Each year on President’s Day, the pastor of the Church I grew up in would take the men on a day of prayer and fasting. I remember when I was finally old enough to go and got to go on my first trip. Several men from the church had a deer lease not far from town, and that’s where we went. Our day was very structured. There were times of teaching, we would go get alone in the woods, return to discuss and then hear another teaching. On this particular trip, the teachings were about hearing God’s voice. On one of the prayer times, we were instructed to go into the woods, speak a few words of prayer and then listen. That was the first time I heard God speak. I wasn’t sure it was Him until we came back to share and several others had heard the same thing.
I like how my current pastor describes hearing God’s voice. The next time you’re in an auditorium, listen for the air conditioner. When it gets quiet in there, you can hear it. The sound is there all the time, but it’s only when you’re quiet enough and listening for it that you hear it. Too many times, we miss hearing God’s voice because we’re too loud and our lives are filled with peripheral noise. There’s a reason God said in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” When are we ever still anymore? When do we ever go to where it’s quiet and there aren’t any distractions? We’ve grown accustomed to noise so much that our minds crave it. We turn on the radio when we get in the car. We turn on the TV when we walk in the house. We create our own noise without even thinking, and we’re doing it at the expense of hearing God’s voice.
Psalm 81:13-14 says, “O that my people would once and for all listen to me and walk faithfully in my footsteps, following my ways. Then and only then will I conquer your every foe and tell every one of them, ‘You must go!’” (TPT) God is constantly speaking to each of us. He’s not silent, but He is quiet. He’s begging us to once and for all stop and listen so we can go where He’s called us and to follow where He’s leading. In John 10:27 Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (NLT). How can you know His voice or even follow it if you aren’t listening? It’s time to find a place away from the noise in our lives, to put down our phones and to listen to what God is saying. He’s speaking to you this very moment. Are you listening?
As we walked through Nazareth Village, the had a shepherd there feeding his small flock. The sheep were just about ready to be trimmed so the village could make yarn. I walked around the side and took this photo of the sheep eating. While I was doing that, our guide said something I had never thought of. He said, “Did you know that goats have ears?” I thought, “Of course they do!” Then he said, “Both sheep and goats can hear, but only sheep listen for their master’s voice and obey it. The goats hear his voice and do their own thing.” That’s why sheep have shepherds and goats have herders.
I believe we all can hear God’s voice, but are we listening for it? Hearing is a passive thing that happens just by having ears. Listening is something that is done intentionally. We’ve all be in conversations where we are barely listening to the other person, then we realize we missed the important part. We have to either pretend that we listened to what they said or we have to ask them to repeat it. When the King of King speaks to us, we should be giving Him our undivided attention. If we are merely passively hearing His voice, it calls to question whether He is shepherding us or is herding us.
In John 10:27 Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (NLT). The only way to know Jesus and to follow Him is to listen to His voice. He is constantly speaking to us, so we need to be constantly listening to Him. Ive found that the best way to listen is to be quiet. It sounds so simple, yet many of us are afraid of the silence of sitting in His presence. Today practice being still in His presence and listening for His voice. Be obedient to whatever He tells you to do. Don’t just be someone who hears His voice, be a listener of it.
Each year, I take one week off from writing to help me refresh and reset. This is that week. To help you stay faithful to your daily devotional time, I’m bringing back a series I wrote a few years ago on disciplines we as Christians need to have. Enjoy and I’ll be back next week with all new devotions. Avoiding Injury
The way to avoid or minimize injury in sports is to do all the right things. The same applies spiritually. One of the things you can do to prevent injury is stretching. When is the last time you stretched yourself spiritually? I’m not talking about a faith pledge financially. I’m talking about stepping out in faith and you really doing something positive for the Kingdom. It could be walking up to a stranger and just telling them, “God wanted me to tell you that He loves you.” It could be fasting for three days with water only to grow closer to God. It could be any number of things that you don’t think you can do for God.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” The same thing applies spiritually. If you don’t stretch yourself and think you can do more than you are right now, you’re right. You will stunt your growth and never do more than what you’re doing today. God wants us to step out of the boat like Peter did. When he saw Jesus walking on the water and asked Jesus to call him out of the boat, I’m sure his mind told him that he couldn’t do it. Thankfully his faith in God told him that he could. Have you asked jesus to call you out of your boat? Which voice are you listening to? Stretch yourself.
