Not only does hearing God require practice, but it can often require a reset and cleansing of our mind. Out with the clutter and the chatter, and in with God’s still, small voice. This is most easily accomplished through confession and repentance, and then an intentional effort to fill your mind with God’s truth as found in the Bible.
I entered a long season where I was rocked by sin, sickness, chronic pain, and depression in my early twenties. I began to believe a lot of lies about myself. The perfectionist spirit was alive and well in me. I constantly berated myself. The devil would plant a thought and I would use it to beat myself up. It was like I had recordings that played in my head, over and over again, that would say things like: “You really messed up! That was dumb! How embarrassing! Why can’t you do better? What’s wrong with you? You’re pathetic! You’re never going to change! This will never get better! It’s hopeless!” And so on. There was so much clutter in my thoughts, there wasn’t much room to hear God’s voice.
I found relief when I would read my Bible and pray. My friend Christa and I read Wayne Cordeiro’s book, The Divine Mentor, together. In the book, Cordeiro outlined a prayer journaling method called “S.O.A.P.” for studying the Bible and hearing from God. Christa and I would read the same Bible passage, write it down, and write our observations about the passage as well as ideas for personal application. Then, we would write out a prayer based on what we’d read. Then we would get together and share our journal entries with one another. I was blown away by how the Holy Spirit would reveal something rich and deep to me every single time. It was based on God’s Word, but there was additional application that could have only come from God.
The biggest breakthrough in hearing God’s voice came for me in the summer of 2013. I had a complete physical and mental breakdown. I was nearly paralyzed and spent two months in bed, with other people caring for my home and children. My pastor’s wife told me about a prayer counseling ministry and said that many people, her included, had found healing through it. I was so desperate for healing I was willing to try anything! So once a week I would spend an hour and a half on the phone with a pastor who was trained in a particular kind of prayer counseling (check out their ministry here). In the process, I learned that my thoughts generally came from one of three sources: myself, God, or the devil. This was a huge realization for me, as I had become so accustomed to negative thoughts that I never questioned the validity of them. I swallowed my every thought as being truth. God showed me through this process that I had believed a lot of lies. I repented and found freedom in my thought life. (I’ll share more details about this freeing experience in my upcoming book.)
For the first time in my life, I learned how to practice confession, repentance, and forgiveness. I shed years of woundedness and experienced deliverance from torment. I learned how to get “clean” through repentance and forgiveness and then invite the Holy Spirit to fill me up with His truth. I started to hear His voice again, clearer than ever before.
My prayer counselor prepared me for the fact that I could hear the Holy Spirit in many different ways: warmth, deep peace, thinking of a Scripture or a sentence, or even experiencing physical healing. I discovered that once I cleaned out all the junk and sin that had been cluttering my heart and mind, I heard His voice clearly again. It was never an audible voice. It was usually like very clear words in my mind. The words I heard were usually smarter and kinder to me than I would have been to myself.
I started practicing regular confession and repentance, getting rid of the sin and lies and replacing them with God’s truth. I would hear something from Him afterwards, every single time! Sometimes it was a snippet of a Scripture; sometimes it was more. Invariably it was accompanied by peace. I began to write down what I heard him say so I would not forget it. It was usually just a sentence or two, but replacing the torment I’d been experiencing with His peace and truth was powerful and healing.
Praying in Circles
My next breakthrough in hearing God’s voice came when I stepped out and did something that most people might consider a bit crazy.
In 2016 I read The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson. I was inspired by his stories of radical faith and prayer that moves mountains. He talked about how he would “draw a circle” with his prayers and then not leave the circle until his prayers had been answered. He saw radical answers to prayer, particularly in the area of large properties that he would prayer-walk around. He’d claim the properties in faith and God would miraculously gift them to him.
I’d recently been invited to lead worship at a women’s retreat in another state, but I did not own a portable keyboard and there was no keyboard at the retreat venue. As a piano player, I could not lead worship without a keyboard. I’d always wanted one, but couldn’t seem to justify the expense. Now it felt like essential for the ministry God was calling me to. I began researching keyboards online and in stores, and I picked out a digital piano keyboard at our local music store that I really wanted. I began to pray that God would provide the funds for the keyboard.
