Listening for God: How an Ordinary Person Can Learn to Hear God Speak

(Paperback - Mar 2004)
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Through personal stories and scriptural principles, author Marilyn Hontz brings new insight to the practice of listening as a spiritual discipline. She discusses “Recognizing God's Voice While Reading Scripture,” “Recognizing God's Voice While Praying,” and “Recognizing God's Voice While Listening” and provides practical suggestions for cultivating a two-way conversation with God.


  • SKU: 9780842385398
  • SKU10: 0842385398
  • Title: Listening for God: How an Ordinary Person Can Learn to Hear God Speak
  • Qty Remaining Online: 6
  • Publisher: Tyndale Momentum
  • Date Published: Mar 2004
  • Pages: 224
  • Weight lbs: 0.50
  • Dimensions: 8.20" L x 5.50" W x 0.60" H
  • Features: Price on Product, Bibliography
  • Themes: Theometrics | Evangelical;
  • Subject: Spirituality - General

Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

Words to Live By

By age thirty, I seemed to have put the pain of my mother's death behind me. I had married Paul, a caring man, when I was twenty. Now, ten years into our marriage, he was pastoring a growing church. I was busy launching a women's ministries program, playing the piano during worship services, teaching Bible studies, and housing guests. My husband and I were also rearing three daughters, aged six and under.

While my life may have appeared perfect on the outside, I was miserable inside. After my mother's death, I had desperately wanted to connect with my dad as I had with my mother. I had longed for him to put his arms around me and tell me that he loved me. I had tried to please my dad and live up to his expectations, but I never quite felt good enough and sensed I was a burden to him. While I believe that deep down he loved me, it seemed as if we were miles apart emotionally. I kept hoping that my dad would change, but he never did.

Seeds of bitterness that had been planted during my teen years were growing and choking the life out of me. I likened my bitterness to a pair of handcuffs. My hand was in one cuff and my dad's hand was in the other, and I ended up mentally dragging him with me wherever I went each day. But dwelling on and rehearsing the hurts he had caused kept me in bondage. The old saying "Bitterness is like acid; it only eats up the container that holds it" is true. I was being eaten alive.


A step toward change came in a surprising way. That summer I received my first invitation to speak at a conference. I was asked to speak on the topic "Daily Devotions" at a youth convention in Urbana, Illinois, during the upcoming Christmas break. When I first received the invitation, I groaned inwardly. First of all, the thought of speaking to two thousand teens was frightening; I had never enjoyed public speaking. Second, and more important, how could I teach something I did not do myself? Others probably assumed I read my Bible daily. After all, I loved God, I had been raised in a pastor's home, and I was a pastor's wife.

Actually, although I knew the importance of reading the Bible, I had thought I could get by just reading it once in a while or on Sundays. I justified this by assuring myself that the Lord understood how busy I was with church and family matters. I just had too much to do to have a regular quiet time.

God was getting my leftover time, if even that. I couldn't remember the last time I had given him my best time. As I prayed about speaking to those teens, I knew I could only accept that speaking invitation if I got into the Word myself. Bothered by my lack of discipline and pressed by the conference organizers to give them an answer, I sought out Joy, another pastor's wife.

"Do you have devotions every day?" I asked her. She said, "Yes, I do. I've been doing it consistently for the past five years."

I was amazed! Joy had four young children, yet she had read her Bible every day for the past five years. "How do you do it, and how do I get started?" I asked with much skepticism. Her answer dramatically changed the way I read Scripture.


"Start today!" she challenged. "Ask God to speak to you from his Word, and read until he shows you an insight, promise, correction, or encouragement." So that was it. Read the Word of God until the Lord speaks to you.

I whined that I didn't think I had the discipline to do this every day. Joy reminded me that doing something for twenty-one days makes it become a habit. I was still skeptical. "Marilyn," Joy said, "simply read the Word until God speaks to you. You may read only one paragraph, but if you sense your heavenly Father stopping you, then pause and see what God wants to do with that passage in your life for that day."

