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How to Learn to Hear God's Voice, Part 2
A Plan for Learning to Hear God's Voice
In Part 1, I dealt with various reasons why you may not be able to hear God's voice in your daily prayer life.
Now, in this second and final part, I'll give you a plan for how you can learn to hear God's voice, speaking clearly, directly, and passionately to you.
I have found six steps to follow. If you are quite serious about learning to hear God, I recommend that you follow them in order, and be as consistent as you can. When the Lord took you into His fold, He gave you a new nature - His nature - and a new way of being. You became a new creature - II Corinthians 5:17 - "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." But you will still spend this life fighting your old habits. So hang in there, and know that the process of learning to hear God will take some time, and perhaps much effort. Always remember that your Shepherd's greatest goal is to spend time with you, and that it is His eternal desire to dwell intimately with you. In other words, He desperately wants to communicate with you. Give Him that chance.
The Bible Renews Your Mind
Step 1 - Read God's Word Until It Becomes Part of Your Thinking
Do you remember what I said about the baby knowing it's mother's voice? Should you be any different with your heavenly parent? Yet, how do you get to know His voice?
Start by reading His Word. Through the Bible, bit by bit, you will learn to see what is important to God. You will learn to know what kinds of words He likes to use, and how He approaches people. You will also see what kinds of things He doesn't like, and what kinds of things He refuses to say.
If you don't know where to start - after all, the Bible is a big book - go to the Gospel of John, and see what Christ says about Himself there. Learn to know how He thinks.
Keep reading the Bible, daily, if possible. Even a few verses a day can do wonders for your understanding of God. Read it until you hear it in your thoughts, and until it starts coming out your mouth. Then you can be sure that God's personal words to you will make some sense.
Step 2 - Pray Consistently
Prayer just means communication with God. It is a two-way street. You speak, He speaks back. He listens, you listen. At least, that's the way it should be. Just like a good conversation between friends and allies.
But sometimes your heart needs preparation, before you can properly hear God, or even approach him with a right spirit. Therefore, I recommend starting out with praise. Let God know why you like Him, and thank Him for what He's done in your life. Don't be picky about what to thank Him for, either. He says in I Thessalonians 5:18 - "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." This means that He has everything under control, and it is therefore appropriate to thank Him for all circumstances and all things, good and bad, that you notice in your life. You may not be able to see the reason for some horrible event, but God knows it happened, and He knows why. Thank Him for it. He can use it, and will if you give Him half a chance.
Often, as I give thanks for this or that, I find my heart yielding up grudges, irritations, or anger. Thanking the Lord for everything can cause me to see what I might otherwise have ignored, to the detriment of my relationship with Christ.
When you feel that your heart is secure in the knowledge that Christ has your best interests at heart, and that He is a keeper of His Word, then deliver up your burdens. Ask your questions. Seek His encouragement or aid. He'll not turn you down. Concerning asking for wisdom, he says in James 1:5 - "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."
Then wait. Learn to listen patiently, carefully, and with an open mind and heart to whatever the Lord may wish to tell you. While you are waiting, try not to interfere with His messages to you. Don't bother telling Him what He can and cannot do, as this is unproductive, at best. If you've asked for His help with something, then let Him help. Work with Him on it, even if His instructions scare you.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't tell Him what you want. You should. Open your heart to Him. Be real, and be honest with yourself. He says in Psalm 37:4-7, "Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil."
There you have it. You have your work cut out for you. (So do I.)
Anyplace Will Do, with God in Your Midst
Step 3 - Pray Aloud With Other Believers
This is perhaps the most important step in learning how to hear God.
Start simple. Get together a friendly group of two to three dedicated believers (you being one of them), who are strong in their own prayer lives. Then, together, wait on the Lord. Your group can meet in person, or over the phone. E-mail doesn't work so well. It cuts down on the Lord's ability to integrate your group, and to capitalize on your specific strengths, weaknesses, and mindsets.
As a group, pray about one thing at a time. Take your time. God doesn't like to be rushed. Pause at appropriate points to seek His counsel, or hear His replies. Don't close the session until you know collectively that He has spoken to you. He will rarely give you all the answers you seek at one time, but He will nearly always give you something to go on - some little thing you can do or say that will move you forward in your situation(s).
As time goes on, you will see a truly beautiful thing happen. Each one of you will begin to feel the Lord's presence in a practically human, tangible way. And you'll begin to hear Him for yourselves. Don't be frustrated if this doesn't happen right away. God knows more about your heart than you do, and He may need to work on you before you will be able to accept much of what He has to say.
