Hearing God and Controlling the Conversation

Posted by on Jan 16, 2012 in Sam | 19 comments

In 1989 the company I worked for was dying; it was losing money like the prodigal son, it had a two-year sales drought, and our owner—though previously successful—was out of cash. The company asked me to demonstrate our software to one of our prospective clients. Actually, our only prospective client. If we didn’t land this deal, we were out of business and I was out of a job.

The night before the demo the client’s consultant Jerry invited me to dinner. He said our competitors bungled their demos by wasting half of the time showing “cool” features that the client didn’t need. And when the client said they weren’t interested in such functionality, our competitors ignored their requests, continuing to show off the coolness of this or that particular feature.

Jerry went on to say that our competitors had failed because they wouldn’t yield control of the conversation to the client. The competitors thought they knew what was needed while only the client knew what was needed. Jerry suggested I begin my demo by asking the client to describe their needs. And then, he suggested, I use the rest of the presentation to show solutions to their needs. I did. They liked it. We got the deal. And I kept my cubicle.

What does demoing software and controlling conversations have to do with hearing God?


During the last several months of 2011, I faced a major decision. Almost every day I asked God for direction. I prayed, I begged for wisdom, I asked friends, I read scripture; and God continued to withhold a direct answer to my question.

This past week I was reading Colossians where Paul prays that we be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9).

I said to God, “that’s what I’m asking for, knowledge of your will.”

And in my heart I felt God say, “No you aren’t.” (Please note that no writing on the wall appeared and no audible voice spoke, but a tug in my heart told me to stop, that somehow, somewhere, something wasn’t right.)

I paused to reflect on what this quickening of my heart might mean, and I realized that I was not actually asking God for his will. Instead, I wanted an answer to “this” question—and this question alone— while God was speaking to me about something completely different. While claiming I wanted his will, I really only wanted his input in the area Ithought was most important. I was ignoring what he knew was most important.

I was controlling the conversation—with God!—by ignoring what he wanted to talk about.

It’s not that God doesn’t want to answer our questions, but our questions often miss the main message he wants to speak. It’s like I ask God which color to paint my closet while he builds me a mansion next door. When I finally listen to God’s answer—which is always grander and more profound that what I’m looking for—then (and only then) will I have the answer for my comparatively tiny question.

While I wrestled with my question these past months, God kept talking about other things, and I felt—though I never said it to myself—but I felt like God was missing the point, he wasn’t answering my question. But he was answering my question by answering a deeper question than I pursued.

And I wasn’t listening, because I was controlling the conversation.

God is always speaking to us, but his answers are almost always deeper and more profound than our simple questions ask.

  • Moses saw a strange bush on fire, and he asked, “What’s that all about?” and God said, “I want you to lead my people out of slavery into freedom.” God’s answer didn’t directly answer Moses’ question.
  • Nicodemus says to Jesus, “You clearly are a man of God,” and Jesus says, “If you want to see the Kingdom of God you need a new life, you have to be born yet again.” Again, a seeming non-sequitor.
  • The woman at the well asks Jesus to “give her this water so she’d never be thirsty again,” and Jesus tells her to go get her husband.

God is always speaking, always offering more than we ask or think. Moses was curious about a scientific anomaly and God gave him a new life mission; Nicodemus wanted a bit of wisdom so he could live a bit better and Jesus offered a whole new righteousness; the woman at the well wanted freedom from a domestic chore and Jesus offered a life of freedom from her relational-addiction.

Not only does the bible include conversationally oriented episodes, it also includes an entire book on the subject. The book of Job has spoken to more people than any book written by any modern author (including C. S. Lewis) and the book of Job has comforted more suffering people than any other book ever written.

And the book of Job concerns who controls the conversation.

The first 29 verses of Job sketch what happens to Job. The next 36chapters paint a picture of people controlling the conversation—Job’s wife and friends and even Job—all asking why God has done this. The best advice given to Job comes from the youngest counselor, who tells Job to stop controlling the conversation, “Listen to this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14).

And when Job finally stands still, God speaks, revealing his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And Job was satisfied, saying, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). And that is all we ever really need.

So God, let’s talk. Uh, you first.

Sam Williamson

© Copyright 2012, Beliefs of the Heart, Ltd. All rights reserved.

19 Responses to “Hearing God and Controlling the Conversation”

  1. Sam,

    That is God and me right now! I need to understand the difference between when Jesus said to knock and keep knocking, and listening to what God is saying. It’s so frustrating.

    • Hi Scott, If not frustrating, at least confusing! But in some ways, I think the key message is one of hope. God IS (IS IS!) speaking to us, and it always is something better than we are thinking about.

      Of course, we need to learn to listen, but God is helping us listen as well.

      Thanks for the comments,


  2. John Moorhead says:

    Thank you, thank you. As I asked God to personalize your words for me, he was so very kind in delivering the truth…”You believe what you have to say is more important than what I do.” It comes from that old thing about shame, and trying to prove myself. I know I am making progress, though, because I am honest about it, and sometimes, sometimes, I actually do wait for him to speak first. I will spend more time in this.

    • Hi John, yes, we all at times think what we have to say is more important (when talking with others as well as when talking with God).

      The hope we have is that God is not shaming us, he is naming us. He is speaking grander words that we imagine. We don’t have to prove ourselves, he has already proven us.

