By Dr. Rob Reimer, SBC president
The past few weeks have been filled with conversations regarding the SBC Leadership Conference. This article is a response addressing some of the concerns and support expressed regarding the conference. This article is not intended to exhaustively address the issue. Authors have written many books on the topic. This will not be a book, but a short overview.
There are few things that bring a bigger smile to my face than when people earnestly seek after God. It is one of the greatest joys that I have as President of Steinbach Bible College to see students grapple with faith issues. One of those faith issues that has recently garnered much attention is in the area of hearing from God.
Two Diverse Approaches
As I listen to people talk about this faith issue, I sometimes hear two diverse approaches. The first approach says that all I have to do is become quiet, listen for God’s voice for a few minutes and then whatever impressions I receive must be what God is telling me to do. The formula is simple: become quiet for a short time, and then God will give me an impression that is absolute.
The second approach says that God doesn’t speak to me personally, but only through the written Word. This formula says that for every decision I need to make, God will automatically give me a verse and somehow that verse will fit my situation. So, what happens is that I read a verse for my devotions and somehow try to manipulate that verse to fit my personal situation.
Both perspectives have components that I need to incorporate into my life as I hear from God, and both have cause for concern. To throw out either perspective would short-change the process while seeking to hear from God. I believe that a better alternative would be to incorporate both and seek a more balanced approach to hear from God.
How Do We Hear From God?
I believe that there are many ways that God speaks to us today. We typically have our “go-to” methods. Subsequently, it can be easy to assume that the way God speaks to me is the only way or ways that God speaks to all of us today.
As I think of a list of ways God speaks to us, I realize that some of these methods I have experienced personally, while others I have not experienced at all. However, just because I have experienced them, or not experienced them, does not make them right or wrong, or the only way to hear God. The reality is that God speaks to his children in a variety of ways.
There are three characteristics that I personally have experienced as I have sought to hear God. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. This is simply sharing my experience.
Time Seeking God
The first characteristic deals with the amount of time I spend in seeking God (1 Cor. 2:9-16). There seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of time I wait on God, and how well I hear from God. When I only spend a few minutes or a short amount of time listening to God, I tend to “mishear” Him. Maybe it is just me, but that has been my experience.
However, when I dedicate myself to prayer and wait patiently on Him for direction and discernment, I tend to “get it right” more often than not.
Have you ever wondered why that seems to be the case? I think the answer lies in the fact that a big part of hearing from God is simply the process. God wants us to spend time in communion and fellowship with him. Our goal for hearing from God is more about the relationship that we have with him than simply getting an answer on what to do next.
God seeks a deep and vibrant relationship, not a vending machine approach to answered prayer. When we become silent for 10 minutes and expect to hear a word from God, we risk turning this relationship into a formula. That does not mean that spending 10 minutes in silence is a waste of time; far from it. However, I believe a better way is to focus on building our relationship with God over a lifetime. Then we will be amazed at how God continually speaks to us.
The Body of Believers
A second characteristic involves the body of believers (Col. 3:16). My experience has been that I tend to hear God better when I do it in the context of other believers. That is not to say that God only speaks to me when I am with others. I do sense God’s leading when I am alone.
However, for the key decisions of life, I find that I hear God better when other believers are involved. I ask them to join me in prayer. I share how I feel God leading me and ask for their input as they join me in prayer. I invite them to pray with me over a period of days and weeks, not only for 10 minutes.
My home church is in the process of setting direction for the future. As a whole church we are committing to 10 weeks of prayer. We are encouraged to write down our thoughts over this 10-week period. Then we will look at these thoughts and see where the Holy Spirit is leading. I really believe this is a healthy way of listening to God. We are working at building our relationship with God and with each other as we join together in hearing from God (Matt. 22:34-40).
The Use of Scripture
A third characteristic involves the use of Scripture (Romans 10:17). My personal experience has been that when I immerse myself in Scripture, it has a profound impact on my hearing from God. To immerse requires more than reading a chapter and pulling out one verse that seems to stand out. It means reading large portions of Scripture in one sitting. It means reading passages repeatedly.
As a former pastor, one of the most profound challenges I gave to the congregation was to read through an Epistle or Gospel every week for a seven-week period. It was not uncommon for individuals to tell me that Scripture came alive for them, and that God spoke to them in powerful ways. Hearing from God involves reading Scripture, lots of Scripture.
So, how do we hear from God? I believe a biblical approach is to put less focus and emphasis on a formula, and more on relationships. Let’s commit to spending a significant amount of time developing our relationship with God. Let’s involve others who are godly and mature believers. Let’s immerse ourselves in Scripture. If this becomes our emphasis, I truly believe that we will be better “hearers” of God.
I want to invite you to join me in further study and dialogue as we earnestly seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in becoming more attuned to hearing from God.
Rob Reimer, MDiv, DMin, is the president of Steinbach Bible College.