If you go back through the Gospels and study all the different ways Jesus instructed his followers, surprisingly you won’t find a single passage outlining the best Bible reading plan. Though Jesus often quoted scripture and clearly emphasized its importance and authority, he never held it up as the primary way his disciples should hear and receive God’s truth.
What he did instead is simply remarkable—he gave them his Spirit. And in John 16 Jesus speaks in depth about what the Spirit is coming to do:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak. And he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. Therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
If you notice, there’s quite a bit of declaration and speaking and listening in this passage, and very little concerning reading or study. So the very idea of receiving truth from God—based on the clear teachings of Jesus—requires us as his followers to actively engage with the Spirit. Jesus instructs us to listen to the Spirit’s voice.
But what about the Bible?
I find it helpful to view scripture as a gateway through which we encounter the Living God, rather than a textbook or comprehensive encyclopedia comprised of the full sum of his counsel. God’s words written on the page stand as a foundation for our faith as well as a doorway through which we engage the Spirit as he speaks to us.
In this light we can better understand the clear invitation of Jesus in John 16: "Come and meet with me, learn to recognize my voice and listen to all that I long to share with you" (paraphrase).
But how do we hear his words?
First, we must learn to make space. We have to create and protect the margin in our lives if we’re going to grow in our capacity to hear the voice of God. We have to remove distractions and set aside time to engage with God.
Second, we must simply ask the Spirit to speak. A consistent theme in scripture is that God responds when we pursue him. If we invite the Spirit to speak and then take time to listen, this encourages God to engage with us.
Consider a human conversation. We all intuitively understand the difference between active and passive listening. We’ve all sat across the table from a spouse or friend who isn’t paying attention, and everything—their body posture, their eye contact, their facial expressions—reveal they really don’t care about what we have to say. Likewise we’ve experienced the opposite, when someone is fully engaged as we speak. It’s not hard to share the depths of our hearts in such moments, because we feel confident our audience truly desires to hear what we have to share.
That’s what an invitation is—it’s presenting yourself before the Lord and saying, “I really want to hear your voice!” I’m convinced God responds to that.
A third way to actively listen is through intentionality. We can find proactive ways to initiate conversation with God. Writing, journaling, music, poetry, art, dance, nature walks, even dreams and visions can all become conduits of God’s words to us. By intentionally approaching everyday activities as opportunities to listen, we create a canvas upon which the words of God take form.
Each of these three practices are simple steps of obedience we can take in response to Jesus’s words in John 16. As his disciples, we are called to learn to listen to the God who speaks.
Joshua has created a great resource on creating space to hear God’s voice. It’s an e-book called Active Listening: Inviting the Spirit to Speak. You can download it for free on our website.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joshua Marino leads CRM’s recruiting and mobilization efforts—helping emerging leaders discern their calling and activating them into the mission of God around the globe. Joshua and his wife Christy have served with CRM since 2009 and live in Brea, California, with their two daughters, Joy and Grace.