How would you feel if your best friend walked up and handed you a list of things he/she wanted you to do, then left before you had a chance to say a word?
You’d be just a bit annoyed, right?
Yet, all too often, that’s exactly what our prayers are like. “Here God, this is what I need you to do for me. Take care of it right away, please.” And we walk away satisfied that we’ve spent time in prayer.
I don’t think so.
Sure, God wants us to talk to him. But he wants it to be a real conversation! He wants to share in our excitement over the good things and sympathize with us over the bad. And, like our best friends, he wants to know all the details
And then he wants equal time.
If one person does all the talking while the other person does all the listening, you have a monologue, not a conversation.
Some of my very favorite times have been those spent conversing with God. True, it’s hard to find time to just sit and talk these days, so those times aren’t as often as I might like. But, lately, I’ve wondered if there might be another difficulty. Could it be that some of his children don’t actually recognize God’s voice?
In John 10:14-16, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, as the Father knows me…. They will listen to my voice.” And then, in John 10:27: “Jesus answered, ‘My sheep listen to my voice.’”
Just in case this might be an issue, here’s a list of some of the ways God speaks to us:
- An audible voice (not usual, but he can if he chooses)
- Ideas that occur to us as we read the Bible
- Phrases, impressions, or thoughts that come to us while we’re praying or even out of the blue—early morning, in the night, etc.
- Other people’s insights—from books we read, sermons we hear, people who come to us with a thought, etc.
- Circumstances—answers to prayer, people you just “happen” to come into contact with, “coincidences,” invitations, etc.
- Thoughts that arise through our interaction with others
- Thoughts that occur to us through journaling or other forms of self-expression
As a small child, the prophet Samuel twice heard someone calling to him as he slept. Each time, he woke up and ran to Eli, the priest he served. But Eli hadn’t called him. When this happened a third time, Eli said to Samuel, “This time, when you hear the voice, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” Samuel obeyed, and for the first of many times, he heard God speak. (1 Samuel 3:1-10)
Many of us don’t have an Eli around to tell us whether or not it’s God speaking, but we can look for these signs. Whatever God says will:
- Be in keeping with his commandments
- Stretch us
- Fit with the desire of our hearts
- Fall in line with who we are, although that may not be apparent at first
- At some point, merge with what others are doing
- Be unforgettable. “It felt like a fire burning in us when Jesus talked to us.” Luke 24:32
Over the years, I’ve filled many pages with notes from my conversations with God. No, not lists of instructions. God’s words tend to be encouraging and empowering. He tells me he loves me more than anything else.
Conversing with the God who made the heavens and earth is never dull, and almost always unforgettable.
NJ, thanks for taking the role of Eli and sharing some tips on how to recognize God’s voice. The more we listen, the better we’ll recognize Him.