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Discipleship Blog

How do we listen to God?

Anna Grace Glaize

Student Question

How do I listen to God?

Tony’s Response

(Part 1)

For me to answer this question, I feel like it's essential for us to ground our understanding of prayer as "practice."  When prayer is a practice, it helps us to be honest about the very real challenges of hearing from God. Very few of us are just naturals... in fact, most of us feel like we're beginners at best with prayer. When we think of prayer as a practice, it helps us to remember that it isn't so much a switch we flip, but a seed that we sow. Over time, our ability to listen deeply to God may be cultivated.

We are taught, both in scripture and in the lives of disciples through the ages, that God's voice is best heard in silence. Think of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:9-14. Some dramatic, earth-shaking stuff happens. Yet the story tells us, repeatedly, the Lord was not to be heard or found in that.  Instead, God's voice comes to Elijah as a gentle whisper—one that shakes him to his core.  And Mother Teresa taught us that if we don't create space for silence in our lives, it is increasingly unlikely that we will be able to hear God's voice of guidance and direction. If you're like me, silence is tough. Even when we do try to enter into quiet space, we find our minds spinning with noise and busy thoughts.  (We'll talk about this in the next post!)  


Before we talk more about silence and prayer, let's talk about what we  mean by "hearing God's voice."  Because that can seem like a daunting thing.  Many, if not most, have not heard God address us audibly.  But we know from Scripture and the testimony of fellow Christians that some have heard God's voice in this way—literally out loud, or at least so clearly that it seems audible. It's hard to say why this happens for some and not for others. 


But this is NOT the only way to understand "hearing God's voice."  Most often, when talk about hearing God's voice we are referring to the way that our hearts or minds are stirred; we suddenly see things differently or feel called to respond in new ways to the people or circumstances around us. This is usually accompanied by an overwhelming sense that this shift came from outside of ourselves.  Many times, you'll have to describe it as something that happened TO you.  Often times it will function as a turning point for a given situation or relationship, though it may be quite challenging to articulate the experience or explain what you now know.  But one thing's for sure, it leads you down a new path that is at once exciting and yet uncertain and unexplored. 


Can you think of any times when you have experienced that kind of move of God?  How do you try to put it into words?  


Edited by Anna Grace Glaize

Send your questions to


Anna Grace Glaize

Student Question

WHAT THE HECK DOES PRAYER EVEN DO??? What effect does prayer have? Does prayer change God's mind or actions? Would He not do what's best if we weren't asking Him? What is the point? 

Tony’s response

This is the "utility" question - What is prayer's usefulness? What does prayer do?  It’s a really important question, though I want to qualify how we might ask it.  This sort of “utility” question seems to be in response to a deep intuition many people have about prayer; there is something more to praying than rattling off a wish list of what we want or need, which God may or may not grant us.   And when utility, usefulness, and personal gain are the primary things we are (implicitly or otherwise) told prayer is about - then I think we must ask the question, just like this... what is prayer?!?!?

There are certainly cases in Scripture, in the long history of the church, and in many personal testimonies that document God’s responsiveness to prayer. However, it seems much more the norm that this is not the primary thing.

So what is the purpose of prayer? Union with God.  Prayer is about connection to God. There are a few things I suspect prayer will accomplish in the life of individuals who faithfully practice it.  Primarily, prayer broadens hearts and minds; it introduces us to new ways of seeing, thinking, speaking, and acting toward God and others.  If prayer is a way of uniting us more deeply to the life, heart, and mind of God in Jesus, then this seems the reasonable outcome. Through prayer, my finite perspective stretches and expands; my limited capacity finds itself swallowed up in the infinite capacity of the Divine. Prayer accomplishes a change in me. But this isn't just for the sake of some kind of inner/spiritual deepening. At its best, it absolutely has "practical" implications.  This connection with God, over time, may shape and form us to know how to live and be and work in the world in a way that is in step with the movement of God.  This is what we see in Jesus and what makes him SO incredibly compelling in the gospels. He lives his life in deep union with God.  

I think the Scripture's idea of holiness or sanctification is primarily concerned with THIS VERY FORMATION in us!  That is, it is more concerned with where your life flows from. Are you united with the Lord, the giver of life? Or are you trying to get life out of things which cannot give it? I believe this is why John Wesley liked best "to be formed in the image and likeness of Christ" or "to have the mind of Christ” as definitions/images for holiness and sanctification. These scriptural images point back to Christ’s union with God

I think the practice of prayer (while certainly multi-faceted and capable of DOING a great many things) has as its primary goal the pursuit of a deeper connection to God, who created us in love and who sent Jesus to embody a life lived in union.

Edited by Anna Grace Glaize

Send your questions to