How to train yourself to be attentive to God’s voice

Earlier this month, I drove 95 miles to a speaking engagement up in Orange County. I plugged my phone into my car’s stereo system and listened to a podcast with the occasional interruption from Google Maps. Eighty miles into my road trip and I pressed the “OFF” button on the car radio. I needed space to think before pulling into the church parking lot. 

But I nearly didn’t make it. I just about missed my exit for the 91 East interchange. I realized just in time that 103A was my exit and I had to cross three lanes of traffic over the course of a quarter mile. I nearly got into an accident with a Ford Explorer, but I made it.

When my heart stopped racing, I looked with irritation at my phone. Where was Google Maps? Why hadn’t it warned me to get over to the right lane? I picked up my phone from the passenger seat. The right app was open, so why the silence?

It took me a minute to realize that I had turned off the car radio. The phone was still plugged in to the car stereo, so I had inadvertently silenced Google Maps. I turned on the radio again, determined to listen for the directions and get to my destination safely.

How to train yourself to be attentive to God’s voice

Sometimes we wonder why God is silent, when we are the ones who have stopped listening. We have unplugged ourselves from our source of power. We are too loud to hear his quiet whisper and too distracted to notice a burning bush. Or we are treating God as a vending machine, wondering why we don’t get what we want. Or we are treating what’s meant to be a relationship with him like a checklist full of tasks to complete. We may have forgotten that his Holy Spirit is always with us, even in the mundane, the ordinary, the downright drudgery.

I believe God speaks to us in many ways but we won’t hear him unless we’re paying attention.

Listening is different than hearing

For many years before becoming a mom, I was a teacher. I taught children who were deaf and hard-of-hearing to listen and to speak. Each of my students had amplification of some sort: either hearing aids or a cochlear implant. As their teacher, I wore a lapel microphone that amplified my voice above all the distracting background noise of the classroom: my voice directly into their ear.

And though they could technically hear me, it was still difficult for them to listen. They had to learn to attend to my voice. To take notice when they heard it. To focus on my voice when I was talking.

It’s the same for us. God might be trying to get our attention but we are focused on other things. We don’t slow down enough, quiet ourselves enough to catch what he’s telling us. Sometimes we are more attuned to him than others – when we are grieving, or when we are suffering. We look for him and long for him then. But we are still in relationship with God even in our everyday normal, even when things are generally “fine.”

How can we train ourselves to be attentive to his voice?

Two spiritual practices come to mind:

  1. Meditating on God’s Word through Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina simply means “divine reading” and is an approach to interacting with a Bible passage in order to develop a closer relationship with God. This five step practice dates back hundreds of years. Here is a brief summary of what it entails (for further information click here)

  1. Prepare. As you open your Bible, invite God to speak to you.
  2. Read. Read a passage of scripture, noting what jumps out at you, what your mind is drawn to. 
  3. Reflect. Read the same passage again, slowly, and reflect on what God might be saying to you. Do you sense an invitation from him?
  4. Respond. Record your thoughts in a journal, or pray. Ask God for guidance. What action can you take today in response to his invitation?
  5. Rest. Sit quietly for a number of minutes and allow God to work. Train your mind to be as still as possible in silent contemplation, whether that’s for two or ten minutes.

2. End the day with the prayer of Examen.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, father of the Jesuits, popularized this prayer in his “Spiritual Exercises.” Here is the the five step process, adapted from here:

  1. Presence. Invite God to be present as you pray.
  2. Gratitude. Think of two or three things that happened today for which you are grateful. Thank God for these moments!
  3. Reflect. Think over your day from start to finish, noting when and where you experienced God’s presence. Big and small moments all count. Ask yourself: “When did I love? When did I feel loved?”
  4. Sorrow. Express to God your sorrow over your sins today. Ask for his forgiveness.
  5. Grace. At the end of your prayer, ask for God’s grace in the day ahead.

2023 Update

Since writing this article, I’ve become increasingly curious about how attend to God’s voice in my daily life, and how to cultivate a closer relationship with Him. This led me to a deep dive into other spiritual practices, which I have written a lot about over the years (you can access all those articles right here!)

If you’d like to explore how you can engage in spiritual practices (especially in the midst of your busy and full life), I hope you’ll check out my self-paced digital course, where I share 18 common and uncommon ways to grow closer to God!

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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.

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