By Dr. Audrey Davidheiser, Crosswalk.com
My friend Melanie craned her neck toward the other side of the church.
Then I watched her wave at someone across the sanctuary in a frantic way.
The evening service was about to start. Maybe that’s why Melanie desperately tried to snag that person’s attention.
I decided to say hi to Melanie even though I could tell she was absorbed. So, I did—completely clueless that a memorable moment was hatching.
She barely acknowledged my greeting.
Rankled, I trudged on to select my own seat. Nobody appreciates being ignored.
What happened next struck me even more. When I passed by Melanie the second time that same evening, she stopped me. The words she uttered have never left me: “The Lord told me I should’ve been gentler with you. I’m sorry I didn’t respond to you before.”
Whoa. What she said stunned me for two reasons. First, the Lord must have tracked the disappointing interaction between Melanie and me earlier. Secondly, He must have really cared for me to defend me (Psalm 138:8, NET) right then and there.
Any annoyance I held against my friend evaporated as the following realization settled: this life-changing moment wouldn’t have been possible were it not for Melanie’s accurate spiritual hearing. Thanks to her sensitive spirit, she could discern the Lord’s gentle reprimand about her previous behavior toward me.
Her maturity to immediately apologize also impressed me.
That’s why I’ve been majoring on growing spiritually ever since—so I can hear the Lord more clearly.
If you feel insecure about your ability to hear the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:27), let’s imitate believers like Melanie. Chances are they’ve done the following:
1. Linger with the Lord
I was moseying through Luke 1 when the last verse arrested me. John the Baptist “lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel” (Luke 1: 80). Mind you, John was a miracle baby who appeared only after his parents endured years of barrenness (Luke 1:7) and uplifted piles of prayers (Luke 1: 13). If his parents were still around when he migrated to the desert, I could imagine Elizabeth—his mom—protesting, simply because she’d miss her only son. Sure, John’s parents were privy about his life’s unparalleled mission (Luke 1:76-79), but which infertile Mom—who conceived her baby only after years of waiting—would part ways with him willingly?
Translation: when John the Baptist moved into the desert, he had to not only sacrifice the comfort of home, but also, potentially, displeasing his parents.
As though responding to my private musings, the Holy Spirit affirmed John’s decision. “Doing what John did is necessary if you want to hear from Me.”
By saying this, I doubt the Lord intends for me—or you—to list our belongings on eBay and move out to Venice Beach in order to hear Him better. It does mean carving out time in the midst of our daily routines, including by forgoing other activities we’d rather do (Matthew 10:39, Matthew 16:24-25), so we can linger in God’s presence and learn to fellowship with Him (1 John 1:3).
2. Supervise Your Soul
As a licensed psychologist, I’m required to befriend my own soul. It’s essentially the physician, heal thyself principle (Luke 4:23)—if I’m not familiar with the landscape of my own inner world, how can anyone entrust me to work with theirs? That’s why I devour psychology books. I listen to my soul and its needs. I’m well aware of activities my soul craves to replenish, like sinking my time into well-crafted inspirational stories.
Even if neither novels nor Netflix captures your fancy, however, there is no shortage of thrills to titillate your soul. What do you prefer—baking? Blogging? HGTV? Social media? Shopping? According to Ecclesiastes 5:10, these activities amount to futility. If you doubt me, fill the blanks with the hobby you gravitate toward:
“He [or she] who loves ____ will not be satisfied with ______.”
Pastimes can never fully satisfy us.
Allowing the soul to indulge in unlimited interests will complicate our efforts to hear from God. That’s because the soul is designed to absorb and then digest what we feed it—which means whatever we pay attention to will occupy our minds. The more time we devote to movies, for instance, the more our minds will analyze, relive, and fixate on those fantasies.
Trying to listen to God when we spend excessive time on gratifying the soul is like straining for an intimate conversation in the New York Stock Exchange: extremely difficult.
3. Maintain a Short Account
The presence of sin—hidden or otherwise—clogs our spiritual ears. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18), and I won’t hear Him all that well either.
Frolicking with sin makes hearing from God harder to accomplish. That’s because the soul is pretty loud to begin with. (Consider all the times you just had to have that pint of Ben & Jerry's even though your bathroom scale kept displaying a number way bigger than you ever thought possible.)
When we add sin to our souls’ already demanding nature, hearing anything but what they ruminate about is tricky. For instance, let’s say a partner betrayed you, causing your soul to react in anger. If this anger has lasted longer than a day—the limit Scripture sets for anger (Ephesians 4:26)—then harboring such emotion is sinful. We know that anger “is an overwhelming flood” (Proverbs 27:4, AMP), forceful and unrelenting. With that much noise inside, deciphering the Lord’s voice, which He often delivers in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12), would be challenging.
4. Resolve Trauma
Has a terrible event redefined your life? If the answer is yes—whether because something horrendous happened to you and/or someone you loved—you qualify as a trauma survivor.
Trauma slashes the soul. It mangles our mental health and distorts our view of people—especially if humans, instead of a natural disaster, inflicted the trauma. However, perhaps the most damning of trauma’s awful aftermath is its assault on our faith. As the experts explain, “Trauma tends to shake the foundations of survivors’ spiritual belief systems” (Gingrich).
If a bitter experience has soured your past, it’s possible you might have held God accountable.
Why did you let my baby die?
How could my husband have cheated on me?
Why didn’t you spare our house from the tornado, God?
If your heart has asked these or a million other questions like them, an unresolved trauma could be lurking. And if that’s the case, there’s zero shame in partnering with another believer for help. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1, emphasis added). There are pastors, ministries, and yes, Christian therapists who can help your soul recover from unjust happenings. And since the condition of your soul directly impacts your spiritual life, tending to trauma is an excellent step toward readying yourself to hear from God.
Know that this doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. Let’s start with asking the Holy Spirit for the first thing you can immediately implement—and go from there.
If you get discouraged somewhere along the way, strengthen your resolve by reviewing all the lives who will benefit from increasing your sensitivity to listen to the Lord: not only yourself but also those around you.
After all, if you learn to hear from God in private, the same skill will spill over from you in public—blessing someone else.
Just like Melanie demonstrated for me that day.
Gingrich, F. C., & Gingrich, H. D. (2017). The crucial role of Christian counseling approaches in trauma counseling. In H. D. Gingrich & F. C. Gingrich (Eds.), Treating Trauma in Christian Counseling. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, p. 35
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Tatiana
Audrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems therapist, and author of Surviving Difficult People: When Your Faith and Feelings Clash. She founded and directed a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, supervised graduate students, and has treated close to 2,200 clients. Dr. Audrey devotes her California practice to survivors of psychological trauma. Visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com and Instagram @DrAudreyD.