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How to Listen to God | A Sermon on Prayer from A Deep Life Series

This sermon is part two of a three-week mini series on prayer from A Deep Life series. We live is a noisy world filled with hundreds of voices screaming at us every second of our mediated lives. How can we discern which voice is God’s voice? This sermon explores three practical steps to do just that.

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What would you do if you received a Facebook friend request from God? Would you automatically think it was a scam? Or, would you think, “hmmm…I wonder if God is on Facebook?”

That is the premise of a new show on CBS this year. This young man is angry because his mother was killed when he was eight years old. His father is a pastor, and they had prayed for his mother to be healed from cancer, and she was. Then, as she was walking out of the hospital she was hit by a car and died.

He is starting a podcast that will try to prove that God does not exist. Then he gets a friend request from God and all kinds of weird coincidences start happening. It was an interesting pilot. We’ll have to see where the show goes.

I bring it up today because we are continuing our mini series on A Deep Life of Prayer. Last week we started by saying that prayer is a conversation with God that is all about cultivating a relationship with God, with each other, and with our self.

A conversation is a two-way street. We don’t just talk to God. God talks to us. The question is whether or not we are listening.

I’ve been thinking about this all week, and this is the sketch I came up with.

Boom! Welcome to the inside of my brain. It’s loud in there.

The truth is that we live in a noisy world. There are hundreds of voices screaming at us every day.

How do we hear God in the midst of the noise?

Let me make sure we’re clear on one thing before we dive into that question. There are some basic assumptions that have to be in place before we can even talk about this question.

  1. you have to believe there is a God.
  2. you have to believe that God communicates with humans.
  3. you have to believe that you are worthy to receive a message from God.

There is a ton of research that demonstrates that the human brain sees and hears what it wants to see and hear. If you don’t believe these three things, then you most likely not hear God. You will rationalize all of your experiences away with other explanations.

This sermon is not trying to convince you of these things. That is an entirely different sermon series.

However, if you are open to the possibility that God does speak and that God loves you so much that you can hear God, then we can explore how it happens.

I highly recommend this book by Dallas Willard. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

I’ve compiled a list of the ways that God communicates. These are found in scripture and in my own experience.

  • Seeing something that has symbolic meaning.
  • Direct Speech. Sometimes we hear words from God.
  • The Greek word for this is angelos. An angel is simply a messenger. It can be human. It can be celestial. But, for the record, an angel never has wings in the Bible. Just sayin.
  • The Angel of Lord. There is a recurring character in the Bible that is a special messenger of God.
  • Remember Joseph and the Technicolor dream coat.
  • Some people like to say that there are no coincidences. Circumstances often guide us toward or away from something.
  • Wise Counsel. God speaks through trusted mentors in our lives.
  • When we are in tune with God, often the gentle nudge inside us is the nudge of God.
  • God creates each of us with a unique set of gifts and talents. Our key passage of A Deep Life says that the person who meditates on the Torah of God is like a tree planted by water. Whatever he or she does prospers.

So, God is speaking all the time. Our question today is “How do we listen?”

There are three steps I want to share with you.

The first one comes from 1 Kings 19:9-13.

This is the story of a prophet named Elijah. He was sent to speak truth to the wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. They had lead the people of Israel to turn away from Yahweh and worship the Ba’al.

Elijah had this dramatic showdown with the 400 prophets of Ba’al and Yahweh showed up in a big way. But, instead of causing Jezebel to repent, she became more angry and sent her henchmen to hunt down Elijah and kill him.

Elijah freaked out, ran for 40 days, and came to Mt. Horeb and hid in a cave.

That’s where our story starts.

1 Kings 19:9–13 (NRSV)

9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;

I want to stop right there. Notice what just happened. God sent three powerful, violent, destructive, and incredibly loud forces to Elijah.

God was not in the whirlwind.

God was not in the Earthquake.

God was not in the fire.

There is a lot of noise happening in our world today, would you agree? It might be in your personal calendar as you try to juggle home life and work life.

It may be in the angry voices of a divided country.

Listen to this.

and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

The voice of God came after the silence.

The first step to hearing God’s voice is to slow down.

We run so fast in our culture and we have so many voices screaming at us.

I know for me, I have to get up early in the morning. I take the time to make the pot of coffee. Fry my eggs. Then I sit down in the darkness and just breathe for a few minutes. Then I read scripture and a devotional, and pet the cat.

This centers me for the busy day that is coming.

So that’s the first step.

The second step is found in Mark 1:32-35.

Mark 1:32–35 (NRSV)

32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Jesus had a busy schedule. He was constantly bombarded with sick and hungry people who wanted to be healed.

That’s a 24/7 job. Notices what he does.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

The second step in listening to God is to Step Out.

If Jesus needed to get away from the crowds, I think it’s probably important for us.

I set A Deep Life goal for myself this year. You may have heard me talk about the silence hermitage I took in July up at Pacem in Terris in Isanti. My goal is to take a 48 silent hermitage once a quarter. I’ve already booked my fall hermitage over the MEA break.

I think it is important that we carve out time and space to step out of the normal routine and focus on deep listening to God.

Before we look at the third text, we need to address a question that all of this begs to be asked.

How can we discern that it is God’s voice in a sea of noise?

As a follower of Jesus, the answer to this question is critical. If you hear nothing else today, I hope you hear this.

Jesus is the tuning fork.

The reason Jesus came into this world was to show us what it looks like for a human being to be in tune with God.

Jesus did not give us a list of rules to follow. He set the key signature for the kind of life we are to live.

It is quite simple.

Love God with your whole heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.

If you hear a voice that nudges you to hate your neighbor, that is not the voice of God.

If you hear a voice that nudges you to exalt yourself over others at their expense, that is not the voice of God.

That, my friends, is why it is so important that we are continually involved in the study of scripture in community, so that we can dwell in God’s word and together discern the heart and frequency of God.

I hope you are taking advantage of the prayer opportunities that are being offered by Deb Gorcyzki or the small group Bible Study written by Amy Vigessa. Or, perhaps you would like to join me on The Journey as we look at these things together.

The third step to listening to God is to tune in.

Are we operating on the same frequency as God.

Now, you might think, “Steve, this is overwhelming. I can’t do this.”

I have one more passage for you. Let’s look at Romans 8:26-27.

Let’s read these words together.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26–27 (NRSV)

God is with you in prayer.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness.

The truth is, we don’t know how to pray. We are like a toddler talking to her parents. Most of our prayer is babbling, but God loves it.

The Spirit speaks with us and for us. The truth is that most of the time we don’t need to say anything. We just need to breathe deeply…and listen.

It is a noisy world. It is a turbulent time in our nation. It is a time of transition in our congregation.

I hope that we will grow deeper in our ability to slow down, to step out, and tune in to God.

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