Do you experience God leading you, or speaking to you, on a regular basis? Would you would like to hear from God on a regular basis?
Let me tell you a story about a 6-year-old boy named Johnny who went to the fair with his family.
They were having a great time eating all the crazy foods and experiencing the thrill of riding rides that looked like they could fall apart at any moment. Then, all of a sudden, the fun ended when Johnny and his parents got separated in the crowd.
If you are a parent, your heart probably just dropped into your stomach because you know that feeling all too well. If you’re not a parent, I am sure you can imagine what it’s like to lose your kid in a crowd.
Well, luckily, Johnny’s parents spotted him in the distance and started to yell his name. But the crowd was so thick that Johnny couldn’t hear them. So they kept fighting through the crowd, inching their way closer to Johnny, all the while shouting out his name. But Johnny couldn’t hear.
Then, all of a sudden, something phenomenal happened and the crowd went silent. So, Johnny’s parents just whispered, “Hey Johnny come here.” And Johnny heard them and they were reunited.
You’ve probably already guessed it, but this story illustrates our ability, or inability, to hear from God. God is trying to get our attention but we can’t hear him because of the distractions.
The TV is always on, our phones are always in our hands, we have a never-ending hustle of activity between work, school, kids activities. We’re moving blindly around in the noise, wondering where God is, and He’s been shouting our name the whole time. We just can’t hear Him.
It may seem like God is silent. Maybe He talks to others but He doesn’t talk to you. But, that’s not the issue at all.
The problem is, we are not listening.
But don’t let this revelation be discouraging. Let it be encouraging. Because if God wasn’t speaking, you couldn’t do anything about it. But God is speaking and all you have to do is learn how to listen.
Proverbs 3:6 MSG – Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.
3 Things that Keep Us from Hearing God
Jesus tells us a story in Luke 8 that does an amazing job illustrating three different things that keep us from hearing the Word of God.
Luke 8:5-7 NLT – A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. Other seed fell among thorns (weeds) that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants.
So, you may be wondering what a farmer has to do with hearing the voice of God. Well, Jesus spells it out for us a few verses down.
Luke 8:11 NLT – This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word.
In other words, there are three different things happening to God’s word in your life:
- God’s word is getting stepped on and taken away from you.
- God’s word quickly disappears in your life because it’s not rooted.
- God’s word is choked out by the distractions in your life.
Let’s go a little deeper into these three things so you can find out if any of these issues are keeping you from hearing God so a course correction can be made.
The Polluted Heart
Jesus goes on to explain the story we read earlier for those who didn’t quite get it. And, I don’t know about you, but I am sure glad He did. Here’s the first one:
Luke 8:12 NLT – The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved.
Let’s call this issue the polluted heart, because the main way the devil steals God’s word from us is through shame and guilt. And these two things block us from hearing God’s voice.
One of our core values here is, “We don’t waste one moment in regret.” We believe that our new life in Jesus is more powerful than any mistake we’ve made or will make.
Often, we get stuck in the belief that walking around in regret is somehow paying for our mistakes, showing God that we’re sorry. But now we see it does none of that. All it does is put a wall up between us and God because we’re rejecting His forgiveness and letting the devil steal God’s word from us.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a sloppy life where you intentionally live contrary to God’s word and become numb to the things that need to change. What I am advocating is repentance, where the sin is recognized and you pivot 180 degrees and go the other way.
And you don’t just leave the sin behind, but leave the same, guilt and regret behind with it.
James 1:21 NLT – So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
If your seeds are falling on the footpath, the answer is to repent. Maybe you’ve repented from some things but not others. Regardless of what it is, and you know what it is, simply turn the other way. And don’t just leave the sin behind. Leave the shame, guilt and regret there with it.
Repentance is not a dirty word, it is a freedom word.
It’s not God condemning for what you’ve done wrong, it is God providing a way out. It’s your opportunity to turn from sin and run to God.
The Immature Heart
So maybe that one spoke to you. The polluted heart is exactly what you are dealing with and now you know what to do. But, if that first one didn’t hit you, don’t worry. We still have two more.
