When I was grappling with a perennial issue – how to hear from God – I read an intriguing quote from the seventeenth century philosopher and physician, John Locke. He said,“The thoughts that often come unsought, and as it were, drop into the mind, are commonly the most valuable of any we have”. It led me to wonder whether these unsought thoughts originated from God and whether they were the inner voice I’d read about. Consequently, I decided to experiment with my theory and had early success with seeking guidance on trivial issues. Emboldened, I progressed to matters of greater importance, until I made an appalling discovery – the inner voice lied!
Obviously, God does not lie, so I quickly realised the voice I had tapped into was not God. Suffice to say, I abandoned the experiment and reverted to more conventional sources of guidance. However, I re-read John Locke’s quote recently, because it coincided with a discovery I made in my spiritual life. Having previously abandoned attempts to hear God from within, I had pursued a new approach. Whenever I needed God’s guidance on any issue, I prayed on it, resisted the temptation of setting a timeline and left the matter with Him. Whereas previously, I would have restlessly scanned thoughts and feelings (interpreting them as messages from God), I now left things well alone.
Through that process, I noticed a curious pattern emerge. If it had been just one instance, I wouldn’t have spotted it, but the number of incidents in quick succession, caught my attention. I discovered that when I left matters alone and stopped straining to hear God, messages arrived effortlessly. They took the form of a gentle inner nudge. There was no sense of urgency and unlike emotions or feelings, they didn’t fluctuate. Although words were rarely used, unsolicited thoughts often dropped into my mind and suddenly, I had complete clarity about my situation.
I later read that Pope John XXIII had a lifelong desire to “know and do God’s will” and when he described his first thought to convene the Second Vatican Council (a hugely significant development in the Roman Catholic Church) he said it was an idea, which literally dropped into his mind. I realised that both John Locke and Pope John XXIII placed an emphasis on the unsolicited thought and this chimed with my experience. Ironically, it was when I had focused hard to hear God’s voice, that I met with failure. However, when I left things alone, profound insights flowed.
This episode taught me a valuable lesson. I realised that when I was trying to hear from God, I was usually in a state of anxiety or stress and I hoped the response would fit neatly within my agenda. This meant my mind was already churning with a multitude of scenarios, and I was incapable of identifying which thought was the product of an overactive imagination and which originated from God. I discovered that if I really wanted to hear from God, I had to simply quieten my mind. This meant I had to silence my own voice, so I could recognise the whisper of the inner voice.