Since the Word of God contains powerful truths, it will take considerable time to digest it, she said. Joy encouraged me to keep a notebook and write down the verse that I sensed God speaking to me about.

As I considered Joy's advice, I realized that deep inside I was tired of my excuses for not being in the Word on a daily basis. I wanted to do something about it. I wasn't merely feeling a guilt trip brought on by the upcoming speaking engagement; I was being convicted by the Holy Spirit. For the first time, I was hungry for the Bread of Life.

I began to read the Word at night before I went to bed. I started at the beginning of the Bible and read until I sensed the Holy Spirit wanted me to catch something. Sometimes I read only a few verses before I stopped. Sometimes I read a couple of chapters, but there was always a truth for me to learn. I also read some psalms each day, as they comforted me in my continued inward struggle over the lack of connection with my dad.

I read with an expectation that God would, indeed, speak to my heart. Most nights a word, verse, or phrase seemed to lift off the page at me. I was amazed at how many verses just "happened" to fit with my experiences that day.

During this time before the conference, I read Psalm 119. Verses 16 and 18 caught my attention: "I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word" (v. 16). "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (v. 18).

Lord Jesus, I prayed, please help me not to neglect your Word any longer. Open my eyes to see the wonderful things you want to teach me. Help me to be disciplined in this. It is important to you and it is essential for me. Help me see that I cannot live one day without your Living Word. The Lord did, in fact, help me to begin hungering for his Word.

Five months later, I stood before those two thousand teens and shared how a thirty-year-old woman had finally gotten into the Word. I urged them not to wait so long. After the session, many teens (and adults) told me that they too struggled to read the Bible daily. Some confessed that while they were eager to read (and reread) love letters from their boyfriend or girlfriend, they lacked the same desire to read the Bible-God's "love letter" to them.


The energy and joy I felt after speaking at Urbana quickly turned into anxiety when I returned home to discover that some conflicts within our church were about to boil over. A group of about thirty from our fellowship desired to go in a different direction from what the church leadership had planned. Every day during this trying time, I poured out my heart to God. Did the Word of God have answers for this difficult situation? I wondered.

I soon had my answer, as the psalms I read came alive and seemed to have been written just for me. The psalm writers addressed the very issues I was experiencing -betrayal, unfair treatment, and the desire to escape to a far-off place. Psalm 55:6-8 in particular spoke powerfully to me: "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest-I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm."

I became desperate for God and searched my Bible each night for a thread of hope. I wanted to leave our congregation, but Paul did not feel released by the Lord to do so. Because this difficult situation lasted a few years, I was forced to stay in the Word. Later I saw how the Lord used the pain of those experiences to shape me solely by his Word. Would I seek human help, or would I go to the Lord first?

As the dissension persisted, I wrote over and over in my journal, "Father, how long is this going to go on?" Yet I ended every page with a promise from Scripture that the Lord would work out his purposes.

My journal entry for December 28, l983, reads, "Dear Father, help me to trust you during these next few months. We have received a 'prophecy' from a disgruntled person in the congregation who says that 'God is going to close the doors of Central Wesleyan Church at the close of December l983.' Is this true?" It continues, "I wonder what l984 holds? Father, the situation we are going through is so desperate . these are rough days, please give us clear direction. I feel so frightened. Do you want us to leave Central? I sometimes get the feeling we should leave. Either help us overcome or let us go-whatever you want." My journal entry for that day concluded with Ephesians 3:20 (TLB): "Now glory be to God who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of-infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes."

In spite of that bright promise, it didn't seem possible that God could do anything through us, let alone do "far more than we would ever dare to ask." It was hard to trust him because of all the hurt we were experiencing.

December of l983 came and went and the church doors were still open. However, by May l984 discouragement and depression lay heavy on our hearts. My journal reveals that "we have learned that our 'friends' have turned against us. This is a hard rejection to take, Father. I know that you understand how we feel."

Thirty people had left to form a new church. I was tired of seeing my husband hurt. "Honey," I said one evening when he returned very late from a board meeting, "I will gladly pack our bags if you will just give me the okay." Paul still did not feel at peace about leaving.


