Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hearing God

Some people say they hear God speaking to them as an audible voice. I don't. I've always felt confused, skeptical and even disheartened to hear people talking about God that way.

So when I was studying at CHC a few years ago, and I got a chance for a research assignment to choose a topic of relevance to my own spiritual growth, I chose “Hearing God”. For that assignment, I read a number of books and essays on the subject. One of those books was Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard. At the time, struggling to write an essay by a due date, and not yet ready for the deeper stuff later on in the book, I never got further than about half-way through it. But I knew I wanted to finish reading it some time.

Recently my wife bought me a copy, and I have now been able to read it carefully and thoroughly from cover to cover.

The book is excellent. The style is conversational and gentle, but precise and unambiguous. Firmly grounded in the Bible, most of the book is a theology of hearing God, as much about why as it is about how and when. Specific, personal communication from God is placed in the context of a life lived with God and for God. Theoretical principles are related to everyday life.

Theologically, I was most affected by Willard's profound description of “words” as being a personal expression. When you and I speak, our words are an expression of our very selves, of our desires, our will, our understanding. So too everything we call “God's Word”—the Bible, Jesus and any personal communication—is, in the same way, just an expression of God himself. And while our words are powerful enough, God's words have such authority and power that they always accomplish their intended purpose.

Practically, I have been encouraged on several counts. First, that I am not alone in struggling to recognize God's voice. Also that God's word (in the deeper sense just described) can also be heard not just in the Bible and through circumstance but from others who speak to us, and even sometimes when God speaks through us—all of which I can relate to, after looking for such occasions since I first read the book several years ago. Willard gives specific suggestions on how to practise and process living in a conversational relationship with God.

But the book is also somewhat confronting, in a very positive way. After all, if you don't actually notice and pay attention to your difficulties and faults, you will never be able to learn, correct your faults and grow. I found I had to take the last few chapters one at a time, and give myself time to digest and reflect on each before moving on.

Recommendation: A challenging but very valuable read. If you want to better understand how God communicates with his people, or you want your personal relationship with God to grow stronger, you could certainly benefit from reading this book.

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