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Learning to Hear God's Voice (Part One)

Lately, I have been fascinated with the story of Eli and Samuel. If you are unfamiliar with the story in I Samuel 3, Samuel was a young boy who was dedicated to God by his mother, Hannah. The young mother took her greatest gift and brought him to the temple when he was just five years old to be raised by the priest, Eli.

Lying in bed one night, young Samuel heard a voice calling his name. He jumped up and ran into the elderly Eli's room and asked what was needed. Perplexed, Eli responded that he hadn't called Samuel. Little Samuel padded off to bed and then it happened again. Again, Samuel ran to Eli not understanding what he was hearing. Once again, Eli sent him back to bed. The third time it happened, Eli realized the all-powerful GOD was speaking to young Samuel. Eli instructed Samuel to go back to bed and respond if the voice spoke again. God again called Samuel's name, but this time Samuel understood it was not Eli's voice he was hearing, but God's. Once he was aware it was God, he could hear what God was wanting to say. 


What has so struck me about this story is something I have never noticed before. I remember often thinking I wish God would just speak to me audibly. Wouldn't that be so easy? If God spoke audibly, it would leave little question about who was speaking or what He was saying, but this story has caused me to second guess that assumption.

Maybe I wouldn't even recognize Him if He spoke audibly! Samuel didn't. It is so strange that the God who created the moon and the stars could speak in an audible voice and someone could not know. It seems like it would have been so obvious, but it must not have been. Samuel had to be made aware it was God who was speaking to him. His problem wasn't that he couldn't hear, but that he wasn't aware and didn't know what he was hearing. Even Eli, the priest, didn't understand immediately what was going on. 

What if it's the same with us? What if the God who created man for relationship and is taking us back to unbroken relationship through the Cross is speaking to us a lot of the time and we're missing it, not because He isn't speaking but because we are unaware or do not recognize when He is speaking to us? What are we missing out on? What wisdom does He want to give us or what may He want to say to a hurting person around us? How many of our days are spent FOR Him or not thinking of Him at all when He wants to live our life WITH us every day? 

I used to think if God spoke I would know it, but I am finding that is not always the case. To be clear, I think it is probably rare that He would speak audibly today, but I would never say that's impossible. God can and does speak however He wants to and I really try not to put Him into boxes of my understanding even though I'm not very good at it. He seems to burst out of those on a regular basis anyway.

Here is what I am convinced of: He can and does speak to us today, but we have a problem hearing because we are often unaware. Our task is not to get Him to speak, but to become aware of His voice and His movements in and around us. 


Since fourth grade, I have journaled conversations with Him and that has been monumental in helping me learn to discern His voice. Not perfectly for sure; but it is true, the more you listen, the more you begin to know His voice.

Reading through my years of journals I see countless places where He pre spoke to a coming season. I see comfort, wisdom and making some sense of things that had seemed senseless. I see places where I definitely heard wrongly and where views of God do not reflect at all who I have come to know Him to be. I see seasons where my faith was in ditches of dogma or ditches of 'anything goes' and Him gently pulling me out by speaking truth to my sincere but misguided heart. I see severe disappointment with Him and absolute adoration for Him. His voice has been the steadying constant of my life. I couldn't always see it, but reading through old journals it is so clear.  

I must pause here to say that I'm a writer and lover of words. I love to write and journaling is something I enjoy. God speaks in so many ways and has wired each of us differently and journaling is not the only way to hear. If you dislike journaling, please don't read about my journaling and conclude this isn't for you. Journaling may not be for you, but hearing God's voice is. I am fully convinced that God wants to speak to every one of us, but it will be individual for us. I do think it is valuable and beneficial to keep track in some way, but not necessary.

John, my husband, hears more in idea form and really dislikes journaling. He can hear just as well. He hears differently, but God often speaks the same things to both of us. The best way I can describe it would be if someone described a sunset with very descriptive words and another painted the same sunset. It's the same sunset or essence of a sunset, but a different expression. The important thing is making space and cultivating our awareness of Him. 



John 10:27 says, My sheep know my voice... This tells me God has a voice and we can know it. For years I have sat with God most days and journaled conversations with Him, but about two years ago He challenged me to do something different and a little scary to me. He showed me that for thirty-four years, I had always started our conversations and He wanted me to start sitting and listening to Him first and let Him start. Sitting in silence has never come easily to me and I had no idea how rewarding this change would be.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why this thought never occurred to me. Maybe it was a bit scary? Maybe I was a little bit afraid that if I didn't speak first, He wouldn't speak? And if He didn't, maybe it had all been a figment of my imagination? Or if He didn't speak, I would feel rejected by Him. Also, I am finding I kind of like to be in control of conversations in general because it's a way to avoid intimacy while still having conversations. Could it be I was doing this with God too? Definitely. This is exactly what I was doing.

Since I began this new way of listening about two years ago, I have had so many instances of Him speaking things to my heart and then I open the Bible to my reading that day and it is the exact same thing I just heard. He seems to know the deeper places in my heart that I am unaware of and helps me process those. So many more places unlike Him are exposed in me. Places I didn't see a problem with until He showed me my true motivations. He is showing me who I actually am so that He can create me into who I really want to be through Him. Knowing who and Whose I am, helps me not to act like who I'm not. I am finding He knows what I need far more than I even do. He often goes to places I don't want to go, but He also speaks countless things unexpectedly that I love. He gives direction to places I wasn't planning on going and has counseled me on so many issues in my heart. He also gives me things to pray for others. Honestly, it has been the most rewarding habit of my life.



About a year ago, He spoke to my heart, "Cultivate awareness." He was asking me to cultivate my awareness; not so that He would speak but so I could hear better. I was accustomed to being aware in my mornings with Him, but not as much throughout my day. He was able to interrupt me, but not easily. We often believe the problem is that He is not speaking, but really the problem is that we have filled our lives with so many distractions, His voice is very dim to our spiritual ears. We aren't always paying attention. Cultivating awareness takes trust and courage. Trust because God is unpredictable and uncontrollable and courage because there can be a lot of fears surrounding hearing God. Let's be honest, sometimes we put more trust in our inability to hear than God's ability to speak to us. 

I am convinced cultivating doesn't happen by accident. The word 'cultivate' means to prepare or develop which means it requires something of us. It takes time and attention and also requires being counter-cultural. Our super busy, fast track lives do little to help us cultivate awareness. In fact, the pace of our current culture does much to destroy it. Sitting with God can feel very unproductive, yet it is the most important and truly 'productive' use of our time. I don't think God sees productivity in the same way we do. We have a really hard time valuing the right things. 

No one will ever say they found time with God to be wasted time. On busy days, I feel the strong pull to hop up from my chair and get going with the day. When I feel I am to linger, I start to get impatient. When my day gets going, I sometimes forget to pause and turn my attention towards God, but I am learning to become more aware and the more aware I become, the more I am noticing His movements and His voice. I don't think He is speaking more or doing more necessarily, I am just growing in hearing Him and seeing Him more. I often wonder, what I am missing now that I will see the more my awareness grows? The question isn't "Is He speaking?" but "Are we aware?" But maybe the more important question actually is "Are we growing in our awareness?"

*There will be a part 2 and possibly 3 of this with practical ideas and things I have learned both from my own experience and from the experiences of others about hearing God. There are so many aspects to write about like fears that keep us from hearing, learning to discern His voice and different ways people find helpful to begin to cultivate awareness! 

*I am indebted to Dallas Willard, Pete Grieg, Tyler Staton and many others. John has also found John Ortberg and John Eldredge to be very helpful. I HIGHLY recommend their resources and videos on Youtube! 

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