We read in the Bible about God speaking to various people and their responses to Him. We read how Moses literally hung out with God, and about the prophets who often started their preaching with, "Thus saith the LORD", or in our vernacular, "Listen to what God told me!"
Does God still "speak" to people, like in the Bible? When I say, "It's not a religion, it's a relationship," am I experiencing that practically? How do I have a conversation with God?
Well, a conversation always begins with someone speaking. So, lets start with God. How does God speak to us?
1. To our heart with a sure sense of certainty regarding a particular subject. This, translated to a human equivalent is like “non-verbal” communication; clear, but technically unspoken. A strong impression to avoid a certain situation, or the experience of an inexplicable peace that God will work in our circumstances for the good, could both be examples of this form of communication. This is often called the “leading” of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
Psalm 143:10, “Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.”
2. To our mind in the form of a [non-self originating] thought. God does speak verbally to us, far more than we may realize, because He speaks through our own inner voice. The prophet Elijah called it “a still small voice”, and although physically inaudible, God’s clear verbal communication is equally understandable. Jesus said we would recognize His voice, like sheep know the voice of their shepherd. As a new believer, the first times I heard Him speak, He said things like, “Don’t say it” or “Don’t go”, when facing a temptation or making a choice. The more you listen and obey, the clearer His voice will become.
1 Kings 19:11-13, “...and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”
John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”
3. To us through His Word by applying a certain scripture or passage to our lives directly. We have probably all experienced this to some degree. While going through a trial, have you ever found comfort in the Psalms? Have you ever been convicted by something written in the Bible? Has a verse or passage ever spoken directly into your life or situation?
This is the work of the Holy Spirit. God speaks to us through His Word by making it “come alive” as though it was written just for us.
1 Corinthians 2:12-14, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”
Receiving from God through His Word can happen a number of ways, as well. Perhaps another Christian may share something out of scripture with you, or you might hear a message that speaks right into your life, or maybe a scripturally based worship song just brings a certain set of verses alive to you. These are all awesome ways I have heard God speaking to me through His Word in the past.
The most consistent way, however, of receiving from God through His Word is in simply reading it for myself.
When done so with an open heart, expecting Him to speak to me personally, I have never not heard His voice illuminating some verse or passage of scripture for me. Really. He is faithful to speak to me through His written Word. He makes it come alive, fresh, and as if just spoken for the first time to me alone. Once you have had this experience, you too will begin to hunger for it again and again!
This is perhaps the greatest form of communication with God. The value of His Word is incalculable. It is a perfect revelation of Himself to the world. And far from simply being an inerrant manual for life and godliness, (which in itself is profound), it is actually a living book, updated and relevant for the present moment. His Word transcends time and culture boundaries to apply perfectly to an individual life today.
It is the greatest single possession we have on this earth. With a means so powerful of hearing from God available to us daily, it would behove us actually set aside some time each day to read it!
Waiting on the Lord
You know the phrase, “Don’t just stand there, do something”? When it comes to waiting on the Lord, the saying should be, “Don’t do something, just stand there.”
Of course, not every time I read the Bible does a "message from God" just leap off the pages, but every time I have come hungry to hear His voice, and have been open to spending as long as necessary to hear Him speak, I have not once gone away unfilled. Seriously. If this has never happened for you, then you have something wonderful in store for you!
The following verses paint a picture of what it means to wait on the Lord.
Psalm 27:14, “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!”
Psalm 37:7, “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.”
Psalm 62:1, “To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of David. Truly my soul silently waits for God; from Him comes my salvation.”
Psalm 4:4, “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah.”
Lamentations 3:25-26, “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Psalm 40:1, “To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.”
At a pastor's wives retreat once, I challenged several of my friends to define the word “wait.” My fingers poised on the keyboard, I quickly jotted down what they came up with: "to be still with a sense of expectancy", "actively resting for an undefined amount of time", "patient perseverance in motionless attention", "peaceful anticipation with hope of fulfillment." Pretty vivid descriptions!
In this digital age, we tend to expect instant gratification in everything, including our spiritual life. Yet, God wants us to wait on Him, because it is an exercise of our faith. Just as our muscles grow through regular use, every time we wait on the Lord, it is a test, a “work-out,” of our faith. He will meet you. Wait on Him.
One element, you may already have noticed, is missing, however, if this is to be a conversation and not simply a monologue. True conversation involves two people both speaking and listening; in other words, there is an element of response.
When God speaks to me in His Word, I don’t simply think to myself, “that was good”, and then get up and go on with my day. The Bible is not just an ordinary book that I can pick up and put down, without any expectation from the author that I should talk with him about his work. I’m actually sitting with the Author of the Book, who is awaiting my response to what He wrote. God wants me to answer Him. How do I do this?
Just as there are a number of ways God can speak to me, there are a number of ways I can reply to Him. I can simply pray, which I often do. Perhaps I might worship Him in song, if my heart is overflowing; (not very well, mind you... but, hey, its a joyful noise!). I might paint, or compose a poem if I’m feeling artistically inspired (yes, I'm an art geek). I might even begin an in-depth study on something incredible that He showed me (so much fun, but so little time).
What I most often do, however, is journal.
This is a practical and completely natural response that I can consistently accomplish. It can be long or short. It often includes a prayer, if not entirely consisting of one, but as long as it is a response to what I received from Him through His Word, it is relational and conversational.
While praying out loud is equally relational, it occurred to me that since God chose to speak to me through written words, an appropriate response would be to reply in writing.
In addition, I can look back on what He has shown me throughout the week, or even the years, and see personal growth and a tangible evidence of His faithfulness to speak to me through His Word.
I would challenge and encourage you to pickup your Bible and start a conversation with God today. Then meet up with Him again tomorrow. Make it a date. Get a mug of coffee or a pot of tea, settle down into a cozy chair, or by a window, or on the beach... and have a conversation with God!
ps. some people call this a "devotion" or a "quiet time."