Hearing what God is saying to us is important, I've never met a follower of Jesus who didn't feel this way. But what do we do when we don't seem to have our radio tuned to the right frequency? What are some ways we can seek to hear what God is saying to us if he's not writing his words with lightning in the sky?
Below are some ideas of ways we can proactively seek to hear God in our lives:
1. Other people
God has a history of speaking through other people: prophets, writers of scripture, etc. Why would God call us to live in community if he didn't intend to speak to us through that community? I intentionally talk with a select group of people about my life in order to get their perspective - and they want mine in response. They have other gifts and talents than I have - which is exactly what God intended (see the Body of Christ chapter in 1 Corinthians 12). They can speak out of God's gifts into my life.
Music can stir our souls. It can inspire us and move us. I dare you to go watch Rocky or Star Wars on mute during scenes with music to see the difference. God made music to have these properties. Go crank up a worship album or classical music spotify playlist and let yourself be swept up into the thundering beauty of strings or drums or rhythm instruments.
I know many people who love Jesus but don't love church. I get it. I was there myself at a couple points in my life. But church is important. Some kind of gathering based on faith in Jesus is crucial in our lives. Jesus tells us that where two or more are gathered in his name, he's there as well. The technical term for that is a 'commanded blessing'. God is saying, when you do the following thing, I guarantee I'll respond in this particular way. God has also given gifts to men and women like teaching and encouraging (see Ephesians 4:11). If you're not around these people, you're missing out on God speaking to you through their gifts. Being in a crowd of people who are seeking Jesus is a great way to make a connection with what God is saying to you.
Books are amazing things. They can put thoughts of other people into your own head. Another term for this is 'gaining new perspectives'. Other people may see God in different ways than you have ever seen him. Maybe you are seeking answers to questions and others can offer you thoughts on some answers you have never considered. When I was dealing with a great deal of frustration as I worked at a job that I hated, I started to read a lot of books. They changed my life. Seeing God from other angles than my own showed how much bigger he is than I realize from where I stand.
I have a canvas picture on my wall from the artist Banksy. It's an image of a freedom fighter with a bandana covering his nose and mouth, getting ready to hurl something. You'd expect there to be a rock or a molotov cocktail in his hand, but instead there is a bouquet of flowers. I love the picture. It makes me think, it creates questions within me. And it is in those spaces which are created that God can speak to me.
This is a personal favorite of mine. I love to go out in nature. My favorite time is when the world is asleep and the sky is full of stars. I look at them and realize that each one is huge ball of burning gas, millions of miles away. I can't even fathom the size or the distance or one, yet there are hundreds and thousands in my sight...and the God who made each one is bigger than the universe. It takes me to a place of utter and absolute awe. David writes in Psalm 19:1 "The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship." Nature is big and beautiful and it points me to its creator.
As an analytical person, I like to go out on a walk (nature - #6) and invite the Holy Spirit into my thinking. If I have a problem I'm trying to solve, or I'm simply considering what I'm supposed to be doing in life, I'll just start to think about it; and I trust that God is able to guide my thoughts like a river in a river bed. God gave you your brain. He talks about renewing your mind when you follow him. The thoughts you think exist because God breathes life into you. This is why I specifically ask people, has God been telling you something or showing you something? Sometimes, he will speak to us through our own process of understanding.
I know, cheating, right? I intentionally didn't list this one near the beginning of this list, but there's no doubt it's important. God did not give us a textbook to study for a test. I love how N.T. Wright says that the Gospel is Good News, not Good Advice. God gave us written scriptures for a reason. He wants us to read them because he wants us to know some important things. I would encourage you to read the scriptures regularly and not just by opening your bible randomly. Read through the books. See the story God is sharing with us and inviting us into, not just a couple lines out of context.
Maybe you've heard God audibly speak to you. Or maybe you've had a vision. Perhaps you've had a situation where a thought suddenly filled your head and you couldn't avoid it. If God wants to tell you or me something important, nothing will stop him from doing it. Usually, the part we play in this event is to choose whether or not we will be obedient. Jonah, of Bible fame, initially made a bad choice in his situation. I've had a couple times where I did the same thing. Jonah and I may have the stubbornness trait in common. I encourage you to just say yes if God shows you something clear as day.
Okay, I know. We could call all of the previous points 'prayer', or we could say that prayer needs to be part of every other point. You may be right. But here's what I mean with this one: Prayer is about the heart more than the head. Thinking and writing and considering and reading all have a large component of intellect, and that's good. But Paul talks about Christ living in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17). And if Jesus lives in our hearts, then when we speaks to us, it will probably sounds like our own heart is talking to us. Prayer involves getting quiet enough to learn the difference. It would be easy to do all the other stuff on this list while trying to actually avoid the moment of getting quiet and vulnerable to let God say something maybe we've been trying to avoid hearing.
Prayer is being open to God, and listening to him. He can speak in many different ways to us (hence this list), but if we're not listening, the value is lost.
God wants the best for us, so we must learn not to fear what he asks us or tells us. So let us have the courage to be open to what he is saying at any given time.