Loving God 101, Part 03: Discernment (Learning to Hear God’s Voice)

One of the great struggles in the life of faith is the sense that God is vastly distant. We may talk about “intimacy” and “relationship” and “making contact.”  But in day-to-day experience, it feels like we do a good bit of talking to God, and God rarely talks back.

Yes, we have been given the scriptures. And there is much guidance, and even a sort of intimacy, in them. But how can we really talk about “abiding” and “habitual recollection” when there is no dialogue, no direct communication? Does God talk back? And if he does, what must I do to be one to whom he speaks???

One school of thought (born of the desert fathers in the 3rd and 4th centuries) is that such contact with God is earned. They might not say it quite that way, but their ascetic practices and austere life – in the name of holiness – suggested that God speaks only to the worthy, to those who have demonstrated the utmost devotion by forsaking every creature comfort in pursuit of the divine. Such a view surely endures. And I think many of us give up on the idea of actual contact with God, imagining that we will never achieve the level of piety required for God to talk back. I did for many years!

Another school of thought – also quite popular today – is that God’s voice is so obvious that it cannot be missed.  Every circumstance is a clue to God’s intent, every coincidence a message. Hit a red light at the intersection? God wanted me to wait. Ran into an ex- at the store?  Perhaps God wants us to get back together…??? (If this seems rather pick-and-choosey to you, it does to me, too!)

Somewhere in the middle is the wisdom of St. Ignatius of Loyola – the 16th century founder of the Jesuit Order  who argues passionately that God is speaking to us – all of us! – regularly.  The work is thus not to convince God to speak, but to learn  how to listen.  Or better said: To learn how to discern. Ignatius says (and I think he’s right), that the real struggle to hear God is that his voice is but one among many that crowd our “ears.”

God, he says, is regularly speaking, but so is culture, family, friends, fears, whims, lusts, greed… They are powerful voices, ones that can easily drown out the steady, gentle voice of God.

In this episode we examine Ignatian discernment and how we might slowly begin to actually hear the voice of God. Perhaps it won’t be “audible,”but it will be clear enough.



This is a sermon that was originally presented at Canvas (a Presbyterian church in Irvine, CA), January 25, 2015. To learn more about Canvas, click here!

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