For most of my Christian life, I didn’t know it was possible to hear from God. I was taught that God stopped talking after the Bible. I simply didn’t know that God talked to his children on a regular basis. And so I didn’t take time to listen. Not because I didn’t want to hear from God—there was nothing I wanted more. I just didn’t know it was possible to hear from God. In 2015 this all changed for me. I began to learn how to hear from God. Today’s episode is about the process of learning how to hear from God.
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You’re listening to TPWFO podcast. I’m Adam Young and today’s episode is somewhat autobiographical… in that I’m going to talk about my journey of learning how to hear from God. For most of my Christian life, I didn’t know it was possible to hear from God. I didn’t know that God talked to his children on a regular basis. And so I didn’t take time to listen. Not because I didn’t want to hear from God—there was nothing I wanted more. I just didn’t know it was possible to hear from God. In 2015 this all changed for me. I began to learn how to hear from God. Today’s episode is about the process of learning how to hear from God. Season 2 of the podcast is drawing to a close. We have two more episodes after this one. If Season 2 has been helpful to you, please consider making a donation to support the podcast. You can do that by going to adamyoungcounseling.com and clicking on Support the Podcast. Let me begin with a plea for a hearing. Samuel Williamson wrote a book called Hearing God In Conversation (which is such a lovely title) and he says something in the beginning of that book that really got to me: He writes, “My parents taught me that we were redeemed in order to have a restored relationship with God. And the basis of every real relationship is communication; God saved us to have a conversational relationship with Him.” When I first read that, I couldn’t find any holes in the logic. It all seemed so true… and yet too good to be true. Here’s what he’s saying: My parents taught me that we were redeemed in order to have a restored relationship with God. Check. That’s true. And the basis of every real relationship is communication. I couldn’t argue with that. I mean, it’s just true—the basis of every real relationship is communication. And so I’m sitting in my chair having read that sentence and I’m like, “If God redeemed me so that I could have a real relationship with him… and if the basis of every real relationship is communication, then maybe God intends for me to have a relationship with him in which we have regular conversations together. And all of a sudden I started imagine how cool it would be to have conversations with God—like ones in which he talked to me and not just me talking to him. And, like I said, it felt too good to be true. But Samuel Williamson’s words had me. And I continued to devour anything I could get my hands on to find out if it was possible to actually have a conversational relationship with my God who I loved. The most helpful resources to me—and ones I’ll refer to throughout today’s episode—are the following: Samuel Williamson’s book Hearing God In Conversation A book by Dallas Willard called Hearing God A book by Keith Anderson called The Spirituality of Listening And then a book by John Eldredge called Walking with God. I read these four books and I realized that all four of these authors talked as if they heard from God on a regular basis. And my envy went through the roof. I mean I got so filled with longing for what they had. And what was worse is that in all the books they quoted a bunch of other Christians throughout the centuries who also heard from God on a regular basis… like they had conversations with God. And I began to hope… I began to wonder, “What if this could be true for me? What if God would talk to me? How cool would that be?” I was 41 before I realized that I could have conversations with God. This means that I was a Christian for 30 years before I began to taste of the sweet fruit of asking God questions and hearing God respond. Why did it take me 30 years? Well, lots of reasons, but here’s one of them. No one ever told me that it was available! I was taught that God gave us the Bible—and everything God wanted to say to me was in the Bible. It was like the Bible was God’s love letter to me… he mailed it to me and then just went away leaving me to make what I could of it. But then I read the following words from Dallas Willard. And again, I couldn’t find any holes in the logic. This is what Willard says, People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to. Let me say it again… People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to. God’s visits to Adam and Eve in the garden, Enoch’s walks with God, and the face-to-face conversations between Moses and God are all commonly regarded as highly exceptional moments in the religious history of humankind. However they are not meant to be exceptional at all. Rather, they are examples of the normal human life God intended for us. After I read that I was like, “Yeah, all those places in the Bible where God talks to people—and there are a LOT of them, I mean a lot—I just assumed those were highly exceptional moments in history.” And then Dallas Willard has the audacity to make a simple claim: “they are not meant to be exceptional at all. Rather, they are examples of the normal human life