When I recently announced my resignation from ten years in the insurance industry to pursue full-time ministry, there were a lot of questions. Most of the questions were self imposed—questions I needed to wrestle with internally. But many of the questions were from family, friends and coworkers who were curious about the next steps. When you admit that it feels like you’re hearing from God it tends to raise concerns.
While most the questions were supportive in nature, many were laced with an unspoken, “Are you sure?” Underneath the veneer of congratulatory applause and genuine encouragement, there was a certain curiosity resulting in the age-old question, “How do you know you’re hearing from God?”
To provide perspective and context for many future conversations, I wanted to write a few things on the topic of learning to listen to God. This is a much larger conversation and some of my new work will include walking through this with people, both collectively and individually (contact me if you’re interested).
Here are a few thoughts to get started.
God Still Speaks
Early on in my Christian walk, I wasn’t sure that God still spoke to people. Truthfully, the people who said that they’d heard from God were likely the crazy ones. In the name of “God” people have done some outlandish and awful things. But as I matured, I saw that there were also people who did incredible things by the same declaration.
As I pressed in, I asked myself, if God doesn’t speak, then how did I ever come to experience salvation? Didn’t God speak to me then? Wasn’t there something that called me deeper than what I could see? The glaring answer is, yes.
So if God was good enough to speak to me regarding my salvation, isn’t He good enough to continue to speak with me along the journey?
I think the first step in learning to listen to God is believing that He still speaks. And the biggest adversary to that conclusion is your mind. In your head, it doesn’t make sense. It won’t. A supernatural God offends the natural mind. Therefore, real faith begins with the willingness to cross that line. And once you’ve crossed it, you can’t go back.
After you’ve resolved to believe that a supernatural God is smarter than you are and that He still speaks in ways that offend your natural mind, then you’re ready for what’s next—a relationship.
My two-year-old daughter, Sara James, has just begun to talk. She’s at that wonderful phase where her mind moves faster than her lips. Because of that, she mispronounces words and leaves out parts of sentences in her excitement. It’s adorable, but it’s difficult for me to communicate with her.
My wife, however, completely gets it. My daughter can babble words that are incomprehensible to me, but my wife knows exactly what she’s saying. It was frustrating at first, but then I realized that my wife spent more time with my daughter than I did. While I was working, my wife stayed home. Yes. That makes perfect sense—closeness and relationship bring understanding.
Let me prove my point. A couple of weeks ago, my wife took our boys somewhere for the evening. As a result, I had three hours of one-on-one time with my daughter. During that time, we were close. We were in relationship. And as I grew closer with my daughter, I learned to understand her words.
The same is true with God. The closer you are, the nearer you draw yourself to Him, the more you learn His language. And His language is a language of the heart.
Listening With the Heart
The distance between the head and heart is about twelve inches, and that twelve inches is the greatest gap known to man.
I have a picture of someone standing on the edge of that gap as if they were standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Looking across as the vastness of that gap, it seems impossible to cross. But as you begin your journey, the most important thing is the ground beneath your feet. You have to watch your footing as you descend and begin your adventure. Instead of being intimidated by the gap, start by taking steps. Focus on the moment you’ve been given. You cross any bridge by taking one faithful step at a time.
The point is, the distance between the head and the heart is a chasm that can only be bridged by faith. It’s a chasm that rejects fear because it believes in something bigger—something protective. It’s a chasm that rejects the opinions of people because it already have the approval it needs. Finally, it’s a chasm that rejects poverty because it only knows the abundance of heaven.
God promises to honor our faith. Listen with the heart and follow where He leads.
A Renewed Mind
Paul teaches us that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. In short, walking with God, listening to God and living for God requires a new way of thinking. And if you have the willingness to begin, God will meet you on that road just as He has met me (and countless others).
The truth is, you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to listen. If you are, He will speak.
Your responsibility exists in trusting, drawing near in relationship and learning to use your heart.