Allow and encourage each prayer group member to use his or her individual gifts, strengths, and personality to hear and obey the Lord. It is Christ who gave each of us our gifts (Ephesians 4:8, 11-12, I Corinthains 12), and He wants to see them used to their fullest extent.
Inevitably, you may hit slow spots in your praying. At these times, it seems as if the Lord isn't intending to say anything to anyone in your group. Once in a while, He isn't, especially if you're asking about something that is none of your business, or that He knows you're not ready to hear. (Being desperate to hear something, and being ready, aren't always the same thing.) But there are some things you can try during these slow times.
You can ask for mental pictures, words, or mental, emotional, or physical impressions to help you understand the Lord's messages to you and others of your group. Also, realize that the Lord speaks to individuals individually, and is very good at tailoring His language and methods to suit each person's style of comprehension, as well as their vocabulary. Of course, He may sometimes throw you for a loop, but on average, He is faithful to answer you in such a way that you'll understand what He means.
He is also faithful to answer the questions you asked, as asked. He pays attention to your phrasing. As you've read through the Gospels, you've no doubt noticed how careful Christ was to get people to say exactly what they wanted Him to do for them. This wasn't for His benefit. In many cases, He already knew what they wanted. But He knew that they needed to think it through, and that making them verbalize their desires was the best approach. It normally still is. Words have tremendous power, and if you are willing to think through your requests until you know that you have found the most accurate way to state them, you are more likely to exercise true faith (see Hebrews 11:1 for the definition of faith), and allow God to work in you and others.
God also has a sense of humor. My mother and I have occasionally had much laughter with the Lord. For instance, we were asking recently why her strawberry patch - which had been struggling for five years - refused to perk up and produce healthy fruits. The Lord said to Mom, "Well, first you drown them, and now you dry them up!" We could hear His laughter ringing. What He said was true; three years ago, we had had an overflow pipe from the water-pumping windmill emptying into the patch, and it had made them swampy. We couldn't move the pipe, so we had moved the patch, and they had baked in the merciless sun more than once when we got behind on the watering chores. But when we were done laughing, the Lord gave us a helpful answer, and the strawberries are now thriving.
Be careful of the Lord's joking. Sometimes He uses humor for humor's sake, but sometimes it's a hint that you need to ask your question more accurately, or are perhaps following a wrong line of thinking. This is particularly true if the Lord gives you a silly-seeming, obvious answer to a vague question. Reassess your situation, then try again, perhaps asking Him directly, "What do you want me to ask/say/pray?" or "What do you have to say to me/us just now?" He may take you off on some path you never would have foreseen. I have even been privileged to pray for other believers whom I've never met, and couldn't know anything about if it weren't for the Lord bringing us together in spirit. I have "met" other Christians in Columbia, China, North Korea, and God knows where else, and been able to pray over them intelligently because of the Lord's willingness to share their lives with me. Do they know about me? I don't know. But it doesn't really matter.
Lastly, whether with individuals or in groups, the Lord often works step-by-step, waiting for you to fulfill one step before giving you confirmation of the next. Ask often for confirmation of messages among members ("Lord, would you please confirm this thing to so-and-so?"), especially if a message seems obscure or contradictory. However, be aware that the Lord rarely duplicates messages. Confirmation messages are likely to be somewhat different from person to person, but will usually fit together like the pieces of a puzzle.
There are several different types of messages I have seen the Lord use, and I will discuss these next.
Step 4 - Recognize Four Types of Messages From the Lord
There are four basic types of messages I have seen the Lord give. The first is:
1) Visual/Pictures - This type of message is typically experienced by people who are highly visual in their learning styles, though most people can and do experience some pictures while praying. These pictures may be single images, like looking at a painting or photograph, or they may be moving, like watching a video. They are sometimes literal, sometimes representative of complicated or perhaps emotional concepts. They may be personal to the viewer, or they may seem to have nothing to do with him.
The Lord can say almost anything with a picture. He may show you places (known or unknown to you), people, animals, or detailed scenes. He may use realistic pictures, or He may choose to work through odd or mythical-seeming concepts. He may also use your own memories to bring you to a point of understanding, or send you dreams, just as in times of old.
I experience many visions. Some have been literal, showing me what to do or say about something, and some have been representative, showing me someone's mind or heart, or something to do with a situation. Some have run on like movies, some have been single images, as, for instance, the faces of political, religious, or military leaders.
