Holly and Glenn Packiam practice life-giving rhythms to experience freedom and abundance as they abide in Christ. In this excerpt from their book, The Intentional Year, Glenn gives guidance on living into a word for the year.
I grew up in a church that believed in hearing the voice of God. I remember sitting in worship services in kids’ church at an early age, listening for God to speak to me. What I heard in my heart wasn’t earth-shattering stuff—just simple phrases like I love you, I am with you, You are my child. But for my eight-year-old self, it was earth-shattering. I needed to know those things.
Holly often felt pressure in church to hear God’s voice, as if it were a booming sound from heaven. People around her seemed to hear God with such confidence and clarity. It left her feeling that because she struggled to hear his voice in a clear and emphatic way, there must be something wrong. Maybe she just wasn’t good at it. Or maybe she was imagining things when she thought she heard a still, small voice whispering to her heart. It wasn’t until her college years that she began to understand how God speaks to us. He works with our minds, feelings, and thoughts, not in some booming voice from heaven. (Though none of us would be opposed to that, either!)
It can be hard to parse out “what’s me” and “what’s God,” but there are a few ways we can find assurance in discerning God’s voice, especially as we listen for a word for the year.
Let’s use this simple working definition: A word for the year is a theme, a phrase, a word, or even a picture that serves as a headline, or banner, over the next season. It should describe what God is doing and how we can join in. It’s not a resolution or a goal. Those are focused on what we do.
A word for the year is a word from God—a sense, a nudge, an awareness of what he is up to and how we can partner with him.
God will reveal himself to us in a variety of ways as we intentionally quiet our hearts and wait on him. We can learn to hear his voice by following a few simple principles.
Take the Posture of a Servant
The boy Samuel awoke to a voice calling his name. Dutifully, he made his way to the room where his master—Eli, the high priest in Israel—slept.
“Here I am!” Samuel called out.
The old man, eyesight dimming and hearing fading, fumbled around to see who was in his room. Huh? What are you doing here? he thought.
“Here I am,” Samuel repeated. “You called me.”
“No I didn’t. Go back to bed,” the old man mumbled.
The boy walked back to bed, confused.
Once again the voice came. Again Samuel went to Eli’s room and announced himself: “Here I am. You called.” And again Eli sent him back, sure the boy was dreaming or sleep-walking or something.
It happened again, a third time. But this time the old priest caught on. Maybe the Lord is speaking to the boy, he thought. He told Samuel to go back to bed, but this time he added, “If the voice calls you again, present yourself to the Lord as a servant standing at the ready.”
So Samuel dutifully returned to his room and waited quietly.
The voice came again. Now Samuel knew what to do. He answered, “Speak. Your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).
There is so much that can be said about what it means to hear the voice of God. There are deep wells from which to draw. The contemplative and charismatic traditions of the Christian faith offer many practices that help. But the starting point for hearing from God is found in this story of Samuel’s call in 1 Samuel 3. The Bible says that prior to this encounter, Samuel “didn’t yet know the Lord” (verse 7). The beginning of his relationship with God was learning to listen. It required taking up a posture of readiness. Before he ever heard God’s message, Samuel was prepared to obey.
Your servant is listening. It may be that those who are unwilling to obey will never hear the command. Or, as the old saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” When our hearts are surrendered, the Lord will speak.
Start with What Scripture Has Already Revealed
Thankfully, we are not starting from scratch. Christians believe in a speaking God. A few lines into the reading the Bible and you discover that God speaks! The God of Scripture is a God of self-disclosure, a God who has chosen to reveal himself to his people. This is not a God who stays afar off and waits for us to chase him. Our God pursues us! In fact, while other religions may be defined by humanity’s search for God, the story of Scripture is of God’s search for us. So, when you want to hear from God, begin with the Bible. Even when we’re asking God to give us a calling, a word for a particular season, the Bible is how God speaks.
If the Holy Spirit is a painter and our hearts are the canvas on which he paints a vision for this season, the Bible is the palette of colors.
If you are well-versed in Scripture, you’re giving the Spirit more colors to paint with. In a way, hearing those simple phrases from God when I was a child makes sense, because those were the things I knew from the Bible: God so loved the world (John 3:15). I am with you always, even until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26). Though, the older we get, the more convinced we become that it’s these foundational things that remain for a reason.
What does it look like to start with Scripture when listening for a word for the year? Maybe you could pray through the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Does the Lord want this to be a year of joy? Or peace? Or faithfulness? Maybe it’s a year of self-control or gentleness.
Another place to begin could be with a few of the times the New Testament explicitly calls something “the will of God” for us. “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (CEB) says. Maybe this is the year of gratitude for you. Earlier in that same letter, Paul says, “God’s will is that your lives are dedicated to him. This means that you stay away from sexual immorality and learn how to control your own body in a pure and respectable way” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, CEB). Perhaps you can pray about this being a year of consecration to the Lord in a more serious way, or a year to focus on purity in your thoughts and actions. Or maybe as Peter wrote, this is the year to just stay consistent since it is “God’s will that by doing good you will silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15b, CEB).
Holly Packiam holds a Master’s Degree in counseling from the University of Colorado. She is Pastor of Parenting Ministry at New Life Downtown, in Colorado Springs. She educates their children at home.
Glenn Packiam is an author, speaker, and associate senior pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the lead pastor of New Life Downtown, a congregation of New Life Church. Glenn earned a Doctorate in Theology and Ministry from Durham University in the UK and is a senior fellow at Barna Group as well as an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary.
Taken from The Intentional Year: Simple Rhythms for Finding Freedom, Peace, and Purpose by Holly & Glenn Packiam © 2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Adapted from The Intentional Year by Glenn Packiam and Holly Packiam. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.