Hearing God Better
This year we are taking seriously Jesus invitation for people to Copy Him (that is what it meant for a disciple to follow a Rabbi - they would learn to copy everything their Rabbi did). We see in Mark 1:11-12 that Jesus heard his Father - his Father affirmed Jesus' identity as His Son, and through the Spirit he was sent into the wilderness. So it follows that an important part of copying Jesus is learning to hear God. And yet that can seem like a mystery to many of us. Here is a quote from chapter 1 of Dallas Willard's book "Hearing God":
Sunday dinner was finished, but we lingered around the table, savoring the good food and reflecting on the morning’s service at church. The congregation—where I then served as a very young (and very green) assistant pastor—was excited about its plans for a new sanctuary to replace its old building, which was much loved but long overused and outgrown.
The morning message had focused on the plans for the new building. Our pastor spoke of his vision for the church’s increased ministry. He indicated how strongly he felt God’s guidance in the way the congregation was going, and he testified that God had spoken to him about things that should be done.
My wife’s grandmother, Mrs. Lucy Latimer (“ Mema” to us all), seemed deep in thought as we continued to chatter along. Finally, she said quietly, “I wonder why God never speaks to me like that.”
This simple comment, which came like a bolt out of the blue from the heart of this woman of unshakable faith and complete devotion, forever changed my attitude toward glib talk about God’s speaking to us or about divine guidance. Through her words—in a way I came to understand only later—God spoke to me.
I was given a vivid realization, which has never left me, of how such talk places many sincere Christians on the outside, looking in. They are not necessarily lacking the experience of hearing God, but they do not understand the language or how their experience works. This leaves them feeling confused and deficient, and may lead them to play a game that they do not really understand and that rightly makes them very uncomfortable. It undermines their confidence that they are fully acceptable to God.
Can Christians expect to hear God in a similar way that Jesus heard his Father?
If we put aside any pressure for perfection, then the answer is yes. There are various examples of this in the New Testament, but here are just two that mirror Jesus' experience as recorded in Mark 1:
Romans 8:16: "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (cf Mark 1:11)
Acts 20:22: (Paul is speaking) "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem" (cf Mark 1:12)
How do we learn to hear God?
The simple answer is - by experience. Now that can seem trite, but if you think about it, that is the way we learn to recognize anyone's voice. But while that is a vital start, if we are struggling to hear God we are going to need some assistance. And for that reason, we return to the second part of our theme for the year which is 'copying people who copy Christ'. We can learn to hear God better by listening carefully to experiences of others who have learned to hear God and asking their advice as we take tentative steps.
Over the next few Sundays we are going to be teaching about hearing God. We will be giving people opportunities to interact in safe small group settings with people who have a bit more experience with hearing God. Some of the groups will provide opportunities to participate in listening exercises to help you hear God. There will also be a group that is focused on discussing issues and questions about hearing God (no question is off limits) and won't include listening exercises.
You may also like to read some books about hearing God. Here are two I have found helpful:
"Hearing God" by Dallas Willard
"My Sheep have ears" by Cath Livesey
David Wanstall, 27/04/2018