Listening To And Hearing From God

I am a psychologist.  As a young man I studied psychology as an undergraduate at Seattle Pacific University.  I continued my graduate studies at Colorado State University.   At one institution the Department of Psychology was subsumed under the School of Behavioral Sciences;  at the other, the Psychology Department was housed in the School of Natural Sciences.  As a psychologist I approach both life and helping others as a scientist with a heart.  I don’t put much confidence in anecdotal case histories or samples of one.  In contrast, I have confidence in the scientific method; that is close observation, testing hypotheses, controlled studies and clinical trials, informed skepticism, the value of data and statistical analyses, and findings that can be replicated.

Yet, I am also a Christ-follower with faith.  However, my relationship with God, as well as my faith, are informed and thoughtful and not without doubts and questions.  I do not “check my brain” at the door as a Christ-follower.   Rather than “blind faith”, I approach matters of the heart and soul based upon a “rational faith.”

This brings me to the topic of listening to and from hearing God.  As I have grown older I have become less interested in speaking and more keen to listen as I pray.  I already know what I have to say and I am tired of listening to myself.  I have grown much more interested in listening to others and to God.  I have a deepening desire to hear God—to hear Him speak both spiritually and relationally—n my heart and in my soul.  I want to hear God so I might know Him more intimately and how I might partner with Him concerning what He is doing in my life, in the world, and in the lives of others. 

Because of this, in recent years I have been on a quest to listen to God.  I want to hear Him.  This has required (and continues to require) that I slow down, that I become less busy, and that I move toward a “quieter place.”

An inspiration in this regard has been Dallas Willard, Ph.D., professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Southern California.  Willard was a learned and wise man and a Christ-follower who lived an intentional, unhurried, and thoughtful life.  He devoted much time and attention to knowing and listening to God.

On my journey of listening and hearing I have read several books by Dr. Willard.  Below are some of Willard’s quotes related to quieting ourselves so we might hear God and respond to His voice.  I hope that his words gently and thoughtfully provoke you.  If his thoughts connect to some of issues/concerns that we discuss during our sessions—I would love to process these with you.

Hearing God

“Hearing God.  Some would say that this (wanting to hear from God) is presumptuous and even dangerous.  But, what if this is what we are made for (hearing God)?  What if the human system simply will not function properly without it (hearing God)?  Is it not, in fact, more presumptuous and dangerous to undertake human existence without hearing God?”

Conversing with God

“If God is personal, why would He not talk to us?  God is with us in a conversational relationship.  He speaks with us individually as it is appropriate—which is only to be expected between persons who know one another, care about each other, and are engaged in common enterprises.”

Are We In-Tune

“Are we “in tune”?  The fact that we do not hear does not mean that God is not speaking to us.  It is common, even at our human level, for us to not hear those who speak to us.  We are likely showered with messages that simply go right through or past us.”

“Some of Jesus’ deepest teachings are about hearing.  He taught in parables so those who did not really want to hear the truth could avoid it.  He realized that not everyone has ears for the straightforward purpose of hearing but that some use their ears to sift out only what they want to hear.  One of His most repeated sayings was, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”  He also urged His hearers to make a great effort to hear, assuring them that what they received would be proportional to their desire and effort.”

Are We Ready to be in Business with God?

“If you find yourself in a position where you can honestly say, “God has never spoken to me,” then you well might ask, “Why should God speak to me?  What am I doing in life that would make speaking to me a reasonable thing for Him to do?”  When our lives are devoted to the will of God, He has reason to speak to us.  But for a willing walk in conscious, loving cooperation with God, we must come to grips with the issue, What are we living for?  We must face it clearly.”

“If you know of no disturbing voice. If God never points out for you a pathway all together different from the one you had planned—then—the voice of God would be an unwelcome intrusion into your plans.”

“What would we do if we heard the word/voice of God?”

”Perhaps we do not hear the voice because we do not expect to hear it.  Then again, perhaps we do not expect it because we know that we fully intend to run our lives on our own and have never seriously considered anything else.  The voice of God would therefore be an unwelcome intrusion into our plans.”

God is not a Trickster

“If you indeed cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding—if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures—then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:3-5

“God is not a mumbling trickster. He is both able and willing to communicate to us plainly, just as long as we are open and prepared by our experience to hear and obey (act).”

“Few human beings really do concretely desire to hear what God has to say to them.

