Growing up in an evangelical Baptist family, I knew about God from a very early age. I prayed, I read my bible – from the beautifully illustrated Beginner’s Bible to the ‘young adults’ bible I still use now; I went to church (albeit reluctantly once I became too old for Sunday School but not old enough to understand what the preacher was going on about in “big church”). I sang the Sunday School songs, I listened to Christian kids tapes in the car, I loved Jesus and could spend hours poring over the Word. However, there was something missing. I just couldn’t fathom how one might “hear from God” – how could I know what His will was, or if He was trying to tell me something? Why couldn’t I hear His voice, like others claimed to? Mum always seemed to know what God was telling her, but all I got was my own thoughts bouncing around in my head.
As a teenager, I started to feel desperate to learn the secret of how to hear from God. Going into my early twenties, studying at Bible college, I yearned even more so for that one-to-one connection with my Creator. Everyone seemed to have a different theory: silence and solitude, structured prayer, hymns and spiritual chants, etc. Everything I thought I knew about talking to God seemed to get blown apart and replaced with formulae and rules that I couldn’t get the hang of no matter how hard I tried.
Then something happened. I barely realised it was happening because it was so subtle. I started to “know” what God was telling me. I persevered in my quest to connect, and God helped me to overcome my own obstacles. Now I have a good sense of His direction, and even specific words He has for me (or entrusts to me for someone else). It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen the first time I prayed for God to let me hear Him – or perhaps even the thousandth time. It happened over time, as our relationship grew. God uses many tools to connect with us.
Let go of your perception of how God talks to people
God is infinitely creative. He uses all kinds of means to get our attention and convey a message. It is very rare that He will just talk to someone in audible words – I’ve come to realise that it would be hard to distinguish between His voice or that of a demon who was a convincing mimic. I have found that for me, it is usually the case that my thoughts take a particular direction, and reach a particular conclusion, and with them comes a sense of peace, of “rightness” that tells me that God has been steering those thoughts. It might be a well-timed word from a friend (or even a stranger!), something you read in the Bible that speaks directly to your situation, something you see or hear in the world around you. It might just be an impression in your heart or mind that pushes you toward a particular action you’ve been unsure about. When you ask God to speak to you, don’t limit Him to a particular method of communication – be open to whatever way He chooses to respond (praying for discernment that you might know it’s actually God, of course).
Get around other believers
I grew up knowing God because I grew up in a Christian household, going to a Christian church, attending a Christian school. I owe my strong faith foundation to all those who have had input into my life as mentors and teachers – most especially my Mum, whose own faith journey has yielded a harvest of incredible wisdom. God created us to live in community with others. He wants us to gather together (just read the New Testament!) and talk about Him and worship Him together, because He uses all our gifts, all our different stories and characters to build each other up and strengthen each member of the whole. Join a church, a bible study group, or find a mentor who is strong in the faith. These people can sow seeds of faith into your own heart, and can teach and guide you with their own experience. Read books by respected Christian authors. Attend seminars and conferences. Listen to sermons in the car or watch them on Youtube (I love listening to Joyce Meyer). One of the important lessons I learned along the way is that we need the input of others to make sure we stay on track and don’t get lead astray, turning belief into dogmatism or developing beliefs and interpretations that don’t actually align with Scripture.
Read the Bible
This can be a tough one. The Bible is very long, and has a whole lot of tedious reading in it. If you are new to the Word (or even if you’re not!) it can be daunting to make a start at reading. Should you start at the beginning and work your way through to the end? Read just the New Testament, or a particular book? Open it and read whatever page you land on?
I’ve tried all of these! And there’s no wrong or right way to do it. Pray for God to speak to you through His Word, then get stuck into it. You may find yourself reading scriptures that are meaningful for you; or you may find yourself bogged down in the intricacies of Jewish law. Your safest bet? Find (or make) a plan. There are all kinds of plans, in all kinds of formats: you could download an app that takes you through the Bible in one year, or focuses on a topic, or helps you to develop a foundation of key scriptures. You might find something you like on a website, or in a book, etc. Christian devotional books, websites or apps will typically give you one or several snippets of scripture (with their references, so you can look up the surrounding text) along with an interpretation and application of that scripture; some will also have questions at the end that can give you a starting place to think a little deeper on what you’ve read. I personally find devotionals really helpful in helping me to develop a daily routine of reading the Bible, and boosting my understanding of what I’m reading.
Why is it so important to read the Bible? Because it is so richly descriptive of who God is, why He made us, and what His purposes are for us. It is a ‘living’ text – that is, the Holy Spirit uses the stories and lessons contained therein to teach us; even though it was written thousands of years ago, it continues to be applicable because it continues to reveal new truths and wisdom by the work of the Spirit. Even if you have read a particular verse a hundred times, God can still teach you something new when you read it the 101st time.
Talk to God
There is no wrong or right way to talk to God. He has made us all different, and as such will talk with us in all different ways. Really, all it boils down to is our own personality and conversation style, and what God leads us to do. Some people prefer to follow a strict proforma, others take a more fluid, creative approach. One might follow set prayers that are read aloud, or formulate prayers loosely based on a formula (eg ACTS – adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication); there might be singing and music involved, or silent contemplation. You might like just to talk to God as you would to a friend, or read a psalm as a prayer. Writing prayers helps me to stay focused, and also gives me something to look back on later and see how God has answered my prayers or where I’ve learned and grown spiritually.
Seek knowledge, understanding and wisdom
As a believer, it’s important to continually strive to increase your knowledge and understanding of God, and what it means to be a Christian, and to grow in wisdom. God doesn’t want us to remain stagnant; throughout the New Testament in particular are constant exhortations to strive toward perfection – not that we will achieve it in this lifetime, but because it is good and right.
This takes a combination of the above: learning from the Bible itself; from preachers and Christian authors; from those who further along in the faith journey, and from those beside us. Talk about where you are at with your faith – the struggles and the triumphs. Pray with others, for others; let them pray for you. Seek advice from trustworthy people who are strong in the faith.
Doing all these things, over time, you will begin to discern the voice of God. There is no magic formula, no special prayer you can pray to make it happen on command. Read through the Bible, in particular the Old Testament, and you will see that even some of the most faithful servants of God experienced periods where they didn’t hear anything from God – but saw, looking back, that He was in fact working behind the scenes all along, and bringing about His purposes in His own mysterious ways. Connecting with God and hearing His voice is about developing a relationship with Him. As we get to know Him, we get to know what His voice sounds like; we learn to discern the Word of God from the deceptions of the Evil One, or our own inner voice.