God intended for us.” Boom, hope started surging in me. Envy started surging. I began to wonder, “Does Dallas Willard actually talk to God like I talk to my wife Caroline?” Could this be possible? And for a moment, let’s just step back and realize the absurdity of all this. God created words… and ears. God created the idea of a relationship in which you talk to a friend and your friend talks back and you grow in intimacy with each other. And yet we somehow think it’s ludicrous that the God who created words, ears, and relationships would speak to us on a regular basis. The whole point of the work of Jesus in his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension is so that you and I can be re-united in a real, love relationship with God. The point is union. Union with God. Oneness. Remember, you and I are created in the image of a Triune God. We are made for deep, intimate relationship with God. This intimacy is what Jesus is speaking about in the middle of the Gospel of John. I mean listen to Jesus’ words in John 14 15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you… John 14 What’s Jesus saying? He’s saying that the Counselor, the Spirit of God, will live in you and be in you. That’s pretty intimate. In John 14, Jesus says this, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Make our home with him. Commenting on this verse, Dallas Willard says the following: Surely this abiding of the Son and the Father in the faithful heart involves conscious communication or conversation. It is simply beyond belief that two persons so intimately related as indicated in Jesus’ answer would not speak explicitly to one another. When I read that, I was like, “It is beyond belief. I mean the union that Jesus talks about in the gospel of John, the abiding, the idea of Jesus and the Father coming to me and making their home in me… it is simply beyond belief that this kind of intimacy would not involve communication! Here’s the point: conversational intimacy with your God is not only possible, it’s the whole point. Union with God. Intimacy with God. That’s the point. And the height of union, connection, intimacy is conversation. Here’s Willard one more time. He says, “Union with God consists chiefly in a conversational relationship with God while we are consistently and deeply engaged as his friend and co-laborer in the affairs of the kingdom of the heavens. God has created us for intimate friendship with himself.” Think about one of your close friends for a minute. Now think about having a deep, rich conversation with them… How cool would it be if you could have regular conversations like that with God? The way you have conversations with one of your close friends. The basis of any normal relationship is talking and listening. In Samuel Williamson’s book Hearing God In Conversation, Chapter 2 is titled “Conversation IS the point.” Repeat. I love that. Conversation Is the Point. And Williamson says this in Chapter 2: “If our best memories of our earthly fathers are of conversations rather than sermons, why do we think our heavenly father mostly wants to lecture us? We think we need step-by-step guidance, but mostly we need conversation. And really, why would we want it any other way?” The point of talking with God is conversation, not guidance. Guidance will come at times, but what we need most is RELATIONSHIP. Conversation. Connection. Intimacy. Okay, I want to talk for a bit about obstacles to hearing from God. If this is possible, what gets in the way? The thing that got in the way for me for 30 years was that I assumed God wouldn’t talk to me the way my wife talks to me. And therefore I would never take the time to listen. I just didn’t believe it was possible. I had a belief that God stopped talking after the Bible. I had such a longing to hear from God… and when I would hear others say “God told me something” I would get filled with envy. Because I so wanted to have that kind of close intimacy with God where God would actually talk to me. Some people have the sense that “God has more important things to do than to talk to little old me.” We say to ourselves, “Of course God talked to Paul or Elijah or Moses… but those were really important people. And I’m not that important.” Look, please, you are that important to God. You were important enough for Jesus to die for—if that’s true, then it goes to follow that you are important enough for God to attune to you, speak to you, respond to you… have conversation with you. So, once you are open to the possibility that God wants to have conversations with you, once you are open to that, what can get in the way of hearing from God? Let me put it this way: My Christian life has been far richer these past 4 years as a result of this category and this experience. I mean it’s incomparable. But it has been a hard-fought battle. It’s been a hard fought battle. