It is difficult to have a conversation with someone without listening. Don’t get me wrong—talking is important, too. Talking enables us to express our feelings and process our thoughts. But if we never listen, we miss out on the wealth of knowledge, insights and truth offered through another person. Most importantly, we miss out on the intimacy of knowing the person with whom we are speaking.
Our spiritual lives often look like this. While talking to God is important, it is only one part of what makes a whole relationship.
Does God speak back?
We come from a long tradition of God speaking. At the time of creation, God spoke all things into being. God talked with Adam and Abraham, the slave woman Hagar and the child Samuel, and continued speaking to individual people and the community of faith through the law and prophets. The Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit came to the believers in the early church. The Holy Spirit continues to reveal the hidden depths of God as Jesus promised in John 14—and is as close to us as our breath.
Some of our oldest accounts feature Christians hearing God’s voice. St. Augustine recognized the voice of God when he was weeping in his garden and heard a child chanting, “Take up and read; take up and read.” He opened the Bible, began reading and the words spoke directly to him. St. Julian of Norwich heard God’s voice in a series of vivid dreams. St. Teresa of Avila encountered God through an intricate prayer image. Martin Luther wrote about Scripture as a way God continues to actively speak to us and we respond.
We each have a deep longing to hear God’s voice, and our rich tradition—as recorded in Scripture and beyond—shows us that God is longing to speak.
How Does God Speak?
One of the challenges, and delightful invitations, of the spiritual journey is to learn how to attune our ears to God’s voice. But God’s voice doesn’t always sound the way we expect it to. In the Old Testament, God spoke to the prophet Elijah not in the earthquake or fire, but in the “soft whisper of a voice” (1 Kings 19:12; and see vv. 9-18). As we quiet our minds and turn our thoughts inward, we can begin to recognize God’s still small voice stirring inside of us. We realize God has been waiting for us to listen all along.
One way we can begin hearing God’s voice—and perhaps the clearest way—is by reading Scripture. As we become familiar with God’s words recorded in the Bible, we begin to get a better understanding of who God is and how God speaks to God’s people.
Take a moment to try this practice. Begin by reading Hosea 11:1-10. What does God’s voice sound like? What emotions are expressed through God’s words, actions and images? What does God value? What makes God angry? Why?
Continue to ask these questions as you read through different passages in the Bible. Pray that God would help you hear God’s voice—with the inflections, emotions and compassion behind it.
As we begin to attune our ears to God’s voice, we can hear God speak to us through the words in Scripture, the people around us and also within the quietness of our own hearts.
How do we know we are hearing from God?
Scripture gives us a valuable test to apply as we discern the words we are hearing. It says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8, GNTD). In John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, GNTD).
Keep asking: Are these words consistent with the witness of Scripture? Does this sound like the voice of love? Does this sound like truth? Are these words life-giving? Do they direct me to God? Ask God to give you discernment, as you enter into this dynamic prayer conversation. And wait with eager expectation for what God will say.
God loves to speak—here is a quick glimpse in Scripture:
|Genesis 1||God spoke all things into being|
|Genesis 3:8||God spoke to Adam while walking in the garden|
|Genesis 12:1-3||God spoke to Abram and promised to make him a great nation|
|Genesis 16:13||The angel of God spoke to Hagar and she called God, “A God who sees.”|
|Genesis 28:10-15||God spoke to Jacob in a dream|
|Exodus 3:1-4||God spoke to Moses through a burning bush|
|Exodus 33:11||God spoke to Moses face-to-face, just as someone speaks to a friend|
|Deuteronomy 4:11-14||The Lord spoke the law and commandments from a blazing fire|
|1 Kings 19:11-12||God spoke to Elijah in a still small voice|
|Jeremiah 1:1||God spoke to the people of Israel through the prophets|
|Isaiah 30:21||The prophet Isaiah promised God’s voice would lead the people of Israel, “You will hear his voice behind you saying, ‘Here is the road. Follow it.’”|
|Luke 1:26-38||God spoke to Mary through the angel Gabriel|
|John 1:14||The Word became a human being and lived among us|
|Luke 24:44-45||Jesus taught and fulfilled everything written about him in the Law of Moses, writings of the prophets, and the Psalms|
|John 14:15-17,26||God speaks through the Holy Spirit|
|Hebrews 4:12||The word of God is alive and active|
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