But, What if I Can't Hear From God?
Updated: Apr 24, 2020
So, you think you can't hear from God? I see you. I get it. There is nothing more frustrating than asking for something you want from God, some spiritual gift that is really good, and everyone says it is simple, but you feel like you were left out of the gift exchange. Everyone is opening their shiny, new presents, and you're sitting in the corner, hoping someone will notice that you never got anything.
Anytime I talk about how crucial it is that we spend time listening to God, a handful of people will tell me, "I can't hear God. I try. I don't hear anything!" No one ever says, "But I don't want to hear from God." I meet a lot of people who truly desire to hear from God, but they think that they can't. Listening to God and obeying him is so fundamental to the Christian walk that I'm convinced that every Christian who has been given the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised, is capable of hearing from God.
(Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how listening to God and obeying Him is core to following Jesus as a Christian. If you're not convinced that listening and obeying is key, please check it out here.)
I think the struggle with hearing from God is that we've "over-spiritualized" it. We think that hearing from God will be this miraculous, super-natural thing. We want to hear a booming voice from heaven. We expect to be completely overcome.
I've found that often, hearing from God is so natural, so entirely common, that we miss it. Most people don't actually need help learning to hear from God; they need help recognizing that they are already hearing from God.
Jesus said, in John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." That's good news. If you are a Christian, you hear God's voice. You just have to learn to recognize that you hear it.
I have a friend who hears the audible voice of God. It always seems so easy for her. She seems to hear so clearly. For years, I was waiting to hear God out loud, like she did. So it took me a long time to realize that God was also speaking to me, but in a much more subtle way that was much easier for me to ignore.
We all hear from God a little differently, but more people hear from God very subtly, like I do. When I hear from God, it's just a thought - a silent thought in my head. Nothing makes it stand out from my other thoughts. I don't get chills. I don't hear angels sing. It's just a thought. Except, it is a thought that doesn't seem like me. It's a thought that seems like God. It contains wisdom I didn't have before the thought came. Or it urges me to do something that pushes me outside of my comfort zone.
It suggests I forgive when I want to stay bitter. It suggests I stop and pay attention to someone when I'm in a rush. It prioritizes love when, on my own, I would naturally prioritize myself.
When I ignore these thoughts and think of them as just my own random thoughts, I don't obey them. I discount their importance. I miss opportunities to actually follow Jesus the way I claim to as a Christian.
The concept can feel tricky at first, so I like to explain it like this: What does a tempting thought feel like to you? We've all had them. A thought, in our own heads that urges us to do something that we know is wrong. We don't take credit for that tempting thought. We don't think of it as our own thought. It feels like an imposter. We know it didn't originate with us. It feels "other" somehow.
"God thoughts," as I call them, are the other side of this coin. They feel similar. It is a thought in our own head that feels "other." We can't take credit for it. It doesn't originate with us. But unlike a tempting thought, these thoughts we have from God will always encourage us to do good things that line up with the word of God.
"God thoughts" tend to make our spirits leap and our flesh recoil. In fact, I always say that a good indication that a thought may be from God is that my flesh wants to argue with it or talk me out of it.
So, how do we practice recognizing God's voice in our lives? We stop ignoring the impulses that we feel to do the kinds of things Jesus would do. When we have a thought that seems like God, we obey it. As we trust that we are hearing God's voice and obey what we hear, God will be faithful to confirm what you're hearing.
I think it helps to actively practice listening to God. Here are my two favorite ways to practice:
1. Set out a few pieces of paper. On each page, write the name of someone you know who hears from God pretty well and has decent discernment. Take a few minutes and pray for each person. Ask God what He wants to speak to them, or just what He thinks about them. Wait and listen for several minutes. As you have thoughts, jot them down on the piece of the paper. Try not to "edit yourself."
You are practicing trusting that God really does speak to you, so even if a thought feels random or strange, go ahead and write it down. Once you've done this for each person, take a minute and look back over your list. Ask God if anything you wrote down was not from Him. Keep an eye out for things that don't feel like God because they are condemning or unloving, but don't take anything off the list just because it is weird, or you don't understand it.
Write your notes up and deliver them to your friends. Let them know that you are practicing listening to God. Ask them if they'd be willing to share with you anything that felt confirmational to them or that had a special meaning for them.
You can also let them know that you chose to practice with them because you trust their discernment and so they can feel free to disregard anything you wrote that doesn't feel like a word from God for them. People who have learned to listen know that we all have to step out on a limb when we hear from God, so they will be gracious with you as you practice.
2. Set up a recurring prayer time with people who you know hear from God well and have good discernment. Let them know that you'd like to practice listening to God and learning how to recognize when you hear from Him.
When you are together, choose a few topics or people to pray for (this can be lead by God too.) When you start to pray, begin with a time of listening to God. Ask everyone to write out what God is speaking to them about that topic or person before they begin to pray out loud.
Once everyone is finished listening, go ahead and pray out the things you wrote down. You will be amazed how often you and your friends hear the same things from God and end up praying very similar prayers. God will use this kind of instant confirmation to train you to recognize His voice. (Eventually, you will begin to flow in prayer together and listen as you pray without the extra steps of formally listening and writing things down.)
Again, trust yourself. Don't discount things God speaks to you, even if they feel strange at first. You chose discerning friends to pray with so that they could help you recognize the difference between your own thoughts and the ones that come from God. Trust that God is bigger than any mistakes you make as you are learning to listen to Him, and use the bible as your parameter because God won't speak things to you that contradict His word.
In the comments, let us know what helps you recognize that you're hearing from God, or any other ideas for practicing listening to God and recognizing his voice.
Amy Noel Green is a Ted Speaker, author, and video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game "That Dragon, Cancer." The video game tells the story of her son Joel who died from cancer at the age of five.
She is the author of the upcoming book, "Dear God, How Could You?" (When Joel died of cancer after years of miracles, Amy questioned God. She shouted her betrayed, angry questions at the God she no longer understood. She buried many miracles with Joel. She buried her relationship with God too, but God’s love for her refused to stay in the grave.) Subscribe for updates on the bottom of her about page, to be notified when her book is published.