I remember during theological college being told over and over again about the importance of asking questions. It is the central component of any genuine listening, it is core to forming authentic relationships, it is a key avenue for finding out how you can genuinely help or love anyone. Questions, I was told, are important. I agree.
I’m an extrovert by nature and I talk a lot (those who know me will verify!). Learning to ask questions has, for me, meant learning to not jump to assumptions about what people are saying and to hold back on my responses until I’ve given them plenty of time to speak. It has meant learning to own up to my ignorance or confusion about things people are saying so that I actually find the truth, rather than pretending to know what they’re talking about. It has meant learning patience, humility and love. These lessons have been learnt the most thoroughly, and led to the greatest benefit, in my most intimate relationships. Right up there among them being my marriage. Asking questions and (very importantly!) waiting to answers, even ones I don’t like, has deepened my relationships across the board.
So, what about in our most important relationship, the relationship that (for those who believe at least) defines all the others? What about in our relationship with God? Do we ask Him questions? Do we wait for answers?
It was maybe 8 years ago that I remember first being struck by the idea that I could actually ask God questions and He might answer. I’m not just talking about musing to myself over theological concepts or conundrums of life, but asking specific questions about everything from ‘who have you made me to be?’ to ‘what do you think about this person?’ to ‘what can I do to bless you today?’ or ‘what are you up to in this place today?’ If God is a distant being known only through words on a page then any questions we have we need to deal with amongst ourselves. But if God is our Father who relates to us even so intimately as filling us with His Spirit – His very presence – then we’re in a two-way relationship and communication is open. For me, this radically changed my faith. A new life came into it along with a joy and dynamism because it no longer became simply about following precepts in a book, but about being aware every moment of the presence of my Father with me, speaking, loving and moving.
So why did it take so long? I think because, probably like many others, I wondered whether God could really actually speak to me. Would he? How would I know if he did? Understanding a few key things helped me with all this….
1. Jesus told us He would speak. John 10:27: “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me.” If you’re a sheep you can hear. From the first
Word at creation through to Jesus answering his disciples’ questions away from the crowds, the Bible is full of God coming and speaking to His people. Jesus’ promise was that if we’re a sheep we would hear – we can listen, be known (in relationship) and follow. Not only can we hear God, but we can know that it is Him.
2. How do we know? A major question for me was ‘How do I know it is not just me? It feels too natural.’ Sometimes we’re waiting for a bolt out of the blue, an audible voice or writing in the sky. Yet if we’re made for relationship with God then we are designed to hear His voice – it is natural. God often speaks to me with words and phrases that pop in my mind because I’m a words person. I know others who hear God through pictures because they think pictorially. The imagination God has given us is a huge means by which He speaks and often it will seem like the most natural thing in the world. So we don’t discount it from the outset….but how do we know?
3. Community, obedience and intimacy. Not an exhaustive list, but three key parts of discerning God’s voice. Intimacy – like any person, the better you know them the better you know their voice. You get to know them by spending time with them and listening to them. Give time to being with God, waiting for Him to speak, getting to know His character, what He’s like. Obedience – listen and do it. I learnt to recognise God’s voice as I began to try and follow it. I made a choice to stop waiting until all my doubt was removed and what He may have said sufficiently analysed before acting on it – I began to act. As I followed gentle promptings I began to discern more easily what was me and what was Him – it becomes fairly obvious as you walk it out! Community – we don’t walk alone. Talk to others who know Him well – ask them how they hear God speak – ask them to weigh up with you what you believe God is saying. Look to Scripture. The Bible is written by our community – God will say nothing that contradicts Scripture, though He may speak about things not explicitly in there (like who to marry, where to work, etc).
So, what do you think? Does God speak today? Ask me any questions, let me know any thoughts, tell me how God speaks to you and what this means for you….I’d love to hear, so why not leave a comment or answer the poll and continue the conversation?