Jesus often complained that the people in His day listened without hearing (Mt 11:15; 13:9; Mk 4:9, 23; 8:18; Lk 14:35; etc.). What parent hasn’t said, “Do you hear me?” The problem isn’t a physical limitation in our ears, but a mental one of not paying attention to what is being said. Listening is more than keeping quiet while another person talks. Listening takes work and focus.
Listening means to listen actively. I do my best listening with a pencil and paper nearby. I write down things to make sure I get them right and also to know what questions to ask. Usually I start with some impressions, ideas or thoughts that I’ve learned to recognize as coming from God, no me. I do this when working on sermons or lessons. I also do it when counseling. I journal some of these things that are of a more personal nature. I like to write down prayers and what I feel God is telling me to pray for.
This means we must listen expectantly, in eager anticipation of hearing from God. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).
We must also listen quietly. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Find a time and place when you can be quiet within and without, then listen to God.
Then, too, we must listen patiently. God doesn’t tell us everything all at once. As one part is understood and applied then He’ll communicate more. We are usually in a hurry. We often spend more time telling God what to do than listening to what He wants to tell us to do. “Wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7). “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord” (Psalm 130:5-6). Patience is a fruit of the Spirit and we need to depend on God to produce it in us.
Another way we must listen is confidently. We need to trust we will receive from Him what He feels we need, not just what we want. We can’t listen just for a certain preconceived idea from Him but be open to whatever He says. This faith means we trust that God will lead us in the way that is right, even if it’s not the way we want. “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him and He will do this” (Psalm 37:5-6). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
In addition we must listen dependently. Listen as if your life depended on it, for it does! Listen in reliance, as a child listens to an adult (Matthew 18:2-4).
Listen openly. Be open to receive whatever He says. Have no agenda but His agenda. Be open to words of reproof or correction. “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me” (Psalm 25:4-5).
When we listen we must also listen attentively. When I am preaching I can usually tell who is paying attention and who isn’t. There is no time that is more important to pay attention than when God talks! “Be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray” (1 Peter 4:7).
Also listen carefully. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Don’t miss anything God says. Focus. Don’t run ahead and add things, nor let your mind wander and miss what He might want to say.
Make sure you listen submissively. Agree to do it before hearing it. Listen with the full intent of obeying. When Mary heard from the angel about God’s humanly-impossible task for her, her response was “I am the Lord’s servant. … May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). That’s how Jesus obeyed God’s will for Him to go to the cross (Matthew 26:39).
Finally, make sure you listen reverently. Stand in awe of God, never take Him for granted. Don’t think God is here to do our bidding and pleasure. We are here for Him, He isn’t here for us. “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:27-28). “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Charles Stanley says we need to make these declarations in our inner spirit by faith as we listen to God. Rate yourself on how you stand on these:
1. I’m eager to hear what You are going to say to me (expectant).
2. I’m listening, Lord (quiet).
3. I’ll wait until I hear from You (patient).
4. I’m confident that You are going to tell me what I need to hear (confident).
5. I depend upon You completely to tell me who I am to become, what I am to say, and what I am to do (dependent).
6. I want to be open to all possibilities, Lord (open).
7. I am listening keenly to every word (attentive).
8. I am trusting You, Holy Spirit, to confirm to me that what I am hearing is, indeed, from God (careful).
9. Not my will or way, but Yours, Lord (submissive).
10. I am in awe and thanksgiving that You would speak to me, Lord (reverent).
So we see that listening means viewing prayer as dialogue not monologue. It means communicating as you would with a friend or mate, using frequency, intensity and time. Asking questions is a good way to find God’s guidance. When you listen, listen expectantly, quietly, patiently, confidently, dependently, openly, attentively, carefully, submissively and reverently. Skillful listening takes practice. Spend some time listening to God now.
(If I can answer questions or offer personal counsel, or if you would like a free copy of my Spiritual Warfare Handbook, email me at Jerry@ChristianTrainingOrganization.org or download it from http://sw.christiantrainingonline.org/. My next book, Spiritual Warfare in the Bible, which is a more advanced treatment of spiritual warfare, is also available there for free.)