Shedding Hindrances to Hearing

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:

Part 1 – The First Time I Knew God Spoke to Me

Part 2 – My First “Prophetic Word”

Part 3 – Practicing Faith in Hearing

Practicing Faith in Hearing

Twenty-plus years ago, in YWAM, I started practicing “listening prayers”.  We’d pray for each other in small groups, and then pay attention to what came into our mind while praying for this person.  We were told it could be a picture, a word, or a scripture in our mind for the other person.  When I started to practice it, I often got images in my mind that developed into small stories, almost like a short play.  I did not see these things in real life; my eyes were closed, and it was like watching my imagination at work.  But when I would share the brief vision with the person I was praying for, it often meant something significant to them!  I was blown away when I realized that the Holy Spirit wanted to talk to me.  I just needed to pray and trust what I saw or heard.  I still remember some of the things that others saw for me in that setting, too.

I learned that faith was a huge key to hearing God’s voice.  It required faith to believe that the thoughts that would come into my head during prayer were from God, and not just from me.  I had to be willing to risk being wrong or coming up with a picture or word that didn’t mean anything to the person.  But the more I practiced taking risks, the more I realized I had thoughts that were coming from Him.  Believing that God had given me the “mind of Christ”, and that His thoughts could meld with my own, was a key to breakthrough for me in hearing the Holy Spirit.

…these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.  The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.  The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.  The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
    so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ. (emphasis added)

1 Corinthians 2:10-16

I began to enjoy practicing listening for the voice of God.  I found I could hear Him best if I was in worship, in prayer, or had been reading my Bible.  Sometimes a Scripture reference would come to mind while I was praying for a person or situation.  I would look it up, and sometimes it was applicable in the moment.  Not always, but often.  Sometimes during group times of prayer, I would open my Bible, and it would simply fall open to a passage that seemed to really fit the moment.  Again, not always – but sometimes.  Reading the Word regularly for myself meant that sometimes I would find myself in a situation where a snippet of Scripture would come to my mind.  I’m not always great about remembering references, but a quick search of my concordance would help me find it.  I found Hebrews 4:12 to be so true:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

God’s Word really DID still speak today, not just in an academic sense, but in a living, real, and applicable way in the moment.

I would occasionally take walks during lecture breaks and turn my thoughts towards God.  As I meditated on him and prayed, I began to get thoughts in my mind seemingly out of nowhere.  These thoughts were usually original – I would not have thought them up myself.  They were affirming – far more kind to me than I would have been.  They were always true – in other words, they did not contradict God’s character or words as seen in the Bible.  That’s when I knew they were thoughts from God.  A beautiful trust began to develop in my heart towards His voice.  Hearing the Holy Spirit became a partnership between my faith and His faithfulness.

I had grown up learning that prayer consisted entirely of what I had to say to God.  Religion dictated that to be “good” at prayer involved someone using a lot of eloquent words to present a list of requests.  My time in YWAM taught me that God wanted prayer to be more of a conversation.  He wanted to hear what was on my heart, but He also wanted me to hear what was on His.  Practicing listening to His voice became an essential focus of our times of worship, intercession, and outreaches. 

Listening to Feelings

I was beginning to learn that sometimes God spoke to me through my feelings.  I’d first experienced that when I was a teenager and couldn’t sleep the night my friend ran away from home (read about it here).  It happened again when I was on outreach in Kazakhstan. 

Our discipleship training school had originally planned to send an outreach team to Albania, but war broke out in Kosovo in 1999, and it was determined it would be safer to send the team elsewhere.  I was placed on a team that went to Kazakhstan for three months.  While I was there, the internet connection was unreliable at best, so we were effectively cut off from most news of the outside world.  But while in Kazakhstan, I began to feel deeply burdened for the nation of Albania and the suffering and trauma they were experiencing due to war.  I couldn’t shake this weighty feeling and the sense of urgency I was experiencing for the war to be over.  I finally shared my feelings with my outreach team.  A few of them mentioned they had been feeling the same way!  Which is another beautiful way the Holy Spirit often speaks to us – by telling more than one person the same message.  We all agreed that we needed to fast and pray for the war to end.  That day, eight young women from the United States and Western Europe spent a few concentrated hours in an upper room in Central Asia, praying for war to end in Kosovo.

Twenty-four hours later, there was a cease-fire in Kosovo, and the war was over.

We were stunned when we heard the news.  I still cannot explain it.  Was God looking for just a few more believers to pray?  Was He really honoring the prayers of eight girls who were thousands of miles away?  Did our prayers tip the balance of the battle happening simultaneously in the spirit realm?  It felt presumptuous to assume our little day of prayer and fasting had made the difference, but the fact remained: several of us felt burdened to pray that the war would end.  We obeyed the prompting to pray and fast, and the war ended the next day.

I believe that the Holy Spirit was giving us an invitation to partner with Him in prayer for something that was close to His heart.  He filled us with a sense of urgency that we could have chosen to ignore.  But we would have missed out on the blessing of seeing our prayers get answered, and we would have missed out on a powerful lesson: our prayers matter.  Particularly when they align with the heart of God.   Innocent people were being hurt and killed.  Families were being ripped apart.  God loves people passionately, and He hates injustice.  When we pay attention to his promptings to pray, and our prayers align with His heart, miracles happen.

