This is the first post of my notes from the eight week Listening to God study. The purpose of this study is to deepen your relationships with Jesus Christ by learning how to hear his voice so that you can truly know him and his will for our lives; and knowing his will, live our lives every day as children of God, secure in our knowledge of our Father’s voice. The key passage of Scripture for the study is from the Gospel according to John, chapter 14.
- It’s about the relationship
In his book “Hearing God”, Dallas Willard wrote, “Hearing God is but one dimension of a richly intensive relationship, and obtaining guidance is but one facet of hearing God.” Our Catholic faith is dependent on our having a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the WORD of God and we can know Him intimately, personally, as our friend, as our Savior, as our Lord. By reading what Jesus said to his disciples, crowds and other people during his life on earth, we can begin to know him. By talking with him (praying) and listening to him we begin to know him intimately.
In any relationship, the closeness and intimacy of that relationship are directly linked with how well two people listen to each other. In a successful marriage both people have learned how to listen to each other.
Listening is an active process. The elements of listening are
- Hearing words that are spoken
- Understanding what those words mean
- Putting those words into context so that they have full meaning
- Giving full weight to what you have heard
- Clarifying any confusion
- Responding with action
You can see these elements at work in any good relationship. The same is true of how we listen to God. We’re going to discuss this in more detail in the next segment of this study but for right now the key is why? Why listen? It’s about the relationship. The center of our life as Catholics should be our personal relationship with Jesus.
- To know God’s will for our lives
How would we know what God wants us to do unless we ask Him and hear what he calls us to do? Obviously we can try to live good lives but I’m talking about our purpose, calling, reason for living. The answer lies in Romans 12:1-2. The key phrase is “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God…” How do can we renew our minds? By reading scripture and by prayer.
Reading the Bible is a key element in learning how to listen to God. The Bible is one of the key ways in which God has revealed and continues to reveal Himself to us. Because the Bible is the Word of God we can learn what God’s voice sounds like by studying how He has spoken to people and studying God’s attributes to see what He’s like.
- To strengthen our faith
Listening to God strengthens our faith so that we can live our lives in the fullness of our beliefs. Having faith is not just assenting to a series of statements or list of beliefs. It’s not enough to just say “I believe in God/Christ/Holy Spirit/Church/etc.” Faith requires action and effort (see James 2:14-26).
As an example, say that you have a sink full of dirty dishes and no dishwasher. You could say “I believe that dishes should be clean.” But that belief wouldn’t change anything about the dishes in your sink. You have to take action and do the dishes.
Furthermore, in order to get the dishes clean you can’t just go through the motions. You might get some of the food off but chances are if you’re just giving them a quick rinse and putting them in the drying rack you’re not getting them clean. You have to put in an effort and do the hard work of actually scrubbing the dishes to get them clean. Then your belief (I believe that dishes should be clean) is real (dirty dishes have become clean), personal (you cleaned them) and significant.
For the Bible study group, by coming together with the purpose of learning how to listen to God, to know His voice and to respond to His voice in faith is putting their faith into action.
- To protect us from loneliness or despair and give us courage to act on our beliefs
By knowing God’s voice, and knowing that He is constantly speaking to us and is always with us, we don’t have to feel alone or afraid. We don’t have to despair in the face of hardship and trials but we can know that He is right there in the midst of our trouble suffering with us. Some key scripture passages are Philippians 4:4-13 and 2 Timothy 4:16-18.
I want to talk just for a moment about fear and the role fear plays in how we act and in how we listen. I find that for me I am often afraid that God won’t talk to me; that God will ask me to do something really difficult or impossible (like sell everything I own and give it all away or move to a foreign land far away from everyone I love, etc.); or I’ll think that I heard God speak but it won’t really be God.
The Listening to God study will hopefully address those fears. I’m going to focus a lot over the next few posts (in this series) on learning to recognize God’s voice and, importantly, differentiate it from other voices in our lives.