So before you begin your in depth training for Godliness you need to be able to do some things first. You need to be able to read God’s Word without interruption. How much you read isn’t important in the beginning. It’s not about reading a chapter a day or at a time. God can speak to you with just one verse, but you need to be where you can hear Him speak to you through it. Get away from all distractions and the noise in your life. Jesus went away from others to hear God. You should too.
You also need to be in the habit of praying and listening. Prayer is important. I think contemplative prayer is even more so. I’ll do a post on this soon because it’s more than just praying what comes to mind. It’s purposefully thinking through your prayers. That’s something you work up to though. Beyond just praying, you need to learn to quiet your mind and give God time to speak to you. We, like Elijah in I Kings 19:11-14, think that God speaks loudly all the time. We want Him to speak to us audibly. Elijah saw a windstorm that tore rocks loose from the mountains, but God’s voice wasn’t there. He saw an earthquake, but God’s voice wasn’t there. He even saw fire, but God’s voice wasn’t there either. After the fire, there was a gentle whisper of God’s voice. That’s how God speaks to us. We need to get to where we can hear His voice, then quiet our mind and listen for it.
Tomorrow I’ll wrap this series up with some final thoughts and encouragement to continue your training for Godliness.
My son is every bit of six years old. He runs through the house at full speed, laughs so hard he can’t hear anything and has to do everything himself. There are many times when I’m trying to give him instructions, but he keeps going. I yell his name to get his attention, but he keeps going. I’ve tried with everything in me to get him to hear me, but often I get no response while he’s moving around. It’s not until I have to get up, go over to him and get in his space that he hears me or realizes I’m trying to give him instruction.
I know he probably gets that from me, and as I think about it, I wonder how often that describes me today. How often is God trying to get my attention, screaming my name, but I can’t hear Him because of my busyness? I’ve got a lost of things to do, my mind is racing with ideas of what’s next and I’m halfway looking where I’m going. I don’t stop until God gets in my space and says, “Hey! I’m trying to talk to you. I’ve been trying to get your attention, but you won’t stop and listen.”
In those moments, I wonder how long He had been trying to get my attention. I have to think back, replay the last little bit and see all the ways He was trying to get my attention. I then seek forgiveness for being to busy to hear Him and renew my commitment to slow down. That’s when I’m reminded of Psalm 46:10. It says, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (NLT) I think the Psalmist was a lot like me and that was his message from God that goes out to all of us who run full speed all the time.
I’ve learned that God cares less about my busyness and more about my ability to stop and listen. I’m learning from my son that when I’m running around, I can’t hear what’s being said. I can’t focus on what I’m supposed to. How many mishaps could have been prevented? How many blessings have I missed out on because I was too busy to hear Him? If you’re like me, let me encourage you to take time to stop today and listen. Chances are that God is calling your name and is trying to get your attention.
As Michael and I were kicking around the idea of this week’s debate on prayer times (morning or evening), I asked people on my Facebook page when was the best time for them to pray. I got a few people who said that the morning was their best time and a few who said that the evening was. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of religious, Sunday school answers I got. Over and over I got, “Pray without ceasing. Duh, Chris!” I rephrased the question multiple times so people understood that I wasn’t asking when should we pray, but when did they find was the best time for them to pray. The overwhelming answer was the same.
Either they didn’t understand what I was asking or they didn’t understand prayer. Since I rephrased, put all caps, and tried a few times to get the question right, I’m left with the thought that people don’t truly understand what the Bible means to pray or they wouldn’t be saying they’re doing it without ceasing. I know I don’t pray without ceasing (and I consider myself a person of prayer), and I’m pretty sure most of my friends don’t either. I can count on one hand the amount of people I know who spend hours in prayer each day. They’re the closest ones I know to praying without ceasing.
