Speak Lord for I’m trying to listen!
Kathryn shares her story interwoven with Scripture, highlighting the guiding principles marking her journey of growing intimacy with God. These provide helpful signposts for anyone learning to hear God’s gentle whispers.
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Sharing from the Heart
Signpost 1: Holy Spirit Interpreting Scripture
Signpost 2: Repentance and Forgiveness
Signpost 3: Conversational Prayer
Signpost 4: Short Accounts
Signpost 5: Time and Space to Listen
Signpost 6: Silence
Signpost 7: Unlocking Theology: does God speak today?
Signpost 8: Tuning in to God’s Voice
Signpost 9: Mentored
Signpost 10: Understanding God’s Character
Signpost 11: The Pieces Start Coming Together
Signpost 12: Breakthrough!
Signpost 13: Failures Become Learning Opportunities
Signpost 14: Applying the Ability to Hear God’s Voice
Signpost 15: Trainer Wheels Come Off
“They [the saints] overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” Revelation 12:11
For some time I’ve wanted to write down the testimony of how the Lord drew me to learn to hear His voice. My journey began at a time when there were few on this road in the Lutheran context in which I found myself. (At least that I knew of.) Yet, the Holy Spirit was faithful, reliable and trustworthy as patiently, gently but persistently He wooed, courted, challenged, corrected and pointed the way.
The journey of learning to listen to the Lord is well worth taking. If you haven’t already commenced this journey, then can I recommend it to you? It leads out of the valley and in time up into the higher and quieter places of intimacy with the Lord. Here the views can become breathtaking but there are also hidden clefts in the rocks, tucked around corners, where our view is obscured.
Testimony is such a powerful tool to help map the way forward in new terrain such as this, and so too is biblical understanding. I believe that is why the Holy Spirit has asked me now to plot the personal and biblical signposts that I recall being so helpful on my journey in learning to listen to God. It’s my prayer that God will use these markers, which really are guiding principles, to invite you to explore and to point the way for you in your journey to the high places, as you learn to hear God’s voice.
God bless you as you read and listen to Him.
Sharing from the Heart: Testimony
Respect for the Bible as the Word of God was a significant part of my Lutheran upbringing. I recall having memory tests on Bible verses when a student at Concordia Lutheran College (a high school) in Adelaide. I learnt these verses faithfully, expecting they would help guide my life in the years to come. I was taught that you needed to know you were saved by grace through faith AND have a solid understanding of Scripture and then you were on the right path. I sought to apply myself to both.
Well, that path for me didn’t quite lead the way I expected. In fact, the guard rails on that path gave way somewhere in the midst of adolescent struggles over my career choice (when teaching failed to satisfy) and through prolonged illness in my late teens, which led to a crisis of those very same beliefs. I surfaced from several years of illness grasping heavenward for answers that didn’t seem accessible through church attendance. Peace with God was no longer forthcoming by simply reading His Word. I needed to be right with God, but the ways I had been taught seemed to be working no longer. There must be more.
My search for answers lasted for five years. With hindsight, I can see that throughout those years of seeking, the Lord was letting me get to the end of myself and my own answers. He was graciously allowing me to come to the end of self-righteousness. The life experience of a college friend whose Lutheran faith had “come alive” through involvement in a Christian university group prodded me and perplexed me too. Her experience showed me that there was more. Though how to get it? Could I get it? I could not work out how to get right with God. I believe God knew that I would only be open to receiving Him and His answer to my dilemma, when I discovered my own inadequacy.
His answer came at a Christian camp for university students when I was 24. I will never forget this personal introduction and revelation of the risen Lord Jesus. As I sat listening to the speaker God’s Holy Spirit touched my life by His grace. For the first time I experienced in my heart His profound personal love for me and waves of His rich grace permeated my spiritual being, coursing all over me. I felt so loved, SAVED, and welcomed by God. This began a whole new exciting relationship with the Lord.
Holy Spirit Interpreting Scripture
Suddenly the words of Scripture took on new life because the Holy Spirit actually became the interpreter. They took on new meaning. It was as though they were often speaking straight to me. Why hadn’t I experienced God like this before? God’s timing is perfect and NOW was His time for me.
I found this Scripture to be true. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Repentance and Forgiveness
This new internal fellowship of the Lord through His indwelling Holy Spirit answered my needs for repentance and forgiveness. Conviction of sin and acceptance of God’s ways replaced fear and the heaviness of condemnation to which I had been accustomed.
