As a pastor, I have been asked countless times, “How do I hear from God?” Over the years, I’ve found a simple process that’s been my tried and true. I think it’ll help you, too:
Step one: Pick a time and a place to meet with God.
Before my wife, Taryn, and I moved to Washington D.C. to plant Metro Church, I felt drawn to this influential area for many years believing that if you can influence this area for Christ, you can influence the world. But the people here tend to have an obsession with schedules and appointments. On more than one occasion, I have heard someone say something to the effect of, “I have an opening three weeks from now for thirty minutes. Sorry, everything else is booked solid.”
I have heard these same people confess that they struggle to find time to meet with God. My thought in pastoring them has been simple, How is it that we prioritize meetings with people we don’t even like and neglect to meet with the God we love?
I don’t say this in a critical way, but rather as a wake-up call and a reminder that we prioritize what we value. I challenge you to pull out your smartphone out right now and schedule daily time with God.
This sounds simple, but it is so easy to let the appointment slip if you do not guard it. In my earlier years, I was more sporadic in my devotional times, but I found that missed appointments with God led to disappointments in life.
How can I expect to find the abundant life He offers if I am not seeking Him each day to guide me into His fullness?
I recommend that you choose the time when you are at your very best. I believe that God always gives us His very best, so I want to respond by spending time with Him when I am most alert and ready to receive. Some people like getting up early, like five a.m.—that’s great for them, but I am not at my best that early. I have found that God does not speak to me at that hour because, well, I am asleep (He can speak to me in my dreams if He wants to say anything to me before the sun rises). God is happy to meet with you any time of day, so what time works for you?
Next, find a place for you and God to meet. I recommend going somewhere that you love. When I take Taryn out on a date, I do not go to Burger King because I want it to be a place that we both love and enjoy going to together. My organic, gluten-free-loving wife’s love language is most certainly not super-sizing some greasy french fries or being in an environment with screaming kids and dirty booths. Instead, I try to choose a healthy restaurant that has an atmosphere where we are able to connect with each other. In a similar way, I recommend choosing a place for your time with God that you are excited to go to and a place that is conducive to connecting with Him.
There is a classic ‘80s flick called Field of Dreams. The movie is about an Iowa farmer that hears a voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” Although in the movie it is referring to building a baseball field for the Chicago Black Sox, I have found this same principle to be true in my relationship with God. If you prepare a place for Him and build in time to be with Him, He will show up. If you build it, He will come! Once you have picked a time and a place, what do you do next?
Step two: Be still and worship.
In Psalm 46:10, God instructs to “be still and know that I am God.”
Honestly, I am not always good at being still. I would definitely rather be moving, preferably at a very high speed. Fortunately, the Hebrew word is not necessarily reflective of a literal stillness but more of a stillness of the soul. Psalm 46:10 can be translated as, “Stop striving and know that I am God.”
The context of this passage was at a time when Israel was being threatened by other nations. In the midst of these threats, they could trust in the covenant that God made with them and know that He would be their very present help, refuge, and strength (see Psalm 46:1). There is something about being still before God that reminds us we are not in charge—He is.
Once we are still before Him, we can enter into true worship. I have found that when I worship, everything shifts. If my perspective was off, I see rightly once again. I am reminded of the bigness of God and of how much He loves me and how much I love Him. I am also reminded again of how much I need Him and how trustworthy He is.
I have not always begun my time with God in worship, but I highly recommend taking some time to worship before you jump into reading the Bible. Worship helps you release burdens you are carrying and shifts your perspective so you see rightly again. Sometimes I will put a song on repeat, so that the words wash over me again and again. Our hearts are tenderized in His presence.
Step three: Read and pray.
God has written down His opinions and wisdom regarding the most common problems we face, so I recommend spending time looking at what He says in His Word. There is an integral partnership between the Word and the Spirit when it comes to God speaking. As you open your Bible and read, you are hearing what God has already spoken and asking the Holy Spirit to make it come alive so you can discern what God is speaking to you.
I recommend you start by spending 10 to 15 minutes in study after you worship. As you get into the Word, that time will likely increase. Sometimes I study for hours looking up Greek and Hebrew words and cross-referencing passages in the Bible. Sometimes I default to a topical study, or even a character study. Other times I spend just a few minutes reading a few verses.
Sometimes I feel as though God is speaking directly to me through His Word, and I understand exactly what He is asking me to do next through something I read. Other times when I read, God feels abstract and I struggle to understand how the passage has any correlation to my life whatsoever. This is very normal. Keep reading. As you continue to read with your ears and heart open, He will speak to you.
After you finish reading, take a few minutes to respond in prayer to what you read. Pray about whatever is on your heart. This brings us to the next step in how we can practically position ourselves to hear the supernatural voice of God.
Step four: Listen and write.
I recently heard that the above average listener only listens for approximately 17 seconds without diverting the conversation back to themselves. It seems that we are just naturally egocentric unless we intentionally guard against it. To illustrate this point, when you see one of your group pictures, who is the person you look at first? Is it your friends?
I didn’t think so.
In our relationship with God and with others, most of us struggle with being good listeners, but we will miss many important promptings from God if we do not take the time to listen for “the still, small voice of God”1 (1 Kings 19:12). Do you pause to listen to God or do you spend most of your time rattling off prayer requests? Don’t worry I have problems with it, too.
The single most revolutionary step I have taken in the past several years to dramatically increase both the amount of time I spend listening and the frequency I hear from God is something I call two-way journaling.
This is where you get out a journal or notepad and write a letter to God by just telling Him how you feel, asking questions, etc. After pausing for a few moments and asking Him to speak to you, simply write back what you feel like God is saying to you through listening to His still small voice.
If this is a new exercise for you, as it was for me when I started, I believe you will enjoy this focused way of processing with the Lord and hearing what He says as you write! Just like anything else you download from God any other way, it is important to test the message and take it through the same filters of seeing if it lines up with Scripture, testing it through asking the godly counsel in your life if it resonates with them.
Step five: Share and obey.
Who can you share with what God spoke to you? If it is direction you received, it is wise to share this with the right people in your life. I am committed to always having these kinds of people in my life and have given them permission to speak into my life and hold me accountable. The people that hold this place in our lives should also have a role of accountability. As we agree to be authentic with them and give them permission to speak into our lives, they bring great affirmation for the road ahead. Those who play this role in my life are the ones I can openly share with when I am walking through a challenge.
Although sometimes a bit humbling and even embarrassing, I have found it to also be one of the most freeing disciplines in life and it gives me the confidence to move forward feeling affirmed in what God is saying to me. Colossians 3:15 reminds us to let God’s peace lead us when we feel challenged to obey or step out because His peace is a tangible reminder of Him being with us.
Just remember God wants to speak to you and these five steps are simply helping to position you to hear His Voice in your daily life.
David I. Stine is lead pastor of DC Metro Church in Washington. This article was adapted from Stine’s new book, Hearing From God, Five Steps To Knowing His Will For Your Life (2017 Howard Books).