People who understand and warmly desire to hear God’s voice will, by contrast, want to hear it when life is uneventful just as much as they want to hear it when they are facing trouble or a big decision.”

“Only our communion with God provides the appropriate context for communications between us and Him.  So our union with God consists chiefly in a conversational relationship with God while we are each consistently and deeply engaged as His friends and laborers in the affairs of the kingdom of heavens.”

“Can you make any sense at all of an intimate personal relationship where there are no specific communications?  We must therefore make it our primary goal not just to hear the voice of God but to be mature people in a loving relationship with Him. Only in this way will we hear Him rightly. That is our first general guideline.”

God’s Will and Our Conversation with Him

“When my children were small they were often completely in my will (Dallas Willard’s will) as they played happily in the backyard, though I had no preference that they should do the particular things they were doing there or even that they should be in the backyard instead of playing in their rooms or having a snack in the kitchen. Generally speaking we are in God’s will whenever we are leading the kind of life He wants for us. And that leaves a lot of room for initiative on our part, which is essential: our individual initiatives are central to His will for us.”

“God indwells His people through personal presence and fellowship. Given who we are by basic nature, we live—really live—only through God’s regular speaking in and to our souls and thus by “every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

How could there be a personal relationship—a personal walk with God—or with anyone else—without individualized communication?

Recognizing and Hearing God’s Communication (voice)

“The sheep follow Him because they know His voice.”  (John 10:4).  The Biblical shepherd simply calls as He calmly walks ahead of the sheep.  When God speaks and we recognize the voice as His voice, we do so because our familiarity with that voice enables us to recognize it. We do not recognize it because we are good at playing a guessing game about how the occasions through which His direction comes do or do not match up with each other.”

“In many cases our need to wonder about or be told what God wants in a certain situation is nothing short of a clear indication of how little we are engaged with Him and in His work.”

Assumptions and Parables

“Our preexisting ideas and assumptions are precisely what determine what we can see, hear, or otherwise observe. These general ideas—which so often we hold because they express how we want things to be—determine what stories/accounts can mean to us…Some of Jesus’ deepest teachings are about hearing. He taught in parables so that those who did not really want to hear the truth could avoid it. What they received was proportional to their desire and effort. Did they want to know if they were on the wrong path? “To what use would I try to put a word from God?”

God’s Still Small Voice

“God often speaks in a still small voice—or in a gentle whisper. Both of these expressions emphasize the unobtrusiveness of the medium through which the message comes.  God’s “still small voice”—or the interior or inner voice—is the preferred and most valuable form of individualized communication for God’s purposes.”

“God will not compete for our attention. In most cases God will not run over us. The reality of God’s voice does not make seeking for it unnecessary.”

“The voice of the subconscious argues with us. It tries to convince us. But the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince us. It just speaks, and it is self-authenticating. It has the feel and the content of the voice of God within it. It is a Spirit of exalted peacefulness and confidence, of joy, of sweet reasonableness and goodwill. And because it bears His authority it does not need to be loud or hysterical.”

The Father’s Face

“A little child’s mother died. He could not be adequately consoled and continued to be troubled, especially at night. He would come into the room where his father was and ask to sleep with him. He would never rest until he knew not only that he was with his father but that his father’s face was turned toward him. He would ask in the dark, “Dad, is your faced turned toward me now?” And when he was at last assured of this, he was at peace and was able to go to sleep. Without real communication from God our view of the world is very impersonal, however glorious we may find God’s creation. But there is all the difference in the world between having a fine general view that this is our Father’s world—or even that an arrangement has been made for our eternal redemption—and having confidence, based in experience, that the Father’s face, whether in the dark of night or the brightness of day, is turned toward us, shining upon us, and that the Father is speaking to us individually.

Human Language, Our Inner Thoughts, and Communion with God

“The two most important (and likely the most common) ways in which God speaks to us:

1) in conjunction with the language of human beings,

2) through the inner voice of our own thoughts.

I believe I can say with assurance that God’s speaking in union with the human voice and human language is the primary objective way in which God addresses us.

Another way in which God addresses us in our own spirits—our own thoughts and feelings toward ourselves as well as toward events and the people around us. I believe this is the primary subjective way in which God addresses us.

God’s whole purpose is to bring us to the point where He can walk with us quietly, calming, and constantly, leaving us space to grow to be His (often fumbling) co-laborers.”

All quotations are from Dallas Willards’ book entitled, Hearing God: Developing A Conversational Relationship with God.

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