In my first semester of Bible college, the professor explained a misconception in the church today. He said we think we’re called to “get people saved”—to encourage people to accept Christ as their Savior—but that’s not true. He explained that God actually calls us to “make disciples,” and that’s a different thing altogether.
My first thought was, That’s blasphemy! It’s not even biblical. But then we read the Scripture, and I realized he was right. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). That realization rocked my world because I had been taught one thing my whole life, but here was a whole different concept.
This challenged me and made me wonder what else I may have been taught that wasn’t biblical. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but it was huge for me. I had grown up already having issues with the church and Christians. This was a trust issue. If I had been taught something that wasn’t really what Jesus said, what else had I been taught that was wrong?
I knew from that point on I had to learn the word of God way better than I ever had. I had a deep hunger to find biblical truth. I wanted to be a disciple.
A professor had told us we could pray and ask God to speak to us, and He would. I looked it up in John 10:3–4, and there it was: “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
I was learning so much so fast. We had chapel every day, and then I would go back to our duplex to pray and listen for God to speak to me. And every day, I ended my prayer time with disappointment, saying, “God, you didn’t speak to me today.” I was growing incredibly frustrated spiritually and thinking I just wasn’t holy or good enough. Maybe this is a me issue because of things I’d done or my family had done. Maybe I would never have that kind of relationship with the Lord.
Then within a day or two of hitting my lowest point, I went to chapel and that day’s speaker stepped up and said, “You know what? I think I’m going to go a different route than what I planned today. I really feel like the Lord is telling me that there are people in here who want to hear the voice of God, but they don’t know how. And I feel like God wants me to keep it simple and teach you how to hear what He has to say.”
I sat up straight and listened, thinking maybe this guy had the answer for me. Over the next few minutes, he broke it down in a way I could finally understand.
“We overcomplicate hearing the voice of God,” he said.
He told us to get a journal or something else to write on—he suggested a notebook so we could keep track of it by date. “Go into a room and begin to pray, simply talking to the Lord like you would a spouse or close friend. When you finish praying,” he said, “sit quietly. Then start writing down everything that comes to your mind—everything you’re thinking.”
“After you do that,” he continued, “see if what you’ve written lines up with the word of God. If it lines up with the word, there’s a 50-50 chance it’s God speaking to you. But guess what? God is not going to condemn you if you make a mistake while you're trying to hear His voice and follow Him. If you are genuinely and consistently trying to hear His voice, will that please Him? Of course, it will!”
When I first started doing this, I would write a line and immediately ask, “Is this God or is this me?” I quickly learned that wasn’t a good way to do it. My prayers were too chopped up. Instead, I just prayed. When my prayer ended, I sat quietly and started writing when something popped into my head. I kept writing until I felt like I had captured everything I sensed God saying to me.
Then I worked through everything I had written, line by line, and compared it to Scripture. If it didn’t line up with the Bible, I struck through it, because that was me. If I found that what I had written lined up with the Bible, I left it.
At first, since I didn’t know the Bible well enough, I often felt stuck and had questions after studying, so I asked other people to help me. I was willing to do anything to keep learning. It turned out that about 20 percent of what I had written lined up with Scripture, and about 80 percent didn’t.
I set a goal of praying and writing like that five times a week. Over the months, as I spent more time reading Scripture and praying, my writing lined up more often with what God had said.
I was doing it. I was learning to hear my Father’s voice.
When our son was born a few years later, God gave me a perfect picture of what this must have looked like from His perspective. My wife, Tracy, had just given birth, and the doctor was holding our son, Austin. I said something to Tracy, and Austin turned his head toward me. Even though he had never seen me, he had been hearing my voice for months, and he recognized it. Fast-forward a few years, and Austin was in kindergarten. I went to his Sunday School room and stood at the door watching 20 children running around. I said, “Austin,” and only one child looked up. My son. He recognized my voice even with everything else going on in the room.
Now, suppose you have a son or daughter who plays football or is a cheerleader. You’re in the stands, and they’re out on the field. There may be hundreds of people in the stands yelling, but they recognize your voice even in the midst of that crowd. Then they’re in college, maybe in another state, and they’re facing a difficulty, maybe even temptation. And in an instant, they have a thought, What would Dad or Mom say right now? They think about what you have told them in the past and hear your voice.
That’s how the Spirit of the Lord works. With so many things going on, you can still hear and recognize His voice. If you first learn to hear Him during your one-on-one time with God in that quiet room with the door closed, then you’ll still hear and recognize His voice no matter where you are or what is going on.
