I am thankful to God that, as we have learned, he will find a way to speak to me as I determine to live for him. But to what length must he go to get my attention? Will it require adversity or trauma? God has been known to speak through a burning bush or a donkey when necessary. I’ve heard people say, “I guess I just had to learn the hard way.” But did they? Could their stress and turmoil have been avoided had they been listening more closely at the outset? That’s why it’s not enough for us to have ears that will eventually hear God’s voice. We must have ears that can most easily hear his voice and respond to it.
Turn to 2 Chronicles 20:13-15. Notice how quickly and confidently Jahaziel responded to the Spirit’s leading. Such ability to listen didn’t come naturally to Jahaziel. It came because he had trained or “fine-tuned” his spiritual ears.
Fine-tuning our spiritual ears is very similar to fine-tuning a piano by ear. Although many piano tuners today use electronic devices, a few still tune the old-fashioned way: with just an Allen wrench, a tuning fork, and some well-honed eardrums. I am amazed that they have so developed their hearing that they can sense even the slightest variations in pitch.
In the same way, we must sensitize our spiritual ears to hear every prompting by the Holy Spirit. There are basically three disciplines that we, like piano tuners, have to develop in order to do this.
Three Disciplines for Fine-Tuning
First, we must practice listening. This may seem obvious. But how much effort do we actually put into expectantly listening for and discerning God’s voice? How many mornings do we awake ready to listen in case our Lord wants to speak to us? How often do we lie awake at night and remember God and think of him “in the night watches”? (See Psalm 63:6, NKJV.) Think about yesterday. How many times did you stop to deliberately listen for God or ask him to speak to you? Was it once, twice, 10 times, or not at all? The old adage applies: Practice makes perfect—or, at least, better. We can’t expect to grow in our sensitivity to God’s speaking if we’re not constantly listening.
Even prophets had to learn to recognize God’s voice. Samuel was one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. The Lord spoke to him often. In fact, passages like 1 Samuel 16, in which God tells Samuel whom to reject and whom to anoint as the new king of Israel, might lead some to the wrong conclusion. From those accounts, they may assume that Samuel naturally recognized God’s voice from the beginning of his ministry. But that’s not the case.
Please read about Samuel’s calling from the Lord in 1 Samuel 3. What about this passage indicates that Samuel had not yet learned to recognize God’s voice?
When God first called Samuel by name, Samuel thought the voice was Eli’s. It’s important to note that Samuel heard a voice but could not yet discern whose voice it was. That would take both time and practice to learn. If prophets like Samuel and Jahaziel needed to develop their listening skills, so must we as God’s ministers today.
Here are two important instructions to help you as you practice listening:
1. Be consistent. Decide right now to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalo- nians 5:17, NKJV). Stay attentive to the Lord every day. Like Samuel, learn to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (NAS). Create habits like waking up and making your very first words, “Good morn- ing, Lord! How can I serve you today?” It can take years to develop one’s hearing so as to properly tune a piano. That represents many days and many hours of intense listening to notes and pitches as they ring out through the air. Likewise, it will take hours of listening with your heart to learn how to most easily and quickly recognize the voice of our God. So be patient with yourself. God is!
2. Be careful. Do not ignore the scriptural characteristics of his voice and the necessary contents of his words. Before you respond in any way, run that “checklist” in your mind. Take the time necessary to be sure. God will wait on you. Remember, the powers of darkness will seek to deceive you. That’s why as Christians, we must never abandon the fundamental disciplines needed to discern God’s voice.
The second fundamental discipline in fine-tuning our spiritual ears is to focus our thoughts. To tune a piano by ear requires total concentration on the sounds being produced. Hearing God’s voice requires concentration as well. Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah obviously understood that. They focused their minds totally on God. That is what Jehoshaphat meant when he said, “Our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:12b).
To help us better appreciate their amazing feat, do this right now: Think only thoughts about God for one full minute. Allow no other thoughts to clutter your mind. Focus on him. Ready, get set, think!
So how did you do? It wasn’t all that easy, was it? What percentage of your thoughts were either about God or toward God—50, 70, maybe 90 percent? I daresay none of us could claim a 100 percent God-focus. I admit, the first time I tried that little exercise I failed miserably! I was amazed by how many other thoughts battled for my attention. Such struggles with our thoughts remind me of when Jesus asked the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” I can imagine Jesus saying, “Can you not keep watch (over your thoughts) for even one minute?” He went on to caution his disciples. That same warning should be sobering to us: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (See Mark 14:37-38.)
Paul said we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Notice Paul didn’t say that every thought had to be Christ-like. That is impossible since Satan will, at times, shoot rogue and evil thoughts into our minds. Rather, the instant a thought enters it must be seized and checked. If it is God-honoring, it stays. If that thought might dishonor the Lord, it must immediately be thrown out. Unless we watchfully discipline our minds in this way, we will find ourselves constantly tormented by conflicting ideas and distracted by devilish notions.
Another word that we could call improper and unbridled thinking is “noise.” Can you imagine a piano tuner trying to tune your church piano while a CD is blaring out of your sound system?
Unfortunately, too often we allow the “noise” of this world, our flesh, and the devil to crowd out the “still small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:12, NKJV).
There is one final but important discipline that we must practice if we are to most easily hear God’s voice when he speaks to us. We must respond to every impulse from the Holy Spirit. Second Chronicles 20 is replete with examples of this: When Jehoshaphat heard that the enemy armies were coming, he responded by saying, “Let’s seek God.” When the people of Judah and Jerusalem got the call to fast and pray, they responded by coming “from every town in Judah.” When Jehoshaphat prayed, every man, woman, and child responded by standing and waiting before God. When the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel, he responded by speaking what he was told. When Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah heard God’s message to them through his prophet, they responded in praise.
Likewise, as we respond to every prompting from God, we will sensitize our spiritual ears to his voice. We’ll learn to recognize even the gentlest whisper from his Spirit. In a loud and fast-moving worship service, that level of sensitivity and responsiveness is absolutely necessary for every person involved—from the main leader and the instrumentalists upfront to the production crew in the back. (It’s important to note what will happen if we stop responding to his voice. Rather than becoming more sensitized, our hearing will actually grow dull. We could then become a source of confusion and a hindrance to the Holy Spirit’s moving in a service.)
Oh God, give us responsive ears that hear you easily and quickly!