I experienced the reality and the gentleness of the Holy Spirit bringing conviction of sin when the Lord taught me a vital lesson. One day at work I harboured judgmental thoughts against a fellow staff member in my heart, that broke my desire to relate to that person. I felt so justified. I went on my merry way. But after half an hour I noticed the sense of fellowship with the Lord was draining away. In writing off that staff member it seemed I had “written off” the Lord as well. Being newly converted I loved the fellowship with the Lord, His sense of nearness and companionship and didn’t want to go back to the loneliness I’d previously known. So I thought back to the time when I lost that sense of closeness. It didn’t take much reflection to pinpoint the sin of holding a judgment as the source of broken fellowship. Confession and repentance followed, quickly restoring my sense of fellowship to God.
Truly “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
The presence of God through His Holy Spirit also answered my need for fellowship and companionship. This loving, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who applied God’s Word to me and brought deep heart fellowship to me, became the new guard rails on my path ahead. My life had been very lonely and graciously, for the first nine months after I had met the Lord, the strong fellowship of the Holy Spirit remained, whilst I grew in the Lord.
I began to sense a desire to pray and treat the Holy Spirit as a friend. In other words I felt a growing desire to talk the day over with the Lord, the issues and tensions as well as the highlights. This started a pattern of talking things over with Him after work.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6
This pattern of conversational prayer was one of the keys that taught me the important principle of keeping short accounts with the Lord.
One day I recall feeling terribly upset and angry at the actions of a staff member at work. I was feeling very restless. I went for my usual walk and talk with the Lord after work but tried to hide how ugly my feelings were for the particular staff member in question. A quiet prompt to be honest overcame my shame and I chose to tell the Lord exactly how I felt. In fact I told Him “I’m so angry I could murder you”. I was so upset. I suddenly realised that my anger and sin had already contributed to the murder of Jesus. This was quite a shocking thought but one that brought some release. I had already done my worst and God STILL incredibly loved me. He could cope with this tension and frustration.
Inner peace prevailed. Afterward, I realised I had just had a vital taste of the practice of confession. This simply involves honesty before God, nothing else – and leads toward restoration and such RELEASE! I could be me, sharing how it really was, ugly motives and all and still be accepted …and worked on.
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
Time and Space to Listen
Another vital need the Holy Spirit quickened to me was the slowly growing conviction of the need to learn to wait on God and LISTEN.
I was now doing plenty of talking – not just praying – simply talking the day over with the Lord and finding this of great benefit. But it seemed that if I was to grow, lessons on listening would be part of the Holy Spirit’s next agenda.
God confirms His direction for our lives from several sources and my growing desire and awareness of a need to wait on the Lord – giving Him space to speak – coincided with my move to live in a small apartment on my own. I had SPACE! I thought “If I’m going to spend eternity with God then I would like to start to get to know Him better now on earth, so that when I arrive before Him He will not be a stranger to me.” I wanted to make good use of my time to deepen my relationship with God. But how to do that practically?
“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Deuteronomy 30:20
Around the time I moved into the unit I read the book, Celebration of Discipline. In that book Richard Foster wrote that God is a speaking God who is whispering to us all the time. This was a new thought and I became curious.
Richard Foster’s discipline of silence as a key to hearing God’s voice became a key pathway for me also on my journey and I understood the need to practice. Waiting before God in silence is not a normal route for the soul. We are filled with our own inner voices and clutter. The book urged the wisdom of having a mentor on this path, one who could support and sound things out with you on such a journey. I looked around those I knew and saw none with whom I felt I could entrust this journey. I knew of none from my denominational background with such a desire to wait on and listen to the Lord. For a season I remained without close human companionship as this journey unfolded.
“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3:1,7b
Unlocking Theology: does God speak today?
In the light of Celebration of Discipline I began an internal wrestle. Did I understand that God still spoke today? If God did still speak today, what was He speaking about? The book’s opinion was that God is speaking constantly – we just don’t know how to listen. Yet my Lutheran background indicated that God spoke only through Scripture. My need to know the truth made me pause and reflect.
I knew God spoke a great deal through the biblical record. Even a quick read of the Old Testament showed this. Certainly in times past He had been a communicating God. If that was so, could God and is God still speaking today? I recalled the Scripture “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
Thus if God’s nature (Jesus is God) in the past had been to speak then His character is still to be a speaking God today. I reasoned YES, God is still speaking today since He doesn’t change.
I also knew that God spoke through Jesus. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. Hebrews 1:1,2
I had also understood and experienced how the Holy Spirit could breathe on Scripture to speak to me PERSONALLY today. I had no issue that God is still speaking through Scripture even into quite specific situations at times.
