Many of us who’ve been around the church for a few years will probably have heard a number of accounts of people hearing the audible voice of God, or getting a strong sense of what to say to another person (often leading to that other person’s healing/salvation/healing and salvation). These stories are encouraging to us, showing us that the power of God is alive and well in the world and that he’s moving in people’s lives, but they’re not always that useful in helping our own relationships with God strengthen and improve.
It’d be fantastic if God spoke to us all audibly, if we sat down to pray and immediately heard God speaking back to us, but let’s be honest, that just doesn’t happen to the vast majority of us. And I’m going to be honest and admit that the prospect of going up to a stranger on the street and hoping that God will give me a word to say to them terrifies me. Listening to God is something that all Christians are encouraged to do, but it’s just not that easy!
Elijah is one of the greatest prophets the world has ever seen. He spoke up for God in the time of King Ahab’s rule in Israel, a time of great persecution for those who persevered in believing in God and great miracles happened whenever he called on the name of God. Yet when he was at a low point in his life, on the run from the king and his malevolent queen, God promised to speak to him on Mount Horeb. 1 Kings 19 tells of how there was a great wind, a violent earthquake and a raging fire in the mountains, but the Lord wasn’t in any of them. After all this a ‘gentle whisper’ came to the prophet and that was the voice of God.
So what can we in the 21st century take from this Old Testament story? For me, it shows that we shouldn’t always look for God to appear in miraculous, loud, showy ways. God would much rather speak in a gentle whisper. Why? That’s not really for me to say, but if I was to hazard a guess, I think it might be because he wants a relationship with us and doesn’t want us to be scared witless every time he wants to talk to us!
If the voice of God is quiet and calm more often than not, we need to be prepared to hear it. This is the hardest part and there is no one way of doing it, so I’ll give you a couple of things to try that have helped me:
1) Praying for someone in a group setting. This can be a good way to practise listening to God. If you’re in a group, praying for someone or something, ask God to give you a word to say, whether it’s a Bible verse or a prophecy or something completely random. The next bit’s the harder part: if something comes into your head, trust God and say it. You may be completely wrong; that’s fine. This takes practise. But you have to start somewhere and you have to be able to have faith that God is speaking to you. The more you do this, the easier it will become to say what God’s putting on your mind.
2) The second way is more personal, but again, it takes practise. Ask God a question about whatever you want and the first thing that comes into your head is likely to be the answer. As an example, when I was told to do this, the question I was told to ask was ‘what area of my life do you most want me to change?’ The answer is then likely to be the first thing that you think of. Again, this method isn’t perfect, but it can get you used to hearing God’s voice and learning what he sounds like.
With both those methods, it helps to be in a focused setting, and when you’re on your own it really helps if it’s quiet. Just stay calm and try to focus on God and what he might be saying to you. Some people find this easier than others, but everyone has to start somewhere.
The important thing is that you don’t lose heart. If you feel like God has told you something important, but you’re not sure, then check it out with another Christian that you trust, preferably someone who has a good knowledge of the Bible and, ideally a strong relationship with God in which they hear from him regularly. They can make sure you’re going in the right direction.
As a final point, remember that the Bible is the Word of God, there for us already. Use it! Read it and see what jumps out at you, then pray around those verses. We are blessed with a way of directly accessing what God has said and it can really help us to learn how God speaks and to work out what it is that God wants to speak to us about. Just don’t stop trying, because once you hear God, it’s all worth it.