He listens to us and we listen to him; he speaks to us and we speak to him; he gives himself to us and we give ourselves to him. If we do not keep on listening to God, we may be able to know the triune God propositionally, but we will never know the Father, the Son and the Spirit personally and relationally.
The devil attempts to deceive believers by suggesting a variety of lies – many of which are based on the idea that listening to God is an occasional action rather than a life-long activity.
So what is listening to God? It is…
- Active not passive – we do not listen to God like we listen to a piece of music – to be entertained; instead, we listen to him like a trainee pilot listens to his instructor – to be directed.
- Relational not functional – we do not listen to God like we listen to a useful but anonymous helpline operator; rather, we listen to him like children listen to their parents.
- Continuous not occasional – we do not listen to God like we listen to the radio, as-and-when we choose; instead, we listen to him continuously: we listen to God, we do not listen out for God.
- Rooted in the prophetic – we listen to God like the prophets of old, in an intimate, anointed, servant relationship, ready to act on God’s words.
The living God who speaks his mind and counsel to us is the same mighty God who made humanity in his image and dealt in grace with the Patriarchs. He is the God who parted the Red Sea, provided the Law, and protected his people in the wilderness; who smote Jericho, Goliath and Sennacherib; who sent fire to Carmel and shut the lions’ mouths; who came in the flesh, sacrificed his Son, raised him from the dead and poured his Spirit onto the Church.
This is the great God who speaks today to us – personally, privately, specifically, lovingly, graciously and continuously. We must take care, however, that our confidence in his will and willingness to speak does not lapse into presumption, over-familiarity and complacency.
One essential foundation of all prophetic listening is a deep sense of genuine awe at the thought of the living, loving God actually communicating with us. We simply must recognise, realise and remember who it is to whom we are listening.
Give me a hearing heart!
Listening to God is a continuous process: we can express this in a different way by saying that we should develop a ‘listening lifestyle’ or a ‘hearing heart’ – for listening to God is fundamental to the believer’s life of faith.
1 Kings 3:4-14 describes how God spoke to Solomon in a dream and offered him anything he asked. 1 Kings 3:9 reports that the new king asked for an ‘understanding heart’ so that he could ‘discern between good and evil’.
Although the Hebrew word bin can be translated as ‘understanding’ or ‘discerning’, it points to a continuous receiving or hearing of God’s understanding rather than to a once-and-for-all gift of wisdom. This means that Solomon was asking for a hearing heart rather than for encyclopaedic knowledge or a miraculous store of wisdom. This is why God was so pleased with Solomon’s request.
In John 14:13, Jesus speaks to us in much the same way that God spoke to Solomon, promising us whatever we ask in his name. Surely no request is more in keeping with Jesus’ words in John 14-16 than a plea for a ‘hearing heart’.
As we move on to examine different aspects of the biblical teaching about God’s forth-speaking and our prophetic listening, we will do well to ask God to give us a hearing heart – and we should then go on to do all that we can to develop this holy attitude in our lives.