August 2019 // How can I hear from God?
There are many questions that stop children and young people wanting to know more about God. Rather than trying to answer questions they’re not asking, we thought we’d go straight to the source and hear from the experts themselves. Welcome to ‘What does yellow taste like?’
“What do people mean when they say God talks to them? It’s not like he says: “Hello, Phoebe. How are you?”
“Does God speak through the Bible?”
“I don’t think so, but the Bible tells us about God.”
“I think God speaks to my mummy and daddy.”
One of the most important things to remember about God is that he loves us. If you love someone you want to be with them, to look after them and to talk to them.
Humans get this. Even if we’re shy we still need people to talk to. But with humans it’s easy because we can see and hear each other. We talk to one another all the time. And not just humans...I talk to my dog. A lot!
With God it’s not quite like that. Because you can’t see him, can you? Admittedly, there are lots of Bible stories where God physically appears to people and chats to them (check out Genesis, for example, where it happens all the time). But later in the Bible when people talk about ‘hearing’ God the encounters are more mysterious. For example, when the prophets talk about hearing from God it’s more like they are hearing some form of message. They don’t see God in the same way. Even someone like Isaiah, who heard from God a lot, says: ‘‘Truly, you are a God who has been hiding himself, the God and Saviour of Israel” (Isaiah 45:15).
So we don’t see him. But Christians believe that God still talks to us and that we can communicate with him. So how does that happen?
The first and most important thing to say is that you’re not likely to hear from God if you’re not actually listening. I’m not saying that it can’t happen. Sometimes he breaks through in spectacular ways, like that moment in the Bible when Saul was walking to Damascus and a vision of Jesus knocked him off his feet (Acts 9:1–9). But that’s not how it mostly happens.
Instead, we have to learn how to pay attention to God. This means that if you want to listen to God it helps to stop listening to anything else. We have to switch off our phones and turn off our screens. Basically, we have to shut up and listen. And that’s quite scary, as even when we unplug the headphones we can still have a lot of noisy thoughts in our heads! But the more you are able to sit quietly and listen for God the more opportunity there is for God to speak. If we make time to listen, I believe God will speak to us.
Sometimes people ‘hear’ God telling them things. Very occasion-ally it’s as if a real voice is speaking, but much more often it’s like a thought that suddenly slips into their minds. This can happen indifferent ways and in different places.
Obviously, the place where it happens most is when we pray. The other day I was having a conversation with an older lady called Grace. She told me that God had been speaking to her during her prayer times.
“How did that happen?” I asked her.
“It’s like one of those CD players,” she said. “You know, where the tray slides out and you put a CD in and it slides back in again. It’s like a new tune suddenly sort of slid into my head.”
I liked this image (although I did check her head just in case there was a CD slot and she was an android of some kind). The point is, she wasn’t sure where the message or thought had come from, but it sort of ‘slid in’ and there it was.
Sometimes when you read the Bible – or hear it read out to you– a word or phrase will leap out at you. It’s as if that bit is speaking directly to you. Many Christians would say that this is God speaking to them through the Bible.
Sometimes it’s through the things we see and hear, such as paintings, movies or books. A lot of people encounter God through nature. Out walking and exploring the world around us, it’s as though we suddenly understand something in a new way or realise we have to do something or act in a different way. There’s a new tune in our heads.
Sometimes God just repeats things. Have you ever had that thing where the same Bible verse crops up over and over again within the space of a few days? You hear it at church, maybe, then it pops up on social media or you read it in your Bible or it comes up in conversation. Pay attention to those moments. Maybe God is trying to speak to you! Or maybe it happens in conversations with others. Someone says something and you think: “Yes! That’s for me.”
There are many more ways in which we can hear from God. One final point: if you do ‘hear’ something it’s always good to check it with others. They will be helpful in confirming your impressions.
So why not try listening and see what happens? In a time of prayer, through the Bible or talking to others, you never know, one day, in one moment, you might turn around and find a new tune playing in your head.