Things were going well for Joseph. Then Mary delivered the news. He would have preferred hearing that she had died. But God intervened. Joseph had already made a good decision by choosing a pure bride. Now he would make the hardest decision of his life.  

“Joseph, son of David…” The angel identified his subject: “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Mary was telling the truth. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20,21). What looked like shame just turned to honor.

We assume the job of listening rests on our ability to hear. Scripture puts the ball in God’s court. The disturbing news that just destroyed his future had not tampered with God’s. Some truths surface about hearing:

One step at a time.

Don’t expect the entire scenario. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” He could do that. If you stand at point A, ask B questions. “The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord.” You need the next step. Nothing more.

God’s will is good.

The angel said, “Do not be afraid,” because Joseph was terrorized by his option: “Divorce the lady.” God’s strategy proved just the opposite: “Marry your beloved and raise the Son of God as your own.” Fitting into the purpose of God does include suffering, but the presence of the Almighty gives purpose to pain.

God speaks with clarity.

“His sheep hear his voice.” The more confident we grow in God’s ability to speak, the more we will hear. By morning, Joseph knew what to do. Those who find themselves paralyzed by indecision need to act. Quit worrying that you might miss His “perfect” will and affirm that He lets you walk in it.  

God’s messages are often counter-intuitive.

They don’t spring up in our minds as if created by interior logic. They sound more like God than us. When Joseph heard from the angel, he didn’t say, “I should have known that the Holy Spirit did this.” Yet those learning to walk in the Spirit find that their intuition begins to track with God’s will.

What God says agrees with what God said.

God proves the present word with a past one. He links destiny with history, making His will verifiable. Matthew adds his commentary: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’ ” (22,23).

Hearing means heeding.

To hear and not obey is not to hear. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (24). We desperately need to hear from God—and desperate people do! Those more casual will turn guidance into a technique: “Give me three sure-proof steps,” while men like Joseph know it flows out of relationship. The story could have read, “When Joseph woke up, he divorced Mary.” And he would have missed his God-appointed destiny. He obeyed—and Jesus called him father.



God guided Israel with a cloud and pillar of fire in the wilderness. God uses the internal GPS of the Spirit under the new covenant, far more personal, more accurate. Jesus said that the Spirit speaks (John 16). You can hear!

Sometimes the “voice”is a picture, an impression, a conviction. That, too, can be the God within directing us. The Holy Spirit speaks spiritual truth, but He also speak practical truth, as with my two car examples in the last blog.

FOUR TRUTHS to develop a listening ear:


Guidance is more about God’s ability to lead than your ability to follow. Worry that you haven’t heard accurately puts the ball in your court. Never belongs there.

Bob told me on Friday he was going to pull his three boys out of our Christian school. I said, “I’d encourage you to put the ball in God’s court. Tell him what you are going to do and if He had anything to say about it, He could tell you.” On Monday the boys were at school. Bob said, “God gave me a dream telling me they belonged in the school.” Way to listen, Bob! Joseph was about to divorce the woman carrying Jesus. Disastrous! God took it upon Himself to let Joseph know, because hearing God’s voice is mainly about God’s ability to speak.

Yogi Berra said, “When you come to the fork in the road–take it.” A girl at Bible school came up after a class on “Hearing the Voice of God.” She said, “I need to choose from three churches where I will do my internship.” She choked up as she said she didn’t want to decide wrong. Worry is a terrible menace in hearing. I asked, “Do you have a preference?” She answered, “All sound good, but maybe St. John’s.” “Okay, tell God you are choosing St. John’s on Friday, and if He had anything to say, He could contact you.” We prayed, and I urged her to cast her burden on the Lord. She did–and peace came.


At point A ask B questions. An E question for a girl anticipating her first date is, “Should I marry him? A good B question: “Should I spend time with him?” A sophomore in college could ask, “Is this a good major for me?” rather than, “What should I do with my life?” Asking ultimate rather than immediate questions brings confusion.  God’s plans usually unfold–one step at a time.

I have come to realize that we can ask God questions, especially yes or no questions. God promises to guide us: “The steps of a man are from the Lord” (Psalm 37:23). He more often answers immediate rather than ultimate questions.


Include listening in prayer times. You can learn. Samuel’s life was characterized by hearing from God. Yours can be too!


Those who heed will hear. Tell God, “I love hearing from you.” I write down what I hear God saying to me. Would the Holy Spirit be interested in making you an expert at hearing His voice? This is not for the pros; It is for you. “His sheep hear his voice.” Baaahh!



“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see you. I want to see you.” We have physical eyes to see physical reality and spiritual eyes to see spiritual reality, just as real.

The king of Syria called his men together: Someone was revealing my secrets.”  A servant said, “Not us; it is Elijah. He tells the king what you share in the bedroom” (2 Kings 6:12).  So the king surrounded Dothan at night. In the morning the servant of Elisha saw the army and panicked. Elisha told him that they had many more warriors on their side. Then he prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord,” and the servant saw the mountain full of horses and chariots, just as real–far more powerful.

Paul prayed for the Ephesians “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened“ (1:16-18). He wanted them to SEE their riches and the power of God within them. Do you see it?

We have inner ears.  One commonly repeated Scripture (eight times in Revelation) is: “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” [And not one of them is a wife telling her husband to open his ears]. My question: Do you have ears to hear? Then hear.

I had heard that prayer was two-way communication with God, but I never met anyone that took it seriously. Until I started praying with Larry Christenson. I discovered little by little that the Spirit has a voice and that I could hear it.

I planned to drive into LA. I asked God, “Shall I take this car?” “No,” was the response. It had been overheating. As I prepared to go an hour later, I again asked–same answer. Thinking I was making it up, I took the car. I didn’t drive it home.  God wanted to save me trouble, and I had not learned to listen.

Fast-forward to a few years ago. I was driving to buy tires on Craig’s List. I asked God on the way, “Is this going to work?” The voice inside spoke, “No.” I kept driving, thinking it was my own voice. It wasn’t. I delivered four tires to Tires Plus to put on my car. They called: “Wrong size.”

I have learned through failure that I can hear the Spirit’s voice. Not an audible voice, though as clear. The Spirit lives within. Jesus said of the Spirit, “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” (John 16:13,14). Then Jesus repeated what he had just said, “Therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (15). Vital words for Christians to hear!

Two times Jesus used the word “speak” and three times “declare.” Those are words of communication.  The disciples understood it and learned to hear the God within. Those words are more than a nudge or a sense, although the Spirit can use these devices as well. He is speaking truth, not just giving feelings. You can learn to hear! (More coming!)