Reading the Bible should not be mistaken for listening to God. One can read the Bible and not hear God. The discipline of Scripture is not for the sake of memorizing, analyzing, and building a database of information about God. The discipline of Scripture is so that we hear God speak to us through the filter of the Bible. There is a Hebrew word that captures the heart of this, it's shema, and it means 'I am listening with a desire to obey.' The verb was part of the greatest commandment of Scripture, "Listen, Israel the Lord your God is one...." The greatest commandment is the command to listen, to listen for God's voice, to God's character, so that we can participate in God's life.
Here are five tips for moving beyond reading to listening:
1. Select a Translation. The English translation of the Bible, which was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic (OT) and Greek (NT), comes in over 130 English translations alone! Which translation is best for you? In order to be able to listen to God you want the syntax and unfamiliar words to not distract you; and for the meaning and essence to hit your heart. Find a translation you understand. Experts chart the translations out from literal word-for-word translation (more difficult to understand) to more dynamic equivalents, which are more thought-for-thought.
I would place the Message in a category of Poetic equivalents, which make it a good choice for listening. I would recommend, if you're new to the Bible, that you listen to the Message or the Experience. Neither are free and if you want a free option I have listed a link to free audio Bibles.
2. Audio-Bibles. First century believers were “hearers” and not “readers”. They listened to the Word being read in their houses, by riversides, in temple courtyards, synagogues, and in the marketplaces. Listening brings our hearts to focus around central themes and motifs in the Word. Whereas reading tends to result in more tedious and detailed attention to the words, listening leaves us with a big-picture sense of what God is saying and a “feel” for the texture of the Voice. Both disciplines have value and serve different functions. If our purpose is to hear God speak, then the discipline of listening has proven itself as fruitful time and time again. Scriptures repeatedly offer their support for listening--“faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” “He that has ears to hear, let him hear…” “My sheep hear my voice…” “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Here are some good Audio-Bible tools:
3. Chart the timing. Listen to one book of the Bible at a time, in one sitting, this commitment plants your feet firmly on undistracted and hallowed ground. Listening through the parts you don't quite understand or like as they melt into familiar or soothing parts creates a necessary contrast and timing for your soul to hear the crackling of the Voice from the burning bush and absorb the whole moment.
You may need to chart out how much time each book takes. I have included a list of times for the New Testament books:
4. Questions. The movement from reading to listening is also a movement from accumulating answers to articulating questions. Faith discovers its unique beauty in the face of tough questions and not in the cataloging of cliched answers. Scripture listening should stir up questions in you, and questions give life to questing, which in turn is prods us to pray, reflect and meditate. This movement of praying, meditating, and reflecting is the hallowed ground that we most often encounter God in, as we move outside the analytics and academics and allow our hearts to be mystified by God. Here are a few questions to to get you started as you stand in the hallowed space: (1) What do I hear this reading saying to me about the nature of God? (2) What is this revealing about myself? (3) What stood out to me as I listened? What did I continue reflecting on even as the Scriptures continued being read? (4) How should I respond to what I heard today? Is God offering me something? Is God challenging me to think, act or trust?
5. Soliloquy. A soothing harmony of the soul fills the air when your voice blends with the Voice. Mystics and theologians called this discipline, ‘soliloquy.’ The discipline of speaking to yourself, aloud, in the Light of who God is and what God has said. Where we get the best picture of this is with David in the Psalms when he says things like, “Why are you distressed, O my soul? Hope in God!” Or “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” Or when we read things like David "encouraging himself in the Lord." Its the speech-act of talking to oneself, of exposing what was hidden in the soul to what is open to the world. It's a peculiar speech-act wherein one part of part of you speaks to another part of you. As an example, in the Light of hearing, "What can separate us from the love of God? Can..." You may address yourself with these words, "Why do you continue to live so full of hate when God promises you his love? [Your Name], God loves you. You can love yourself. [Your name], I love you, because God loves you."
One old time preacher said, "God has given us two ears and one mouth so that we would know that we should listen twice as much as we talk." The Psalmist in Psalm 40.6 puts it like this, "Ears thou hast dug for me that I might hear you, that is the sacrifice you delight in, the sacrifice of my ears devoted to your Voice." The imagery the poet uses to articulate his thought is a picture of an an artist digging into the clay sculpture, tunneling access into the heart. He uses this imagery to frame the purpose of our ears is so that we can hear God. And its our listening to him that is the pure sacrifice of the heart.