What does it take to hear God’s voice? Mostly it takes pausing to notice him. 

Recently I went to a spiritual retreat centre, seeking to hear from God. I was sitting beside a mountain stream, asking God if it was OK to be where I am in life. Was I missing his instruction for this season?

As I sat there earnestly straining to hear God’s voice, the local dog found me and began to bark incessantly. At first I was amused, but quickly became frustrated. Couldn’t this dog understand I was listening for God’s voice?

After five minutes of this, the sky suddenly opened up and began to pour rain. I tried my best to ignore the dog and the rain, as I doubled my efforts to hear from God. Finally with a sigh of exasperation—soaked to the bone and muttering at the dog—I reluctantly left my spot by the river to return to my room.

As I started the 30 minute trek, suddenly it hit me. A simple thought, accompanied by the mirth of God: “I can send dogs and rain to move you. What makes you think you could miss my instruction? Just walk with me one step at a time.”

With a lightened heart, I hiked back to my room, chuckling uncontrollably. The dog, quiet now, accompanied me all the way.

Learning to pause and notice

Such flashes of insight sometimes happen when we’re not looking for them. But often they come when we pause to pay attention to God. 

God is always working in our lives, but sometimes we don’t recognize his Spirit. Fortunately there are many spiritual practices designed to help us notice him. This guided prayer and reflection is loosely based on the ancient practice of “examen.” 

Minisode: Let’s practise the Examen together

The rest of this article is designed to help you listen to how God might be at work in your life. As I learned, God is able to make himself heard. So if you don’t hear anything, that does not mean there is something wrong. The point is to learn to pause. 

If you struggle with recognizing God’s voice, invite someone you trust, someone with experience, to accompany you in the work of listening. Spiritual directors can be great resources.

Start by preparing

Find a quiet place, and pull out a pen and paper. Ensure you won’t be interrupted or distracted for the next few moments. 

Take a few deep breaths before beginning, and allow your body to be at ease. Recognize that God is with you. Begin by acknowledging his presence and by giving thanks that he is near.

Review your memories

Take a few minutes to review the last period of time. Perhaps a day, or a week. Scroll through your memories like you might flip through the photos on your phone.

What moments stand out to you? 

Is there a theme in the moments that stand out? Or perhaps there is one moment that stands out most?

What feelings are associated with that theme or moment? 

Hold the moment and its associated feelings before God. Look at it together. Don’t rush.

Reflect slowly

Is there something you sense God is saying to you as you look at the moment together? Some grace he wants to give you? Some invitation, perhaps? Some assurance?

What is happening in your body as you reflect on this moment? Is there some tension being held or released? 

Is there a passage of Scripture that comes to mind? An image or thought? A feeling? 

Will you receive what has been given to you today? If nothing is given, are you willing to wait for another day?

What response has this experience drawn out of you? 

Respond meaningfully

Close this time of reflection with a prayer that expresses your heart at this time. 

After you pray, perhaps there is something worth journalling from your time of pausing and listening to the Holy Spirit. 

Or perhaps there is something worth sharing with a close friend, one who will listen well. 

If nothing significant happened, don’t give up. God is working in your life, but sometimes it takes a while to recognize his work for what it is. This slow recognition is common, and worth waiting for. Continue looking. Continue listening.

Learning to pause and recognize the Holy Spirit in your life is one of the most impactful habits you can develop. Be patient and persistent in pausing, because God is delighted to speak to you. So delighted that he’ll use barking dogs, pouring rain, and other things you might not expect.

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About the Author

Sean Cullen

Sean was our previous National Director of Power to Change – Students. He lives in Edmonton with his wife Nancy, and five children.

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