We needed an answer. We really needed an answer: yes or no. Should we or should we not move our family to Charlotte, NC, to plant a church?
Surely God would tell us? After all, he was the whole reason we were even thinking of going in the first place. So I prayed for a revelation.
I prayed and prayed for God to make it super abundantly clear. This was big and we needed to be one hundred per cent sure.
I even prayed He'd send me a prophet to stop me in the supermarket checkout line and ask, 'Does the name Charlotte mean anything to you?' Because then I'd know for sure. I wanted certainty. I needed certainty.
Uprooting our crew and heading across the pond was a massive deal and if it wasn't God's idea we didn't want to go. Why would we? The church would flop and we'd be yanking our three kids from their friends and family for nothing. Perhaps he really wanted us to finish seminary and go back to London or maybe head to a small parish where the vicarage has roses around the door.
Who knew? If only He would tell us.
So we prayed and we listened but all we got was silence. No revelation in the check-out line. Zip. Nada. Crickets. Silence.
No out-of-town prophet, no writing in the sky, no God-incidences we couldn't ignore. Silence.
Maybe you're praying for an answer to a really big question too. A yes or no, a go or stay, a here or there question burning through you. It's a hard place to be, isn't it?
Our God is a relational God and we know his plans are better than ours so we want to follow his will. And yet it's hard when we can't hear what that will is. We desperately want to do the right thing but how on earth can we if we can't hear what he's saying?
We're left directionless, frustrated and if you're anything like me, a bit pissed off.
'Hello God, I'm trying to follow you here, the least you could do is give me a bit of direction.'
Eventually we got an answer from God about moving to America, but not in the way I expected.
Standing in the morning bustle of my daughter's reception class, as she packed her book bag away and sat down at her table, with my mind wandering to nowhere in particular, I realised I had an answer.
No big fanfare or bolts of lightening. The answer was yes. I just knew that I knew. I heard God's voice not as a revelation but as a realisation, a knowing.
I turned to my friend, who was tying her son's shoelace. 'We're going,' I said matter-of-factly.
Having prayed alongside me and listened to my deliberations long into the night, she knew immediately what I was talking about.
'Yes, yes you are,' She replied calmly. She just knew. God had confirmed things.
In the mindless daydreaming of the morning, my brain was free to hear. As JI Packer says, 'God...guides our minds as we think things out in his presence.'
Since then I've been learning to turn off my logical, ever-churning left brain to free up my more creative, intuitive right brain to hear God's still small voice.
This four-step plan helps.
A 4-step plan to hearing God's voice
By the way, if you doubt you can hear God's voice I want to remind you that he is the Shepherd, he calls you by name and you, as one of his sheep, CAN hear his voice (John 10). We so often miss h is voice with all the other noise around us but it is there, we just need to learn how to tune into it.
Hearing his voice requires us to use both sides of our brain: the logical, analytical and rational left side AND the intangible, creative right side.
1. ASK: Using our left brain we ask God to speak to us confident he will. There's no need for fancy prayers, a simple 'Please God, speak to me' is just fine. Let's not be afraid to ask. We are loved, forgiven and enough. God wants to talk to us.
2. LISTEN: Now we must turn our left brain off and use our right brain to listen. God speaks through his Holy Spirit to the eyes of our hearts (Ephesians 1:18) which we access through our right brains. The key to listening with our right brain is to engage in activities that help us switch off our left brain and switch on our right brains and enter into it. Worship, journaling, meditative prayer, lighting a candle repeating a scripture – all these help us tune in to what he might be saying.
3. ACKNOWLEDGE: Still using our right brains and shutting out all our attempts to evaluate what we think we may be hearing, we must acknowledge the thought, scripture, picture that's popped into our head and write it down. God never speaks so clearly there is no room for doubt so we must step out in faith and go with it.
4. TEST: Now we get to turn our left brains back on and test what we think we might have heard. Does it sound biblical, like something God would say, are other believers saying similar things to you?
I've found learning to hear God's voice is one of the most fulfilling yet slippery parts of my faith. We wish we could know for sure what he is saying, and yet, although God never speaks with such certainty that there is no room for doubt or faith, we can learn to tune out the world and tune in to our Father's voice.
Niki Hardy is a pastor's wife, cancer 'thriver' and teller of really bad jokes. She writes and speaks about grabbing hold of the full life God has for us, no matter what gets thrown our way. Download her FREE eBook How to Hear God's Voice: A Short Practical Guide