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Few things have been a bigger struggle for me than hearing from God. I can’t tell you how many of my counseling sessions with my therapist have been about how hard it has been for me to hear from God. And how many wars begin raging in my heart as I take time to listen to God and either hear nothing or begin to feel accusations against me or begin to feel immense powerlessness like God is not going to talk to little old me or I just get overwhelmed with exhaustion and can’t keep my eyes open. So, let’s talk about what gets in the way. One big thing that gets in the way for many of us is our story. More specifically, our family of origin story. One of the reasons hearing from God is so fraught for many of us… is because it connects us to our longing to hear our father and mother’s voice growing up. Let me repeat that to let it sink in. One of the reasons hearing from God is so fraught for many of us… is because it connects us to our longing to hear our father and mother’s voice growing up. Q: Have you come to terms with how deeply you longed to hear your father’s voice? How deeply you longed to hear him speak into your life? Q: Are you aware that, as a little boy or girl, you deeply needed the strong and tender voice of your mother to speak into your heart? If we let ourselves feel our longing to hear God’s voice, that automatically connects us to very deep longings in our heart for attunement, responsiveness, and engagement from our parents. When you sit alone with God and invite God to speak to you about something that’s important to you… it’s as if you are back on your bed after a particularly hard day of school and you are needing someone to come sit on your bed and help you make sense of the world and what’s happening to you and give you good, strong words that nourish your heart. Q: What was it like for you on your bed at night after a hard day? Q: Was there conversation from an attuned, responsive, and engaged parent—was your heart taken seriously? Or were you left to your own devices to try to figure it all out? If you didn’t have an attuned, responsive, and engaged parent… what do you think happens in your brain when you sit down to be with your heavenly parent, and you are needing help and responsiveness and engagement from your God? The very act of sitting down to listen to God immediately connects you to all this unmet longing and heartache and loneliness. Of course it’s fraught! Another obstacle — A man named Tony Stoltzfus wrote a book called The Invitation. And there’s a sentence in that book that has helped me more than anything else in my journey of learning to hear from God. And here’s the sentence. Tony says, “The problem is not that Jesus isn’t speaking, or even that you aren’t hearing: it’s that you don’t believe you are hearing.” Let me say it again. “The problem is not that Jesus isn’t speaking, or even that you aren’t hearing: it’s that you don’t believe you are hearing.” This has been so profound for me. Tony’s saying, “Look, you think the problem is that God just isn’t speaking… but that’s not it. He is. And then you think the problem is “Oh, I just must not be listening well and that’s why I can’t hear from God.” And Tony’s saying, “No, that’s not even the problem. You’re actually hearing from God.” So what’s the problem? It’s that I don’t believe that I’m hearing from God. Now, let me unpack this. Again, I have no idea if this applies to anyone else, but this was huge for me. Here’s what would happen: “As I began to take the time to listen to God and began asking God questions, God would speak and as soon as he did, I would hear the words and then immediately dismiss them by saying, “that had to be my own thoughts rather than God’s voice.” The problem was not that Jesus wasn’t speaking; or even that I wasn’t hearing. The problem was that I didn’t believe I was hearing God.” I would invariably dismiss what I heard as “that’s just coming from me, it’s not really God.” We get obsessed with the question of “Is this God or just my own thoughts?” Here’s how Dallas Willard addresses this question. This is from his book titled Hearing God. Willard says, “We make this hard because we want proof that what we heard is really God. We may mistakenly think that if God spoke to us we would automatically know who is speaking, without having to learn, but that is simply a mistake – and one of the most harmful mistakes for those trying to hear God’s voice. Boy was that helpful for me to read. Because I was operating under the assumption that if God spoke to me that I would automatically and without question know that it was God. And since I was questioning whether what I heard was God’s voice or just my own thoughts, I figured, “It must not be God. Because if it were God, I’d know for sure. Without doubt.” And Willard comes along and simply says, “That’s a mistaken assumption.” He continues by saying, “The only answer to the question, how do we know whether this is from God? is By experience.” By experience. Hearing from God is something that you learn… over time… by experience. Just like anything else in life. Recognizing God’s voice is something we must learn to do through personal experience and experimentation. Being uncertain doesn’t mean you haven’t heard. This isn’t an exact quote from John Eldredge but he basically says something like this. This is just so simple yet profound. And it has changed my life. Eldredge says, “Look, all significant skills and abilities require repeated practice to learn how to do well… why would it be any different with learning to hear God’s voice?” That has been such a freeing concept for me. I’m in process. I’m learning. Look, where is the Place We Find Ourselves? The Place We Find Ourselves is living in a world where God is training us to reign over our kingdom. It is a process of training. We are in process. We are in the process of growing up. God is growing us up as sons and daughters to rule over