Are ways we can increase our likelihood of hearing God speak? In Nine Ways God Always Speaks, I [Mark] offer the following:
What’s the difference between those who hear him and those who don’t?
It’s as simple as how they listen.
We know what you’re thinking. “I listen, but I never hear him.”
Okay, we hear you.
But frankly, how hard, how intentionally do you listen?
When you read the Bible, do you assume what you’re reading applies to you and try to figure out what God is saying to you personally?
When you have a stray thought, do you explore it to see if God somehow put it there for a reason?
When you wake up after a particularly vivid dream, do you pray asking God what he was trying to tell you?
When a friend says something more direct and personal than usual, do you wonder if God could be behind her words?
When an unlikely series of events happens, do you assume God arranged them for a reason and try to discover his purpose?
Do you examine your history, your environment, and your emotions to see what you can learn from them?
That is listening.
Listening is an active awareness of what is happening around you and an intentional pursuit of God’s voice. Many of us wrongly assume we haven’t heard God unless we’ve heard a James Earl Jones type voice amplified through the clouds. If you think that’s the only way you will hear him, it is the only way you will hear him. But here’s a hint—it’s not one of the ways he always speaks, likely it’s one of the ways he rarely speaks.
To hear God, we have to believe he wants to communicate with us. That doesn’t take a huge amount of faith, but it takes at least a drop. The people who hear from God all have a drop of that faith.
In Nine Ways God Always Speaks, the book I [Mark] co-wrote with Jennifer Schuchmann, we relay a fascinating story from writer, Cecil Murphey.
My brother was maybe five feet two and weighed around one hundred pounds. He was a career man in the Navy, and he worked below deck. One night my mother had a dream that his ship had hit something, and when my brother went into the compartment to try and shut it off, he got trapped. This all happened in my mother’s dream. She was agitated but there was nothing she could do. There was no way for her to communicate with her son, and besides, who would believe her anyway?
A few weeks later, she was at a prayer meeting at our church in Davenport, Iowa. It was a mostly fundamental church, not the kind that believed in visions from God. But while she was there she was gripped by a panic that what she dreamed was happening right then. She interrupted the meeting and said, “My son is drowning. You have to pray for him right now!”
The whole group stopped what they were doing and prayed for ten or fifteen minutes. A sense of peace came over my mother, and she told them they could stop. It was over.
About two weeks later, we got a letter at the house. It was from my brother, and he told us that he had almost drowned. The ship went aground, and one compartment started to take on water. My brother and several others went to close it off. In the confusion, the others left the compartment locking my brother in.
He said that the water kept rising until it was above his neck and almost at his mouth when one of the guys said, “Where’s Murph?” They figured out he was in the compartment, and they returned to rescue him.
Though the dream and the events surrounding it took place nearly a half-century ago, Cec Murphey still remembers the details. His mother was known for having dreams that predicted terrible events—events of which she couldn’t have had prior knowledge.
Cec recalls a second dream where his mother learned about a divorce in the family (at a time when divorce was very rare) before the couple announced it. In still another dream, she was warned that his brother was dying of lung cancer before his brother had been diagnosed. Cec believes his mother heard from God.
Is it possible for God to speak through dreams?
Cec believes that God also speaks to him—just not through his dreams.
Off the top of his head, Cec can quickly tell nearly a dozen stories of when God has spoken, helping him to perceive future events, make decisions, or gain insight into situations that he wouldn’t have except through divine knowledge.
He describes hearing God’s voice inside of himself like an anointed intuition. “I feel a sense of conviction so powerful that I would die before I’d turn away from it. Say what you want, I can tell you I’ve been a Christian for fifty years, and I’ve never been wrong any time I had one of these strong convictions. If I had to give up the conviction or die, I’m ready to die for it; it’s that clear to me.”
Does God speak that clearly to you?
Here’s the introductory paragraphs to Nine Ways God Always Speaks, my [Mark’s] second book, co-written with Jennifer Schuchmann. Yes, we talk to God in prayer. Does God talk back?
Some things are too good to be true:
- living to be 101;
- winning the lottery;
- hearing God speak.
