How Do I Know It’s God I’m Hearing?

“How do I know whether it’s God’s thoughts or mine that I’m hearing when I’m listening in prayer?” That’s a question I hear quite often–and obviously a very important one.

When I first began trying to hear from God in earnest, I was pretty concerned about being misled. I was so worried about hearing the wrong voice, that I almost didn’t even want to try. But then I realized that if I did not seek to hear from God, that the alternative was to “lean on [my] own understanding” (Prov. 3:5)! That usually didn’t work out too well for me! So I decided that if Jesus said His sheep hear His voice (Jn. 10:27), then I was going to believe Him and count on Him to help me get it right and not hear the wrong thing. Here are some things He showed me:
1. If it’s His voice, it will sound like God. How does God’s voice “sound”? Well, He has a distinct tone of voice. We learn from Scripture that He is kind and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love. He does not condemn or accuse (thought the enemy certainly does!). He is gracious and loving. He is holy and righteous. He is gentle. He is a good Father and faithful Friend. When we hear God speak, He speaks true to His character. How do we get to know HIs character? By reading His Word.
2. If it’s God’s message, it will align with His written Word and will not contradict it. (It will frequently be more specific than Scripture, however. God really does want to help us know what career to pursue, whether to replace or fix our car, what medical treatment to pursue, and what church to join–but we’ll have to get that guidance by listening to His Spirit because are not specific verses that apply to those situations.) This is another reason why it is so important to ground listening prayer in the written Word of God.
3. God’s words will lead to good fruit. If you were to follow through on what you think God is saying to you, where would it lead in two, five, or ten years? (Mt. 7:16-20).
4. His words will be wise, according to God’s wisdom. What’s God’s wisdom look like? Check out James 3:17 to find out some of its qualities.
5. His words will stand up over time. Ask God to help you see if what you are hearing will stand up in a storm or if, like the guy who did not listen to Jesus’ words and built his house on the sand, it will come crashing down in the wind (Mt. 7:24-27).
6. What God says will be wiser and higher than your own thoughts. Often the things we hear from God are things we never would have thought of on our own. Sometimes He surprises us with His creativity. Often He challenges us with His “high road” challenges (when on our own, we would prefer to take the path of least resistance).
7. On the other hand, if we’ve known the Lord for a long time, then His Spirit has lived inside us for a long time, too. For as many years as you’ve trusted in Jesus, His Spirit has been living inside you, nudging, warning, comforting, counseling, guiding, teaching, and so forth. Chances are, you’ve already been hearing God for a long time. You may have confused His thoughts from yours because you’ve been hearing Him speak to your heart and mind for so long that His voice has become very familiar.
8. When listening to God in a group, what you hear will often agree with what others are hearing, providing confirmation. If it does not, that may mean that you all need to listen some more to get on the same page with each other and God. It could be that what you are hearing is a piece of the bigger picture and asking God more questions until He shows you how what you are hearing fits with what the rest of the group is hearing.
These eight tips have helped me tremendously as I’ve sought to become more consistent in hearing and trusting God’s voice. Nevertheless, they are not foolproof. Nevertheless, God has shown me that hearing from Him is not a science. I will never be able to prove with 100 percent accuracy that it’s God I’m hearing and not my own wild imagination. Like every other aspect of my life with Him, hearing from God is an act of faith. However, I’ve come to realize that He wants me to hear from Him even more than I do. So it boils down to my willingness to believe that He, the Good Shepherd, will guard me from falling into a ditch. And I can assure you that in the years that I’ve been practicing listening prayer, He’s never let me down.

Give Him Time—and He’ll Show Up

Lots of folks tell me they wish they could hear from God better. They want more from prayer than a one-way dialogue, but they don’t always know how to tune in to His part of the conversation.  Because learning to hear from God is key to engaging God in prayer and enjoying Him in relationship, I always encourage however I can.

There’s obviously much to be said about listening to God. Developing discernment, dealing with common obstacles, and understanding the manner in which God speaks (and doesn’t speak), are all important if we are to hear from God with clarity and confidence. However, many of us make it far more complicated than it needs to be.

I led a prayer retreat this past weekend for a group of people, several of whom had not had regular experience of hearing from God. The retreat format was very simple. I would teach a bit about hearing from God, share some of my experiences in listening prayer, then send them off an hour or so to be alone with Him and listen for His voice.

Over the 24 hours of the retreat, nearly everyone reported hearing from God. To some He spoke encouragement, to others, deliverance. He gave guidance to a few, and gentle nudges to others. Several heard Him speak to deep places in their hearts.

What always amazes me is how responsive God is if we will just slow down and give Him time to speak. I used to think learning to hear from God was an involved process (and sometimes it can be)—but for many people, the main requirements are little more than time and attention. At nearly every retreat I lead, people report to me how surprised they are: If they will just sit still and actually expect God to talk to them, He does!

