If my example can help someone, then I will gladly share it.
“Hearing from God” is a critical skill for any Christian, but one most of us can’t nail. I’m one of those; hearing from God is always tricky. So I started reading John Eldredge’s “Walking with God” and got some great examples and tips. I started applying what I learned and gained some new experiences.
I decided to share one of these experiences with you by breaking down the following story. This is not necessarily a formula, more of a chronicle of my experience, but it’s an extremely helpful method nonetheless.
How I Got Into This Mess…
I’ve been unemployed for some months now, so I went to a career expo. If you have an English Degree, stay away from career expos. They don’t take kindly to your types around there.
Anyway, I spoke with someone in a staffing agency that covered a wide variety of fields (not English, but oh well). I have a lot of office experience, so I thought that would work well. The agent set me up for an interview, but only too late did I realize that I had accidentally signed up for an interview for medical office work. I’ve worked for a medical office, and while I won’t discount them entirely, I can easily say that was my least-favorite job (burn, burn, burn!).
So now what? I could go through with the interview and make the most of it, try to get back on track. On the other hand, I wasn’t too enthused about the work at the time, so maybe I should have just called back and cancelled the whole thing. But I didn’t know what to do.
So I asked God. Here’s how the whole thing broke down.
1. I Realized I COULD Hear from God.
This isn’t some special gift for the elite. God speaks to everyone. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus’s death tore the veil between us and God (Matthew 27:50-51) so there’s nothing between you and him if you’ve repented of sin and accepted Jesus as Lord. If not, that’s a different article, and you can say something in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you like.
But as this article is primarily to Christians, I’ll continue on the assumption that you are saved. Psalm 139 tells us just how intimately we are known. God created every fiber of every hair on our heads, made every grain of our fingernails, counted and creased every fold on our palms, and cultivated every blood cell in our veins. The more you study Biology, the more fascinating God becomes. You see how much detail God put into us, from the way our cells take in nutrients, to how proper breathing can metabolize body fat. And that’s just our own bodies!
The point is that God cares about the tiniest details because he created them. That is where you get to number 2…
2. I Started Small
John Eldredge taught me that learning to hear from God is just that: a learning process. You have to train your ear to hear and know His voice. To do that, you want to start with small questions.
You cannot start with huge and desperate questions, such as, “Should I marry Ted?” or “Do you want me to sell the family business tomorrow?” […] That’s like learning to play the piano by starting with Mozart, learning to ski by doing double black diamonds. There is way too much emotion involved, to much swirling around in our heads. I find that to hear the voice of God, we must be in a posture of quiet surrender. Starting with small questions helps us to do that. –Walking with God, page 30.
Can you ask the big questions? Yeah, I think so. But it’s harder to hear the answer because of the chaos of the situation. You’ve heard that God is a “still small voice.” This comes from 1 Kings 19:11-12. Elijah sees a powerful wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but recognizes that none of them are God. But then, “after the fire came a gentle whisper.” Sometimes God shouts, but so, so often, God whispers. You cannot hear the still-small voice of God in the tornado if you don’t know what it sounds like. Small questions teach our ear what to listen for.
Back to my job question. I’d been looking for a job, yes, but this was just one puny piece of the puzzle: do I go in for an interview with this one company that is not really a job? There was very little noise; my career wasn’t hanging on it. It seemed a good place to start small.
3. I got comfortable for a good wait.
There are times God answers your prayers before your knees hit the floor. But many times, we have to wait, often because we have to get into a place where we can receive the answer (more on this later).
If you’re comfortable on your knees, you kneel. Me, I can’t stay in that posture long; I fidget too much and it becomes a distraction. I sat on my bed with a pillow propped up behind my back (how old am I again?). This puts me in a perfectly comfortable place to wait in stillness while my mind settles and I appeal to God.
Don’t just ask God what to do between bites of lunch. Make time to specifically sit aside with God and show an actual interest in Him. Also, you need to focus; remember the still-small voice? I set aside about 15 minutes. You may need more or less, but 15 is a simple number anyone can do.
Get up earlier, use your lunch break, go to bed later, do what you have to do. If you can’t find 15 minutes to be with God on a given day, then you need to reevaluate your commitment to God. He MUST be first, before your job, your family, and your busy schedule.
4. I submitted to ANY answer.
This may be the trickiest part. When you ask a question in life, you need to be ready for any answer. This is why it drives me crazy when girls ask, “Does this make my butt look big?” They only want one answer!
