“Talking to God is prayer. God talking to you is schizophrenia.” So goes an old joke, as depicted in the meme below:
Should prayer be a monologue directed to God? Should our prayer lives resemble beepers rather than instant messaging? Can Christians in the 21st century still claim to hear God’s voice?
Most of the prayers in Christian circles involves man talking to God, usually with adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplications (A.C.T.S.). Very rarely do I hear someone tell me that “God has told me that…” If and when we do hear someone mention that he/she had heard from God, more often than not, we would doubt.
Before the fall of man, it was clear that Adam and Eve were able to converse with God directly, and seemingly unhindered at that:
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)
Throughout the Old testament, God spoke to His people through prophets, dreams, animals, and even inanimate objects such as bushes. Initiating communication was God’s prerogative, and sometimes, hundreds of years would pass by with generations of people “not hearing from God.”
With the coming of the Lord Jesus in the flesh, however, everything changed:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
While the Lord Jesus roamed the earth, he was obviously more accessible than God had been in the past millenia. People could talk to him, and he would reply (although mostly, in parables :p). Even after his ascension, the Lord still spoke to people, such as during Saul’s conversion:
3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. (Acts 9:3-5)
Even the Holy Spirit had ways of telling believers what to do or not do:
6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-9)
Even the whole last book of the Bible, Revelations, was Christ speaking to man:
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3(Revelations 1:1-3)
At this point, we have seen that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all spoke in various means to the people of God from Genesis until Revelation. It is therefore pretty hard to believe that somewhere down the line, God again chose to be silent and chose to “speak” to his people only through biblical passages 100% of the time.
Perhaps the question most of us would like to ask is, how do we really hear from God?
There is this discipline called “listening prayer”, which, in essence, is like prayer, but you are at the other end of the line – receiving words from God instead. I will not attempt to replicate good material that can already be found on the subject. You can view these articles here, and here.
For most of us, at least at one point in time, we may have “heard a voice”, seen a vision, or had a thought or verse suddenly pop up in our minds. Perhaps the first question we would like to ask is, “how do I know that it is from God?”
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
If we are in Christ, we can be confident that we can discern his voice from others’ or even our own. Definitely, God will not say anything that contradicts himself in scripture.
Personally, the idea of listening prayer is a bit new to me, and I find it hard to focus amidst the silence, in anticipation of God talking back. Just like our mobile phones, two-way communication with God is a 24/7 dynamic messaging system. As long we have a “signal” or connection with God, we can receive His messages. Needless to say, turning yourself “off” from God would prevent us from hearing from Him. Sometimes God would “message” us even without us expecting a reply. His messages can be throught “text” (His word), “call” (discernible voice) or “MMS” (visions).
For me, the most common types of “hearing from God” are in the form of thoughts popping up. Sometimes, while reading the bible, I would come across a verse that would seem more special than others, or would have an entirely new personal meaning (but of course, if outside of context, then I proceed with caution in interpreting). During my prayer time, I might remember to pray for someone out of the blue. Often during worship services, I would stop in the middle of singing and write down stuff either in my notebook or phone’s notepad app. More often than not, the things I write down are not related to the songs we were singing at that moment. There are also times where, in my mind, I would just hear the words “Anak…” followed by something that I think God wants me to know.
Listening to God is a discipline we must develop over time. Jesus is our best example, as he often spent time in solitude to hear from God. We need to allot time and focus to develop our spiritual listening skills.
Questions for Reflection:
How is your prayer life like? Is it a one way street where you do all the talking? Or is it a 24/7 dynamic dialogue?
Have you ever been in a situation where you think God spoke to you? What was your reaction?
How does God normally speak to you? What was your most memorable or vivid “hearing from God” moment? Please share them in the comments below 🙂