Every member of our family, from preschooler to parent, can relate to hearing someone talking while not really listening. The other day my son had a simple list, only four things to remember: Put on pajamas; brush teeth; get water; crawl into bed. As I helped him gather his toys, I reviewed the instructions a second time. Impressed with his quiet attentiveness, I asked him to repeat what he needed to do to get ready for bed.
Without hesitation he responded, "I have no idea."
It's one thing to lose focus and miss out on a bedtime routine or a class assignment or a joke. It’s quite another to miss out on God — on hearing His Word and walking toward what He has for us. And if focusing on one another is a challenge, discerning God’s voice takes even greater intentionality. For this reason, our family has chosen a somewhat unconventional sort of resolution for our new year: learning to listen to God and respond to what He says.
Three ways to intentionally listen
While it may not be a new idea, listening for God's voice is something we need to intentionally practice — and it’s something we can pursue as a family, even with our different personalities, learning styles and maturities in faith — in three distinct ways:
We'll listen to God individually.
When our oldest daughter was learning to ride her bike, we spent a lot of time holding onto the bike to help her keep her balance. When we knew she was ready, we let go of the bike for longer and longer distances until she didn’t need help balancing. This year, my husband and I are taking a similar approach as we help our children learn to listen to God.
We intend to sit with our two youngest children near a stack of children’s picture books — ones that teach them the wonders of our faith. We will stay with them during these times, helping them understand what it’s like to think about and talk to Jesus — and to pay attention to the wisdom and direction He may lay on our hearts.
We will allow our two older children more time alone with God, checking in often to help answer questions. Even through the difficult times, when we’re not sure we’re getting this right or when we let busyness get in the way, we’ll still be there together, encouraging one another to keep listening to God through His written Word and continue developing our individual relationships with Jesus.
We’ll listen to God through each other.
A few years ago our youngest daughter went through a season of “spiritual awakening.” We’d hear her crying in her bed at night. When we would rush to her room to find out what was wrong, she’d begin sobbing through a list of unconfessed sins. These were sins from some time ago — and you can only imagine the things a 6-year-old might confess.
Suppressing all desire to laugh and embracing the sweetness of her sensitivity, we used these moments to teach her about concepts such as conviction, confession and forgiveness, how being sensitive to God’s guiding Spirit is one way that He intends for us to listen to Him. All the while, her big sister listened from her own bed. Many quality family conversations came out of those nights, when God used our little girl to lead us all.
Though these kinds of family moments are often inconvenient and unplanned, this year we will look for them with anticipation. Each member of my family is a part of the body of Christ, and we know God will show up — right in the middle of our unique blend of personalities and perspectives. As we listen to God at work in one another, we can hear Him speaking to us as well.
We’ll listen to God through those outside our family.
Once during a family road trip, while talking about where we were headed, we became so involved in our conversation inside the car that we missed the road signs outside our vehicle and the subsequent turnoff. Soon we found ourselves miles from where we intended to be. In a similar way, isolating ourselves within our family and not paying attention to the outside world can keep us from hearing God’s voice and following His lead.
This year, we’re all individually plugging into a program at our church so we can better listen to what God is saying through others. When we gather our kids from these activities, we will spend time listening to what they did and what they’re learning so we can all connect the dots to discern what God is saying to us.
Seven questions to help us respond
Listening to God is a skill that we hope to make a lifetime habit, but it’s only half of our New Year’s resolution. As we’re listening for and hearing God’s voice, we’ll need to ask ourselves this follow-up question: How are we responding?
To help us respond, we'll be using a list of seven questions, one for each day of the week, near our dinner table. At the evening meal, we can tackle these questions together as a family. You can use these simple conversation starters to help your own family take responsibility for what God is telling you.
Sunday: What did you hear from God or learn about God at church today?
Monday: What Scripture verse did God impress on your heart today — and how did it affect a choice you made?
Tuesday: Share something you saw or did today that brought God to mind.
Wednesday: What do you think God is teaching us as a family — and why do you think that?
Thursday: How have you seen God doing a good work in a family member’s life? Share a story about your observations.
Friday: Share a way in which you are struggling. How can you seek God’s help in this area?
Saturday: What is one thing you learned about God this week? Explain how you learned it.
If you miss a day, no worries — you’ll have an opportunity to tackle it next week. Our goal is to look to God for direction in daily life and respond to His leading, helping one another along the way.