For someone like me, who has almost an inability to pray, do you have any suggestions for where to start? It’s good to say that we all should be having this, but the hows are helpful to those of us who struggle.
That is a good point. It is one thing to tell everyone to start listening to what God has to say but another thing to explain how to do that. I’ll try my best in this post. But I recognize that there is a high likelihood that you know more about this subject than I do so please correct or amend or add to my attempt here.
First, I have come to the conclusion that hearing God is in fact easier for some people than others. In fact, one of my favorite recent posts, called Ears, is about that very subject. Just as some people are born with better musical ears than others; it appears some are born with better spiritual ears than others. But with work almost anyone can have a good musical ear and I firmly believe the same can be said for spiritual ears.
Let’s try a few classic scriptures to lay a foundation. I’ll hyperlink to them as we go. First, what does God’s voice sound like? Well, it may not sound like anything to most of us. The better question is: what does it feel like? How does it feel when we are receiving communication from God? We know that God uses his Holy Postal Service to communicate with us. We call that service the Spirit or the Holy Ghost. So how does it feel when the Holy Ghost is communicating with us? Well the scriptures tell us that we feel comforted. We feel love, joy and peace. We feel pure knowledge and our souls expand. We feel edified and we rejoice. It feels sweet above all that is sweet. If we are feeling it during a sermon or reading we completely understand the message and deeply feel that it is right.
So where do we start?
One thing the scriptures make clear (to me at least) is that the easiest type of revelation to receive is a simple yes or no from God. Consider the clear instruction Oliver Cowdery received before the Church was even founded:
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong;…(D&C 9:7-9)
So there we have a starting point. We should think of something we care about but cannot resolve with the resources available to us. We then study it out in our minds and come to a tentative conclusion. We next take it to God and ask Him with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, doing all we can to believe that we can receive an answer. Then we listen intensely. This is no small thing so we shouldn’t expect to get revelation without some strenuous spiritual effort. We try to sense either those feelings of the Spirit listed above or a “stupor of thought” as mentioned in the revelation to Oliver. With any luck we will be able to clearly identify a yes or no answer through the methods outlined here.
What if we can’t hear a thing?
If we still have no luck breaking through we must ask ourselves: Do we have more important things to do than to break through and hear directly from God? I understand that some things may be more urgent, but what in this mortal probation could be more important? Since it is that important the next step is to try fasting. Some difficult tasks cannot be accomplished without both prayer and fasting after all. But what if we try fasting a few times and it still leads to nothing? Well since we haven’t decided to throw in the towel yet and become and atheists we can at least be certain that we do love God! The next step seems to be pulling an Enos. Enos went to the wilderness to find solitude to pray and ponder all day and all night until he broke through and got the dialogue with God that he demanded. Similarly, Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night. If we are not willing to go to those lengths why on earth would we expect to be qualified to sit down with those prophets after this life?
Getting better at it
So once we get good at getting yes or no questions answered we start moving on to more complete dialogue with God it seems. That is how the writers of the Book of Mormon describe it and that has been my experience too. As a missionary I was often told where to go, who to call, what to say, and when and how to say it. Depending on my level of devotion to God since then I have continued to receive similar direction in my life. (Sometimes I have been able to break through and other times I haven’t. It requires constant vigilance and work I think — sort of like staying in shape after your 20’s.) I know lots of people who are better at this process than I am too. I keep working on getting better spiritual ears myself.
The Problem/the Reward
The problem I have with talking God and hearing back from him is that it is a lot of hard work. It may be even harder than staying in shape and that is pretty dang hard. Also, when I do break through I always recognize that while he loves me, he is dissatisfied with me as I currently am. He wants me to change and be better. Dialogue with God always is humbling and sometimes painful because of that.
The great thing is that dialogue with God allows our confidence to wax strong in His presence. It allows God to guide our paths, to become a lamp unto our feet. It means we can walk through the valley of the shadow by a better light source that the lamp of our own conceit. It means we can constantly be filled with an underlying feeling of love, joy, and peace. It means that fear need not haunt our lives. Plus, extreme emergencies come up sometimes in life. When our confidence waxes strong in the presence of God we can know what to do to get the mighty miracle we desperately need. Take it from me, that last one alone is worth any and every effort.