Giggling, my boys scurried into their beds. One up the ladder to the top bunk, the other underneath. Damp hair curled around their ears, smelling fresh from the bath.
It was time to listen to God.
I asked them to repeat these words:
“Jesus, please help me to listen to you. Help my heart and mind to be quiet so I can hear you. Jesus, what would you like to say to me today?”
Then I reminded them that it was time to be quiet and wait for Jesus to respond, something that is very hard for small boys to do.
But within a minute, my younger son said “I think he wants to say ‘I love you.’”
The older boy was discouraged because he hadn’t heard any whispers in his heart; he said his brain was too noisy. I encouraged him to ask God to help his brain be quiet.
His quiet whispers traveled from the top bunk to my ears, and straight to God’s heart: “God please help my brain to be quiet so I can hear what you have to say to me.”
The longing of his heart tugged at my heart, and I prayed harder that he would sense God’s love. Only a few seconds had passed when I saw his face poking out over the top of the bunk. With a smile that simultaneously held surprise, joy, and bashfulness, he told me what God had spoken to him.
“God said ‘I love you, Cubbie.'”
Both boys had an experience with God that evening but I believe it was the most meaningful to Cubbie, my 7 year old. He knows what it’s like to have an incredibly busy brain, one that is constantly coming up with ideas and plans. But in one simple heart-whisper, his heart and mind were brought to peace.
Can we actually hear God speak?
God desires to speak to our children, for them to know and follow His voice.
I believe that we can sometimes hear God speak because I believe I have heard his voice in a variety of ways. I am quick to remind my children that God USUALLY speaks through Scripture, but God speaks in many other ways as well:
- through dreams
- through visions (like a picture in your head while awake)
- through a song or Bible verse remembered at the exact right moment
- through a whisper in my heart
My prayer is that in training them to hear and recognize God’s voice when they are young, they will continue to know and heed his voice when life becomes more complicated.
But how can we train our kids to listen for God when we don’t know how to do this?
So many of us spend our lives in the church and yet don’t know how to pray.
We stumble through unfamiliar words, or feel that our short prayers are feeble and ignored, or spend our time reading other people’s prayers and finding them meaningless in our context. We sense that there is more to this “relationship with God” but have no idea how to get there.
My friend, God has so much more in store for us.
“God formed us for his pleasure, and so formed us that we, as well as He, can, in divine communion enjoy the sweet and mysterious mingling of kindred personalities. He meant us to see Him, to live with Him, and to draw our life from His smile.”A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine (See on Amazon)
God is, in the words of Anne of Green Gables, our most kindred spirit.
He longs for us to know Him, to taste and see that He is gracious to us.
He rises to show us compassion, He calls to us from across the deep, and rejoices over us with singing.
Prayer is the way to that deeper, divine communion with El-Shama, the God Who Hears. Prayer is the way because it is not a one-way speech: not only does He hear us, but He is the God Who Speaks.
“God is forever seeking to speak Himself out to His creation. The whole Bible supports this idea. God is speaking. Not God spoke, but God is speaking…It is the nature of God to speak. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity is called the Word.”A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (See on Amazon)
The truth is, our Great God desires to be in deep communion with you, and with your children. If prayer is the pathway to that deep communion, then we must teach ourselves, and our children, how to pray.
You will likely find that your children are already talking with God. Children have a unique ability to hear from God because they are not jaded by the cares and distractions of this world. At this time of life they are most open to learning to speak to God and to hear from Him.
“Though in its beginning prayer is so simple that the feeblest child can pray, it is at the same time the highest and holiest work to which man can rise.”Murray, Andrew, With Christ in the School of Prayer. (See on Amazon)
But prayer isn’t just about talking TO God. It’s about a dialogue.
“Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. God’s voice in response to mine is its most essential part.”Murray, Andrew, With Christ in the School of Prayer. (See on Amazon)
God desires to speak to our children, for them to know and follow His voice.
Bible verses on listening to God in prayer
Most often, we will hear God’s voice through the words of Scripture. That can be while we actually have the book open, but it can also be a quiet reminder in our hearts when we most need it. This is the Holy Spirit’s job!
