Written by Frances Gan
“Hello? God? Can you hear me? I can’t hear you!”
As much as I believe that prayer is like thumbprint, unique to every individual in the way we speak or relate to God, there are some commonalities that reveal the truth that God is speaking. Before listing my personal experience in discerning God’s voice, I must clarify that it is neither a litmus test nor an exhaustive list that limits God’s infinite ways of communication.
Basic Principles of Listening
“How do you know if it is from God? How do you hear God speak?”
Firstly, God’s truth to us is always positive, affirmative and uplifting.
God always gathers us (Jeremiah 23:3) and the evil one scatters us (Ezekiel 34:5). God reminds us of our identity as His beloved child (John 1:1) and His love lasts forever (Psalm 136:1). In similar fashion, the voice that puts me down, sneers at me, dismembers me (not literally), sounds condescending and accuses me, is not from God. Jesus is our advocate (1 John 2:1) and the evil one is the accuser (Revelation 12:10). It is not uncommon for many to believe the Old Testament (“OT”) description of God, i.e. angry, jealous, almost like a tyrant. But Jesus came to complete the image of God that the OT revealed: loving, merciful, forgiving, and compassionate. In fact, these descriptions were used throughout OT scriptures (such as the book of Psalms, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.) but they never get much limelight, do they?
Secondly, God speaks to us every moment, all the time!
He constantly speaks of love, mercy, tenderness, gentleness, peace… He tirelessly creates and gathers us. God is active and alive. The moment God stops singing over us, we cease to exist. The fact that you are still here reading this very text is evidence that God is speaking to you now. Are you mind blown already?
Thirdly, we need to be “open” to be able to hear him.
In John 12:29, after a voice came from heaven spoke to the people, the crowd who heard it had differing views on what it was. Some say it was a clap of thunder while others said it was an angel’s voice. The varying opinions do not prove whether the voice was from God but reflects the varying degree of openness in the people to receiving God’s message. God does not speak in codes and we are not called to be coders (Da Vinci code not). God speaks clearly and He does not conflict Himself. We, however, tend to not receive Him because our sin, prejudices and past hurts interrupt our “antennae” from receiving His love for us.
Let us explore how God speaks to us!
1) Is God the one speaking?
Many a times, I ask myself, “Is this really God speaking or is it just me?” Truth is, God is in me and, well, He speaks through me to me! The voice that speaks in my head that sounds like me and talks like me can be God Himself. The ongoing conversation within myself: the question and answer, the debate and search, the comfort and tears, form part of my communication with God.
2) Our Emotions
We tend to sway to two extreme spectrums when viewing emotions: some brush it away (or try to) whereas some are overwhelmed by it. Both attitudes reveal to us our inner state of being. It could be fear, insecurity, hurt, etc. Our emotions are outward signs of how we are inwardly towards certain situations. Our emotions invite us to move towards finding out why we react as such. Touching base with our emotions is healthy and courageous because God is interested in how we are doing and He wants to be involved. As we bring our feelings and emotions into prayer, God reveals Himself and heals us personally.
3) Mass, Scripture, Prayer & Journaling
God speaks through mass celebrations, the Bible, our daily readings, writings of saints, spiritual books and many more. In practicing Lectio Divina, we allow the words of scripture to touch our hearts and listen more attentively to the message God is delivering to us. These lead us into prayer, which is an intimate and authentic communication with God, who knows us completely. St Therese of Lisieux famously wrote: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” We journal the revelations received during prayer so that we can trace the movements of God within us and discover the direction God is leading us. It is likened to drawing dots on paper and connecting them to reveal the bigger picture.
4) Conversations with Others
God speaks through others and rightly so! The Lord is present in our midst when we speak of Him, invoke His Name or invite Him into our conversations (Matthew 18:20). The road to Emmaus is an example of Jesus’ presence in our conversations and He continues to walk with us in our daily conversations till today (to infinity and beyond!). How many countless times have we received new insights, affirmations and comfort when we speak to one another of our struggles and pray for one another?
5) Other Creative Means
I remember tearing up when I saw a sign language performance during Catholic Youth Day in 2016. Similarly, I felt touched when a nun danced her life story to us during Youth Arise International Festival 2016 at Zory, Poland. My latest experience was at the School of Witness (SOW) 2018 where I played a role in a skit and received an invitation from God to forgive myself for my past sins. We may think that we were merely watching a performance, movie, dance, listening to a song etc. for entertainment purposes, but if we allow ourselves to look beyond the superficial, God speaks to us through these means and touches our hearts deeply too.
6) Daily “Mundane” Life
God speaks in our day to day life. Personally, I enjoy walking from one place to another and as I stroll, I notice the sky, flowers, people, my feelings. Through creation, He speaks of peace, beauty and natural law. Throughout the day, He sends people my way and invites me to cooperate with His initiatives. In challenging times, He allows me to struggle and cry because He strengthens me and teaches me to rely on Him. He comforts me when I am anxious. When I fail, He presents opportunities for me to try again. He redeems me and He never fails (Deuteronomy 31:6).
7) Reaching Out to Others
Through ministering to others, God ministers to us too. When I reach out, I naturally become less inward looking. When I empathise with others, I am able to empathise my own failures. When I share God’s forgiveness with others, I also receive God’s forgiveness for me. When I speak of God’s truth or proclaim His word, I become the first recipient to whom God preaches. Hence, we must journey in communities. In faith communities, we lift one another up and carry each other along the journey. Jesus Himself sends out the Twelve (Mark 6:7) and the 72 disciples (Luke 10:1) in pairs. We are not created to be alone but to be in union with one another because that is also how God speaks to us. Each one of us carries within us the Spirit of God, which is the light that shines for others (Matthew 5:15-16).
Now that we are equipped with various ways of listening to God, let us be obedient and active listeners to God’s truths all the days of our lives. Happy listening!