Despite the fact that these things are out of the ordinary and even unlikely, they happen every day to people all over the world. With a healthy diet, exercise, and regular checkups you can outlast your genes. Buy enough scratch-off tickets and eventually you’ll get lucky. But hearing God speak? Is there anything you can do about that?
We think so.
Do you think so?
Prayer is just half of the equation. A relationship with God, a “friendship” as I’ve been defining it, requires communication. And communication must be two-sided. We talk with God in prayer. God hears. We believe that, or at least hope. That’s why we pray. But in the communication process, does God talk back? Have you ever heard from God? Have you ever met other people who have heard from God?
In my second book, co-written with Jennifer Schuchmann, Nine Ways God Always Speaks, we explore the flip side of the prayer dialog – how God talks back and how we hear him. Here’s the excerpt from introduction:
Right now you are being bombarded with hundreds of thousands of electronic signals. You can’t see them but they’re constantly swirling around you. Each signal has a specialized frequency. The electronic current has variations depending on whether it is an AM or FM radio, UHF or VHF television, cell phone, cordless phone, walkie-talkie, Wi-Fi, pager, or satellite signal.
At any time, you can tap into any signal that you want. All you need is the proper decoder. Want the signal sent out by the American Broadcasting Company?
Take your decoder and choose a channel that amplifies and decodes the signal into a television picture. For most of us, this means turning on the TV and using the remote to find our local ABC affiliate.
Want to talk to your mom? Pick up your handheld signaling device; enter a series of codes that will then be transmitted into an electronic frequency, and somewhere in Omaha your mom’s phone will ring. (Assuming, of course, that Mom lives in Omaha.)
Want to trade chapters with your co-author but one of you is at a Caribou Coffee in
Minneapolis and the other is at Alley Beans in Canton, Georgia? With a couple of keystrokes, and through the magic of a connected computer, an electronic exchange of information takes place in less time than it takes to order a latte.
- What if communication with God worked similarly?
- What if there were divine signals constantly swirling around us?
- Is it possible that, like an electronic signal, we can tune into certain channels and hear God speak?
- What if he is speaking to you right now?
David is God’s friend. God is David’s friend. This intimate Psalm written three thousand of years ago outlines for us what we can expect from God in this relationship. Prayer is based on the certain facts we know about God. We’re not shooting blindly into the emptiness of heaven! We talk directly and clearly knowing what we can expect in return. David closes his prayer again affirming how he depends on God, asking for what he needs, and acknowledging that he’s asking because of the honor of God’s name. David calls on God to keep his promises for the sake of his own reputation.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward
on a firm footing. For the glory of your name,
O Lord, preserve my life.
Because of your faithfulness,
bring me out of this distress.
In your unfailing love,
silence all my enemies
and destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.
Are you are friend of God? You can be. Ask. Then begin to communicate with God on the terms he has established. Those terms are outlined beautifully by David in this Psalm 143.
“Give us this day our daily bread”
Some things to think about:
Fresh bread. Boy there’s nothing better than bread right out of the oven. Here Jesus is inviting us to bring our specific, pressing needs before God and to ask for sustaining provision. The image of course comes out of the Old Testament. While Israel was wandering in the desert God gave them “daily bread” in the manna that fell each morning. They always had just enough for their real need. Here Jesus is promising the same. God cares about our real-life needs, and has promised to meet them. He also invites us to ask. “Ask and you will receive” Jesus promises. It’s an audacious promise. Faith, it seems is audaciously responding to God’s own audacious initiative!
Some things to do:
Go taste some fresh bread this week. Seriously. As a treat you might even want to go to a bakery today and get a scone right out of the oven. Enjoy! Now make a list of the things you really need. This isn’t anything new to God. He knows your needs. But list them and then tell him anyway.
List the things you need in your physical life: real practical things like funds to pay for a child in college or strength to keep up with your grandkids. Ask.
List the things you need for your soul: practical things like peace of mind and hope that you can handle all your responsibilities. Ask.
List the things you need for your eternal life: a deeper ability to listen to God’s voice and understand the Bible for instance. Ask.
