Listening to God is hard work, and requires preparation. Most of us aren’t ready to run a full mile right now. Perhaps we should be, but we aren’t. But given a little bit of time and preparation, we can do it. It is the same with experiencing the Spirit. If we aren’t used to doing it, we may need to prepare ourselves for it. Below are some suggestions, especially if you are finding it difficult to begin:
The way to be ready to listen to the Spirit is by listening to the Spirit. If the Lord has already spoken something to us and we have not followed through on the Spirit’s suggestion, then the Spirit may not have anything to say to us. If we are involved in a sin, and we know we need to repent, the Spirit will not speak to us until we do. If the Spirit gave us specific instructions and we have not made the first step to follow Him, then he may not speak to us. We are given wisdom and grace by God in order for us to respond appropriately to it—not in order to gain spiritual honors. We need to make sure that we have taken care of our sins and instructions as much as we were able.
Focus on God for who he is
There are many spirits out there whom we could listen to. We need to clarify who we are intending to worship and serve and listen to. When we speak to God, we cannot do so abstractly—we must speak to the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father through the Spirit of Holiness. We do not have to use these terms, but we must be clear in some way who we are speaking to. The more vague we are, the more opportunity there is for other spirits to speak to us.
Worship and Praise
As we are focused on the Father, we should worship him and offer him praise. This allows us to speak our faith, and causes us to enter into God’s presence. There are many ways to do this—we might read a psalm of praise or a prayer in Isaiah. We might sing to the Lord (or hum if we can’t sing). We could focus on the attributes of God, or recount his great works of the past—in our lives, or in the Bible. I would often speak or sing a prayer I have prayed in the past.
Re-focus on what is important to God, not you
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus instructs us not to begin speaking to God our own requests. Rather he shows us that we should begin focusing on what God desires for himself. Show God that you are just as concerned about his reputation, his glory, his kingdom and his will as you are about your own needs. As you praise God, try to allow your concerns and needs and desires to fade away. Let dwindle in the overwhelming presence of God and of His desires, his needs. When we are in the presence of God, our needs seem small and petty in the light of his enormous glory and sacrifice for us. And in the midst of this, God will bring back to mind our needs, when the time is right.
Ask for the Spirit
Jesus told us that we would not gain anything from God unless we ask. This includes the Spirit. The Spirit is the greatest, most desirable gift God wishes to grant you. The Spirit is the very presence of God, at work in your life right now, right here. Even so, he will only give this gift to those who desire it. To show our desire, let’s ask for him. As we face God in his presence, we should make a request of God for the Spirit. And Jesus says, if God’s children ask, then we will receive. (Luke 11)
Re-focus the world around you on the Lord
This is a very important point that most people miss. In experiencing the Spirit, with only a few exceptions, we will not block out the world around us. And this is not a problem, for the Spirit is in all places, and no context is hidden from his presence. The Spirit can be experienced wherever we can do it. In order to meet the Spirit, we do not need to seek out the Spirit’s presence—he is there. Rather, we need to make ourselves ready to meet the Spirit.
Don’t ask, “Where can the Spirit meet me?”—for the Spirit can meet us anywhere—rather ask, “In what context am I able to meet the Spirit?” The Spirit can meet someone in a bar, if they are ready to meet the Spirit there. But if someone is only focused on alcohol, they cannot be focused on the Spirit. Even so, if I go to a library, I cannot clearly discern the Spirit there, for I am focused on the books. It is not a bad thing to be focused on books in a library, but it is not the place for me to meet the Spirit. But if I am walking a busy street in downtown Portland filled with strangers, I can meet the Spirit there. Others cannot, but it is possible for me.
We need to determine what context we are able to meet the Spirit in—and the secret of it is to find a context in which you can see the Lord around you. I have a friend of mine who experiences God in crowds, because he sees God in other people. There are many who can best experience God in the midst of nature—forests or gardens. Others best experience God in the midst of a loud worship service, while still others need complete silence.
The place I experienced God the most was a garden with a chapel attached to it that was devoted to prayer. The garden had three sculptures of Christ—one at his birth, one at his crucifixion and one at his resurrection, and the chapel was a quiet place with padded chairs and a view overlooking Northeast Portland. I would walk and sit and pray and God would speak to me, or I would be silent before Him. That place is significant for me, but I have a friend of mine who would have a hard time experiencing God there—he really needs a loud Pentecostal service to experience God in, while I would have a hard time experiencing God there. The Spirit is strong in both places, we just need to be able to focus on where the Lord is in that place.
We can take almost any place and turn it into a spiritual retreat. We just need to find what will make it a retreat for us. Perhaps a Bible reading will help us, or worship music or seeing the needy people all around us or seeing God’s creation in our midst. To focus on God in our world is to be prepared for the Spirit. And he is there, we just need to adjust our vision to see him.
Speak to the Lord
As we are now seeing God in our midst, and knowing that we are in his presence through worship, we are ready to speak to the Lord. Perhaps we have something we need to share with him. Perhaps we need wisdom. Perhaps we need healing. Perhaps we are seeking him in our lives. Perhaps we just need to talk to someone. He is there. He is listening. Sometimes I have just said, “Lord, I am here and I am listening.” Then I would wait. But even with that short sentence, the Lord listened and he responded.
We speak to God not because God so longs to hear our voices, or is so concerned about our desires. We speak to God because we have to—we have something we need to say. It is a part of our preparation. Whatever we have that is causing us anxiety or distress—we need to give that up to the Lord. Whatever we feel the Lord needs to hear from us, we should get it off of our chest. Whatever the Lord expects us to say, let us say it without hesitation. Only when we have said our peace, then we are ready to listen.
Quiet our minds to Experience God
At this time, we are prepared. We are ready to hear the Spirit, in as much as we can be. There is nothing else to do but listen to God for a response from him. We are now completely dependent on him. We are the clay, he is the potter. We are the kite, he is the wind. We are the marionette, he is the hand. It is time for us to rest, to be in silence.
It is best not to expect anything. Listening to the Spirit isn’t going through the right motions with the right attitude and—bam!—instant Spirit. Rather, you are seeking a personal response from the Creator of the Universe. God isn’t a machine—he won’t answer just because you ask. If he speaks to you, be honored. There are times when he will not answer because it is better for him not to. Sometimes we cannot hear him because he seems so quiet as opposed to the loud noises going on in our heads. Perhaps he is answering us, but in a different way than we expect—perhaps through a Scripture, or through someone “interrupting” us. We never know.
In the past God has called me to be silent before Him, and he has said nothing—I was frustrated that he was wasting my time. But he just wanted me to learn to rest in Him. There was a time where God called me to sleep in his presence (just once). There was a time I had a vision of going to God’s court. There was another time when God told me to hand out tracts at his direction. At other times God has called me to sing before him, or to write a song. We cannot determine what we will do or see or experience. But unless we are ready, we will never gain any experience.