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”John 14:26 NIV
But being reminded of Scripture passages isn’t the kind of listening prayer I’m talking about in this article. I’m talking about hearing actual words or pictures in your heart or mind, words that come from God, not ourselves.
You might be wondering…is listening to God’s voice Biblical? Perhaps you were taught, as I was, that God ONLY speaks through the Bible. But if God only speaks through the Bible, how did the people IN the Bible hear and know God? (Want to know the answer? In this article I talk about the various ways people in the Bible heard from God.) Did God speak to people for a few thousand years, then suddenly decide he was going to stop?
There really isn’t anywhere in the Bible that says, “I, God, will speak to you in words that aren’t in the Bible.”
I could probably cherry-pick some specific verses for you about hearing God’s voice, but I believe that the whole revelation of Scripture shows us that God speaks to people in various ways.
From reading about the real encounters that people had with God (as recorded in the Bible), from my experience and the experience of many others, I believe God still speaks in the same ways he spoke in the Bible. Whether you hear him in those ways has a lot to do with your upbringing and spiritual temperament.
Please don’t shut down someone else’s experience of truly hearing the voice of God simply because it’s not part of your experience.
Jesus spoke often of being a shepherd, and in John 10:4 he describes the intimate relationship between the shepherd and his sheep.
“When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
John 10:4 NIV
If you have never heard the gentle whisper in your heart, it may be hard to believe that God would speak to your child. But he can, and he does. You might want to do these simple exercises alone first. You might be surprised at what God will reveal to you!
What does God’s voice sound like?
If we’re talking about actually hearing God’s voice as words or picture in our hearts, minds, or even (rarely) our ears, you may be wondering: what does God’s voice sound like?
You won’t be the first person to ask that question! All of my kids have asked this same question, and I think that most Christians have asked it at some point in their lives.
Here’s the problem: of all the competing voices in our heads and hearts, how do we know which one is his?
THIS IS WHAT I TELL
God’s voice will always sound like love; love for myself as an individual and love for humanity.
In fact, the most common thing I hear spoken to my heart, and to the hearts of children, is “I love you.” Recently,
Are you ready to help your children learn to recognize the voice of their shepherd?
3 steps to help your child hear the voice of God:
1. Find a quiet place.
The voice of God usually will compete with noise. In the Gospels, we often see Jesus going to quiet places to be alone to pray.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus go up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”Mark 1:35 NIV
If Jesus needed to get alone to be able to have a real conversation with God, so do we!
This is especially true in this digital age, where there is always something hammering at our brains. Even our kids feel the near-constant pull of distracting technology.
2. Invite God to speak, asking him to help your hearts be quiet enough to listen.
Help your child get into a comfortable listening position, then pray the following prayer together.
SAY: Jesus, please help me to listen to you today. Help my heart and mind to be quiet so I can hear you. Jesus, what would you like to say to us today?
3. Wait in expectation.
Realistically, we won’t always hear his voice. It is such a quiet voice and sometimes it is hard to identify. But I find that when my boys and I are truly waiting in expectation, at least one of us does.
A prayer to hear God’s voice
If you’d like to take this a little further, here is an activity suggestion from my e-book, “Made to Pray”.
Have your child ask these questions (below) of God, either by repeating after you, or reading them with you. Then, encourage them to be quiet. Yes, this is hard! After, have your child listen for the answer and report back to you. If they haven’t heard anything, encourage them to ask God to quiet their minds and help them to listen.
1. God, what should I say “WOW” about?
2. What should I should say “sorry” for? Please forgive me.
3. What should I say “thank you” for?
4. God, who needs your help today? What should I say?
Recommended Resources on Listening Prayer
For adults: Can You Hear Me? by Brad Jersak is a modern classic. Learn more about it on Amazon.
For kids: Children, Can You Hear Me? by Brad Jersak, includes illustrations that a lot of kids find very meaningful. Learn more about it on Amazon.
For kids, adults, and children’s ministry groups: Made To Pray: a 12-day prayer journey. With 12 short but meaningful prayer activities, Made to Pray will guide you and your children to a better understanding of prayer and a deeper connection with God.