by Abigail DeWitt
Have you ever had the experience of teaching a child about the structures on their face and head and then breaking down what each piece is for? Eyes for seeing, noses for smelling, etc.? Ears are often taught to be for hearing, which has been interchangeable with “listening”. I understand why in the moment many parents or people who work with children bounce back and forth between explaining that ears are used for hearing or listening, but both terms are very different. Hearing is the means of perceiving sounds. Listening is the action of responding to what we perceived. Listening can be a response to verbal and nonverbal forms of communication.
So, knowing that listening is an action, how do we listen to God?
The first step is being aware of how God speaks to us. If you haven’t read it yet, go back to the previous blog “How Does God Speak” written by Kristen Zuray and reflect on if you’ve experienced God speaking in your life before, whether you recognized it in the moment or you just now processed that He was speaking in a moment.
Now that you know that God is not a quiet God and that he actively speaks to us in various ways, I’m going to give you five steps on how to listen to God.
Ask God to speak to you.
“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known”. Jeremiah 33:3 ESV
God is not quiet and he responds to us when we call out to him. Personally, I used to struggle with the concept of asking God to speak to me. It just seemed like such a bold thing to ask- that God, creator of the universe who is constantly answering prayers and listening to his people around the world, would take time and speak to me. Eventually I learned through prayer that this was simply a lie of the enemy. God designed us to dwell in a relationship with him, and every healthy relationship calls for great communication. Jesus describes this relationship dynamic with the trinity in John 15:15 NLT where it says “I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me”.
Record what you believe God spoke.
This practice takes discipline, but is a key factor in discerning if you heard God correctly. During pregnancy, I had several vivid dreams. Some of these dreams were absolutely random, but others incorporated spiritual aspects and felt like they may have been God speaking to me. I was unable to discern if they were simply dreams or if they were from God, and a mentor of mine advised me to write them down. When you write what you are working on discerning if it’s the voice of God or your own thoughts, you can see if what you believe you heard is repeated at all. There were two dreams out of my several dreams that had begun appearing in several aspects of my life. Some of those being moments while reading my Bible and praying again, conversations with friends of deep faith and discernment, and worship songs. Recording what you believe you heard from God allows you to capture it so you can see if the message repeats itself in any other ways. God doesn’t speak in random flukes, and he is always ready and willing to keep repeating or speaking to us in other ways so we understand. God reveals this aspect of his communication with us in 1 Samuel 3 when God calls out to Samuel on three separate occasions, patiently waiting for Samuel to recognize that it was God who was talking to him and not Eli the priest who was with Samuel in the temple.
Ask God for confirmation.
I mentioned this in the previous step, but God is always willing to confirm what he spoke. This goes back to his desire for a relationship with us. One of my favorite things that my husband and I do when we are having a discussion with each other is confirming that we heard and are understanding what the other person is communicating in the discussion. We have saved ourselves from many misunderstandings by simply confirming that we understood each other in the first place. If we didn’t understand what we were initially trying to communicate, then the person who was misunderstood goes back and tries to explain again until they are fully understood. God does the same thing with us, so when we believe we hear something from him and ask for confirmation that it was truly from him and what he said, he’ll confirm that.
Make a plan to act on what He said.
Once you know that what you believe you heard God say is truly what he was speaking to you, it’s time to act on what he said. Earlier this year my husband and I found out that we were pregnant with our first child very early on into our marriage. At the time we found out, I was already planning on attending a second year of the leadership college at our church. This had been my plan since I joined the first year of the leadership college because God made it very clear for that first year that I was supposed to be there, so it made sense to complete the entire program by doing the second year. Finding out I was pregnant instantly called for re-evaluation of this plan. I nervously scheduled a meeting with the directors of the college just days after finding out. Prior to the meeting I took time to pray about it with my husband and discuss it with my family. The directors of the college encouraged me to continue to pursue God on the matter over the Summer while they did the same. During the time that we decided to pray on this, I had to submit my plans over to God. After I submitted myself he began speaking. I began to hear him say that I was not supposed to attend the second year of the program at that time and that he had something else he wanted to do. Once I heard God, I brought it up to my husband and mentor and they both had heard the same thing. That was my confirmation. I then made my plan- on the day scheduled with the college leaders I was going to trust God and make the decision not to continue the program at that time.
Do what God says.
The day of the discussion on if I would be attending the college came along, and to my relief and further confirmation, the directors also heard that this was not the season for that plan. I then had to act on what God was speaking and fully withdraw my plans to attend the second year and communicate that to my leaders and peers. When I trusted God that what he spoke was true and that he knew better than I did, I got to watch him move in incredible ways.
I encourage you to take these five steps and start practicing listening to God! He knows you, he sees you, he loves you, and he wants to deepen his relationship with you, so start reaching out to him and focus on strengthening your communication with him. Remember, he calls us his friends, so call on his name!