Clearly, God can speak to us whenever and in whatever manner He chooses. But, I’ve noticed that most often I hear Him when I stop my other activity, get quiet, and focus my attention completely on Him. In other words, when I accept the invitation of Psalm 46:10 to “be still and know that [He] is God.”

How long has it been since you’ve had a heart-to-heart with God? You don’t need to go on a retreat to hear His voice—but you may need to slow down and give him 45 minutes or an hour. Why not look at your calendar and see when you might schedule an appointment with God? Guaranteed, there are things He’d like to talk with you about. And it could very well be that He just needs a bit of your time to do that.

If you do, please let me know how it goes!

Note: I am still building this new blog platform. I’ve added features this week, including a “share” button, tabs about my speaking and books, and a Facebook badge. Please poke around a bit and see what’s here. And if you know others who would enjoy my blog on prayer—especially prayer in the context of listening and relationship—please help them connect with me.

On Turning Trials to Spiritual Advantage

In hindsight, I can usually see God’s good purposes in pain and difficulties. But I’m not much good at all at discovering His redemption in my present trials. By faith, I know it has to be there, but to me, most suffering seems pretty futile in the moment.

The late Medieval monk Thomas a Kempis is challenging me on my limited perspective, however. In his classic, The Imitation of Christ, he writes much on the theme of learning how to turn present circumstances to spiritual advantage.

Someone irritating you? That’s a chance to practice self-denial.

Someone lying about you? Your lucky day! You get to learn humility!

Everything going wrong for you? Just a reminder that this world is not your home.

At first Kempis seemed to be a bit out of touch to me. To turn every insult and injury into a “Hooray, I get to grow spiritually!” seemed almost like denial. But as I continued to ponder his approach to the spiritual life, I realized he is right. If I really mean it when I say that I want to be like Jesus, I want to imitate His life, then learning to accept and benefit from trials has to be part of it—probably a big part of it.

“Christ was willing to be assaulted and despised, and yet you have the nerve to moan and to wail just because something untoward happened to you?” Kempis challenges. “Christ had accusers and detractors, and yet you want to have only friends and benefactors?”

I hear the dare in Kempis’ words. But I know myself well enough to know that apart from Jesus actually living His life through me, I cannot do it. So Kempis is giving me a new way of praying.

Lord, how would You like to use this difficulty for my spiritual advantage? How can I be like You in this trial? Holy Spirit, will You please fill me with the ______________________ (humility, patience, faith, forgiveness, etc.) I need so that when this circumstance is through, I will resemble Jesus more closely?

Anyone want to join me in Kempis’ dare? I’d love to hear how it goes for you!

Note: This is one of my first posts in my new blog platform. If you enjoyed reading this, would you consider sharing it with your friends or network so that more readers can join us? Thanks!

Farewell . . . and Hello!

I don’t consider myself an apostle. Nevertheless, today I feel kind of like one. Apostles invest their lives in a certain place for a certain amount of time, and then God moves then on to minister in a new place, for another period of time. If the Apostle Paul serves as an example, apostles don’t forget about the people they’ve ministered to over the years and miles—they continue to pray for them, encourage them, and perhaps even visit occasionally. But the face of their ministry changes as God moves them in new directions.

For the past 10 years I have given my life to connecting people to God through prayer. First as editor of Pray! magazine, then as editor of prayer resources, both through NavPress. I’ve used whatever means were available—writing, editing, speaking, teaching, one-on-one mentoring—to reach as many as possible with the good news that two-way conversations with God are the key to deep, satisfying, personal relationship with Him.

And this message and ministry will always be crucial for me. However, over the past year or two, God has helped me to see that prayer alone is not enough for knowing Him and relating to Him as He really is. We also need the His written Word.

Hearing God through Scripture

God has revealed Himself in Scripture—yet many of His children struggle with the Bible. They find it intimidating, difficult, off-putting or irrelevant. Which means that many believers have only a second-hand experience of Scripture, passed on to them through the interpretations and experiences of pastors, authors, and conference speakers. This not only leaves them vulnerable to error and deception, but also deprives them of the primary way God has given us to hear from Him. God speaks to us through His Word. If we aren’t reading it for ourselves, we’re missing the main way He communicates with us.

So, God has opened a new door of ministry for me at a ministry that focuses on helping people get into in-depth, life-transforming, verse-by-verse Bible study. I’ll be joining the team at Community Bible Study (www.communitybiblestudy.org), helping them in the publishing end of all their wonderful Bible study materials.

But I prayer will remain the foundation of who I am and how I minister. So to that end, I plan to continue to blog (at a new website–cynthiaprayblog.wordpress.com), lead weekend retreats, write Bible studies, teach, or whatever else the Lord gives me to do to help His people connect with Him through prayer.