Luke 8:13 NLT – The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation.
Here’s a prime example. You receive the Word on Sunday and it really impacted you while you were at church. Then, you walked out the door and forgot all about it. Don’t worry, it’s happened to all of us.
So we are going to call this second issue the immature heart.
Things at my house right now are really interesting. We have an almost 3-year-old girl that tops the growth charts and a 1-year-old girl that barely even registers on the growth charts. When they play together, it kind of looks like this:
The other night, Beth went out to dinner with one of her friends and I was watching the girls. I was on the phone trying to talk with Chris Wills about our discipleship program here at church and before I knew it, Leanna had a rag wrapped around Adalynn’s neck and pulling it tight.
“Leanna, we don’t put things around sissy’s neck. Leanna, stop pushing your sister over. Leanna, are you listening? Look right here. Look at daddy.”
“Leanna, can you please pick your banana peel off the floor and put it in the trash like you did yesterday?” At which point Leanna runs off and does something else.
This is a great illustration of what the Christian life is like when we are not yet mature in our faith. Yesterday we did what God told us to, but today? Today I am going to do what I want.
“I’m saved, I’m good. I’ll just keep doing my thing.”
It’s understandable that we start out that way, but God has called us to mature. I mean, let’s fast forward a few years. Imagine Leanna coming over as an adult and leaving her banana peel on the floor. I don’t know, maybe you have grown kids that still do things like that.
When we stay immature, we never give God a chance to go deeper and reveal to us the amazing, limitless plan He has for our lives. Instead, He’s too busy trying to keep us from pushing our fellow believers down or trying to choke them out with a rag around their neck.
We gossip, we complain, we get mad, we refuse to forgive. We try to tell other people how they should live their life but don’t take any correction ourselves.
And here’s the deal, when we are immature, we blame the fact that we can’t hear God on God. It’s His fault. And we have nothing to do with it.
We blame our struggles on our mom and dad. They didn’t raise me right. We blame our mistakes at work on our coworkers. They didn’t give me what I needed.
An immature heart is an irresponsible heart. Nothing is my fault. I don’t need to change, you do.
So, how do we mature?
Hebrews 12:1-2 GW – Since we are surrounded by so many examples [of faith], we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus…
There are three things we need to do in order to mature:
- Own it. No more blame game. Your life is your responsibility. And it’s up to you to get rid of the things slowing you down.
- Surround yourself with people of faith. Stop spending all your time with people who gossip, complain and blame. And start spending time with those who are mature in their faith.
- Focus on Jesus. You can’t mature on your own. So hook up with Jesus and let Him lead the way.
The Distracted Heart
Let’s move on to the third thing that keeps us from hearing God.
Luke 8:14 NLT – The seeds that fell among the thorns (weeds) represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life.
Have you ever tried to grow a weed? You don’t have to try. They just show up. When you see your neighbor’s lawn covered in weeds, what does that make you think of? Distracted. Busy. Low on the priority list.
Actually, Beth and I are those neighbors. Our grass doesn’t have weeds because we have it treated, but our flower bed? That’s another story. At least until yesterday when we paid our nephew to come to pull them out.
Good news is, I think our neighbors give us a pass because they see us with two little ones AND Beth is pregnant again.
Trust me, when people see us for the first time, they look at the girls and comment how cute they are. And then they look at Beth’s pregnant belly and immediately have pity on us.
So yes, kids can definitely distract you from other things, like pulling weeds out of the garden. But the question here is, what distracts us from hearing the voice of God?
You know, several years ago Beth and I subscribed to Netflix, just like I am sure you have too. And over the years, we’ve found some TV series that we really like: White Collar, Leverage, Last Man Standing, Travelers, Lost in Space.
It’s really crazy. Once you get pulled into a show you like, it’s hard to stop watching it. You stay up too late because you want to see one more episode. You spend your whole day looking forward to the evening so you can watch another episode. You start to dream about the show. Can anybody relate?
