The Listening Matrix
Dr. James Emery White
- 2018 Jul 23
I wish for you one of the most important skill sets any follower of Christ can develop. It’s a listening matrix—a simple but effective set of pursuits that you can take into your life and use to cultivate a sensitive hearing for the voice of God. You know most of these pursuits, I’m sure, but perhaps haven’t brought them together to hear a Word from God and experience His lead.
It begins with the Bible. If you want to know what God says to you about something, go to what He has already said about it; that means the Bible. Because that’s what the Bible is—God’s word to you and your life. His revelation. The word revelation comes from the Latin word revelatio, which means to “draw back the curtain.” Think of the stage of a theater: only when the curtain is drawn back can we see what lies behind and the story to be told.
The authors of the Bible contend that their writings contain God’s personal revelation about Himself as well as the truth about Him that could not otherwise be known. As such, the Bible really is God’s Word reaching out toward us, informing us and connecting with us about the deepest of truths. If you want to hear the voice of God, go to the archive of recordings He has made for you.
If that doesn’t give you what you need, or you need some help discerning what the Bible is saying, go to people who walk with God who will share from the overflow of their life and their experiences studying His word. This is the second part of the matrix: godly counsel.
Now let me tell you what I mean by “godly.” These are people who walk with God, who have immersed themselves in His Scriptures and who have lived long enough to have their knowledge and experience come together to form a very rare commodity in our day: wisdom.
Today we have information overload. We are inundated with facts and figures, images and opinions. But what many don’t have is wisdom. That is because wisdom takes time. It isn’t something you can google. Which is why we need mentors—people whom God can speak through. What these people have to say may not be a direct word from God, we all know that. But if you go to someone who is intimate with God, who has walked with God for many years, who has devoted himself or herself to the Scriptures, whose life is a testimony to the authenticity between those Scriptures and their life – someone who will not just tell you what you want to hear, but will truly give you their best, most heartfelt, prayed-up counsel – then God can use them to speak to you.
In fact, the Bible encourages seeking godly counsel. Notice what a strong theme it is in the great wisdom book of the Bible – Proverbs – alone:
The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. (12:15)
He who walks with the wise grows wise. (13:20)
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (15:22)
Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. (19:20)
Make plans by seeking advice. (20:18)
So seek out people who can be your mentors. And I do mean seek them out. The tendency among many is to think that people like this don’t exist. A cynicism builds inside them from the lack of integrity they’ve seen among fallen heroes, both political and spiritual. So they think everyone is a phony or, at least, unavailable to offer advice.
You know what I’ve found? We have a generation of young people desperate for mentors and counselors, and a generation of older people eager to pour into the lives of the young. The young feel the older don’t care or don’t have the time; the older feel the young aren’t interested in anything they might have to offer.
So a young woman, desperate for an older woman to talk with about life, relationships, marriage, child rearing or prayer sits alone; and the older woman, rich with wisdom and maturity, insight and experience, sits alone. All when both would like to be sitting together.
The third part of the listening matrix has to do with prayer. Here we need to attend to the observation that Moses and God talked as two people face to face, as friends. It’s easy to reduce prayer to talking at God, instead of talking with God. Most of us think of prayer as one-way communication. We have something to say, and we want God to listen, to hear, to respond. What we don’t think about is prayer being a two-way conversation. But it is. Prayer is about conversation, communication and communion with the living God. It’s entering into a dialogue with Him.
How does that happen? As mentioned, usually quietly, through our spirits, in a still, small voice that is often like an impression or a sense. When we pray, we focus our thoughts on God and, when we do that, we get in tune with all that He is and all that He might want to say to us. Prayer might be considered the way we tune into His broadcast frequency.
When I quiet myself and begin to pray (not just talk, but silently reflect on God and all that He is and has done), I gain clarity—insight into life that comes by no other way. I gain crystal-clear impressions of God’s leading, God’s wisdom, God’s direction. I get a perspective that is informed by God and His perspective.
This is the idea behind the words to the song recorded in the 46th Psalm: “Be quiet and know that I am God” (10). The words “be quiet” mean “to let go; cease; stand still.” That means stopping long enough to focus in on God and hearing what it is He might be saying. Or, as another psalm puts it, “I pray… and wait for what he’ll say and do” (Psalm 130:5).
James Emery White
James Emery White, A Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.