Summary of Dallas Willard’s formula for living with God’s voice
Note this is not a formula for getting guidance out of God on matters that may concern us - that is mechanical and not consistent with the personal relationship with Him. It is instead, a formula for living with God’s voice, for hearing his word in a life surrendered and brought to maturity by him.
1. We have entered into the new life with God through being born again and in our conscious will we plan and make provision to do what we know to be morally right and what we know to be explicitly commanded by God. This includes the intention to find out what may be morally right or commanded by God and hence to grow in our knowledge.
2. We seek the empowering of God’s Spirit to serve what is good wherever it may appear - relying not just on our own natural powers but expecting God’s upholding power. We move from faith to faith as we find Him faithful (Rom 1:17). Above all, we venture in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His kingdom as presented in the New Testament Gospels.
Steps to hearing God
3. We meditate constantly on God’s principles for life as set forth in the scriptures, always striving to penetrate more deeply into their meaning and into their application for our own lives.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither. Whatever he does prospers (Psalm 1:1-3)
4. We are alert and attentive to what is happening in our life, our mind and heart. It is there that God’s communications come and identify themselves whatever the external occasion may be. The prodigal son ‘came to himself’ (Luke 15:17) and then he found the truth and repentance that saved him. We must purposefully, humbly and intelligently cultivate the ability to listen and see what is happening in our own souls, and to recognize therein the movements of God.
5. We pray, and speak to God constantly and specifically, about the matters which concern us. This is essential to our part of the conversation with God. You would not continue to speak to someone who did not talk to you; and you could not carry on a coherent conversation with someone who spoke to you only rarely and on odd occasions. In general, the same is true of God. Nothing is too insignificant or too hopeless to communicate with God about. Share all things with God by lifting them to him in prayer and ask for his guidance, even or perhaps especially - in those things which you think you already understand.
6. Using a regular plan, (eg to consider the three elements of circumstances, principles of scripture and promptings of the Spirit) to listen, carefully and deliberately for God. When God does speak to you, pay attention and receive it with thanks. It is a good habit to write such things down, at least until you become so adept at the conversational relationship that you no longer need to. If it is an insight into truth that is given, meditate on it until you have thoroughly assimilated it. If it concerns action, carry it out in a suitable manner. God does not speak to us to amuse or entertain us, but to make some real-life difference.
7. In those cases where God does not speak to you on the matter concerned:
(a) Ask God to inform you, in whatever way he chooses, if there is some hindrance within you. Be quiet and listen in the ‘inner forum’ of your mind for any indication that you are blocking his word. But do not endlessly pursue this. In prayer set a specific length of time for the inquiry about hindrances: normally no more than three days. Believe that if there is a problem, God will make it clear to you. Share the robust confidence of Abraham Lincoln, who said, ‘I am satisfied that, when the Almighty wants me to do, or not to do, a particular thing, he finds a way of letting me know it’.
(b) Take counsel from at least two people whose relationship with God you respect, preferably those who are not your ‘buddies’. This may be done in a group setting if it does not concern an inherently private matter.
(c) If you find a cause for why God’s word could not come, correct it. Whatever it is. Mercilessly. Just do it.
(d) If you cannot find such a cause, then act on what seems best to you after itemized consideration of the details in the alternatives. If certain alternatives seem equally desirable, then select one as you wish. This will rarely be necessary, but your confidence remember is in the Lord who goes with you, who is with his trusting children even if they blunder and flounder. In this instance you may not know God in his specific word to you, but you will know him in his faithfulness. ‘His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness’ (Lamentations 3:2203 KJV). These words were written by the prophet Jeremiah in a time of utter failure, when the guiding hand of God was totally hidden from Israel and his punishing hand was raised against them.
If we proceed in this way, will come to know God’s voice as a familiar personal fact which we can both comfortably live with and effectively introduce others to. We will know what to do when God speaks, but we will also know what to do when he does not speak. We will know how to find and remove any hindrance if there is one, and how to move firmly but restfully onwards, in loving peacefulness, when there is none. We will know that God is inviting us to move forward to greater maturity, relying on his faithfulness alone. We will know in short how to live in our world within a conversational relationship with our Father who is always there for us.
David Wanstall, 02/04/2008