Listening to God in a World full of Noise
I love listening to God. His voice is so calming, so comforting, so encouraging, so motivating, so surprising. He is quiet, but then, all of a sudden, He speaks.
God is always surprising me with little things He says. They are usually short and sweet and come out of the blue, but when He speaks, the world is made right. He can solve what seem to me like giant problems in two seconds or heal my heartbreak in three words. But He doesn’t just solve problems, He gives me advice when I need it, and speaks love to my heart when I can’t feel it. He even shares little details with me about the beauty of His plans for the future and sparks of humor to brighten my day.
The most beautiful thing is that no matter how our life changes or how busy we are, as long as we take time to listen, He speaks.
His desire to interact with us isn’t limited to a select few, or to those of us who are “holier” than everyone else. He desperately wants a relationship with ALL of us. We just have to be open to it!
What listening to God looks like
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. – John 10:27
Sometimes the best way to see what something is, we need to look at what it is NOT. We say someone “doesn’t listen” when we feel they didn’t care what we had to say or when we feel purposefully ignored, misunderstood or misconstrued. We feel our message is rejected also when we are only “selectively” listened to (when someone chooses only to respond to the parts of what we said that they liked or disliked and reject the rest).
Non-existent or selective listening can happen to the best of us – especially with God.
Why we don’t listen
- Oblivious that God even wants to speak to us, or is trying to speak to us – in which case, I promise He is
- Scared or unwilling to hear what He might say – In which case it might be a good idea to do some soul searching as to why you are reluctant. (Read also: Does God want me to be happy?)
- Lack of knowing how to listen – well, you’re in luck. Read on 🙂
- Thinking that hearing and listening are the same thing – Creating the spirit of interior and exterior silence and presence are necessary to hear the whisper of God but it is an entirely different thing to listen to him.
Dispositions of good listeners
- Closeness – When we are close to the Lord we will recognize His voice. Christ says “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they know me” (John 10:27). Are we close enough to Him to truly recognize his voice? To distinguish His stillness from the chaos of the world? (See: Presence)
- Openness – The biggest part of learning how to listen to God is recognizing that when we talk to Him and He talks to us, we are having a conversation with a Being outside of ourselves. We cannot control God, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes tend to we think of God as the “voice inside our heads” and if that voice is inside my head than somehow I must be able to control it, but not so! This means that to truly listen we have to be open to hearing something we don’t expect or necessarily even like. We must seek His voice and desire to hear Him.
- Humility – recognize that you aren’t always completely right about everything and that God might actually have a valid point worth listening to. After all, He alone knows how happy His plan will make you.
- Trust – Trust His advice and Act on it. Allow yourself to respond to His suggestions (the ideas you think you came up with while praying). Change whatever stagnant prayer habits you may have.
Practical steps to become better listeners
There are many ways practical ways to hear God speak. For most people God speaks through a plethora of sources that change depending on the moment and the circumstance. Each person will find that God speaks to them through particular methods more than others. It is up to you to find out which methods God uses most to work with you. The following is a list of some of the most common methods you can try to figure out which medium He uses to speak to you in particular.
1 – Silence
both Exterior and Interior (Also, see Presence)
2 – The Scriptures
The scriptures teach us who God is, breaking Him down as simply as God could possibly be broken down, into the different persons of the Blessed Trinity, plus they give explicit instructions on how to become more like Christ and how to hear Him speak.
If you have tried and failed to read the scriptures before, as most of us have, don’t try the same methods you’ve always used, rather, try new ones, such as:
- Jeff Cavins’ Great Adventure series.
- Use a Study Bible that includes questions to help you reflect on the meaning of different passages (there are even ones out there with reflections particularly written for men, women, students, etc).
- Focus on reflecting daily on bite sized passages of the Bible. Catholics are really good at this (despite misconceptions). Did you know that if you reflected on the daily Catholic Mass readings for three years (the Catholic Missal is on a three year cycle) you would have read the entire Bible? Most Catholics don’t even know that! Also, if you are in tune with the Daily Readings the different seasons of the religious year (Like Christmas, HolyWeek and Easter) really start to come alive. Good resources for this are the Laudate App (free and available on Iphone, Android and Kindle systems) or the Magnificat.
3 – Books
Have you ever read a book that “stirred your soul”? If you have, you will know what I am talking about. Those are the books you want to write in, carry around, sleep with and reread on a regular basis.
There are so many books out there that it would be impossible to read them all. This is why you also have to be discerning when you choose which books to read. Only you know where you are struggling most in your life.
- Pray – Take your needs to prayer, maybe journal a bit about what you most struggle with at this moment in your life
- Research – which book would suit your needs best at this time? Be open and honest with yourself. Don’t always choose titles that you know you are comfortable with. Those kinds of books, while they may be good, will essentially be a waste of time. Instead choose books that will encourage and challenge you. Choose books by authors or publishers you trust.