Understanding that I could hear the voice of God and having a method for doing that changed the trajectory of my life. My prayer time became more personal and more intimate. I began to dig deeper into the Word of God, because that’s the only way I had to confirm if what I was hearing was from Him. It seems crazy to me that I grew up in church and no one ever taught me how to do this. But over the years, I have come to realize that the Word of God gives me a foundation of truth for every decision I need to make. The more I study and know His Word, the more the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to speak to me through what I am reading. God’s heart and character are all laid out in the Scriptures for me to follow.
Now, nearly 25 years later, I’m still trying to hear His voice more intimately and clearly. My goal is to start the day with prayer and Scripture at least five days a week. If I don’t do that first, I feel lost, quickly get distracted, and start my day off running in the wrong direction.
When I was a kid growing up in Waco, Texas, we had a neighbor who was a model for this type of discipline. He was a marathon runner, and his daughter and I were friends. One day when she and I were playing outside, he came out to stretch before a run.
He walked over to us and said, “I want to talk to you guys for a second and maybe teach you something I hope you’ll remember when you grow up.”
I listened, because I was so impressed that he was a competitive runner. He said, “When I’m training for a race, I have to push myself hard. Some days, I run 12 or 15 miles or even longer. That’s what it takes to prepare to run a marathon. Then, there are some days when I just run two or three miles for whatever reason. And that’s okay. I can take a day off here and there. But when I do, I know I can’t give myself the same option tomorrow. Tomorrow, I have to push myself back up to 15 miles again.”
I’ve carried that lesson now for more than 40 years, and I use it in several areas of my life, including my prayer life. I don’t make myself spend an hour in my prayer room seven days a week, but I know if I go more than a couple of days in a row without having dedicated prayer time, reading His word and listening to His voice, then my attitude and thought processes start to change. I went down some bumpy roads to learn that the more observant I am of my morning time with God, the better I am at making wise decisions, having healthy relationships, and being successful in every area of my life.
I’m not saying this is for everybody; I’m just saying this is what God has taught me about me. I have to put some non-negotiables on my schedule, whether I’m at home or traveling. Even if we’re on vacation with the kids, they come in and pray with us.
Most mornings I’m up around 5:00 a.m. to work out. I listen to Scripture while doing cardio and ask God, “What do you want to speak to me through your Word?” I’m an auditory learner so listening helps.
As I write this, God has me going through the book of John. I’ve read it several times over about six months, and then He directed me to chapters 13, 14, 15 and 16 over and over again. Sometimes one or two verses will stick out.
When I get home from the gym, I shower and dress, and then I go to my prayer room. It’s a particular place in our house that we’ve dedicated to prayer, and that’s where I study whatever verse God has given me for the day. I pray and ask the Lord to speak to me regarding what He is trying to tell me, teach me, or reveal to me through that passage of Scripture.
There was a time when I became legalistic about my prayer time, and before long it became a box for me to check off every day. God corrected me on that. Now it’s a time I look forward to and enjoy in the morning. There are definitely times when it’s a struggle, but on those days I ask God to change my attitude and give me the strength, energy and desire to seek Him. It helps to spend time telling Him who He is to me: “Thank you, Jesus, for being my Savior, my provider, my protector.”
Then I hear Him saying back to me, “Know that I love you, son. I am pleased with you and you delight Me.” Wow! How often I need to hear that!
Dedicated prayer time doesn’t guarantee a smooth day will follow. When I first started writing the things God was speaking to me, it all felt clear to me. I would leave my prayer room confident that I would do the things He was telling me to do. That was the easy part. The hard part started when I walked out the door. The issues of the day would hit me, and I would quickly forget what God had told me that morning.
After months of that, I was discouraged almost every night when I came home. Then one day I felt like God was telling me not to leave His words in my prayer room, but to make a list of the things I sensed He was telling me or a Bible verse He had led me to, and carry it in my pocket. When I was struggling to believe or obey a word or promise He had given me, I pulled it out of my pocket and read it again.
The words took me back to a posture of prayer and reminded me of what God and I had talked about that morning. I felt that indescribable peace that only God can give us and His strength to do what He was calling me to do.
Now, my prayer every day is, “God, please don’t give me more than I can handle . . . but don’t give me less either. I just want whatever You want.”
You need to know that I struggled—and continue to struggle—with my sinful nature and my unwillingness to do what God wants me to do at times. Hearing God’s voice and heeding God’s voice are two very different things.
This article was extracted from Issue 5 (Spring 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.
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