When Christians talk about listening to God, we often rely on cliches instead of really drilling down to the truth. Scripture gets pulled out of context; we end up saying (or doing) really weird things in the hopes of “hearing from God.”
To be honest, most of what Christians say in this category isn’t overly useful or biblical. As a disclaimer, everything in this article is written by me, a man who struggled to answer this question for years.
It kept me living in uncertainty and passivity as a result. Hopefully, I can help us get to an answer that is more faithful and helpful.
4 Things You Don’t Need When Listening To God
#1 – You do not need a special way to pray.
You don’t have to crack a prayer code so that God becomes forced to respond with an audible voice, laying out the plan for your future. God is not a prayer genie, and listening to God doesn’t require special methods of prayer.
#2 – You don’t need a ‘clear calling’ from God.
The Bible only really speaks of two kinds of calling: a call to salvation (from God, to those who come to faith in Jesus), and a call to pastoral ministry (from God, to the men whom he has called to be leaders in churches). Beyond that, there is no mention in the Bible of callings to other categories.
Calling does exist, but not how we normally speak of it. You are simply called to be faithful where you are. If you are a plumber, be a faithful plumber. If you are a wife, be a faithful wife.
God never promises to supply us with “clear callings” to specific careers, relationships, cities, etc.. There are no promises in the Bible that say: “when you want to decide who to date (for example), pray really hard about it and I will give you a good feeling (often called a ‘peace’) about the right person.”
God has never promised to operate like that. God expects us to make decisions based on his revealed will (the Bible) and the wisdom he gives us (more below).
#3 – You don’t need to pull an Elijah.
Yes, God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice after he brought out the fire and whirlwind. No, he has not promised, in any conceivable way, that he plans to communicate with you that way.
Praying is good. Praying in areas of quiet retreat is great! However, you don’t need to figure out the perfect amount of quiet so that you can finally hear the still, small voice. God may speak to you audibly, but 99.9% of the time (or greater) that will not happen.
We need to stop thinking God is hiding himself just because we want him to speak to us in a way that he never promised to speak.
#4 – You don’t need a fleece.
Yes, God granted the signs to Gideon before he went out to lead the army of Israel. Yes, God performed the sign twice. No, again, God has not promised, in any conceivable manner, to ever communicate with you that way. God never even told Gideon to do the fleece! Gideon’s weak faith caused him to ask for it, twice, instead of trusting the word of the Lord that had already been spoken.
The above may sound harsh, but it is good news! You don’t need magic tricks, fleeces, perfect faith, or supernatural hearing. When it comes to listening to God, you have everything you need already.
4 Things You Don’t Need When Listening Listening To God
#1 – When listening to God, you have God’s word, already spoken.
God has given us his word. If you are reading this blog post, chances are that you are one of the people on planet Earth that has nearly unfettered access to the Bible. Take it up and read. The Bible is clear, powerful, complete, and sufficient. It has everything you need to be equipped for every good work.
Again, this is great news! God has given us his word so that we can know everything he needs us to know to live for him.
Christians can fall into thinking that we need something “more” from God. More information, more of his presence, more words from Him. We need to remember that God is never silent because God’s word is sufficient. When you want to listen to God, open up his word, and be 100% confident that he has spoken–truthfully, clearly, sufficiently.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
If God has already spoken in his word, you don’t need to listen for anything more. Should a believer marry an unbeliever? No, 2 Corinthians 6:14. Should I be involved in a local church? Yes, Acts 2:42, Hebrews 10:25, and on and on.
If you already see a clear command or principle in scripture, then don’t look for more words from God! Don’t be Gideon, trust what he has already said.
#2 – When listening to God, you have God growing his wisdom in you.
When we come to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit does something amazing–he indwells us. The Holy Spirit’s mission, after we come to faith, is to make our hearts more like Jesus’s heart. He gives us new desires, he empowers us to put sin to death, and he gives us the fruit of the spirit. Even more, he gives us wisdom from God the father.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).
The Reformation Study Bible explains wisdom as: “to know and understand godliness, to do what is pleasing to God.”
Wisdom is not about deciphering the future, or being able to hear some mystical voice of God; wisdom is about living faithfully in the present! This is the same concept of wisdom that see in Romans 12:2, talking about discerning God’s will.
Over our time following Christ, the Holy Spirit is growing his desires, his perspectives, his wisdom, in us. If you have a greater desire to obey God, then you are likely growing in this wisdom. You don’t need a sign from heaven, you have been given the mind of Christ instead. God is at work in you.
Make decisions that are obedient, where clear obedience is black and white (i.e. stealing vs. not stealing), and seek to have pure motives for decisions that are more grey.
If we make decisions about jobs, relationships, or schools from a selfless, God-desiring heart, then they are wise decisions through which we can glorify God.
#3 – When listening to God, you have God’s people.
God not only gives wisdom to you, he gives it to all his children. You, hopefully, know a few people that are godly and wise. In times of listening to God, go to them, and ask for prayer and wisdom. God has spoken to me through others many times; it isn’t mystical, it often seems extremely ordinary. Either way, it is valuable and godly.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice
Stop thinking you don’t need wisdom from others. God has put his people around you for a purpose (another reason to be involved with others in a local church). Lean into their wisdom, test it with scripture, and allow God to use others to speak to you.
#4 – When listening to God, you have God’s guidance.
God’s guidance is going to come to you in the mundanity of life. He is sovereign over all things. All things are being worked according to the counsel of His will and the salvation of His people (Ephesians 1, Romans 8). You can trust that your circumstances are not an accident right now.
What could God be telling you through your circumstances? Do you need more patience? More faith? More love for others?
God is speaking through the circumstances of your life. He is telling you to serve your neighbor when you see that they could use a friend. He is telling you to trust him with your future when it seems mirky. He is telling you that he is the provider for you and your family when work is not going as planned.
Lean into your circumstances. Be obedient where you are right now, and trust God with the future. God has commanded you to be faithful, not a fortune-teller.
Guidance is not something God gives as much as guidance is something God does. – Tim Keller
By far, the most important thing to remember is anything we “hear” needs to be subjected to what God has clearly spoken in His word. There are no exceptions to this rule.
God is never going to give you a real peace about an action that goes against his word. Advice from a preacher or others is always subjected to what is written in the Bible. If we think that our godly wisdom is telling us to do something dishonoring to God, then we are not using wisdom at all.
“God’s will for your life,” according to the Bible, is far more about who God wants you to be than what specifically he wants you to do. Above all, invest your time in the Scriptures. The more that our minds are renewed in the truth, the less we will need to be searching for fleeces, fires, quiet voices, and codes. Instead, we will be freed up to make wise, obedient decisions that glorify God.
Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2)