How Do I Hear God?
Dallas Willard in Hearing God lists three common mistakes for understanding how God speaks to us.
- A message a minute. This view says that God is telling you what to do for every decision and you could know if only you paid good attention. But there is no evidence in Scripture that anyone was constantly receiving communication from God. God did not tell Jesus “Now go do this,” and then “Go do that.” Too much intrusion in a person’s life actually keeps them from growing. Like parents who hover over their children never give them the freedom to make mistakes and learn for themselves, if God was constantly trying to instruct us, we would never become His real friends.
- It’s all in the Bible. This view intends to honor the Bible but with a misguided zeal. The Bible does give direct instructions for many situations in our lives—be holy as I am holy, honor your mother and father, honor the Sabbath. It does not get specific as to how we need to apply the principles it contains, and it is here that Christians begin to disagree. It is not a matter of having a low view of the Bible.
“Nearly every faction in Christendom claims the Bible as its basis but then goes on to disagree as to what the Bible says. An exalted view of the Bible does not free us from the responsibility of learning to talk with God and to hear him in the many ways he speaks to humankind.” -Dallas Willard
- Whatever comes is God’s will. This view takes communication with God out of the equation. It’s fatalistic and places everything in your hands. The fact that something happens does not mean it is God’s will. If Moses had accepted this view, then there would be no nation of Israel. He would have let Pharaoh enslave the people; He certainly would not have expected God to speak to Him in a burning bush.
If God does not communicate like this, how does He?
Christians live with the conviction that God speaks to us and that He is really present with us at all times by His Spirit. We are never alone. God is with us and desires to communicate with us in a conversational manner, speaking to our individual needs and in ways that we can understand. Romans 8:14 says, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
Dallas Willard writes, “Being ‘led by the Spirit of God’ is neither blind, robot-style obedience nor feeling stuck interpreting vague impressions and signs.” Sometimes we wrongly think that God is opaque and makes us guess at whether or not that was Him speaking. This is not true.
Instead, God chooses to speak to us through language we can understand!—the written words of the Bible, through words in a dream, the wisdom of a friend, a sermon, a book we’re reading, or even audibly, as He did with the people of the Bible. Another way he speaks to us is through shared immersion in His work. When we participate in what God is doing in the world, we begin to have the mind of Christ.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:15-16, “Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”
It is like how you can sense what your spouse is thinking just by looking at them. You know by their facial expressions—they don’t have to say a word and you know if the day has been stressful, productive, peaceful, enjoyable, satisfying, draining, etc. As we become closer with God, we simply do what He has asked; we do not need to wait to hear Him speak again.
When we need to ask God what to do, it reveals our lack of closeness to Him and how little we are engaged in His work. Friends understand one another, and as friends of God, we do what God commands (John 15:14).
So, both in verbal communication and in participation in God’s work God speaks to us. What does this mean about prayer and hearing God? It means that there is definitely a role in asking God for direction, but that this is not a “wait and see” approach. We don’t have to be hesitant to act. Often times, God gives us the freedom to go one of two directions, both being equally within His will.
(*I cannot recommend highly enough Hearing God by Dallas Willard. This post draws from chapter 3, “Never Alone.”)