Stay Connected!

So please stay in touch! I don’t want to lose you. You won’t find me at the NavPress blog anymore, so why not take a minute right now to make sure we’ll still be connected. You can do that by one of these ways:

1.     Go to my Facebook author page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cynthia-Hyle-Bezek/195850677138953) and click on “like.” You will be updated everytime I post a new blog.

2.     Go to cynthiaprayblog.wordpress.com and register. You have to jump through a couple of hoops, but it’s not hard, and it’s totally worth it. After you get the confirmation of your registration, plug in the URL for my blog (cynthiaprayblog.wordpress.com). Once you are on my actual blog page, look at the top left where you’ll see “Follow blog via email.” Click on “follow” and you will automatically be subscribed so that every time I post something new, you will be notified.

Other things to keep in mind—if you haven’t already become a member of the Pray Network, now would be a great time to do that. I’ll still hang out there, along with more than 3,000 other prayer-minded folks. Joining is free and easy. Just go to www.praynetwork.org and follow the directions.

If you haven’t used my Prayer Begins with Relationship Bible study or read my book on personal prayer retreats, Come Away with Me, those are other ways to feel connected. They’re both available at www.navpress.com, along with many other wonderful prayer resources.

So, though I am leaving NavPress, I am not leaving you—or I don’t want to, anyhow. Please take a few minutes now to stay connected. And know that I am praying for you. Actually, it’s an apostle’s prayer, taken from Ephesians 1:

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spiritof wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (16-19)

Cultivating a Two-Way Conversation with God

I used to think that “hearing from God” was something that only happened rarely, and usually in a burning-bush, dramatic way. Do I need to say that when I thought like that I didn’t hear from God very often?

Years later, I can honestly say that hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear from God. That’s because He’s taught me some important things about what that conversation is like—and how I can create an atmosphere that nurtures it.
If two-way conversation with God is new to you, here are some hints that might help you experience His voice more often.
Expect God to Speak to You
God speaks to all of His children, not just to certain “special” or extra-spiritual ones. “My sheep know my voice,” Jesus said in John 10:27. And 1 Corinthians 2 says the Holy Spirit reveals to our spirits the very thoughts of God. So the starting place is to believe that God wants to talk with you and will talk to you.
Know What His Voice Is Like
God speaks in many different ways, but the most common way is by His Holy Spirit speaking to your spirit through an inner, “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, kjv). When I was just starting to actively listen for God, I expected His voice to be somehow louder or different or more distinct from the way my thoughts sounded. But I gradually learned that He most typically speaks to me by interjecting His thoughts into my own, sometimes with pictures, but most often in ways very similar to how my normal thinking goes. Expect God’s “voice” to sound very similar to your own thoughts—except that what He has to say will be wiser, more creative, and all-around better.
Ask God to Speak
Samuel, when he was first learning God’s voice, gave Him an invitation: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). Invite the Lord to speak to you, too. Let Him know how much you desire two-way communication from Him.
Ask God to Help You Hear Only Him
The enemy tries to get our ear. Frequently, our own thoughts and reasoning also compete with God’s voice. But Jesus assures us that His sheep “won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice” (John 10:5). Ask God to protect your time of listening from distractions, including any voice that is not His.
Give Him Time to Speak
Sometimes, when I was starting out, I didn’t hear God simply because I did not give Him time. I’d ask a question or tell Him something and then move on to the next thing on my list, barely even pausing. When you speak to God, especially when you ask Him something, pause and wait quietly for His answer. Be still and notice what comes to you—thoughts, images, feelings, pictures, ideas, words or phrases, scriptures, memories. These could very well be ways the Lord is responding to you.
Write Down What You Think He is Saying
Recording what you hear is helpful for a variety of reasons. Writing helps you focus. It gives you a record of your conversation with God so you can better remember what He has said. It also provides a means of sharing what you are hearing with others so they can help discern if you are truly hearing from Him.
Don’t Worry!
Trust God with the process. He wants to communicate with you even more than you want to hear from Him. As you seek to hear from Him with an open, submissive heart, you can count on Him to guide you and to protect you from getting off base.
            If you doubt what you are hearing (it should line up with God’s written Word and with His character) ask Him for confirmation, and perhaps share it with a friend who hears from God well. But don’t assume that when you hear words of loving kindness and affirmation to you that it’s not God. He’s your loving Father and truest Friend. If He says “I love you!” or “I’m pleased with you” or “You’re doing well” or “I want to bless you” or some other heartening words, don’t discount Him just because what He is saying encourages you! He’s the God of all hope, comfort, and encouragement.
Get Started
Like any other skill, listening to God takes practice. The best way to learn is by jumping in and doing it. He will help you. He will protect you. He will meet you where you are and move you forward into deeper communication with Him.