How to Hear God Speak

I was looking at a verse of scripture with some friends at church last night that nailed an issue that I have struggled with for many years. It’s an issue that lies at the very heart of our Christian lives, and something that is core to how you think about and run a home group. Are we tumblers (the thing for drinking out of that’s often made from glass) – or are we tadpoles (the slightly icky things you find in the pond in spring that eventually turn into big icky things that you find in a pond). Or to put it less mysteriously more helpfully – How does God speak to us?

Here’s the verse: 

Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 2Timothy 2:7 

Here is the apostle Paul, writing to his young disciple Timothy, giving a simple instruction about how to read what he has just written. He says two things:

  1. You need to think about it! The meaning, and it’s implications for us may not be immediately obvious. The Bible isn’t like Cooking for Idiots – where we just have to slavishly follow every detail of the recipe to get a fragrant and edible end result. To do it’s work in our minds and hearts, and from there into our lives, the words of scripture need to have the active engagement of our minds. We need to think about them. We need to meditate or ruminate on them. And in the context of our home groups, share our thoughts with each other on them. 
  2. God will give you understanding. Notice that this understanding is a gift. It is something that God gives us in his love and mercy. The Bible may be difficult in places and need thinking about, but that’s not because God is trying to hide the truth from us. He wants to give us understanding. But notice also, that understanding is a promise. God promises to give us understanding when we engage with what he has said. The Lord will give you understanding.
So what’s the stuff about the tableware and juvenile amphibians?
Simply this. We need to hold the two halves of this verse together. 
If it was all about point 1 – thinking about it – then we end up like tadpoles with massive heads and little bodies. It’s all down to how clever and hard working you are. Put in the hours, learn the Greek, study the commentaries, scribble your mindmaps and eventually you gain understanding. But Paul tells us that this can never be the route to hearing God speak. Only to pride and false religion.
If it was all about point 2 – God giving us understanding – then all we would do is sit around like glass tumblers, doing nothing and waiting for God to fill the glass with his good things. It all seems terribly “spiritual” and humble, but it is just as bad a mistake as being a tadpole. In my experience, this approach leads to exactly the same place as the tadpoles – pride and false religion. 
But as we hold them together we see the truth about how God speaks to us today. We listen to the authoritative, God-given teaching of the apostles in the Bible. We think about it. We discuss it, we study it, we get what help we need to from the clever people who write deep books. But we do our thinking humbly and prayerfully, knowing that only God himself can take these words on the page, and make them live in our minds and hearts, and show us how to live for Christ as a result.
Not tadpoles or tumblers, but people to whom God has given minds and Bibles and His Spirit, so that we can grow in our relationship with Him.  
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timthornborough@churchleaders.com'
Tim worked in several different professional fields before becoming a writer and publisher. He is editorial director of The Good Book Company (www.thegoodbook.com), which produces Christian resources for Christian growth, outreach and development. Tim studied Theology and Philosophy as an undergraduate, and leads training events for homegroup leaders. He has a passion for getting people connected with the message of the Bible, and encountering the loving saviour it reveals. TIm is married to Kathy, has three teenage daughters, and lives in SW London.