How to listen for God

Sometimes, God talks to us in a burning bush, like he did with Moses, and sometimes he speaks to us through a still, small whisper as he did with Elijah. But how does God speak to us today?

When we think about hearing from God, we might limit his voice to what we find in Scripture. For years as I was growing up, I only turned to the Bible for my quiet time, dutifully reading my two chapters a day. I believed that reading a devotional book wasn’t spiritual enough, so it didn’t count. Although there’s nothing wrong with using the Bible exclusively to hear from God, we are missing out on other rich ways to grow deeper in our relationship with him when we do so. Over the years, here are a few ways I’ve heard God speak into my life:

Other Christians

I love reading spiritual memoirs because I love hearing testimonies about how God has moved in other people’s lives. Books like When we were on fire by Addie Zierman, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Torn by Justin Lee have touched me deeply, in some cases challenged the shape of my faith, and ultimately served to give glory to God’s faithfulness.

Similarly, listening to faith-based podcasts has been another way I’ve grown closer to God. From podcasts that address a Christian’s response to issues of social justice (like the Upside Down podcast) to podcasts for Christians in leadership (Lead Stories) to podcasts that take me deeper into scripture (The Bible for Normal People) to podcasts that lead to spiritual reflection (The Presence Project), wisdom and stories from other Christians help me to hear from God.

And what about those Christians who have gone before? Learning about the lives of the saints can give insight into our own faith journeys. I didn’t grow up in a tradition that emphasized the saints, but I was reminded this week that they have much to teach us as I was emailing back and forth with my Instagram friend Cameron. She told me there are more than 10,000 canonized saints and I’m sure that each of them has a story that points us to God, even beyond the well-recognized ones like Saint Francis of Assissi and Saint Teresa of Avila. I plan to check out My Life with the Saints by James Martin, a book that Cameron recommended to start uncovering what the lives of the saints can teach us about God.

The Holy Spirit

Just like I grew up in a faith tradition that didn’t emphasize the saints, it didn’t emphasize the Holy Spirit either. I acknowledged its presence, but never truly engaged with this part of the Holy Trinity, feeling like it was all too voodoo and subjective to me. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’m more ready to embrace the mystery that is the Holy Spirit.

God sent his Holy Spirit to convict, guide, and comfort us in the absence of the physical presence of Jesus. There are only a handful of times when I can look back on my life and say “Yes! That was the Holy Spirit” not because he hasn’t been active in my life, but because the eyes of my heart haven’t been trained to recognize his influence.

But I’m learning. I’m learning to hold quiet space when I pray, I’m learning to quiet the noise and distraction in my mind, and I’m learning to look for the Holy Spirit at work.

Other Faiths

In my younger days, I kept other faiths at an arm’s length. I didn’t want strange beliefs from strange people to cloud the One True Way. But now I have adopted a posture of curiosity, knowing that it’s not my job to prove my beliefs right or superior, or to defend God as I know him.

I read Holy Envy by Barbara Brown Taylor over the summer, and this quote stuck with me:

Unity expresses itself in diversity. The One who comes to us in more than one way is free to surprise us in all kinds of ways. This is especially meaningful to people like me, who mean to hang on to our singular Christian identity with one hand and our love of many neighbors with the other. Within the community of the Trinity, the one and the many do not cancel each other out. (…)

To walk the way of sacred unknowing is to remember that our best ways of thinking and speaking about God are provisional. They are always in process — reflecting our limited perspectives, responding to our particular lives and times, relating us to our ancestors in the faith even as they flow out toward the God who remains free to act in ways that confound us. If our ways of thinking and speaking of God are not at least that fluid, then they are not really theologies, but theolatries — things we worship instead of God, because we cannot get God to hold still long enough to pin down.

-Barbara Brown Taylor, “Holy Envy” page 171

In fact, learning how people of other faiths experience and worship God challenges me to reflect upon the meaning and mystery behind my own tradition. I don’t want to confine God into someone easily explainable and readily understandable. To do so would be to stunt my relationship with him and limit his reach in my life.

Give us eyes to see and ears to listen

Listening for and hearing from God is crucial in growing closer to him. Luckily for us, his presence is everywhere: in the scriptures, in the wisdom of other Christians past and present, in the Holy Spirit, and even in other faiths. Our responsibility is only to keep an open mind and an attentive heart!

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

5 thoughts on “How to listen for God

  1. What a lovely reminder to be open to God’s many ways of reaching us and to approach them with curiosity. Loved this post Sarah! Lots to think about and resources to explore. Thanks for sharing!


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