As a spiritual fitness coach, I help people pinpoint their areas of spiritual growth. As I’ve talked to people about their prayer life, I’ve noticed a huge problem: as Christians we’re not being taught from the pulpit how to have a personal relationship with the Lord. Often, we’re not even sure whether we’re hearing God’s voice.
Of course, there are plenty of sermons about prayer, but they don’t actually explain what it means to have a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak to us in words. We hear teaching about how God leads us, but we don’t get instructions for actually having a conversation with him.
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Instead, we’re taught healthy ways of thinking that come from the Bible. Here are some examples: concrete ways to love our neighbor, how the gifts of the Holy Spirit operate today, and building a healthy legacy in a chaotic world. These teachings give us healthy direction for our everyday decision-making. But what about the relationship behind the decisions?
Why is this topic so under-taught? the personal relationship with God seems sort of hit-and-miss. It’s so hard to put it into words that our teachers sometimes avoid explaining it. But, it’s the one part of our life that determines everything else.
It’s only when a Christian knows what God is saying to them personally, that they have the confidence to step out in spiritual growth. When a Christian is not confident about what God is saying to them, their efforts to move forward end up in the same old cycle of status quo.
What Happened When I Started Listening
As a child, I was given a brochure written by someone in my church. The title was “God wants to speak to you… Are you listening?” So I read the brochure and did what it said. I ended up with a notebook full of thoughts that had come into my head when I was asking God to speak to me.
Most of these thoughts were little assurances that God was with me, handling my problems and telling me he loved me. Here are some of them:
I can handle your stress. Just come tell me what’s bothering you.
I love you. Nothing will ever stop me from loving you.
I love it when you make time to sit and talk to me.
I will show you the things in my heart if you want to know them.
Don’t stop coming to me if you feel unsure how I feel about you.
I’m always ready to listen to you and help you.
The only time he talked to me about sin was when he showed me a more loving choice to make. Those moments didn’t make me feel shameful, just relieved that God had a better way for me to live. It made me feel courageous that God would be on my side whenever I wanted to try new things.
So how did God tell me these things?
First, I wrote down in my notebook how I was doing. I didn’t come to God for guidance or solutions. I just started a conversation with my friend.
Then, I wrote the words that came into my mind. I asked Him what He was thinking about and then let my mind get quiet. Then, I wrote down whatever thoughts came into my head without censoring the words. I didn’t worry about believing anything in particular.
Here’s the key: I didn’t always believe God was talking to me. I just wrote anyway. Sometimes I got weird, twisted thoughts and images in my mind. My mentor told me that that was the devil imitating God. So I didn’t believe that was God.
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Questions I Asked Myself
Looking at the sentence on the paper in front of me, I’d say to myself:
- Is this something God would say if he were here beside me?
- Does it comfort or convict me of something good?
- Do I need to ask him for more clarity about this?
I got used to staying with my journal until the comfort and clarity finally came. Sometimes it was ten minutes, sometimes a half hour.
Usually I’d have to open my Bible to get something more solid and specific. And sometimes I’d have to take a break and come back to it from a different angle. Sometimes I had to ask my mentor what on earth God was trying to tell me. And many times I had to give up on asking God to tell me what I wanted to hear. But I always aimed for the feelings of truth, comfort, confidence and clarity. And I always got it by the end of the discussion.
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I started to expect that God would show up in ways that I didn’t expect. I started to expect clarity to come to me when I read the Bible slowly and thoughtfully.
The more I did this, the more I began to recognize when certain choices felt right. God would bring good out of them, and I learned to expect that. I became confident that God really liked certain things. There were other times when I knew God would show me there was a better way so I didn’t make the wrong choice.
I kept writing my thoughts and then writing God’s thoughts in my notebook, year after year. The breakthrough came when I acted like God wanted to talk to me, and then discovered that he actually did. Even when I didn’t honestly believe it was God, I just let him have a turn to speak and wrote down the thoughts that came to my head.
How I Grew in my Relationship With God
When I was about twelve, I heard a preacher talk about recieving Jesus Christ as our personal savior. I had the confidence to reach out to an adult who helped me do that, even though I didn’t completely understand it. After that, my confidence grew more quickly than my doubts. I finally felt a solid foundation in my relationship with God. (Click HERE to do that.)
Here’s what happened as I grew in this relationship:
- I discovered other things that fed my connection with God, like being in nature, church and meeting with a spiritual mentor.
- In high school, I got very frustrated and depressed as I realized how much evil was out there in the world.
- I went with a friend to a conference called “Passion for Jesus.” I went up for prayer and several people laid their hands on me and asked God to show me His love. For the first time ever, I felt emotionally overwhelmed by three little words in my mind: I love you.
- I continued going to conferences where I was encouraged to ask God for his direction and then pay attention to the images that flashed through my head.
- The real growth in my confidence came when I stopped trying to hear what God wanted to do in my life. Instead, I focused on what He did in the Bible and how that was similar to what he was doing in my life.
- I knew that He wanted to use my life for missions, and I guessed that it might be in Africa.
- Instead, I stayed in the US and poured my heart into praying for church reform.
- I continued journaling with the Bible and theological tools, and I wrote several practical guides for connecting with God.
- Now I mentor women who want to learn how to hear God’s voice.
What I Learned About Hearing God’s Voice
Here’s what I learned: God helps us develop natural initiative in our friendship with him. Robotic obedience isn’t his thing.
As I learned to recognize his thoughts, I realized that He directs us from inside our mind, will and emotions. He uses our common sense, together with Scripture, to create a comforting temple inside of us called prayer.
I started to enjoy my discussions with him. Now I pray in order to feel connected to Him and have fun expanding my mind with his perspective.
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