The images involving animals have been perhaps the hardest to interpret. At times, the Lord has shown me myself or my family members as animals, to make a point about character, needs, or emotions. Other times, He has broken down big concepts into manageable bits, using animals like characters in a play. He did this when He wished my mother, sister and I to pray about a particular church which had multiple management and leadership problems, and also drug runners who were taking advantage of the church's people and funds. Each animal in the pictures represented a particular person or type of person in the church. There was a shifty badger who was shown to be digging at the foundations of a small, country church building. There was a rabbit who ran, as if scared, into the church and seemed to be alerting the congregation to something. There were ladybugs seated in the back pews, as well as frogs and a turtle. A bluebird flew about outside, calling and singing with a message of her own, but was not able to attract the attention of her fellow church members. The Lord talked to us about this church for several sessions over a number of weeks or months, and we prayed according to what He had shown us, and the interpretations He gave for what each animal represented. The ladybugs were a group of shy, downtrodden Oriental girls; the rabbit was a deacon; the badger was connected with the drug runners. The bluebird was a woman we knew who attended the church. When, eventually, we asked her how the church was doing, she confirmed to us most of what the Lord had explained about the condition of the congregation. She found our pictures a bit incredulous, but could not deny that we had received accurate knowledge of the church.
2) Words and Phrases - Words and descriptions are another common tool which the Lord uses to teach, instruct, and warn people.
Sometimes He gives just a single word - perhaps a name, a substance, a quality, or a condition. For instance, one day when my sister and I were praying about our families, and our habits as mothers and housewives, we were given the word, "Order." At first we didn't understand, but eventually the Lord made it clear that He wanted us to literally order our homes. That is, we were to verbally command our homes - children, atmosphere, objects - until they matched an ideal the Lord had set in our minds. (This has been an ongoing process, but it's working.)
Other times, the Lord gives whole phrases or sentences. He can be quite a conversationalist. He and I have had many long, involved talks, and sometimes He'll tell me whole stories, or give lengthy explanations of why He wants me to do something, or behave a certain way. But He doesn't typically waste words, and He expects me to listen and use my brain. Remember in the Gospels when He asked the disciples, "Are you still so dull?" (Matthew 15:15-16, NIV). He's never yet told me that I'm not the brightest crayon in the box, but occasionally He laughs quietly at my questions. Then He answers them anyway.
3) The Continuing Series - I'm going to give the continuing series type of message its own category, as the Lord seems to use it in a special way. A continuing series message is one that never seems to have a proper ending. The Lord just keeps giving you bits and pieces of this story and that, this event and that, session after session, until you begin to see how everything fits together in one huge, tangled web of being. The continuing series has given me respect for God as God, and left me speechless at how well orchestrated events are, and how the Lord continues to keep everything straight in His plans and thoughts.
I have been privileged to be part of several continuing series messages, which have almost all converged into one master story, more complicated and intriguing than the best known suspense novel. But I won't get into specifics in this article. If you pray long enough, you'll probably have your own experiences with such stories.
There are a few things you should know when dealing with continuing series messages.
First, be willing to acknowledge the Lord's right to show you what He pleases, when He pleases. So far as I know, He never gives all of a continuing series story to one person, and certainly not all at one time. Rather, He spreads each chapter out over a period of days, weeks, months, or even longer, and may give one scene to you, a word to one of your prayer group partners, and yet another impression to a third...all in different weeks. This is because continuing series stories would tend to lose credibility if given to just one person. Some of the ones the Lord has given us involve things that happened before any of us were even born, and we have confirmed certain events only through research in old history texts. Many of the things He has shown us are so imaginative that we hold ourselves incapable of making any of them up, and the way certain events have fit together is dazzling.
Second, keep a list of everything that turns up more than once in prayer. Actually, my prayer group keeps an ongoing list of practically everything we pray about, because we've learned we can never tell beforehand when something will get long and complicated, or when we'll need to refer back to something the Lord said six months ago (or six years ago).
Third, use your list of continuing series subjects when you get stuck during a prayer session. Ask the Lord whether the topic you are supposed to be dealing with is one of the usual ones. Name these specifically and individually, and await His reply on each. Remember, the Lord is usually not in a hurry; His greatest goal is to spend time with you.
