Since I'd lived a self-centered life, when I finally gave my life to Christ, I wanted to serve—a necessary part of my discipleship. But as the years progressed, my service became the enemy of my soul because I thought I had to serve sacrificially all the time.
My wake-up call came when I pushed myself to such exhaustion that I became dizzy for three months. Sometimes it was so debilitating that I couldn't read, watch TV, or hold a conversation. The only option left was to lie quietly and listen for God's voice, which turned out to be the best option.
My experience was summed up in Psalm 62:1-2, "I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken." After that experience, I never wanted to live without that stillness again.
A Message Just for You
We may certainly hear God's voice when we're with others. Perhaps something hits you in a sermon or a friend says just the right thing at the right time. But we almost all need filters. A sermon or a friend's word may steer you the wrong way—not because what they said wasn't true, but because it wasn't the message you needed to hear.
For example, when I was unable to say no, I didn't need to be challenged to serve, even if my best friend did.
Maybe you have a problem with false guilt, so you don't need to hear a sermon on how sinful you are, even though the person sitting next to you needs exactly that message.
That's why we need time alone with God—to hear what messages he has uniquely for us.
No More One-Way Conversations
We turn on the TV as soon as we get up to catch the weather. We jump into the car and turn on the radio. When we jog, we take the iPod. I even know people who can't sleep unless a fan is running in the background. As a people, we hate silence.
But silence does away with the one-way conversation that most of us consider prayer—giving my list to God as if he were a customer service representative. After all, he has a lot more important things to say than I do, as I sit quietly with an open Bible on my lap. He even directs how I should pray for others in a way I never would have considered praying if I was just giving him my list.
Most of us can find a way to practice silence and solitude. It might be as simple as keeping the TV, computer, or phone off one night a week. Or if, like me, you're overscheduled, you may have to say no to some good area of service to gain the necessary time in God's presence.
Most often when I'm in times of solitude and silence, I don't hear anything. If we impatiently expect great gems each time we meet with God, we'll be terribly disappointed and lose interest. Instead, say something like, "God, I just want to be in your presence because I love you. Tell me anything you want me to know; I'm listening. But if there isn't anything I need to know right now, just help me to enjoy being with you.".
Then don't feel guilty if your mind wanders and you end up thinking about what you're going to fix for dinner. When you realize your thoughts are drifting, acknowledge them, then refocus and be available to hear God's voice again. That's why doing this with an open Bible is good. Start with something like Psalm 63, Matthew 5:1-16, or Colossians 3:1-17. Read a passage and then sit quietly for at least half an hour. If you're really stretched, just try it for 10 minutes! If you've never done this before, it's going to seem incredibly long, but stick it out.
Since I've made this a regular part of my life, so many things have fallen into place. I'm a lot healthier emotionally because I have a better grasp of why God created me and what he wants me to be doing. I also just enjoy my relationship with God more, which spills over into every area of my life.