Guest: When God Speaks, I Listen… So Why Don’t You?

I’ve just arrived home from a 7-day, 110km kayaking trip in the Whitsunday Islands of Queensland and my thumbs, biceps and bug-bitten legs are all still in recovery, so I thought today I would feature a guest post from a pastor and thought leader whose writings I find incredibly insightful. Kurt Willems (M.Div., Fresno Pacific) is an Anabaptist writer and pastor who is leading a church planting project in partnership with Urban Expression and the Brethren in Christ in Seattle, WA. He writes at The Pangea Blog. The original article reprinted with permission can be found here.

Kurt WillemsHearing God. One of the great dilemmas of the Christian life. Can we actually “hear God” and if so, what does that mean?

Some believe, for instance that God only speaks through the Bible. In some extreme cases, this leads to a subtle form of bibliolotry (worship of the Bible instead of the God therewithin). But if we take the Bible on its own terms, it seems as though the Book itself counteracts this claim consistantly.

Others believe that God speaks to them at the pace of what Dallas Willard calls: “a word a minute.” God, in other words, tells these folks: “turn green at the light.” “Buy this car, not that one.” “Drink milk, not Gatoraide.” “Make ____ (insert important, dramatic decision) and not _______.” My friend Jan Johnson refers to this sort of thinking as the “red light, green light” approach to interacting with God. Often, it’s over-indulgent and leads to causual talk: “I got the salad you asked for, but a different type. God told me that we should eat kale and not spinach.” God, god, god… everything in this person’s life is attributed to God as if being human wasn’t in itself important to this God.

This can apply in several ways to pastors. Some pastors nonchalantly talk about how they “have a vision from God” to raise such-and-such millions of dollars for new carpet in the church building. He even comes up with a divine slogan: “Carpets for the Kingdom!” All of this casual talk about a vision from God, if we are not nuanced and wise as pastors, can become unhelpful to folks in our communities as they begin to wonder: When God speaks, the pastor listens, the “red light, green light” folks listen, so what is wrong with me? Why can’t I listen? God must not think too much of me.

This is paradoxical, as Dallas Willard points out in Hearing God. Loose talk about “hearing God” leaves others feeling as though such is an impossiblity for them. Can you relate?

I, personally, believe that we can in fact hear God. We know a couple of things from the Scriptures. God wants to give us the “mind of Christ.” God often speaks through great events or a still small voice. The question is, are we willing to allow God’s thoughts to saturate our thoughts? Are we willing to experiment with what Bro. Lawrence called: practicing the presence of God? All this means is that we attempt to be in a constant state of prayer and devotion throughout the day. As we work, play, eat, and worship. This is choosing to acknowledge Christ as a companion, even if we don’t “feel” a thing.

Perhaps we won’t all hear God in the same way. Maybe some will have pictures or visions come to mind as God’s means of communication (let’s be careful how we share these). Others may have thoughts come to mind that are consistent with who they know Christ to be. Others may simply live in the satisfaction that they are giving mundane tasks to God. Whatever the case may be, hearing God need not be extraordinary, but might only require submitting to the rythmns of devotion in the everday realities of human life.