I believe many of us hear God far more than we think we do. But we are missing the faith element. It takes an element of faith to believe that the thoughts we have in prayer could actually be from God. Too often we are asking, “But what if it’s not from God?” I think we should be asking instead: “What if it IS God?”

The good news is that faith is a gift from God. If you’re feeling a bit short on faith lately, just ask Him for an increase.

He’s a good Father who gives generously to all who ask.

*This is the third 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 yo

To read previous posts in the series:

Part 1 – The First Time I Knew God Spoke to Me

Part 2 – My First “Prophetic Word”

My First “Prophetic Word”

Note: This is part 2 of a series I’m doing on “Hearing God’s Voice”. You can read part 1 here.

“This should be interesting,” I thought skeptically.  I was in class at Discipleship Training School with YWAM in England.  Our guest speaker had just told us he had “a prophetic word” for every single person in the class.  All I knew of prophecy at that point was the prophecies in the Bible, and the doomsday preachers who would occasionally prophesy “the whole world is ending on October 28, 1993!” and that sort of thing.

Imagine my surprise when I was the second student he called on.  He had me stand up, and with my heart pounding, I listened as he delivered the message to me.

When I was growing up, my parents had a lot of books around the house.  I was a voracious reader and would often go to their bookshelves when I ran out of library books.  Many of them were biographies of missionaries and evangelists.  It was fascinating to read about many giants of the faith who lived lives of radical faith and communion with God.  There was a story about a missionary who’d been struck down in Africa with malaria in the nineteenth century.  A housewife in the United States had been woken at a specific time during the night feeling she needed to pray for this missionary.  It was only a few months later, after the mail had been delivered, that it was discovered that the housewife had been prompted to pray at the very same moment the missionary had been near death.  He had miraculously recovered! 

There was Rees Howells and his life of radical consecration and obedience to the Holy Spirit.  He would do whatever God told him to do, no matter how strange it seemed to others.  God blessed his radical obedience by miraculously providing for all his financial needs (and those of many others, through him).  There was George Muller, who cared for orphans and established five different homes for them without a dime to his name.  He never shared his financial needs with anyone but God, and trusted Him for provision.  He taught the orphans to pray and submit their needs to God.  And God always came through!  Money or food would show up at the eleventh hour, sometimes when everyone was literally seated at the dinner table with empty bowls, not knowing if they would be filled.  I was also inspired by Corrie Ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, Loren Cunningham, and many others.

I did not know anyone in real life who had experiences or faith like these people.  I didn’t know anyone who claimed to be able to hear the Holy Spirit.  But just reading the testimonies of those who had gone before began to increase my faith for what could be possible with God.  It was utterly thrilling to realize that not only had God spoken to me, but I had heard him correctly, that night I had prayed for my friend.  

Though I was raised in a church that did not preach about the Holy Spirit, miracles, or divine healing, there was a part of me that was always hungry for more of God.  Missionaries often visited my little Christian school and would speak in chapel.  They told us stories of great faith and God’s miraculous intervention in seemingly impossible situations.  These missionaries’ stories were the only ones I ever heard that included miracles, and they piqued my interest.  I wanted to see God move like that.  Thanks to the books I read and the stories I heard, I couldn’t help but think I was only scratching the surface of what it could mean to know God.

My hunger for more of God struggled to reconcile with what I would occasionally see on Christian television.  I grew up in an era where several high-profile television evangelists made headlines due to various moral failings.  My denomination, my family, and I all had a deep-seated distrust of the Pentecostal movement.  I felt that everything I saw on Christian television was fake.  For the most part, if something was “supernatural”, we assumed it was of the devil.  Sometimes my brother and I would watch Christian television just to entertain ourselves by making fun of it.  

But a few years later, at the age of twenty, I sat in a room on a YWAM base in England and learned about hearing God’s voice for myself for the very first time.  I’d joined a discipleship training school with YWAM (Youth With a Mission) in pursuit of a great God adventure.  That week, our guest lecturer flew in from another country.  He told us he had prayed over the list of student names on the school on the flight, and that God had given him a prophetic word for each one of us, just based on our name.  I was skeptical.  I did not know what a “prophetic word” was.  The idea of it made me feel uncomfortable.  I thought of prophecy strictly as foretelling the future.  I didn’t know that “prophecy” was merely hearing God’s voice and then sharing it.  I did not know at that time that a person could practice listening to the Holy Spirit and grow to know His voice.  I did not realize that God could give one person very specific words of encouragement for another, and that was considered “prophetic”.  I’d been taught that if I wanted to know God’s thoughts, my only source was the Bible. 

So, I was not sure what to think about this lecturer and his prophetic words, until he delivered the message he’d received for me. 

It was a message that only God would have known to give me.  

His words spoke right to the heart of something I was wrestling with at the time that nobody knew about!  It was both encouraging and incredibly powerful. 

I’d entered the class as a skeptic, but now?  For the first time I realized that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t have the full picture of who God was and how he liked to communicate. My conception of God and how He operated had just been radically challenged. It can be easy to argue things in an academic sense, but then sometimes God allows us to have an experience that we can’t fully explain, and it blows our preconceived notions of Him out of the water.

As uncomfortable and humbling as it can be to realize I was wrong (or at least too limited in my thinking), I’d rather have a God who is so much bigger, more powerful, and more personal than I’d imagined.

Little did I know it was only the beginning of a lifetime of being surprised and humbled by a God who didn’t fit in any of the little boxes I’d believed He fit in.