Inspired by Mark Batterson, I decided I was going to “draw a circle” of prayer around the music store. Oh man, did it feel weird to park at the music store, and instead of going inside, begin to walk laps around the building! I chose a beautiful spring day to prayer walk around the music store seven times. I was really thankful the store was surrounded by a sidewalk and I didn’t have to climb through the shrubbery! I felt strange and a bit silly, and I really hoped nobody was watching me or noticing my laps around the building. But I knew that God could see me, and I prayed that my act of faith would move Him.
On my first lap around the building, I quietly prayed and asked for the provision of a keyboard. It felt a little weird. During my second lap around the building, I recognized and prayed against a spirit of doubt that popped up and kept saying, “You could just borrow the money for a keyboard.”
But on the third lap, I recognized God’s voice clearly in my mind. He said, “When I give you gifts, you don’t have to go into debt. I own it all to start with, and you could never pay me back anyway. I give lavish, extravagant gifts and never expect payment in return. That’s called grace. It’s because I love you.”
Wow! I’d thought I would be talking to Him this whole prayer walk. But to have Him talk to me? It felt pretty amazing. I wrote down in my phone what I’d heard Him say before I continued walking.
For the next lap or two, I prayed for the employees of the music store. But on the last couple of laps around the store, God broke in again and spoke to me. This time, I heard him speak. Again, not in an audible voice, but in very clear words that popped into my mind. He said, “Courtney, I want to do so much more with and for you than just provide a keyboard.”
I said, “What, Lord?”
I then heard him speaking snippets of scripture from Isaiah. I looked up what I was hearing, and it was from Isaiah 42:6-9:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. See the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”
The magnitude and power of it brought tears to my eyes. I knew it was in the Bible and could have been for anyone, and yet somehow it felt personal. It almost felt like…a commissioning. I was a stay-at-home mom who led worship occasionally. The reality of my life did not seem to match up to the enormity of this passage. I prayed into it for a little while, and then said to the Lord: “What else do you want me to know? I know you love me, but…”
He stopped me right there and said, “No ‘buts’. I love you. Period. It’s all about love. Love should be the primary reason you worship me. Love is the reason I have done everything I’ve done. Sure, I’m glorious and majestic and holy and Creator, but…LOVE. I love you. I love them. You worship me when you realize the depths of my love for you and for them. It is my love that breaks their chains, sets them free, restores their sight. My Love is Everything. Love should be the ‘what, when, why, where, and how’ of everything you do. You will be nothing more than a clanging symbol if you try to leave love out of the equation. LOVE.”
By the time I finished that seventh lap, I was crying and shaking. A new keyboard was almost the furthest thing from my mind at this point. I knew that God had been speaking to me. With shaking hands, I quickly typed on my phone everything I had heard him say to me. Practicing hearing His voice little by little over the years had made His voice unmistakable now.
Later, it occurred to me I’d never actually heard him say he would give me a keyboard! I knew I didn’t need to go into debt for something He wanted to gift me. I decided to just wait in faith. The way He had spoken to me so clearly that day overshadowed everything else. Hearing the voice of God was a reward in itself.
But within just a few weeks, God miraculously provided the keyboard. I had a group of friends that surprised me by getting together and pooling their money towards the purchase of a keyboard. I had not seen it coming. When all was said and done, the total of their donations matched exactly the cost of the keyboard I had picked out. It was an incredibly humbling and beautiful gift that I’m still using today.
*This is the fourth post in a blog series I’m calling, “Hearing God’s Voice”. Each child of God has a unique history with God, and unique ways to relate to him. I thought it might be fun to share with you some of my journey of learning to hear God’s voice, and the ways that’s impacted my life and that of others, too. Join me each week as I share stories from my life that will hopefully encourage and inspire you to listen to him more – because he wants to speak to you!
To read previous posts in the series: