Four Ways to Listen for God In People


Growing up, I remember family vacations as those times for hanging out and listening to the older generations of our family share about the “good ole days.” One of my traditions was hanging out with my Grandpa Hagler when he was chewing on his Red Man Tobacco. I can remember the sweet smell of the brown leafy tobacco (long before moving to eastern North Carolina where our whole town was filled with that amazing smell each fall) and the conversations about government and immigration long before I knew anything about these subjects.

Fast forward a decade and I was 15 1/2 with a newly minted driver's liscence. He and I were standing in the fading sunlight and examining the recent purchase of my first car, a '75 brown, Mustang II. A Red Man foil pack was in his hand (Grandma wouldn't let him chew in the house) as we talked. It suddenly went quiet. I sensed something coming and knew it was a sacred moment. His voice cracked a little as he quietly spoke, “Ken Lee. Make something of yourself. Don't end up like me.” We stood silently for a moment longer, me looking more at the promise of freedom of four wheels and the permission to ride in front of me, than listening.  But God's echo was in those words, giving me permission, I think, to be prepared to go forward, to go after God, to be ready to go where ever the Spirit would lead.

We are not on a solitary journey with God. We do it together with others. The Bible talks frequently about our being a “body” and a “family.” The Old Testament is full of similar words as God formed the people into a “nation.” Ecclesiastes even pointedly says we need each other to survive this life.

Let me give a word of caution or clarification. This is not about engaging in conversation or debate. This is isn't trying to formulate answers. I hope by now you've picked up a theme regarding listening.  If your hope and desire is to connect with God and you're listening for God in others, there is no need to be looking to what to say next. I wonder if we have so much division in this world, not so much because we disagree so vehemently but we neglect to listen so consistently.

I want to suggest four ways of listening to God in others.

1.  Ask Questions of Those Farther on the Journey.

When Philip comes up to the eunuch in Acts 8:29-39, he initiates the conversation. But the eunuch recognizes his need for hearing more from God and so responds to Philip's question with a question...and an invitation. More questions followed. Jesus and the woman at the well reflects this practice too. Ask questions of those farther on the journey whether that is due to age, by wisdom or faith. And on that note...

2.  Pursue the Wise

Sure, follow blogs by Seth Godin and the speakers at Catalyst but that isn't everyday relationships. Pursue conversation, pursue connection, pursue an actual relationship with those you see as truly wise. I have had direct conversation with Guy Kawasaki over twitter, Scott Ginsberg on Facebook and author Janet Hagberg through e-mail. In a digital world, this is was what the Queen of Sheba did in 1 Kings 10 when she heard of King Solomon's wisdom. This was the pattern in the early centuries of the church when men and women sought out the Abbas and the Ammas of the desert. These weren't ordained folks, they were just wise people who sought God.  You may not have to far to find them either. They maybe in the office right next to you.

3. Listen to the Teaching of Those Set Apart

There are those who are have been consecrated or ordained for teaching others the faith. Acts 2:42 tells how the early church took time to be taught by the disciples. Paul outlines in his letters to Timothy and Titus how to be teachers and the rest of his letters, well they help us know how to listen better. What we need is to take the time to actually listen – to understand what God might be saying and not to always have ourselves understood.

4. Listen to Everyday People

Like my Grandpa Hagler, ordinary, everyday people can be the voice of God to us. In Paul's letter to Titus, chapter 2, he talks about older men and women living as an example to the younger folks and teaching them. Some of the most Godly people I have ever met are not ordained. They have been doctors, lawyers, clerks, police officers, professors and even an old oil field worker (Grandpa Hagler) and a high school drop-out (Grandpa Erion).

But those are easy ones.  Can we listen to God when God speaks through the unexpected everyday people?  Can God speak to us though a Muslim?  What about a Buddhist?  Can God's word come from someone in the LGBT community?   Are we ready to listen when an 60 year-old, white, Republican male speaks God's word to us?  Can we listen as well when the voice of God sounds like a young 20-something, woman who is a Democrat?

Remember, if God can speak through Balaam's ass then certainly God can choose to use anyone.

If what you are after is to look for God, then remember (paraphrasing Stephen Covey) to seek first to understand and don't worry about being understood. This is about listening for God not other people hearing from you. It is hard to practice but it is worth it. We all need to be reminded we're not the center of the universe – God is. Be thankful!


May I Ask? What other ways have you found to listen for God in others?

May I Suggest? Make a list of four people who fit each of these catagories. Take on one a week for one month. Take time to write out what you hear from God. How attentitive were you to the Holy? How hard was it to listen? What questions still remain?

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