Some things to talk about:
Is it easy for you to ask God for specific needs? Why or why not? Jesus says that when we ask Father for bread he will not give us a stone. What “bread” have you been given by God? Have you asked God for something good and been disappointed? Has a disappointment with God in the past, or in another person’s life hindered you from asking for something again?
David’s friendship with God was based on what he knew about God from God’s past actions. David can lay everything on the line because he knows God’s character is dependable.
I remember the days of old.
I ponder all your great works
and think about what you have done. I lift my hands to you in prayer.
I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain.
Come quickly, Lord, and answer me,
for my depression deepens.
Don’t turn away from me,
or I will die.
All friendship requires trust; and trust is built on memory, a good memory of good things. When a person says what they will do and then follows through, we begin to trust their word and their character. David believes that God is trustworthy because he remembers that God has been faithful in the past. When we pray, remembering the times that God has delivered on his promises is vital. Honest prayer is built on good memory.
Would you say with David, “My depression deepens.”? Have you ask God to rescue you? Build your requests for help on the unshakable foundation of God’s character. He’s done it before; he’ll do it again!
David is banking on his friendship with God for everything.
Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning,
for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk,
for I give myself to you.
9 Rescue me from my enemies, Lord;
I run to you to hide me.
He acknowledges that every morning he needs to hear again that God never fails. We too need this message reinforced again and again. David asks God to show him where to walk. He needs counsel in decisions. Again, here is one friend asking another for wisdom. David admits he’s putting himself in God’s charge. He needs to be rescued from enemies. God alone can help.
If you need to be rescued today, pray. God wants to be your friend. He’s willing and able!
God invites honesty from his friends. We can be – must be – transparent. And God not only tolerates us shooting straight, he honors it. When we know where we stand with him – as intimate friends – we can bring all our pains, sorrows, troubles, desires and passions. Friendship welcomes truth. As God’s friends we can pray without reserve. David understood this. Here are verses 2-4 from Psalm 143, one of David’s many “honest-to-God” lyrics.
Don’t put your servant on trial,
for no one is innocent before you.
My enemy has chased me.
He has knocked me to the ground
and forces me to live in darkness like those in the grave.
I am losing all hope;
I am paralyzed with fear.
Take a bold step in prayer today. Lay out the honest problems, in all their ugly detail. Your friendship with God allows you this honor. Like David, you may feel like you are “losing all hope.” You may be “paralyzed with fear.” Say so! Tell God. He’s your friend! And he’s a friend who can do something about it.
Prayer is based on an assumption; prayer assumptions are steps of faith. We believe God hears and is able and willing to respond to what we say. Prayer in its purest form assumes a relationship, and in its best form, a relationship of friendship. In the Bible friendship was not merely a relationship of affinity. Friendship was established and codified in a covenant. Each side knew what to expect and what was expected of them. God made a friendship covenant with his people and in that arrangement established clearly what could be expected of him and what he expected in return.
The right to talk to and with God has always been the foundation of a relationship with him. It’s a legally established right. In other words, friendship with God can be a certainty and the dialog can be on predictable terms. It’s not a stretch; nor is it presumptuous to say, “I am God’s friend” and to talk with him accordingly.
Psalm 143 is a song lyric written by King David. It’s a poem of friendship, where David acts on the certainty that he can relate with God in an intimate and “certain” way. Here’s the first section. Notice that David calls on God to answer and act because he knows God is faithful and righteous. He appeals to God’s promise and his character.
Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my plea! Answer me because you are faithful and righteous.
We pray today beginning with this established fact: God is faithful and good! He’s said what he is and what he will do, ahead of time. Before I say anything specific about my needs or appeals, I say this. God is good and he keeps his word. I am his friend and I can bank on the predictability of his loyalty. I can shoot straight and predict his response. That’s the basis of my communication with him!
Today, as you pray, begin with a declarative: “You are faithful and right!” It may be hard to say. Perhaps your emotions doubt that God really is good. But muster your faith, and speak the truth no matter. Begin prayer with this first line of Psalm 143 and know that whatever elements of prayer follow, you begin with friendship.