It’s a good question.
I usually respond by asking them if they have ever learned to speak a different language. Inevitably, they ask why I would ask that, and I tell them the two processes are fairly similar.
Studies show that when children are infants, they are able to detect every sound the human voice is able to produce. Over time, that ability fades and the older you are when you try to learn a new language, the longer it can take to truly hear it and become fluent. The reason is fairly simple. We detect what we are around. So learning a new language means learning new sounds and what those sounds mean.
God’s voice is a bit like that. Not precisely though. It isn’t that His voice uses consonant clusters that we are unfamiliar with and so they don’t make sense. His voice is an altogether different kind of voice. It is less a new language He teaches us, but rather a new way of listening.
When I took French I in 8th grade, I started learning what my name was (Jacques, by the way) and how to make that weird guttural “r” sound. From there, “Mme.” Patton, who was fluent, taught us how to hear the new sounds and what they meant. Over the next four years I slowly became conversant. The language that was at one time confusing and frustrating, slowly started to make sense. It became easier. Even now I can understand a fair bit of what someone is saying. Not to brag, but I can still sing “Jingle Bells” in French. Yup.
Hearing God’s voice through prayer is similar. Regardless of how long we have been following Christ, when we start to really try to understand God’s voice in our lives, it can feel foreign, confusing, and impossible.
Begin by finding someone that is more conversant in God’s language and ask how they do it. Try some of the things they suggest. Start doing what you sense God might be trying to say. If we slow down enough to begin to hear God’s voice and take time daily to try to listen for it, then we will slowly be able to detect God’s voice over our own. We usually discover that His voice is all over the place and that He has been speaking to us much more than we are willing to slow down enough to hear.
~ Jim Pace