the Creation. Training is always a process. You get better at it over time. Part of being trained to reign over your kingdom—a big part—is learning how to hear the voice of God, your King. Okay, another obstacle—some of us don’t feel the freedom to just waltz right into God’s presence and begin talking with him. I have a journal where I write down everything God says to me. It’s a journal of learning to hear the voice of God. And on May 28 of 2015 I have an entry that says this, “One of the hindrances to hearing from God is that I don’t feel the freedom to just ask God about stuff the way my son would with me. When I turn to speak to my heavenly Father I don’t have a sense of “Oh, it’s my son Adam, I’m so excited he’s talking to me.” STOPPED HERE. Siren. Repeat this sentence: Instead I feel this sense of “I can’t just barge into God’s presence and start talking to him.” This is about attachment. If you’re didn’t develop a secure attachment to your parents, chances are you are not going to be securely attached to your God. And so you may have this sense that God’s too busy for you or God’s too majestic and holy for you to just start barge into his presence. One more common obstacle. And then we’ll look at some practical ways to begin to learn to hear God’s voice. Another obstacle to hearing God’s voice is that we are not attuned to the gentle stillness of God’s voice. In my experience, the vast majority of After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still small voice. 1 Kings 19 KJV The translation might just as well read “a gentle whispering.” The expression places the emphasis on the unobtrusiveness of the medium through which the message comes. Messages from God are seemingly unremarkable, inconspicuous, unassuming, and perhaps not easily noticed… The medium through which the message comes is diminished almost to the vanishing point, taking the form of thoughts that are our thoughts, though these thoughts are not from us. God’s spiritual invasions into human life seem, by their very gentleness, to invite us to explain them away. Willard Okay, let’s end with some practical steps to take to begin to learn how to hear from God. Number 1. There has to be patience and kindness with your heart here. If it is hard for you to hear from God—as it has been for me—why not be curious about why that is? Breakthrough for me has come gradually over time as I explored with my therapist what it was in my story that made it hard for me to hear from God. It’s so easy to collapse in hopelessness when we long for something like God’s voice and can’t seem to get it. There must be a patience with your heart and a kindness with your heart and a curiosity about what’s keeping you from hearing from God. Number 2. Take seriously Jesus’ words that you are in him and his Spirit is in you. Read the gospel of John. In fact, read the NT. What you’ll find is that God not only sent Jesus, but sent His Spirit. And where has God sent his Spirit? In your heart and my heart. Q: Now, let me ask a simple question: Do you believe that? Are you aware that the Spirit of God actually resides in you? If you do, then consider these words from Willard: In the union of the believer with God, their two beings are unified and inhabit each other, just as Jesus prayed, “I ask that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” That’s from the gospel of John. Willard continues, “In this way we are addressed by him, spoken to by him, through our own thoughts.” Yes! Number 3. Start small. I’ll ask God, “What would you like to say to me today?” and he’ll say simple things like “I love you.” Practice asking simple questions and then see what wells up in your heart and mind in the next minute or two. It may be words, or an image, or just a sense of God present with you in a particular way. Ask questions like, “What about me are you delighting in today? Or Where have you enjoyed me today? Or How have you been loving me recently, even today? As I thumbed through my Journal of Learning to Hear from God where I write down everything God says to me, the most common sentence in that journal, by far the most common thing God has said to me is “I love you.” I mean it’s all over the place. Different dates, different color pens. It’s on like every other page. Sometimes God’s words are playful and rather surprising. One time I walked into the woods to pray. I sat down, and closed my eyes. Then God said kindly and playfully, “Why would you close your eyes?” God’s point was that there’s all this beauty around me and I’m closing my eyes. “You hear from me more often than you think you do.” Ch 12 How Can I Know It’s God’s Voice? There is a feel to the voice of God that we learn to recognize. It simply takes time and experience. The more we hear his voice, the more we recognize it. This is like my daughter Hope and I… Hope knows my voice. I don’t mean the sound of it. I mean she knows the way I talk to her. I have a personality… she knows my Adam-ness. So if one of Hope’s friends came to her and said, “your Dad told me that he thinks you’re too sensitive.” Her first thought is going to be “that doesn’t sound like something my Dad would say.” Why? B/c I’ve blessed her sensitivity dozens and dozens of times… and with great authority. She knows my voice. This is what Jesus is getting at in John 10 when he says, “My sheep know my voice.” The voice of God is endlessly kind. It will not run over your will.