      Yes, easier said than done, but isn’t that a hopeful truth to rest in?



  3. Jim McFarland says:


    Hearing the right conversation is right on. We start conversations and God responds but if we don’t have ears to hear it goes unheeded.

    Our calls are responded to according to the poet Kabir are those who “hear the delicate anklets that ring on the feet of an insect as it walks.”

    Another aspect of Transcendent Pursuit unfolds when men such as yourself and others provide the perspective as Gregg Levoy describes “when our lives feel like record needles, stuck in a groove, unable to move on without first being lifted up……..those who have been there..help us interpret our call experiences, name them, match words to them the way some people can identify birds by thier song”

    For those that have been snake bit by life the right antidote is key for life to go on, such as one man offering the antidote of perspective provided with God’s leading.

    Thanks to all those pursuing and sharing your calling!

    • Hi Jim, thanks for the comment.

      I believe that most of us–men and women–simply don’t believe that God will really speak to us. Yeah, yeah, we talk about it, but we don’t really believe it.

      And yet the reality is that God genuinely wants to speak and wants us to hear.

      For me, at least, the primary obstacle is one of belief; do I really believe he wants to speak to me. When I believe, I begin to look.

      Thanks for the comments,


      • Jim Mcfarland says:


        You are soooo. right. In the past few days of reading and listening clarity is coming. i.e.

        Unbelief is preventing me from seeking 100% of the Spirit’s work in my life.

        I need to live close to the Spirit. How? By remembering what Jesus said.

        When I leave I will send a Helper and when he comes he will convict of sin.

        So I must confess there are areas of my life the Spirit points out and I grieve him by not immediately agreeing and forsaking.

        It’s really been weird lately but recent events lead me to believe that the Spirit is actively thwarting desires of mine that do not honor him.

        It’s like in the past he let me go my own way but now that I am actively caring about pursuing Him, he is actively helping.

        Does this make any sense to you?

        It does to me because of something Augustine said:

        “The soul lives by avoiding what it dies to by desiring”.

  4. This is an outstanding post Sam! You had me hooked with your tie in sentence “What does demoing software and controlling conversations have to do with hearing God?”

    How often do we believe we are asking for the knowledge of His will, and wonder why we don’t hear, when in truth we are controlling the conversation?

    You have given me a new awareness to reflect on when I wrestle with clarity.


    • Hi Jonathan,

      Isn’t it funny how much of “spiritual” life is reflected in “real” life.

      The idea of a bigger word from God is an invitation more than a correction. I believe God wants us to know and experience him more “normally” than we expect.

      Thanks for the comment,


  5. Eric Herrington says:

    God is speaking!!! And even though we can be knuckleheads sometimes, He is a patient, gentle, kind, wise, loving daddy. 🙂

    • Hi Eric,

      Yes, he is patient, gentle, kind, etc. And we need to remember that. Otherwise new insights can cause us to berate ourselves instead of being caught up in the loving invitation.

      Thanks for the reminder.


  6. Christopher says:

    Thanks and blessings to you for this teaching. This is exactly where I am, and where I have been for the past few years.
    I know I am open to hearing God, and do hear from him. So far, my daily life does not seem to reflect what I hear from him – I figure it has been about waiting on him, so my faith & trust will be deepened.
    But I still feel there is something not quite right about my listening.
    This article has me asking, God, am I controlling what the conversation to what I want to hear?

    • Hi Christopher,

      I love your line, “But I still feel there is something not quite right about my listening.”

      That truth is something we all share. The good news is that God keeps speaking to us. In the final analysis, he doesn’t let us control the conversation. He’ll break in and speak the words we most need to hear.

      Thanks for sharing.


  7. Hi Christopher,

    I love your line, “But I still feel there is something not quite right about my listening.”

    That truth is something we all share. The good news is that God keeps speaking to us. In the final analysis, he doesn’t let us control the conversation. He’ll break in and speak the words we most need to hear.

    Thanks for sharing.


  8. Justin Hughes says:

    That’s certainly me these past few days/weeks/months. I’ve been so loud asking God for direction, I’ve not been able to hear Him over the sound of my own voice.
    I need to go find someplace quiet and listen.

    • Hi Justin,

      I like your idea of finding a quiet place to listen. Unfortunately, in a house crowded with family, finding quiet can be like searching for the Holy Grail.

      Here are two things I do when I’m intentionally asking God to begin the conversation:

      1) I start the prayer simply by asking God, “What might you want to say to me?” And then I try to listen to whatever God puts on my heart. I often get distracted, so in those situations I begin to write down what God “might” want to say. As I do that, often (not always but often) one of those items jumps out at me, it stirs my heart. So I pray and meditate on that item. It’s letting God start the conversation.

      2) And sometimes I’ll read scripture (either Psalms, a story, or a New Testament letter). I’ll read slowly, almost out loud, thinking meditatively on what I read. Then often (not always but often) something I read stirs my heart, it jumps out. I stop and meditate, pray, and think about that verse. And the verse comes alive, and I sense God speaking to me–and He is starting the conversation.

      Thanks for your comments.


      • Sam……incredible words to plant in our hears and allow to produce fruit….thanx…en theos….jim

        • Hi Jim,

          Thanks for the word picture, words planted in our hearts. And thanks for that great story you told to all the men at Base Camp. Your story was fascinating and encouraging.


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