My question became, does the Lord actually engage in personal conversation and leading with us today? I certainly knew He still speaks through His creation: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” Psalm 19:1,2
Through this time God used Scripture to give me direction. While reading Acts I came to chapter 9:10-16. As I read the account of Saul’s vision and God’s subsequent word to Ananias about praying for Saul, the light went on.
“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes Lord”, he answered. “The Lord told him “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” Acts 9:11
Though these words are NOW recorded in Scripture, at the time that Ananias heard them from the Lord they were directed specifically to him. They concerned his current life circumstances. It was a NOW word from the Lord for Ananias. The Lord hadn’t used Old Testament passages to speak with Ananias – the only Scriptures they had back then. In other words God hadn’t contained Himself to speak Scripture, even though He could have. If God is still the same yesterday, today and forever, then I understood He certainly still had the right to speak NOW words today to His people, just as He had in the past. My faith rose up and embraced this truth. This example occurred in Acts, the time after Jesus had birthed His church of which we are a part. This example took place as part of the early history of the Christian community of which I’m a more modern continuum – living Acts chapter 29 if you like.
The next hurdle was – is the Scripture then not enough? I reasoned from Ananias’s example – that in matters of salvation and understanding redemption, yes, it’s enough, though God has the same right to speak to His people in fresh words about current daily things affirming principles already conveyed in the Scriptures. I was at peace with this.
My last hurdle theologically was that if this is the case could I receive these now words? Could this reasoning apply to me? Did I trust enough that if God wanted or needed to He could speak straight to me? I accepted that God might want to but that I had a lot of fear. I committed my situation to God and stepped over the threshold into a new time in my life.
Tuning in to God’s Voice
I had come to the point of openness to wanting to hear God’s voice but I didn’t know how it would happen, so I followed some principles I had read about in Celebration of Discipline. First came failure. I struggled to sit still and keep my mind quiet and I found it wandered away from simply being in God’s presence so very easily.
I thought it might be easier to try to listen to God in this new way through one of my favourite ways of being with God. I already had a practice of daily walking and talking with the Lord to debrief after work, so I decided to forego talking on my walks and intentionally keep quiet. I committed the walk to the Lord, inviting Him to walk with me as it were. I also asked Him to speak with me. I had no idea what to expect.
I still recall the first walk I took that was an exercise in listening. I almost walked the whole block, patiently trying to keep my mind focused, open. Nothing seemed to happen. Then just before I arrived back home I found myself noticing two sparrows sitting on a power line. My mind went immediately to the verse, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matt 10:29. It was enough to keep me trying to listen to God.
These walks continued but I do not recall any further great revelations. What they were building was a love of stillness and being silent.
What I do recall happening at that time was a growing awareness of a number of other ways God was already working in my life. For the first time I noticed the songs that I found myself humming. Often they were a Christian song or chorus and I intentionally began to tune in to these. Often they brought joy to my day. Again, I was encouraged. Could it be a prompt from the Holy Spirit bringing to mind a song? But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:2. Why couldn’t He also do this through a Christian song?
An extension of this was that sometimes I found Scripture verses in my heart, often from the words of a hymn. Again, I was encouraged and began to tune in to these too when it occurred.
Slowly, my focus turned to be more aware of God even if I still couldn’t hear Him as I wished through NOW words. I was now expectant that God was already speaking to me even through ways I hadn’t previously recognised.
After 18 months of living on my own, my housing situation changed and I shared a house with a Lutheran woman in her late 20’s. Linda had just returned from a period of time training with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). The Lord knew that Linda was just what I needed next on my journey, so He set us together for a time. My journey in learning to hear the Lord’s voice speeded up as a result of Linda’s own personal experience. She was equipped to train me and pray for me on my particular journey.
It was Linda who challenged me to go a step further in my quest to hear God’s voice. I had been expecting that IF GOD CHOSE he could or would speak to me. In other words though I had given God permission to speak directly to me, through a NOW word, I was leaving it entirely up to God’s discretion. Linda challenged me that God loves to answer specific questions. I could approach God directly, asking Him questions about specific issues and be intentional and expectant about hearing an answer right then! And if I didn’t well then I could wait before Him until I did. This was very confronting for me.
The idea bordered on blasphemy when I first heard this. I felt it equated to testing God. I didn’t want to be subject to God’s wrath.
Understanding God’s Character
Linda patiently explored God’s character with me, sharing both her experience and teaching from the Bible that helped alter my expectations about God’s love, His desire to speak and capacity to teach us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. John 14:25 and Luke 11:9 and 13 were key passages to overcome my fears.
