10 Oct How a Quiet Heart May Not be the Key to Hearing God’s Voice
Most often when I hear advice on the “key” to hearing God’s voice, it points to the need to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and find a place to “quieten your heart.” The idea is that this will help you sort through all the voices in your head in order to discern God’s voice amongst them.
While the idea of getting alone with your thoughts is an emotionally healthy thing to do and an important discipline for prayer (Jesus himself did this, Luke 5:16, Mark 1:35-36), I don’t believe it is the key to hearing God’s voice. In my PhD research, in conversation with people all over the world and in my own personal life, God’s voice is often heard when it is least expected! In fact, some of the clearest times I’ve heard the voice of the Spirit have been in the busiest periods of my day – when I’m brushing my teeth, driving through the traffic or waking up from sleep. In those times, the Holy Spirit has interrupted my thoughts. It hasn’t been difficult to discern his voice because the Spirit spoke precisely the opposite of what I was thinking. This was similar in my research, where people often talked about how the Spirit’s voice was “random” and how it came from “left field”.
This understanding of hearing from God is important because it places less emphasis on our efforts to hear from God and more on his desire to be heard. It removes the idea of striving to hear from God. Remember, the most common way God spoke in biblical times was when people were completely passive – when they were asleep!
So what is the key to hearing God’s voice if not a “quiet heart”? I believe the key is a hungry heart. It is a posture of seeking and attending to what God is saying. This is an act of faith. The heart is saying; “Lord I know you are a speaking God and that you gave us your spirit to communicate with us (Acts 2:16,17). But I can’t know you without two-way communication. Please speak to me. Show me what is on your heart so I can follow you (John 10:27).” Jesus said, that those who seek will find, those that ask will receive, and for those who knock, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8). A seeking heart will position us to tune in to the Spirit’s voice and to discern it from our own. Of course, this will often express itself in taking time out to wait on God in a quiet place, but it is not reliant on it. That means the parent with screaming toddlers who can’t get more than two minutes alone can still hear from God. It means that the businessperson can still hear the voice of the Spirit in the midst of a chaotic time at work. It means anyone who asks can hear from God in whatever season of life they are in.
This idea also takes the pressure off people whose personalities do not lend themselves to hours of quiet introspection. Many of the writings that advise us to retreat to a quiet place in order to hear from God were written by the mystics who lived their entire lives in convents and monasteries. Their entire life purpose was to spend time with God in solitude. Huge chunks of the day were reserved for times of quiet contemplation. Many of them also had introverted personalities that were well-suited to this lifestyle.
We know there’s value in being still and quietening your heart. It’s important to take time out to pray as Jesus did. However, God’s voice can get through to us whether we can “take time out” of not. If you’re hungry to hear, the Spirit can speak to you at any time. The key is to cultivate a hungry heart. And when we do, this will give us “ears to hear what the Spirit is saying” (Mark 4:23, Rev. 2:29).