How to Hear God Better: Get Your Spirit in Shape

Prayer is more than talking to God. We should also listen to hear from God.

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Get Your Spirit in Shape features conversations to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. Logo by Sara Schork, United Methodist Communications.

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United Methodist pastor and author the Rev. Adam Weber shares tips on how we can become better listeners by asking God to speak, learning God's voice, tuning in to hear God in unexpected places, and quieting the noise in our lives that can get in the way. Listen and learn how you can improve your ability to hear God speaking in your life today.

Adam Weber is the founding pastor of Embrace United Methodist Church, a multi-site congregation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the author of Talking with God: What to Say When You Don't Know How to Pray.

Adam Weber

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This episode originally posted on June 8, 2018.

Transcript

Prologue

Joe: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.

In this episode, I am talking with United Methodist pastor and author Adam Weber about listening to God. When the second edition of his popular book was about to be released in paperback, Pastor Adam knew it needed an additional chapter.

Adam Weber: The book is Talking with God: What to Say When You Don’t Know How to Pray. But honestly when it comes to prayer the most important part of prayer isn’t speaking; it’s listening. And so as soon as it got released I’m like, I wish I had an opportunity to add this chapter.

Joe: Pastor Adam gives some great advice for how we know it’s God’s voice and not our own, how to ask God to speak into our lives, how to train our ears to hear God in unexpected times and places, and how to take time to turn off all the noise in our lives and listen for God.

Adam Weber: God is speaking, but are we listening. It’s not IF God is speaking; God is speaking, are we listening?

Joe: Let’s find out what we can do to improve our ability to hear God speaking to us.

The conversation

Joe: Today I’m on the phone with Adam Weber, the founding pastor of Embrace Church, a multi-site United Methodist congregation in and around Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Adam, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape.

Adam Weber: Oh, I’m so thankful and truly humbled to be on the podcast again.

Joe: Yeah, we’re glad to have you back. We had a great conversation back in July of 2017 about prayer and your book called Talking with God: What to Say When You Don’t Know How to Pray. Now your book was recently released in paperback, and I understand you’ve added some new material about listening to God, a topic that I am fascinated with.

Adam Weber: When the first version of Talking with God released there was one chapter that I really wanted to add. And the book is Talking with God: What to Say When You Don’t Know How to Pray. But honestly, when it comes to prayer the most important part of prayer isn’t speaking; it’s listening. So as soon as it got released I’m like, I wish I had an opportunity to add this chapter because, again, the main heart of prayer isn’t us speaking to God and saying this and saying that; it’s us listening to God and hear what he has to say to us, and hear how God wants to change us. And so I was thrilled to be allowed this chapter in.

Joe: Talk to me a little bit more about that. Why is it important that we listen to God as we pray?

Adam Weber: I know for myself more and more and more, I’m so needy for God’s direction in my life. It’s a wonderful thing that we can pray and talk with God, and he hears our voice and considers what we have to say, but I know for myself the longer I follow Jesus the more I’m beginning to realize, I want to hear from him.

So it’s like, “God, I need your direction in my life. I need your insight. I need your wisdom.” Honestly, in my prayer life over the last couple of years, I find myself speaking less and listening more.

When it comes to hearing and listening to God I think there’s a whole lot of confusion--not confusion—but it’s an area that people feel like they should maybe know how to hear from God, but they just don’t. It’s an area people have a lot of questions in.

Joe: In the new chapter you’re sharing what you’ve learned through the years about listening to God?

Adam Weber: Yeah. I first off just kind of confess that I’ve never audibly heard the voice of God myself, but I’ve heard it internally within my soul time and time again daily. Honestly, countless times a day I feel like God is speaking. So I explain that God’s voice is hard to explain, but I know what it sounds like.

It’s so true. The best way I can put it; it’s almost like my dad’s voice. My dad’s name is Jim, and right now I could tell you everything I know about my dad. I could try to explain his voice as best as I could. He’s 60 years old. He was an electrician. He has a deep voice, but it’s not super deep. I could give you all these explanations of my dad’s voice, and you’d still say, “I don’t really fully understand what it is.”

So it’s hard to explain, yet I know exactly what my dad’s voice sounds like. I could be in the busiest room with hundreds of people, and from across the room if my dad said one line, I would know my dad was there. I’d be like, “That is my dad’s voice.” I know a lot of people are talking and no one else would know what I was talking about. They’d be like, “Who did he hear?” “My dad is somewhere in this room.”

The same is true about the voice of God. It’s hard to explain, but when you’ve heard it you know exactly what it sounds like.

Joe: I want to ask, “How do you know?” So let’s ask that. How do you it’s God.