4) Physical, mental, or emotional feelings and impressions - Feelings and impressions can be a good gauge of truth or error, when in the hands of the Lord. Otherwise, these same feelings can be dastardly liars. These are some common feelings which the people in my prayer group have experienced:
- A sick or giddy feeling in the stomach, to confirm bad news
- Headaches. Can be good or bad. Can confirm the truth of a situation, or can be a signal of interference from the enemy
- Sudden shivers - confirmation of truth, or of the Holy Spirit's presence among your group
- Being overcome with tears. Can be good or bad. Often a symptom of sympathy for another person in terrible straits
- Sudden jealousy, anger, elation, serenity, or other emotions. These rarely actually belong to you, and if they do, are rarely related to the present moment. When they belong to someone else, you are feeling them because the Lord has allowed you to share in the person's life, or you have chosen to do so. Many times, shared emotional symptoms are a call to prayer for the person to whom the emotions belong. When the emotions are your own, but they don't belong to the present moment, you need to ask the Lord to take you back with Him to the point from which they emanate. He is capable of taking you all the way back to infancy (or before), in order to straighten out emotional trauma.
- Various aches, pains, muscle tightenings, or other sensations. Often, these match the symptoms of someone you are praying for. I was once praying for a woman who had miscarried a child. Automatically, I felt post-pregnancy symptoms. Another time, I was wrestling in prayer for a friend who had often been attacked by demons. That night, I felt identical and agonizing symptoms to what he felt during some of his attacks. Other pains can be signals in themselves of a particular personal problem or sin habit. For instance, several of my ribs "pop out" when various friends and acquaintances are experiencing trouble. One stands for my brother, another for my brother-in-law, and yet another for a man I wish to dissassociate with, but whom the Lord has told me to pray for.
There are no doubt other types of signals and symptoms, which you will learn to recognize and identify. Include notes on symptoms in your log, and check periodically for patterns.
Step 5 - How to Respond to the Lord
The Lord calls for various kinds of responses, but mostly, they can be summed up in one word: obedience. Respond exactly according to the word the Lord has given you. Sometimes, this is not convenient or easy. (I am sure that Christ did not find going to the cross to be convenient or easy, nor did Abraham enjoy binding his son Isaac to the sacrificial altar.)
Sometimes the Lord may ask you to repent of a sin He has shown you, and perhaps allowed you to suffer from. He may ask you to forgive great wrongs. Do it. (I intend to write an article on how to forgive others - and yourself - in the near future. You can be free from the diseases of bitterness in your life.)
Sometimes, He may just ask you to praise Him for what He has done in your life, or for what He has shown you in a prayer session.
Other times, He may lead you to pray for yourself or another. When praying over other people, as well as yourself, be sure to think positively. Hannah Hurnard, author of Hind's Feet on High Places, coined the term "creative love-thoughts". This means using positive words and thoughts to uplift someone, rather than griping about their shortcomings under the spiritual guise of prayer. Guilty of that? Me, too. Using creative love-thoughts will probably take practice, but it is worth it. Remember, words have creative power, and it is true that you get what you ask for. So ask for positive things.
Sometimes a prayer session may have to close without you having obtained the answers you need. God knows this, and it is worthwhile asking Him when He would like to meet with you on the same subject. Sometimes, even seemingly simple personal matters may take months of involved, almost daily prayer sessions to be resolved.
Above all, remember that not everything will make sense at first, but that this is OK. God knows how much you understand, and He knows how much you have yet to learn. He's nearly always willing to take you further in your understanding of Him and the world around you, but you've got to give yourself time to adjust. In making you human, He has put several limitations on you, and you've just got to accept that He knows better than you do how much you can do at a time. So be patient.
Lastly, you cannot expect God to share much information with you if you are not as real as you can be with Him. He knows your mind and heart. However, emotions are often deceptive. If you are not quite sure of your heart in relation to a particular matter, ask the Lord to show you its condition, and to teach you how to proceed most productively.
Which One of the Flock Are You?
Step 6 - Don't Be Afraid to Be Weird in the Lord
The Lord likens us to sheep. But even sheep have differences in personality, ability, character, and understanding. So don't be afraid to be a "black sheep". Accept everything that the Lord tells you with the confidence that what He said must be so, because He said it is. His is the last word you need. This goes for the weird stuff He may show you, too. The stuff you don't understand. The stuff that leaves you asking, "Lord, why are you showing me this?" Remember, even the prophet Daniel was amazed at some of the visions He received, and in fact fell physically ill while sorting them out (Daniel 7:15, 8:27).
Particularly with the continuing series stories, I have often wondered why the Lord has involved me in them. Some of the visions have been so outlandish that I have been left wondering whether they were to be taken literally, or figuratively. Usually, I have had to allow the Lord to bend and remake my thought processes concerning what could and could not happen, and have, in consequence, gotten some flack from other Christians for my viewpoints. But I've learned that this is OK. It's not necessary to be right in man's eyes, only in God's.
And that's what this is really all about: "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand." - Romans 14:4.
So dare to be a Daniel, and let God share with you His life and doings around the world. What a privilege this is!