according to the above scripture is an ongoing association with the Word of God in a honorable and humble fashion. There is a not so hidden sequence here for us to see and follow. Hear what the Lord is saying, repeat it slowly in a thoughtfully mature manner and methodically put the information to proper use in your everyday life. When we hear, say and do the Word fro our hearts, the image and likeness of God continues to be restored and renewed in us (2 Cor 3:16-18)!
Listening Increases Our Capacity to Hear
The final thing we should know before closing this section is also something I mentioned above in passing. Hearing leads to more hearing. When someone is unsure how to hear from God it is usually simply a result of never having heard or not realizing that He has spoken to them before. Most things in life are like this. Once there is a first time experience we can refer back to, however, we automatically have a platform for remembering how to do it the next time. Hearing God is no different, so get excited about your inevitable first time or next time! You will never forget it.
Again, Mark 4:23 Jesus coins one of the most important phrases in the Bible for this age. “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear” is used several times by the Lord to indicate areas of His teaching that were of supreme importance. In this case it is used to emphasize the importance of knowing that things only grow spiritually through this process of hearing and acting on God’s word (also see Mk 4:9 & Lu 8:8). In Matthew 13:43 it is used to highlight the fact that only hearers will enter into God’s kingdom. Mark 7:16 records Jesus’ teaching about the importance of monitoring and guarding the heart. Luke 14:35 is where He warns us not to lose our spiritual flavor in this world which comes as a result of our commitment to the disciplines of his training.
If that wasn’t enough, you may remember that this same basic phrase is also used by the Lord in His resurrected appearance to the apostle John in addressing all 7 churches in the second and third chapters of Revelation. This is especially important because these churches, though real to the time and places listed, are representative of the complete end-time church on earth before Jesus’ second coming. Again, this is heavy stuff that we must consider, which means it is a bit overwhelming and can tempt us to pass, so He emphasized the absolute importance of listening closely. For me this drives the point home regarding ‘why’ hearing from God is a critical Christian skill. When we don’t we run the risk of missing things that cannot be gained any other way!
Beyond that, a blessing is also repeated in the beginning and ending of Revelation for those who read, hear and keep the sayings of its prophecy, along with a further warnings not to add anything else to it. Maybe the most amazing gesture is found in chapter 22 where verse 17 tells whoever is listening to repeat the the sound of the Spirit and the Bride. Their voices are unmistakeably the voice of God as they are always saying to “come and drink freely of the water of life”! When it comes right down to it the way of life is to simply follow the heavenly sound. If you are not associating with the Spirit and Bride this will be hard to do.
Jesus used parables to teach us to recognize God’s heavenly kingdom. He said the parable of the sower was the most important because it lays the foundation for listening for the right sounds, which in turn, develops the right outcomes. Each kind of heart soil mentioned is simply a type of listener but only the one whose heart was properly prepared to hear at the deepest level was able to bring forth fruit for others to see and receive. We prepare our hearts by learning to listen well. As we do the Lord promises an increase in the capacity to hear spiritually, leading to our overall increase in spiritual growth.
Next, we will look into the ways God speaks but remember to make it your first task to listen, even when what He is saying doesn’t seem to make sense. We all have to first go through this process of breaking through the outer shell of our human nature to find release for the spirit man. Spiritual hearing starts with a natural willingness to listen better. Notice how Jesus’ disciples got the understanding they desired after they asked questions about the parables that didn’t initially make sense. They did not yet understand the many of the ‘hows’ or ‘whats’ but they were starting to get the ‘why’. God likes it when we ask questions – it proves we recognize the importance of hearing and want the leadership in our lives.
3 Things You Can Practice to Become a Better Listener
- Understand what the person is actually saying. This means no prejudice, or prior inclinations. Requires focus!
- Understand and Hear what a person in NOT saying. The blank spaces are important so don’t fill them all in with your own ideas.
- Understand the ‘spirit’ of a person’s words beyond the intellectual or emotional levels. Try to understand ‘where they are coming from.