Luke 11:9 So I [Jesus] say to you “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” These verses call and invite, indeed urge us to ask of God. I have been given permission to ask direct of Almighty God! He was waiting to answer if only I would ask.
On the other hand Luke 11:13 taught me that I could ask for my personal teacher, the Holy Spirit’s presence, to speak and teach me about hearing Him in my life. “If you then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The Pieces Start Coming Together
A dilemma soon presented itself to which I wanted an answer from God – whether to invite a male friend to a youth event or not. My traditional prayers were drawing a blank. Linda challenged me that this was a perfect moment to seek an answer from the Lord. She helped me prepare by suggesting I:
- Get my Bible and find a quiet spot.
- Invite the Holy Spirit’s leading and protection.
- Ask God first if I needed to confess or repent of anything.
- Tell Him my petition, inviting Him to speak to Me and asking that I would recognise His voice.
- Then wait in quiet and faith.
- Note down any Scripture or impression that came to mind.
I had nothing to lose. After 15 minutes of quiet all that had happened was a memory verse had ‘come to mind’. “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him and He will act.” Psalm 37:5 Linda assured me that when things come to mind like that then this is an answer from the Lord. I didn’t quite understand what to do with my answer – did it mean yes or no to inviting the young man along? However again this was enough to keep me practising.
I did practise, about all sorts of things, some with success, others with no apparent answers. When I “drew a blank” I decided to just enjoy the Lord’s presence rather than seeing that as a failure. This helped. However, patience and the grace of God led to an increasing flow of answers, prompts, and words of God’s love. These became most precious of all.
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Hebrews 10:36
It was an ordinary morning at work until suddenly a thread of thoughts flowed through my mind. It didn’t seem to originate in my own brain, but the thoughts were certainly flowing and contained in my head. I could not miss them. My first “Go to Straight Street” moment had arrived but I wasn’t yet confident in it.
“Go over to Reception Building and give Faye a hug. Say nothing.” I stood still. What was that? Fearing that my mind was playing tricks at first I did nothing. We weren’t given to hugging staff in the office! Relationships weren’t at that kind of depth. I wasn’t sure if that was God or just my imagination.
God was so gracious. Ten minutes or so later the same message flowed through my brain and then I knew. I’ve heard a NOW word from God! Excitement soon gave way to concern. I quickly came to understand that if that was of God, then obedience suddenly became an issue. Ignoring such a word, once I felt it was of God would mean disobedience. I didn’t have the option to pray at night and wait for peace. That word required action now. If I had faith that it was indeed from the Lord then I needed to obey.
I considered if the request made sense. I knew the woman mentioned. I knew she’d recently lost her father. Certainly the request to give her a hug and not say anything was a stretch but did not seem to contravene the Bible. I figured I could risk giving her a hug and if I hadn’t heard from God then I could handle the outcome. So off I walked, folder in hand. Walking in to reception I walked straight over to her as she sat tying at the desk and without saying anything gave her a hug from behind, around her shoulders. Instantly she turned around and said “How did you know I just needed a hug then?” I could hardly believe my ears. I’d heard right! God HAD spoken to me. My faith soared and I had lift off.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6
Failures Become Learning Opportunities
From that moment the flow of thoughts from the Holy Spirit became a slowly increasing part of my world. There were still many lessons ahead whilst I learned to weigh these inner words. Some lessons were easily and successfully learn whist others were failures as I mixed God’s voice with my own pains and even fears.
I battled with loneliness and I had a strong impression at one point about a Christian friend and the prayer partnership that God was giving through this friendship. When this friendship ended abruptly and the promise could not be fulfilled I was devastated. God can’t keep His word. I must have heard wrong. It took me a long time to realise that these promises from God are always contingent upon the obedience of those parties involved. And that sometimes our own pains and longings can lead us to believe we are hearing from God when it’s more our own desires, as I believe happened in this case. That’s the time when having a good mentor or prayer partner is helpful.
Slowly I began to understand that even these “failures” could be talked over with God and it was not the end of the journey forward. He is the Spirit of Truth and could explain, heal and comfort through every phase of learning, even when things are kept in the too hard basket for a while.
In time I learnt that the words of 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you” applied also to my concerns and failures regarding tuning it to the Lord.
Applying the Ability to Hear God’s Voice
My learners plates (L plates) concerning hearing the voice of God soon became provisional plates (P plates) as I realised that now the basic skills were coming into place I could actively apply these skills in different situations.
