Deadlines. Relational drama. Global injustice. Multiple jobs. Financial stress.
Life is relentlessly difficult and moves insanely fast. The world is changing and evolving every moment and the pressure to keep up, stay current and get ahead can be all consuming.
Can I hear God’s voice above all the noise?
One of the most significant challenges of our rapid culture is the sense of urgency it creates.
Urgency is good for getting things done. A healthy sense of urgency helps us to be focused and productive.
Urgency, however, is less suited for reflection and rest. In many ways, it is at odds with waiting on the Lord, seeking God in silence and solitude, and meditating on Scripture. Urgency has a powerful magnetic pull that can keep us from hearing God.
Lately, I’ve been wrestling with why it’s often so hard to hear from God. Should we even pray if He already knows everything? Can we really connect with Him and receive clear guidance from the Holy Spirit?
In 1 Kings, Elijah heard from God.
Elijah was coming off of a busy day, in which he had a life and death experience, prolonged physical activity, and was caught in the middle of political drama with a bounty on his head from an angry King. If there was ever someone looking to hear from God—like us on our craziest, scariest, most anxious days—it was Elijah.
God’s response to Elijah’s desperation is at odds with what we’d expect. It’s simple and straightforward:
Stop and listen.
As I reflect on this, a few things about conversation with God emerge:
God chooses when He speaks.
God chooses what questions to answer.
God sets the tone.
In short, God wants Elijah to slow down and seek Him. He is not responding to Elijah’s sense of urgency.
The problem is this: when prayer is born of urgency, we’re dictating the questions God needs to answer rather than listening for the counsel He wants to give.
In a very real way, our urgency and busyness often keep us from hearing from God.
1. Urgency Starts the Conversation with Our Problems, but God Starts the Conversation with His Plan.
I don’t know how God is seeing events, but He knows exactly how I’m seeing them. Telling God my version, although valuable, is different than hearing God’s version from Him.
Despite all the emotion I just poured out, I need to remember—like the Psalmists—to conclude by remembering that God is in control, He will walk with me and go before me, and it is my role to trust that He is sovereign.
Sometimes I expect God to meet me on my own emotional level. And God, like He did with Job and Elijah, speaks in a different tone of voice—a bigger picture, steady and non-anxious voice.
We think the burden rests on God to erase our anxiety. God knows that the burden rests on us to continue to trust and wait on Him.
2. Urgency Wants the Conversation to be Quick, but God Wants us to Prepare Our Hearts to Listen.
Before God says anything to Elijah, He makes him sleep, eat, sleep, eat, and then travel for 40 days. That should signal to us that the quick prayer we shoot to the heavens as we walk through the parking lot from our car won’t develop deep, powerful communion with God.
God’s desire to speak to Elijah took him far outside the everyday pattern of his life.
There’s nothing quick, modern or efficient about spending hours—or days—alone with God. We live in a world that increasingly demands products and services to be instant and customized to our liking. That’s fine when it comes to downloading movies or ordering take-out, but that’s not how relationships work. God is a person, not a spiritual service provider.
Solitude never feels practical, convenient or urgent, but our prayer life is crippled (or non-existent) without it.
Maybe the truth is that the most efficient thing we can do would be to avail ourselves of the precious privilege of gaining wisdom and direction from the Creator of the universe. But it involves long, slow work in order to establish a focused and intentional pattern of communication with Him.
To truly shut out the noise and seek God, breaking a habit of quick, shallow prayer, I recommend developing the practice of spending a significant amount of time—maybe several hours—alone, allowing the anxiety to wash over you, turning it over to God, and waiting for Him to speak into the silence that follows.
3. Urgency Writes God into Our Story, but God Prefers to Write Us into His.
We often start our prayers with: “God, what is your will for my life?” when we should be asking, “God, how can I serve you with my life?”
Often we pray because we want to resolve what’s broken from our day, week, month or year. God sees forward into eternity and wants to speak to how He’s going to redeem the brokenness in our day, week, month, or year as part of His plan for the world.
Developing a true listening posture toward God requires humility, obedience and submission. It requires us to ask, “Am I really willing to do what God asks of me if He does speak? Do I really want to know what God thinks? Do I really want to hand over control of my money, time, and relationships? Am I prepared to continue to follow God in faith?”
Obedience requires courage. Courage to take hold of the promise that in following God we will truly discover peace and joy, even in the midst of anxiety and stress.
Life is relentlessly difficult, and it’s moving at the speed of light, fully charged with all the drama that modern life brings. We all yearn to hear from God. Maybe He’s asking us to eat. Sleep. Eat. Wait. Listen. And follow.
Sounds a little like Sabbath rest, doesn’t it?
Maybe sometimes it’s not that God is silent or hidden, but that He’s waiting for us to meet Him where He is, quietly waiting for us to still ourselves enough to hear what He has to say.
Is God asking you to seek His voice in rest and stillness as you seek to pursue and hear from Him? Often, we get the impression that taking our faith more seriously means adding a bunch of spiritual activities to our crazy-busy lives. But drawing nearer to God is more about subtracting.
It’s hard to do, but we need to keep urgency from allowing us to hear God.
Partially adapted from The Grand Paradox.
is the founder of The Justice Conference, a pastor, and the president of Kilns College in Bend, Oregon. He is the author of Pursuing Justice, The Grand Paradox, and recently released, The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege, a Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review.