As part of our series Follow Jesus we are inviting people to ask questions. Out first question was a great one:
How can I discipline myself to study my Bible more, put other things to one side and learn to know, really know, God’s voice which I find hard even though I have been a Christian for a long time
It’s a great question because at its heart the question expresses the desire to hear God speak. Brilliant – a great desire
In beginning to offer a way forward, I want to gently challenge the assumption though, made in the question, that if you study harder you will hear God speak more. I think that’s unlikely, and I think you have probably tried that already. Most Christians have.
So let’s go for a different approach.
When we are learning anything new we need three things. Jesus thought so and he used all three in raising up his disciples. It’s the same for us.
Firstly we need information. We need good solid biblical teaching. In this example we need to understand from the Bible some really important questions: Is it reasonable to expect to hear God speak? How might I hear God speak? and so on.
If you haven’t been taught that God wants to speak then you are not going to get any further. I suspect though that most people who have been Christians for a long time have that information. If you haven’t, then the first few sermons that I preached in The Story series is a good place to start. Most Christians have that basic understanding though that God wants to speak and that they should expect to hear him.
The issue is not with the theory. That though is also the trouble. In order to learn something new we need more than theory. Every apprentice knows this. There needs to be imitation. We need the ability to watch, to experience, to learn by being alongside others so that we can begin to imitate, to copy those who have themselves learnt what we are seeking to learn.
That’s the model of discipleship that Jesus gave. To learn by being alongside someone else (“Come follow me”). It’s no different for us. It is apprenticeship.
So if you want to learn to hear God speak then find someone who hears God speak. I don’t mean someone who knows a lot about the Bible that’s not necessarily the same thing. Find someone who has learnt to hear God speak and start reading the Bible with them.
Watch them, listen to them, hear what God is saying to them and, by imitation, begin to hear God speak for yourself. It will be worth every effort. Doing SOAP together would be a great way to go about this. See more info here and especially the last comments about reading with others.
Like learning to drive, becoming a plumber or a surgeon theory will never be enough. Get close and practical with someone who is already doing it and you will begin to hear God speak.
Finally, if we want something to becoming normal and natural then we need to immerse ourselves in it. Surround yourself with others who are hearing God speak, listen to them, share your experiences with them, immerse yourself in a learning-to-hear-God-speak environment. That’s how you learn.
All of this is just what Jesus did with his disciples. I explore this more here.
A book I found helpful on learning to listen to God is called Walking with God by John Eldredge. The Book alone will not do it. On its own it will just provide more information. But alongside getting close with someone it will be useful. I urge you to avoid the temptation of ignoring all the stuff about imitation and immersion above and simply order the book!