In the midst of my despair, I learned that sometimes God enables others to comfort us through his Word. One afternoon, as I was kneeling beside my bed praying about the heavy cloud of discouragement I was under, the phone rang. My father-in-law had been praying for us and was calling to share a verse he had just read. "I believe this verse is for you and Paul. Listen: 'But the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will, after you have suffered awhile, Himself equip, stabilize, strengthen, and firmly establish you' (1 Peter 5:10, MLB, italics mine)."

What a comforting verse! My father-in-law, who lived twenty-five hundred miles away, had been in the Word and was prompted by the Holy Spirit to share that verse with us at exactly the perfect time.

Later I asked the Lord, Is it possible that you will indeed equip, stabilize, strengthen, and establish us? I wanted so desperately to believe that. I had nothing else to encourage me, so I clung to that promise. I was at the bottom of a deep well. The sides were so slippery that I could not climb out myself. It was as if the Lord reached down to where I was in that dark hole and pulled me out with his strong arm and with that verse.

Not long after that phone call, both my husband and I began to feel the oppression lift. Our church had an incredible time of prayer one Sunday. Many people prayed for church unity and forgiveness, and we felt a renewed spirit among the congregation. We had new joy and enthusiasm; God's church was going forward. More than twenty-five years later, we are still pastoring in that same church.

I have learned the most about God and myself through difficult situations. At such times, God strips away all other comforts and crutches and teaches us to rely on him alone.


As the tension within our church abated, the deep heart wound I still carried over the lack of relationship with my dad began to ache again. It was so deep that only the Lord Jesus could reach down far enough to remove the bitterness that had been growing over the years.

One evening as I was reading the book of Nehemiah, I came to these words: "Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people" (Nehemiah 5:19). (Nehemiah had served as governor for twelve years.)

I laughed out loud. Father, I mused, do you know what Nehemiah wanted from you? He wanted affirmation! All of a sudden, I was stopped short by a voice inside my heart.

Yes, Marilyn, and that is exactly what you want-affirmation. You are not going to get that from your dad, but if you come to me I will affirm you.

Those words penetrated me very deeply. I was not used to the Holy Spirit speaking in a still, small voice. It was not an audible voice but rather an inner impression. I cannot explain exactly what happened in that moment, but as I was reading Scripture, the Scripture read me! I knew that I needed to forgive my dad for his years of neglect and abandonment in my life.

I began to weep. Oh, Father, I do want his affirmation so badly. Every time I talk to my dad I always hope he will change. He never does. I understand that I cannot fix my dad. Lord Jesus, even though my dad may not be able to change, I can change with your help.

Forgiveness began to wash over me. I had struggled to forgive my dad for years. Yet when I heard my heavenly Father speak those words to me, something broke free within me. It was cleansing; it was healing; and it was instantaneous. True, my dad hadn't changed, but I was different. The Lord began to replace my bitterness with compassion for my father. I had been waiting to heal first and then forgive him. The Lord showed me that I needed to heal by forgiving him first.

I was amazed at the way a passage of Scripture could bring such a major life change to me. That passage from Nehemiah doesn't even mention the topic of forgiveness. It was simply the Word and the Spirit of God moving powerfully in my thoughts and emotions.

God spoke his promises of healing to me through other verses as well: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18), and he stands "at the right hand of the needy one" (Psalm 109:31). I experienced firsthand Psalm 107:20: "He sent forth his word and healed them." When I was very needy, the Lord used his "living and active" Word to heal my damaged emotions (Hebrews 4:12). He extracted the root of bitterness within me.

By this point I realized that I could not live without the Word of God on a daily basis. God had shown me how his Word could help me with a large assignment, such as speaking to the teens. He'd also demonstrated that the Word could bring comfort during a rough church situation and healing to deep-seated bitterness. I had seen for myself how the Bible brought great hope in those crisis times. Now I was ready to see if God would speak to me from his Word in everyday, ordinary situations.


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