Just a few months ago, Beth and I both started to feel this gentle tug to leave the TV off and night and spend our time doing something else. We’d succeed here and there doing that, but on the evenings we were really tired, we’d fall back into going numb in front of the TV.
But the more we followed that little tug to turn off Netflix, the more realized the benefit of turning it off. And for at least a month now, I can only think of one time that we watched a TV show in the evenings and it had no appeal.
With that time opened up, the Lord is leading us down a path of growth. Some nights we are watching sermons from other churches and growing spiritually. Other nights we are studying real estate investing and growing financially.
And some nights, we just sit and talk to each other and grow our relationship. All you parents with small kids already know that the only time you can have a real conversation is when the kids go to bed.
I tell you this story because I am beginning to realize how much Netflix is a distraction to pursuing limitless life in Jesus. And not just Netflix, but Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and anything else you do on your phone.
We love our phones. And we love our TVs. And it’s hard to tell them no.
At the end of a hard workday, we deserve some mind-numbing TV, right?
When we have a quiet moment, it’s our duty as a human being to pull out our phone and connect with the world, right?
This isn’t an attack on you. I’m right there with you and I bet everyone else is too. But, how long are we going to let it continue?
How long are we going to limit what God wants to do in our life because of these distractions?
To hear God’s voice, you must turn down the world’s volume.
And this may sound a bit extreme, but how much better would our lives be if we turned off the world’s volume by leaving the TV off at night and even turning our phones off when we don’t need them for work.
Beth and I kicked evening TV to the curb, and it was hard at first. And even after doing it for a month, there are still times where I’d rather just chill and watch something on TV. But I never regret choosing the alternative and pursuing growth in an area of my life.
So, what’s your biggest distraction? And what are you going to do to turn it down so that you can hear God’s voice more clearly?
The Prepared Heart
We’ve worked our way through the three things Jesus tells us in Luke 8 that keep us from hearing the voice of God. But there is one more thing He talks about.
Luke 8:15 NLT – And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.
Good-hearted people are those who have put in the effort to prepare their heart.
They’ve left sin, guilt and condemnation in the past. They’ve surrounded themselves with the right people so they can be mature in their faith. And they are constantly hunting to kill things that keep them distracted.
When they hear God’s word, they cling to it because they know it’s truth and holds the power to transform their life.
And those who prepare their heart produce a huge harvest.
And notice it says patiently because a prepared heart doesn’t happen overnight. Preparing your heart is a journey and something that you will do for the rest of your life.
I imagine most of us could identify with one or more of the three things we talked about today that keep us from hearing God’s voice. So, how do we turn it around and prepare our hearts to hear God clearly?
- The first step is to repent. Remember, repentance is not a dirty word, it is a freedom word. It’s not God condemning for what you’ve done wrong, it is God providing a way out. So, if you’re headed the wrong direction, don’t sweat it. Just make a 180 and run towards God.
- The second step is to refocus. Make a choice to trade some TV time for growth time. Make church a priority because you understand the importance of surrounding yourself with people of faith. If you have a big change to make in this area, don’t sweat it. Just get started. Make a change and let God work.
- The last step is to renew. Ask God to come in and make all things new and give you a fresh start. Leave the past behind. Leave mistakes behind and press forward into newness.
2 Corinthians 7:1 MSG – Let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.
You know, I’ve spent a lot of my life distracted. Distracted with ambition, work, Netflix, and I even spent several years distracted with sexual addiction.
Today I’m closer to Jesus than I’ve ever been, and when I look back at all of those mistakes, I don’t feel one ounce of regret, guilt or shame. But when I wasn’t this close to Jesus, you better know that I felt every single one of those things when thinking about my past.
The devil’s plan is to keep you from drawing closer to Jesus because of what you’ve done. Because the more space you put between you and Jesus, the more your life is going to be consumed with guilt, shame, and regret.
You may feel like if you go to Jesus with what you’ve done, it’s going to scare Him to death. And you probably think He’s going to rake you over the coals.
But, that’s not what happens. He’s waiting with open arms, ready to take your guilt, shame and regret and throw it away.
When you leave the past in the past is when you can press forward into new beginnings.