Adam Weber: Great question. When it comes to hearing from God, we first need to know what God’s voice sounds like, and the best place to begin to know what God’s voice sounds like is by opening up the Bible. When we open up and read the Bible, we come to know God’s promises and character. We know what his voice sounds like. We know what he has said and what he hasn’t said, which will give us a good idea what he will say and what he won’t say. So a great place to come to know who God is is by opening up the scriptures and reading his word, and the more in tune we come to knowing the heart of God, the more in tune we’ll come to hearing his voice.

I think another question, before you begin listening to God, is really wrestling with the question, “Are you wanting to hear from God?” You know, so often I’m like, “God, I don’t want to hear from you because I know you’ll probably gonna contradict my life. I don’t want to hear from you because you’re probably going to ask me to do some things—whether it’s loving someone I don’t want to love or serving a person that I feel like I shouldn’t have to serve.”

I think a huge question is asking if we are truly wanting to hear from God. If we are, giving him the room to speak and inviting God to speak. So it’s like, “God, I want to hear from you. So I’m just going to be quiet for a few minutes. In the quietness would you just speak to me? Would you just begin to tell me what you want me to focus on today and who I should serve today?”

So, again, as we grow in just our time and relationship with God is in word and just coming to know more and more about him, he will begin to speak.

A couple of things that are great filters for us of knowing if it’s God or not… First up, does it contradict something that God has already said? I know he’s not going to say to hurt my friend. I know he’s probably not going to say to do this or do that, because he’s made it pretty clear that I shouldn’t do those things. So that’s the first good filter.

A second filter for me, for knowing whether it’s God’s voice or whether it’s indigestion inside of me… I think another thing to realize is oftentimes God says things that I don’t want to do. So it’s oftentimes those hard things. Or it’s the opposite of my feelings because oftentimes I’ll be like, “Gosh, I’m just unusable.”

I feel unworthy to be used. Who am I to get up and be a pastor and preach this sermon on forgiveness when I’m struggling to forgive people? Then the voice of God is oftentimes, “Adam, I’m able to use you.” And, “I’m a God who can move mountains and so trust that I can use you.” Or in that moment of feeling unlovable or unworthy, again, my feelings are saying like, “You’re unlovable. You’ve made too many mistakes. Who are you? You’re not even a good speaker.” Oftentimes, God’s voice will come in and say, “Adam, my son, my love for you endures forever. I’m so well pleased in you. My love for you isn’t based on how well you preach this Sunday morning. My love for you is constant, unmoving.”

I think those are two really good filters to look through. Does this contradict something that God has said? And then oftentimes God’s voice is in contrast to how I’m feeling.

Joe: Can I go off on an aside for a little bit there? The thing you talk about preaching and speaking the word of God and sometimes feeling that who am I to be the one doing this? Can you talk more about that because I think some of us are really quick for speak for God. I like hearing you say that there’s a bit of a hesitancy there, of “Who am I to be the one to do this?”

Adam Weber: For me the hardest part of being a pastor is sermon prep, and then actually delivering it on Sunday. Just knowing how imperfect of a person I am and how I fall short constantly. And then talent-wise, just being totally honest, I feel average in most areas.

For me preaching every Sunday is a conscious decision to preach and be faithful, because my feelings are like, I don’t want to preach. I feel unusable. Every week it’s like, “God, no I’m willing to serve you. I’m going to be faithful and be used by you today.”

Prayer is a huge part of sermon prep for me. Oftentimes on Monday I start, before I even begin to work on message, I start on my knees just asking God to speak and move in ways that I can’t. That’s what has been powerful. Every week for me one of the clearest signs of God being a miracle-working God is my message coming together, of just so clearly seeing it come together on a weekly basis is powerful for me. Then on Sundays, what’s wonderful is really feeling like I’m just an instrument. So, truly it’s God speaking in and through me; it’s not me speaking. Every single week I always tell people I feel like I’m sitting front row and center, and taking notes myself as the message is being preached.

Joe: So in your sermon prep you get some practice in listening to God?

Adam Weber: Oh, a hundred percent. Through a couple of different places.

First off, God’s word. For me, in message and message planning my comfort zone is really coming from the text and then just sharing with the congregation a few things that stuck out from that given Scripture. So just even that, like, God speaking through truth that just blow me away. The story of Jacob and Esau, Esau’s forgiveness toward Jacob. I’m like, “Oh my goodness. That’s great.”

Joe: Right. How do you do that?

Adam Weber: Oftentimes there’ll be three things that clearly come to the surface. It’s God just speaking in a fresh way through this old story. So there’s that.

Also in message prep, I utilize a bunch of different staff people. It’s a team effort in a lot of ways.

There’s one person, one of our campus pastors that I work most closely with, and in his study of Scripture and using commentaries and whatever else, he comes to a table with a few things as well. He says, “Did you see that?” Or, “I just learned this about that one word in Hebrew.” So it’s cool just to see from a couple of different ways and a couple of different places God speaking every single week through a message even.

