Prayer is a Two-way Conversation (Part 2)

This is the conclusion of part 1 that I posted last week.

Now that I’ve laid out my case for God’s desiring a two-way conversation with us, rather than a monologue, it’s time for some hard questions. How do we go about achieving this ideal? How can we listen to God? How do we know it’s Him speaking?

God is the initiator of the relationship we have with Him. Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, and hid from God, He came looking for them. Genesis 3, verse 9 is the beginning of a long dialog among Adam, Eve, and God: “But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’”  Even though Adam and Eve had sinned, God still wanted their company—and God still pursues us today.

I’m grateful that God wants to talk to me so much that He’ll go to great lengths to do so. Think how foolish Balaam must have felt, when God had to speak to him through his donkey! I certainly don’t want to take after Balaam. Since Jesus died to restore my relationship with God, I want to make it easy for Him! I want to open my ears and eagerly join the conversation.

The first step in hearing from God is to make sure nothing is coming between Him and you. Unconfessed sin creates a barrier that disrupts your relationship with a Holy God. Are you in disobedience—either doing what you should not, or not doing what you should? Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart and bring to mind anything pertinent. (Psalm 139, especially verses 23-24)

You don’t have to be super-spiritual to hear from God. It doesn’t require great maturity, or enormous self-discipline, although those things are desirable. There’s no special club of “God hearers” from which you have been excluded. If you know Jesus as your Savior, and have submitted to His authority over your life, you can hear his voice.

Next, find a place that’s quiet, without distractions. In some places, this isn’t easy. Try to be by yourself. Turn off your phone (yes, you can do it), quiet the iPod, silence the TV. As Elisha discovered (in 1 Kings 19), God sometimes speaks in a whisper.

I often bring a pad of paper and a pen with me. A computer can work too, if you’d rather type. Or bring your journal. I find it easier to stay focused if I write down my thoughts as they occur to me. I write down God’s thoughts too, so I can refer back to them later. Did God really tell me to … ?? It’s harder to doubt if you have it in black and white.

Now concentrate on God. If some nagging thought keeps intruding, write it down. The paper can remember it for you, and you can clear your mind. If something is weighing you down, bring it up with Him. You can’t listen well if there is something you’re itching to say. Spend your emotions. God is patient; you can unload on Him. When you’ve gotten the matter off your chest, you’ll be able to hear His perspective that much better.

Talking with God is no different from having a conversation with any of your friends. You talk, they talk. You take turns, each of you expressing what is on your mind, and listening to the other person.

God may comment on something you’ve said, or He may introduce a new topic. He might offer an opinion (and God’s opinions are always valid!) or ask you a question. He may address your concerns, or talk about someone else He wants you to minister to.

God speaks in many ways. Sometimes a specific verse will come to mind. (This is just one reason scripture memorization—or at least familiarization—is a good idea.)

I know people who have heard God speak out loud, in an audible voice. The boy Samuel first heard God this way; that story is recorded in 1 Samuel 3.

At times, God speaks to us through others. Most of the Old Testament illustrates this; God spoke to His people through the prophets.

These days, when someone tells me that they have a “message from the Lord,” I always bring it back to Him for confirmation. I use it as a check on what I think I’m hearing. We can have our own relationship with God—we shouldn’t let others do our listening for us.

Most of the time, you will probably receive a general impression about something. I usually hear God as an inner voice, just “appearing” in my mind—a sense that God is saying this or that.

How do I know it’s God? For one thing, He never contradicts Himself. I ask myself, does what I’m hearing agree with scripture? God will never speak or act in a way that goes against His nature.

If He’s telling you to do something “big”—something that puts you out on a limb—it’s ok to ask Him to confirm it. The whole concept of putting out a “fleece” comes from Gideon (Judges 6). God has told us to do all sorts of crazy things. We’ve traveled to dangerous places, we’ve committed financial suicide (more than once), we’ve gone out on so many limbs I could qualify as a tree surgeon. Every time we’ve asked God to verify that we were hearing Him correctly, He has been quick to provide assurance. And then we didn’t hesitate to follow through. Don’t use fleeces to procrastinate. A fleece should confirm God’s will so that you can obey Him, not provide an excuse for delaying a decision.

Most of the time, I know I’m hearing God because I “just know.” It’s much the same as you recognizing the voice of someone very close to you. You know their voice because it’s familiar. As Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10).

How does God speak to you? Why are you sure the voice belongs to God? What’s the most amazing thing God’s told you?

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