I prepared my mind and heart to hear either “Go through with the interview” or “Cancel the interview.” I thought about the pros and cons to each, and started thinking about how I would deal with either answer. I also remembered that God is for me, not against me, so whatever he says is good for me.
That leads me to…
5. I entered in and asked.
I don’t like to start prayers off with my list of woes. The Bible says to “enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:4). I always start with praise and thanks, remembering that A) God is a mighty king and B) God has been good to me. With these two things, my heart is prepared to meet God and present my case.
Remember, this is my example, not a legalistic rule. If you don’t do this exactly, that’s fine.
And now, it’s time to ask. God, should I go through with this interview and make the most of it, or should I cancel it entirely and leave it be?
6. I kept asking.
Woe to Christians who only ask once (i.e. myself). Too many Christians get discouraged when they don’t hear an immediate answer. John Eldredge pointed to the story of Elijah praying for rain in 1 Kings 18:41-44. Seven times, Elijah had to pray before the rain came. And this was Elijah, the super-prophet from Krypton! Even the greatest and most faithful may need to pray more than once for what they want.
My dad used to say P.U.S.H. Pray Until Something Happens. This is awesome advice because it pushes back the silly notion that “God didn’t answer me immediately, therefore he does not care/exist.” Buck up and ask again.
In the immediate context, asking again is also helpful for focusing. I swear I have ADD sometimes; my mind is a super-highway of bullet trains. When it’s silent, my mind wanders to a hundred things.
Asking again in your mind helps you focus, which will help you hear.
7. I tried each option on.
This is another piece of Eldredge’s advice. He says that if you don’t hear an answer, even after several petitions and times of waiting, “try on” each of them. Basically, take each option and say, “Lord, is this what you want?” This may help get an impression.
I stared by praying, “God, do you want me to do the interview?” I asked this a couple times, and then I saw a picture of a flower in my head. Just a pretty pink flower with long, folding, pointed petals.
I counted it off as a funny imagining in my head, so I kept asking and I couldn’t shake that picture. Was that a good sign or not? I mean I’m a guy, and I don’t care much for flowers. Or pink. So I asked the opposite; God, should I cancel the interview? Suddenly, the flower transformed into a giant cactus with spike-like thorns that I couldn’t even touch.
I vacillated back and forth, and the images kept coming: the flower for “go” and the cactus for “cancel.” Eventually, I got the hint.
Later, I did some research and found that the pink flower actually was a cactus flower. I saw God reaching into the cactus and taking out the flower. God reached into something bad and took out only the good and gave it to me.
8. I Acted.
“Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” said James 2:17. If I had faith that God had told me to do this, then I needed to demonstrate that faith and actually do it.
I kept the interview, and it went very well. I actually became more enthused about the work they were offering and had a good time at the interview.
I do not have a job yet, and I don’t know if I will from this company, but I later realized there was more going on than just a job. This was more about integrity and commitment than anything. God didn’t want me backing out of another situation (something I’m growing out of); he wanted me to follow through on my promises, no matter the cost. So by following through with my interview, I painted a good picture of myself and maintained my integrity.
God reached into the cactus and took out the flower.
But what if I don’t hear?
This is the ultimate fear for Christians who petition for God’s answers. But fear not, for there’s one last detail to this story.
Still sitting on my bed, I had my answer, but I knew that I had a vivid imagination. Was any of it real? So I prayed, “God, I don’t know if that was really you, but my heart says it was, so I’m going to give it a shot.”
And then, God embraced me. The room was empty, but I felt it nonetheless. Not physically, but in my spirit. Like a big bear hug. I could feel his smile. I knew he was not just happy, but delighted. And I immediately knew why.
God wasn’t just glad that I heard him. He was more excited that I took the time to be with Him, to train my spiritual ears, to make his ways my ways instead of grasping for control.
If you don’t hear, don’t despair. Ask God if there’s anything blocking you and deal with what you find, but even if there’s nothing, you may still have a hard time hearing. That’s okay. If you have to call it quits and try tomorrow, you do that. Just don’t quit for good. Please don’t quit for good.
The result isn’t what’s important. God just loves it when we try to get closer to Him. In fact, he dances with joy that He gets to become better friends with you.
Try it out and let me know how it goes in the comments. Do you have any similar stories to tell? Any more advice?