Joe: I like hearing you share, too, that you can hear God speak through other people. So often I think we wait for the miraculous cloud-opening voice coming to us. But I think I hear you saying that God has spoken to you or called your attention to things through the work of some others saying things to you.

Adam Weber: No question. I think all throughout the Bible, even as I’ve read through the book of Proverbs recently, it talks about the wise person is one who seeks out wise counsel. The wise person is the one who goes and basically asks for input and advice from others. The wise person is someone who wants others to speak into their life and receive constructive criticism. All throughout Proverbs alone it talks about the importance of listening to others.

For myself, God has probably most clearly spoken—apart from his word—through other people, specifically other people who I know love Jesus and have a deep foundation in God’s word. Going to them and asking for advice, asking them for feedback and input into my life. Even recently, a friend spoke—a guy who loves the Lord, has been following Jesus for a long time—just randomly out of the blue just said, “Gosh, it feels like you’re trying to juggle a lot of different things. Adam, I just want to encourage you, Adam. Is there a couple of things that you need to say ‘no’ to? And you need to cut out of your life?” Then he took it one step further and he said, “And those things, they might be really fruit-bearing things. So I don’t even know what that is. But I just want to encourage you to think about that.”

What he didn’t know is that the day before, I’d just begun praying, “God, I’m doing a lot of great things, but I do feel like I’m spread too thin right now.” I’m naturally a people-pleaser. So I struggle to say ‘no.’ I’m also a person who likes to maximize things. So if I see something bearing fruit it’s almost crippling for me to cut it off. To say, “Gosh, this season needs to come to an end.” So that friend didn’t even know that he was speaking right into something that I had just been asking God to reveal and really share. That was powerful for me in that moment.

Joe: Somehow deep inside, you heard… that was more than that individual speaking. That was God speaking a truth to you?

Adam Weber: No question.

Another time, actually last week, leadership-wise there was a fellow in the church who is a physician. He and his wife met up with me and just… They are people who have about once every other month will grab coffee with me. They always say, “We just want to cheer you on and encourage you.”

He said, “Adam, I’m not sure if this connects with you or makes any sense to you, but if you’re like me, you struggle to delegate things. I struggle to let go and really hand off things to other people. Those other people may not do it just like you want them to do it right away,” and just began to speak this.

I had not shared anything about this, and he spoke word for word into my life. When he got done sharing, I said, “Christopher, those words didn’t come from you. Those words truly came from the heart of God to me because I’ve been feeling that exact thing recently. And I’ve really been asking, like, ‘Lord, would you speak to me in this area? I don’t know what next step I’m supposed to take.’”

So, again, I think God so clearly speaks through others. Again, running through that filter of, does this contradict anything God had said previously? And also through the filter of is this just my feelings wanting something? Or what not? So I think God so powerfully speaks through other people.

I think just in general God is speaking, but are we listening? Is probably the biggest question. It’s not IF God is speaking; it’s God is speaking. Are we listening?

Joe: So this is a muscle we don’t use very often. How can we get better at it? How can I get better at listening to God?

Adam Weber: I’ll touch on a couple of things I’ve already mentioned.

Just getting really in tune with God’s word and God’s heart and who God is and what his passionate about. Even in that process, setting aside our own agendas, and our political preferences, and our passions and stuff. Of really approaching the word, and just saying, “God, what do you have to say to me?” and coming more and more in tune with that.

I feel like God has been turning my world upside down lately. Just like, “Actually this is really close to my heart. But Adam, I don’t think it’s very close to yours. So you might want to start looking into this a little bit more.” So I think getting more in tune with God and his heart and his word.

Then some very practical stuff: turn off the noise in your life. Look for areas that you can shut off the noise. It might be literal noise like in your car. Just once a day instead of listening to a podcast, which is ironic that we’re on a podcast right now…

Joe: No. I agree with you.

Adam Weber: but instead of listening to the radio or even a sermon—filling every ounce of our day with noise—just turning it off and rolling down the window if it’s nice temperature-wise out, and just saying, “God, like, what do you have to say to me today?”

Oftentimes for me, another tangible thing is finding a place where you feel like you are more in tune with God. For me that’s going on walks at night. So often as I’m walking, I won’t have a podcast on in my ears or anything. I’ll just say, “God, what do you have to say tonight? What do I need to hear?” Again, I’m really approaching God.

The older I get the younger I feel as far as I feel like I have less and less experience in life the longer I’m alive. It’s like, “God, I thought I was needy last year. I didn’t have a clue. I’m even more needy today. So, would you speak to me, because I just need your direction?” So I think this inviting to speak and giving him the room in our life and in our day to speak.

