The joy of listening to God

Originally published online on September 1, 2022

Hearing is generally defined as the physical act of perceiving sound with the ear. Listening, on the other hand, is generally understood to include being thoughtful and attentive while you hear. We may be hearing someone speak but not be listening to what they’re saying—not paying attention. In my study of Christian Science I have been interested in how this applies to listening to God for inspired direction. 

The prophet Isaiah assures us that we can hear God’s counsel: “If you stray to the right or the left, you will hear a word that comes from behind you: ‘This is the way; walk in it’ ” (Isaiah 30:21, Common English Bible). If we’re truly seeking God’s input, we will recognize the spiritual authority of such guidance, whether it comes to us audibly or in our thoughts. 

Of course, as we hear such guidance from God, we still need to pay attention and heed it. Jesus warns against letting distractions get the better of our good intentions to follow God’s direction. In a metaphor of a farmer trying to grow a crop among thorns, he explains: “The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced” (Matthew 13:22, New Living Translation).

Other distractions that would derail us, even when we want to listen for guidance, might include emotional interference—self-justification, self-pity, anger, or envy, for example. These can crowd out inspiration from God. As we learn to reject this interference, we will be better at hearing God’s voice and listening for the way forward. 

Mary Baker Eddy writes about how to do this in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Christian Science commands man to master the propensities,—to hold hatred in abeyance with kindness, to conquer lust with chastity, revenge with charity, and to overcome deceit with honesty. Choke these errors in their early stages, if you would not cherish an army of conspirators against health, happiness, and success” (p. 405).

I have found that fear can also be a conspirator in distracting us from hearing God’s guidance. One afternoon, my friend sent me off on her Arabian mare, Molika, to give her a run. Between the corn and soybean fields on my friend’s farm was a broad swath of grass that extended straight as an arrow for a very long distance. The horse, full of energy, was delighted to be out, and soon we were galloping lickety-split down that broad strip of grass. Thoroughly enjoying herself, she enthusiastically increased her speed. It felt very fast. When I tried to rein her in, she wasn’t interested in slowing down. Clearly, I had no control, and this became a moment of decision about whether to be alarmed or not. 

As fear was mounting and shouting, “Do something!” I rejected the panic and reached out to God in prayer. Isaiah’s “word that comes from behind” mentioned earlier came to me—in this case as a mental conversation. I clearly heard a directive to look ahead. I saw that in the distance a row of trees formed a wall at the edge of the fields. This was followed by the question, “What’s going to happen when Molika reaches those trees?” I thought about this, and said, “Oh. She’ll slow down and stop.” 

This entire conversation took place in a fraction of a second, and I thought about how merciful it was of God to let me know in advance how He was keeping Molika and me safe. With grateful relief, I accepted God’s assurance and settled down to enjoy the ride. Sure enough, approaching the row of trees, the horse slowed to a normal walk. Having had her run, she was now entirely cooperative.

When something in our lives feels as if it is either galloping out of control or liable to do so, we can refuse to be mesmerized by appearances and listen to God’s spiritual messages.

Pondering this ride years later, I saw that the physical senses can sometimes make us feel as though we’re riding a runaway horse. Yet it’s spiritual sense, not physical sense, that reveals we are already safe. In that experience with my friend’s horse, safety was revealed by listening to God’s message, which was contrary to what the physical senses were reporting and my own reasoning from that flawed basis.

When something in our lives feels as if it is either galloping out of control or liable to, we can refuse to be mesmerized by appearances, however convincing, and listen to God’s spiritual messages. God’s love gives us the inspiration and the ability to turn mentally from the confusion of physical sense and to what God is showing us about His changeless laws of good governing man and the universe.

Spiritual sense always lifts us above the physical drama, and from this higher view we better discern the spiritual and practical laws of harmony and divine order already in control. These laws govern us—our lives and our relationships; they show us how to best accomplish what we are given to do and provide a clearer perspective when we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations. Spiritual sense either reveals the solution or points the way to it. This is the joy of learning to be a more thoughtful and attentive listener for God’s ever-present guidance.

Listening to my Shepherd’s voice
November 14, 2022

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