One of the first arenas where I was challenged to integrate listening to God’s still small voice was my work place. I had a busy job co-ordinating a resource service in the disability services industry. Managing my rather full diary was an integral component of smooth operations. As my antenna tuned to the Holy Spirit’s presence I became aware that I was receiving checks and prompts surrounding certain time blocks in my diary. For instance when a client rang to make an appointment I learnt to heed an inner block over a certain time slot even if that time slot was not yet taken. True enough in a day or even several hours time I became aware of another appointment which I needed to keep for that very time slot – often team meetings which required synchronising three or four people’s diaries.
Needless to say I first learnt this lesson by default. The first two or three times when I was “tuning in”, I was aware of a vague check in my spirit but had gone ahead anyway blocking out that time. Later I would have to amend that booked appointment for another more pressing engagement, until I recognised that God was indeed giving me those inner checks and blocks. Thank God for His patience with me.
Years later the Lord had to re-teach me this lesson regarding my home diary when I began to work from home.
Another arena where Linda challenged me to apply my listening skills was to my Christian friendships. She suggested that in the same way I could ask God for a Bible verse for myself in a given situation, I could do this for others. It worked! But then came the dilemma of when to share what you hear with that person or when to simply pray. Initially, I seemed to receive these verses to simply pray for my friends. These Scriptures started to guide my prayers for my friends beyond what I knew of their situations. I loved this addition to my intercessory prayer life.
However, around this time God brought another Lutheran friend into my life. She was further down the track at sharing her hearing with others. Another mentor! After group Bible study when we came to pray together as a pair she would often give me either a Bible verse or an inner impression about something to encourage me from the Lord, in my current life circumstances. God used this friendship to teach me the power of sharing the results of one’s listening to God for another and then challenged me to do likewise. Since then I’ve learnt to seek God for verses to send to my friends as encouragement in birthday cards, encouragement cards, even short little notes.
When it came time to celebrate my birthday Linda challenged me about another arena to apply my growing capacity to listen to God. She invited me to seek the Lord for a verse or theme for the next year of my life. This worked too! This has since become a yearly pattern. It was also lovely, on my birthday, to receive the results of her hearing from the Lord for the next year of my life, an example I could follow for others.
By the time New Year came I realised myself without any prompt from Linda that I could seek God about the coming calendar year. What verse or Scriptures did He have for the next year for me? Any impressions? Did the Lord want to give me a picture or a promise for the next period of my life? What qualities or character traits did God want to work on in me in the following year? Endurance, strength, peace, patience, godly wisdom rather than worldly ambition are some of those God has assigned for different years of my recent life. There was a mix of joyous attributes as well as character development. I learnt that when lessons came, not to fight them but work with the flow. God was at work here. He had warned me. I learnt to work with the trials and tests in my life more than previously.
I learnt to ask God about where I should spend my time in the Scriptures, yielding my Bible study and devotional practice to my hearing from God. Was there a particular theme or book/s of the Bible the Lord wanted me to study in the coming year? From this, has developed a focused study on one book of the Bible per year, pondering, soaking and exploring it thoroughly. I love this. This occurs in the background of other daily devotional studies of Scripture.
Writing these verses, impressions and promises down became another discipline which some would call journaling. I set aside a book simply to record my impressions and dialogue with the Lord. This is another part of stewarding wisely what one hears from God.
This practice proved helpful when I came to the end of the year and chose to review what God had done through that year. In other words matching His promises and character traits marked for development to the playing out through circumstances in my life. How did I go? Was my hearing accurate? Did life match God’s promises? Was I stronger, more loving, more patient than I had been at the start of the year? It wasn’t long until I had invited God to lead my reviewing of each calendar year as it drew to a close. To help the focus I chose to set aside a month with the Lord in November in my regular devotions for this review and reflection process. It proved to be such a great practice and helpful to me in debriefing from the year as it draws to a close.
Trainer Wheels Come Off
After five months living with Linda our paths separated. The Lord knew I was ready to go solo in the next step on the journey in listening to His voice. Solo didn’t mean being without friends and accountability. I still had a prayer partner and was active in a Bible study and in congregational life. Solo did mean separating me from close living with Linda. The Lord knew I was ready to move past relying on Linda as my teacher, to growing dependence on Him as teacher and guide. The trainer wheels that God had provided through Linda were off. Linda had taught me much, but it was time to accept the Lord’s leadership in helping me to develop my own practices.
Of course my journey didn’t end there. But it does complete the record of the signposts that helped set my course up the mountain. I am still traversing these ranges today but now the Lord challenges me to seek His presence. His voice is just one part of Him.
So on I go. Are you coming? I dare you! See you at the top.