Joe: Every time you say that I just keep having this image, in the Old Testament, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

Adam Weber: Yeah, I think it’s in Revelation where Jesus, “I stand at the door and knock,” and oftentimes we think that he’s talking to the unbelievers and people who don’t know Christ yet. But he’s writing to the church.

So I just picture that view of God just gently knocking and saying, “Hey, Joe, are you wanting to listen to me today, because I’d love to share some things with you.” “Hey, Adam, I know you’re really, really busy and you’ve got a lot of things that you just think that you’re too busy for me. But I have some really…there’s some things I just want to tell you. First off, I just want to tell you that I love you so much. And secondly, this message that you’re worrying about for Sunday, or your kids that you’re overwhelmed about, like how to parent them, and you know this broken relationship you’re just overwhelmed with, like, I would just love to speak into those things, if you’d give me a chance.” I think that’s so often God to us.

If we had a phone call and it’s like if I could talk to anybody in the world about preaching, whether it’s an Andy Stanley or Adam Hamilton, which is awesome, we would take that phone call in a heartbeat. It’s like, “Oh, my goodness. I get to talk to Andy Stanley or Adam Hamilton. This is amazing.”

It’s like God is available to us at any place, any time. And yet so often we don’t reach out and just say, “Would you speak, Lord?” And so when we invite him to speak, he will. And he is. We just need to listen.

Joe: I wanted to ask you—and I asked you last time, so I’m asking again—but we like to share those spiritual practices and things that help keep our spirits in shape. Is there something that comes to mind for you, a way that you stay close to God in your life?

Adam Weber: Lately it’s been a couple of things. One of them has been the practice of giving thanks. So each day, actually, I’ve been challenging myself to write one thank-you note a day.

Joe: Oh, that’s cool.

Adam Weber: And not just a general thanks. But to almost look for the ways that God has encouraged me through that person. More than just a thank-you note, even just a prayer note. Like, just taking the time and time to pray for one person has been really powerful for me.

Another thing that I’ve been doing—and it’s been actually kind of fun to share it with others—but I’ve been going through a chapter a day and I’m just trying to find two things, two verses, that stick out to me. Then I’m just taking a moment to jot down some random thoughts. Or I’ll dig into it a little bit deeper.

Like yesterday I was in Ecclesiastes, and there was one verse that Wesley had some wonderful thoughts on. I look at his commentary and I was like, “Whoa, that just brings it alive. Holy Moly.” So it’s been neat just to write those thoughts from each chapter. Verse 23 and verse 28 really are powerful and here’s why. So it’s kind of self-journaling a little bit, but then I’ve been sharing them with others to go through. But more than the blessing it’s been hopefully to other people, it’s really been good for myself to really kind of get back to that study of God’s word, and reading it devotionally obviously and just taking it at surface value is powerful in itself. But trying to dig in a little bit deeper, just into one verse or two verses.

Joe: I want people to know that you and I in the last podcast talked about your love of typewriters and sending notes to people, and following our interview you sent me one. I got a note from you on a typewriter. I was like, “This is awesome.” You just warmed my day. I mean, it just warmed my day, just that little bit of connection. I deeply appreciated it. It was so cool.

Adam Weber: It’s probably a part of my nerdiness. My wife would probably say, “Don’t encourage him. He’ll buy more.” But there’s something, I think, those lost arts of being quick to say ‘thanks.’ Also just going maybe that one step further of just sending a note, has always made an impact on me. I think as pastors, as leaders, as followers of Jesus, wherever we are, it is so easy to be discouraged. So just to have someone in your life that just says ‘thank you’ has meant so much to me.

Actually, on my desk where I’m sitting…. One of my closest friends (he’s a realtor in Sioux Falls) just wrote and the very first line is… He just wrote, “Adam, thanks for being one of my best friends and someone that I can share anything with.” It’s just a gift to be able to say thank you to somebody and to speak into their life and encourage them.

Joe: Adam, I deeply appreciate our time together today. I’ve so enjoyed getting to know you over these last few months. It’s been a treat for me. Thanks again for being with us.

Adam Weber: Aw, thank you so much, Joe. And just grateful for the work that you’re doing in this podcast and the impact it has.

Epilogue

Joe: That was the Reverend Adam Weber, founding pastor of Embrace Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one of the fastest growing churches in the United States.

To learn more about him, Embrace Church, or to buy his book Talking with God visit UMC.org/podcasts and look for this episode. On that episode page we’ve included some links to stories about prayer, and at UMC.org/podcast you will also find more episodes of Get Your Spirit in Shape and other United Methodist podcasts that you might enjoy. You’ll also find my email address there. Take a moment and tell me about your experiences of hearing from God.

Thanks for listening. I’ll be back soon with another conversation to help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.