Sending up a, “God please help me,” a “please let this problem go away,” or a “bless my food” prayer isn’t praying without ceasing. The Greek word for that verse is proseúxomai. It means an exchange, as in a dialogue. Prayer is not about you giving God a wish list. It’s about you having an exchange of words, a conversation with Him. The quick one liner prayers when you’re in a bind don’t constitute an exchange. They’re one sided and don’t invite God to speak back. They only invite Him to listen and to come to your rescue. He wants more than that from you and me.
My wife and I have a monitor in my son’s room so we can hear him and he can talk to us. The problem is that it’s one way. We can hear him, but he can’t hear us. Too many Christians operate that way with God. They think He’s got a monitor in their life where He can hear us, but not talk back. Just like my wife and I talk back to our son without him hearing, so too we aren’t listening for God to speak to us.
I was in a conference with John Maxwell this week. One of the many thought provoking things he said was, “There’s a direct correlation between you being willing to listen and God being willing to talk.” This week, Michael and I have gone back and forth making arguments for when the best time to pray is. The truth is, the best time to pray is when you have the time to listen. God is always wanting to speak to us. The problem is we only give Him the opportunity to listen. Change that as you go forward. Give Him space and time to speak, then get ready to listen. Once you start listening to God speak, you’ll want to pray without ceasing.
One of the things I’ve had to learn to be ok with is silence. At work, when I ask a question, there is often a moment of silence before someone answers. I usually count to 10 in my head before rephrasing the question. Silence either means they’re thinking or I asked in such a manner that no one is clear. Those moments when there isn’t a response are tough. The silence is deafening. It’s as if you can hear each heartbeat pounding in my chest echoing throughout the room. It can be uncomfortable too. That’s why so many people break the silence in rooms.
Sometimes when I pray, God is silent. I ask God a question and all I hear are crickets. That always scares me. I wonder if I have hidden sin or maybe too many distractions in my mind. I wait, but no reply. I wonder if I asked it the wrong way so I’ll try a different way. Still no answer. I’m learning that it’s ok when He doesn’t respond. Being in His presence is enough. He doesn’t have to give an answer to all of my questions. Just because He doesn’t respond, it doesn’t mean He isn’t there.
There are so many times when I desperately need an answer. I cry out to Him, beg for Him to hear me and wait for a response. As time goes by, I become more desperate in my cries for help. I doubt that He hears me or is even with me. It’s like the time in Mark 4:35-41 when the disciples were trying to cross the Sea of Galilee and a storm came up. The disciples cried out for Jesus to help them. They were greeted with silence from Him. Wasn’t He on board? Wasn’t it His idea to cross the sea at that time? Didn’t He care that they were about to die? Didn’t He hear their desperate pleas? Yet all they got in return was silence.
The storm raged on. The waves got higher. The wind became more fierce. Their cries for help grew louder, but Jesus was there with them. He was sleeping in the stern of the ship. His presence should have been enough to give peace in the storm, but they couldn’t find peace in the silence. They went down into the ship and woke Him up. They asked Him, “Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” We think the same thing when we’re greeted with silence. We think God doesn’t care. In reality, He does. He expects us to trust His presence in storms even when He’s silent.
When Jesus got to the deck of the boat, what was the first word He used? He said, “Silence! Be still!” Jesus called for silence. He wanted it from the wind, the waves and the disciples. He asked them a couple of rhetorical questions. “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” I think He asks us the same questions when we panic at his silence in our storms. I think He wants us to trust in His presence as much as His word. We shouldn’t be afraid of the silence. We shouldn’t let doubt creep in when we don’t hear from Him. His presence speaks volumes. His presence is enough to protect us. His presence is enough to meet our needs. We just have to have more faith in Him.