Hearing from God

The other night one of my neighbors asked me to share how I came to Gordon-Conwell and why I had chosen the M.Div. program.  As I shared, my neighbor interjected a question: "How did you know it was God speaking to you?"

I realized then that my story is FULL of moments where "I heard God say" or "I think God was saying...."  Somehow it had never occurred to me before that my story was so full of listening to God, hearing from God, and that that would be unique somehow.

Perhaps it is not unique, but as I shared my story that evening several people who were listening in asked me about hearing from God.  I didn't realize such a skill was also such a mystery.  The principles are not difficult; it just takes time to become proficient.

I am no expert on hearing from God.  I am not proficient.  But I am confident anyone could find insightful and helpful books and sermons and experienced professionals who could teach them how to grow in that spiritual discipline.  I feel as though I should at least share how I have learned to know God's voice and what that experience is like for me.  I guarantee it will not be the same for you, but perhaps sharing my story will encourage you.  If nothing else, you'll get a peak into my soul.  Lucky you!

I decided at a young age (9 or so) to read the Bible everyday.  I saw my parents do that, and it seemed like the smart thing to do if you call yourself a Christian.  I read about a chapter a night before I went to bed.  By the time I reached 11 or 12 years old I had read through the whole Bible.  I felt completely empty... and at the same time full of pride.  I had read it all.  Clearly, then, I knew everything there was to know.  What do I do now?

I actually felt desperate.  For some reason it didn't occur to me that I could ask a human being about this problem.  I didn't ask my mom or dad.  I didn't ask any of the dozens of pastors I knew.  I asked God.  I got down on my knees in my room in the house we were renting in Princeton, Illinois, and prayed.

"I've read it all, God.  I know everything" (I clearly remember praying this!  I was so full of myself as a pre-teen).  "What else is there?  What do I do next?"

Hebrews 13

I didn't hear a audible voice.  It was just as if an idea came into my head, sort of attached to a voice.  But the voice wasn't booming or masculine or loud or even really "godly".  But it wasn't my voice, and it wasn't my idea.  I decided to listen.  Well, I didn't just listen.  I replied.

"I just finished reading Hebrews a few months ago.  There probably isn't even a chapter 13," I said incredulously.  I decided to look just in case.

"Oh.  It's the last chapter.  Ok, fine.  Hebrews 13."

Verse 6

"Whatever.  The chapter probably ends at verse 5."

Then I read:

6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

I immediately began to cry.  Several things had happened all at once.  God spoke to me in a way I could understand.  Without saying much of anything, He pointed out my stupid pride and ignorance.  Not only did I not remember that the letter to the Hebrews had 13 chapters, but the verse He led me to was a quote of Psalm 118:6 which means I had also not remembered reading it there either!  I was doubly ignorant.  Somehow this actually felt like God really cared about my spiritual development.  He loved me enough to gently show me how wrong I was.  I didn't feel reprimanded; I felt loved.

The thing that impacted me the most, however, was that God spoke through that simple Scripture reference to a deep-seated fear in my soul: I was afraid of people.  Knowing my upbringing, you might think that was a little strange, but it was (and sometimes still is) very much a part of my everyday life.  I was constantly afraid of making anyone unhappy, or angry, or disappointed.  I was afraid of being on the receiving end of hurtful words.  Those were the worst.  But that final sentence, What can mere mortals do to me, hit me at my core.  Was it actually possible to live unafraid?  To be unhurt by others actions and reactions?  Could I actually find help from Jesus instead of trying to "be strong" on my own?

I decided to try and put my faith in that promise I read in Hebrews 13:6.  I could trust God.  He was trustworthy, and He cared about me and my feelings. 

That was the first time I heard from God.  It wasn't earth-shattering.  It wasn't even a lot of God talking.  In fact, from my experience up to this point as a 35-year-old, He doesn't talk for very long.  He speaks just long enough for me to get the point.  At least, I hope I get the point.

But that experience taught me that God could speak and I could hear and I could be transformed by listening.  I'm so glad that I got to the end of my rope at such a young age.  And I'm so grateful that God responded when I cried out to Him.  

I'll write more about how hearing from God in my life has changed over the years, but until then I will leave you with a question.  Please feel free to actually answer in a comment below!  We can always learn from each other's experiences.

What is hearing from God like for you?  If you've never heard from Him, what do you think He might say to you today?


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