Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr., an Episcopal priest, is Director of Spiritual Life and Formation at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He spoke with Beliefnet recently about his book "What God Wants for Your Life."

What are some ways we can listen to God's voice besides praying?

We live in a culture filled with so much noise that the problem becomes one of God finding us. It's not that God isn't present; God finds it difficult to speak to us because of the number of distractions in the world around us.

I often recommend people be realistic in starting out, that they not try to listen to God for extended periods of time or practice silent meditation for hours on end if they've never had any experience with it. I have a friend, a spiritual director, who suggests that you buy a timed, electric toothbrush, and brush your teeth for a full cycle while praying. That way, you'll begin to get a prayer life and good dental hygiene at the same time. It's a matter of beginning modestly.

Do you have to be silent in order to listen to God? Is there any way to hear him in the midst of chaos or noise?

You definitely can listen to God in the midst of chaos and noise. But it's really silence that prepares an inner space where that can happen. There's a story told of a monk who was once challenged to go see a person of great spiritual stature. And when he arrived, he discovered that the man who had been recommended to him was a grocer who worked in a market in the midst of confusion. He felt greatly humbled by the realization that this man who worked in the crush of life was able to preserve an inner space that was attentive to God. So it's definitely possible. Silence helps to cultivate that inner space so that when it's physically lost to us, we can actually continue to listen.

I've heard that sometimes it's almost dangerous to be in too much silence just because you might invite a voice other than God's into your life, like your own. How can you discern God's voice from others?

It's very, very important to listen attentively to the sacred scriptures, practices, and history that are a part of your religious tradition because they really help give you a sense of the spiritual stream in which you live and pray. And when you do, one of the first things that happens is that you begin to ask "God-questions" instead of simply asking what I call "I-questions."

Most people, when they think about the will of God, think largely in the first-person singular. And that's an important thing to do. I-questions have a lot to do with trying to live responsibly in God's presence.

But to be confined to I-questions carries with it the dangers of self-sufficiency and pride. We can be deeply burdened as a result of feeling that the quest for God's will is all down to you or to me. When we ask God-questions, we're asking, where is God at work in the world? And how is God at work in the world? And when we ask those questions first, [it] reminds us that the pursuit of God's will is not a matter fitting God into our lives but fitting our lives into God's way in the world.

Would you say that questions are a primary way to know what God's will is? Are there any other alternatives?

One of the ways would be to really weigh what our gifts and graces are. At one extreme, some people have felt our gifts and graces are the guide to God's will. That I'm always most likely to be doing God's will when I'm doing what I do most naturally. At the other extreme, there has been a tendency for people to think that we're most likely to be doing God's will when we are working at odds with our gifts and graces. There are those who seem to be convinced that the thing God most wants from them is what they're not.

Between those two extremes is a healthier balance that I call our `natural business' which is to realize that at the center of God's call on our lives is a call that is shaped by our gifts and graces. But that does not mean that we are not called from time to time to risk those gifts and graces in service to God.

How have our views of "signs and wonders" changed from the past?

It can be argued that an emphasis on signs and wonders is a unique, particular preoccupation of Americans. We tend to emphasize the fireworks of faith as a guide to what God's will is. The difficulty with that preoccupation is that it tends to lead Christians to think in terms of success and expediency as the guides to what might be God's will. Sometimes God's will is for us to do things that are bound to fail or that contribute to an ongoing effort that isn't marked by the potential for closure.

Does the Prosperity Gospel depend too much on success? Read more >>

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