- Find multiple options – ask God, and/or other adviser whom you trust what they recommend and, only then, choose the one that speaks to you.
4 – Music
Music is a tool that speaks to our hearts. Melody puts emotion and meaning to lyrics that words cannot express alone. Our Christian radio station in my area always talks about “that right-song, right-time effect”. I love this because it is so true. So often we can be feeling down and the only thing with the power to bring us up again is the joy and hope that come from hearing a positive song that connects with us and re-centers us on what really matters.
He can speak love to us through songs. He can encourage us and motivate us by the words He inspired others to write. He can and does give us hope in our difficult moments and strength in our weakness. Do not discount the power of Godly music in your life.
5 – Other people
- Obvious sources – He speaks through the selfless advice of parents and/or other authority figures in your life. He can choose to speak to you through your pastor, priest or deacon. He generally speaks very audibly through spiritual advisers. He speaks through the experts we love and respect who have radio programs or travel around giving talks and conferences.
- Less obvious sources – A random, kind stranger at the grocery store who offers you a word of encouragement. A friend complaining about his/her mistakes (encourages us not to make similar ones). Very often too our children also are a source of God speaking to us. Their innocence often gives them a very straightforward relationship with God that is not clouded by adult complications. Because of this it is worth listening respectfully to what they have to say, despite their age.
- Dilemma? – Certainly this doesn’t mean we are supposed to listen to everything everyone else says all the time, right? Correct. It is really only His voice speaking when the person we hear it from doesn’t have a selfish reason for saying it. If there is an ulterior motive behind what was said, then, most often, it probably wasn’t inspired by God.
Note: This is why we too must be careful when trying to “give advice” to others. If we trying to influence them in some way so that we “look good” or receive some benefit from them following our advice, then it is likely that we are not acting as an instrument for God’s voice but rather for our own. We need to be sure that our communication is always pure and loving and that we heed that which is communicated out love.
6 – Situations and Circumstances
In this category may fall examples of how you should choose your career or hobbies. You may think you are doing something good, such as a particular job, hobby, ministry or volunteer effort but that task might be taking time away from other things that you know you should be dedicating yourself to, such as, your family or God. (See Martha and Mary test)
Certain activities eating up your time might be forcing you to compromise your morals or the silence you need to cultivate your relationship with God. These are tell-tale signs that God may be using to drop some not-so-subtle hints that you should reconsider your dedication to whatever is keeping you from your true calling.
You can imagine it like trying to sing or dance to a particular beat while a completely different one is playing in the background. It is impossible to find peace this way, even if we claim to love so much the activity that is distracting us from who we are called to be. Don’t be afraid to put all your attention and your focus into Him.
It is only when we are undivided that we find unshakable peace.
7 – Writing
The Noise of the World
The opposite of all seven of these things is exactly what causes the noise in our lives that drown out the voice of God.
Our FEAR of silence makes it hard to hear the whisper of God in the quiet of our hearts.
As was famously said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ“. How can we get to know Him in His humanity and learn to recognize His voice without it?
Obnoxious, inappropriate or negative music and literature fill our soul with confusion, doubt, worry, and lack of time for what is greater.
This is the same with groups of friends or situations we might put ourselves in that are not healthy for us. If we spend time around bad influences we will find ourselves compromising what we know is right more often than we would like.
In short, in order to hear God best, don’t make Him compete against SO much noise! Without doubt, eliminating as much of the noise as possible is absolutely the best way to be able to consistently hear Him.
God never contradicts Himself
This can be a tip to help us discern whether what we are “hearing” is truly coming from God. He would never tell you something today when yesterday He told you something different or vice-versa. God is constant and, as He knows all things, does not have any reason to ever “change His mind”. If two pieces of advice, things you have read, or thought you “heard” conflict, be sure to take time out with God and/or people you trust help you ask for discernment between the two. It might also be helpful to seek confirmation in books, music or circumstances of daily life to help you make the decision of which to follow.
When I finally decided to marry my husband after over two years of inner turmoil and overwhelming conflicting advice from friends, parents and confessors, my decision was based on reading the book Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly and the song “How He Loves” by David Crowder Band. I’ve never looked back and would do it all over again in a heartbeat! Only you can know how God speaks to you. All you have to do is be quiet, open and seek Him out to find it!
Other helpful tips and resources
- Hearing His Voice – a meditation by Rev. Al Lauer from Presentation Ministries (April 18, 2016)
- “Hearing God” (pamphlet) from Presentation Ministries
- How to Listen when God is Speaking (book) or How to Listen when God is Speaking (video) by Fr. Mitch Pacwa
Guidance: G = God, U and I Dance! (Author Unknown)