“My question is, how do we retrain ourselves to hear God? I've been taking up all of my prayer with my words that I no longer know how to hear God.”
This question is on the lips of many of us who long to know God and to hear Him, yet lose Him in the midst of the world and our own thoughts and ideas and problems.
I think that the answer to my friend’s question is very simple, yet profoundly difficult in practice. We retrain ourselves to hear God by listening.
But why is it so hard to do? Isaiah 30:15 sums up the problem fairly well. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”
We would “have none of it” because we secretly believe that we are better equipped to handle and manage our lives (and the lives of others) than God is. And we also don’t want to have to face the question, “What if we take time to be quiet and listen and we don’t hear anything?”
An important part of stilling our souls is identifying what drives our busyness and our wordiness. What fears cause us to be in constant motion or to lapse into apathetic non-communication with God? What misplaced hopes cause us to believe that talking to God about our problems is more important and necessary than listening? When we identify these, we can confess them to God, renounce them (repent), and claim the truth of who we truly are and who God truly is.
Last week I wanted to go and pray for some people in my church, leaders under my care. But when I got to my place of prayer, going through a list of people didn’t seem like the thing to do. And so I sat quietly, listening, being with God, and seeking to simply abide in His presence. Honestly, it seemed like a waste. It seemed that I wasn’t praying my pastoral prayers. But I cannot lead people where I am not going myself. I cannot teach people a God-centered, God-infused life if I myself am a functional atheist, and if praying through a list of people becomes more about my fears and less about my faith, I am operating with a very small (non-existent?) view of God.
I was reminded of being out for a walk in the woods and hearing something nearby. If you want to hear it again, you don’t keep crunching in the leaves. You stop. Your listen. You cup your hands to your ears and look intently all around, hardly daring to breath.
Retraining ourselves to hear God requires stopping, stillness, and listening, which are three things that are in short supply in our world and in even in a typical Sunday church service. To retrain ourselves in hearing God requires carving out space for that to happen, saying “no” to the internal and external demands to satisfy our own desires, and saying yes to things like Sabbath and Scripture and silence.
And it is a retraining. Stillness is countercultural for us. It takes time to grow our attentiveness to the Spirit. But there is great reward when we do.
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Be still and believe.