This is going to be a highly unoriginal post. It will consist almost entirely of the words of an author I just “met”—someone who has such good things to say about listening to God that there’s no point in me even trying to add anything. So here you go—good stuff on hearing God from Adam S. McHugh’s The Listening Life.*
It is the nature of God to speak. If we’re honest, this puts us in both a joyfully reassuring and utterly dangerous place. Somehow we find ourselves both in the warmth of the womb and on the edge of a cliff. To know that we are not alone, that the echoes of God’s voice resound to the ends of the earth, reminds us that the world is a perfectly safe place to be. (p. 58, with footnote attributing the “safe world” idea to Dallas Willard.)
Perhaps the most common question asked about this subject is “Why can’t I hear God’s voice?” but I wonder whether the real question is “Why won’t I hear God’s voice?” The scriptures present a God who speaks to humanity regularly, in a myriad different ways, and yet who charges us with not listening. The psalmist pleads, “O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts! (Psalm 95:7-8) Spiritual deafness is not an issue with the ability of the ear to hear but with the softness of the heart. (p. 58)
Why would God speak so softly in a world that so often needs a blaring wake-up call? I have to conclude that God’s speech patterns indicate how important he considers our listening. If God shouted, listening would not be required, but a whisper forces us to pay attention and to strain to hear his voice. A whispered message assumes that the listener is in proximity to the speaker. The closeness required by a whisper requires that we are in close relationship with the Lord, aware of his presence and walking with him, poised to do what he says. God’s hushed tones also necessitate that we are quiet and still enough to recognize him. (p. 76)
A loud, overcrowded, hyperactive life is the antithesis of the listening life. The hyperactive life is so often trying to prove its worth, make its mark and justify its existence. The listening life waits, quietly and humbly, for God to make his mark on us. (p. 77)
I have found, over the years, that I have grown more restrained both in my speech about God and my speech to God. I share fewer of my experiences with others, and I have come to see prayer more as a way of being with God and less an opportunity to talk. …Endless words spoken in a heavenly direction—prayer soliloquies—have a way of closing us to the relationship that is offered to us. We all know people, even well-intentioned ones, who habitually dominate conversations, and we can walk away from those conversations feeling more distant from that person than we did before the conversation. For a tradition known for its emphasis on personal relationship with Jesus, evangelicals are not exactly known for their listening abilities. Yet listening is how you get to know a person. You can’t present a monologue to a person and have any confidence that you are learning anything about that person. It’s in listening that you gain access to their mind discover who they are and what they are like, and whether they can be trusted. (pp. 80-81)
Listening is about more than straining to hear voices; it’s about preparing the conditions of our hearts, cultivating openness inside us. In this way, listening is a posture, one of availability and surrender. We don’t control how or when God will speak, but we can control the acoustics that receive the sound. We want to prepare an inner place that is open and hospitable to God’s voice. That inner place requires humility, patience, attentiveness, and trust. We must have hearts already surrendered in order to recognize his voice when he calls. (pp 81-82)
*The Listening Life by Adam S. McHugh, © 2015, published by InterVarsity Press. Adam’s blog can be found at http://www.adamsmchugh.com/.