Hearing God in our Emptiness

The angriest emails I’ve ever received were responses to my articles about self-love and self-esteem. And yet . . . yet I remain convinced that the greatest obstacle to hearing God lies in precisely our self-love and self-esteem.

Hearing God in our emptiness

Most of us unconsciously believe that God speaks only to those who are mature and pure.

To cover our inadequacies, we jury-rig our hearts with positive self-talk like, “I’m a good chap” and “I really feel bad about what I did.” Or else we excuse our failures with, “I was deeply wounded as a child” and “If you had a spouse like mine, you’d understand.”

We disguise our shortcomings because our thinking is distorted: we believe God is attracted to the spiritually successful. So we scurry for good feelings about ourselves and we explain away our faults.

The trouble is, positive self-talk forms barriers to hearing God: he loves the broken-hearted.

Who are God’s constant conversation partners?

Who does God tell us he loves to talk with?

  • My sheep [the dumbest of livestock] hear my voice. (John 10:27)
  • I didn’t come to those who think they are well but to those who know they are sick. (Luke 5:31 paraphrased)
  • The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18)
  • Walk humbly in the company of our God. (Mic. 6:8)
  • I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children. (Luke 10:21)

When we forget the gospel, our spiritual hearing takes a vacation: God can make the littlest of us great, but he can’t use the greatest among us until we become little.

Who does God find attractive?

Each culture and every age devises its own attributes of attraction. Feudal societies adored daring knights and Victorian England loved demure “domesticated” women.

Hollywood drives today’s desirability: its women are blond, skinny, and big-busted and its men are cool, suave-talking, and sport the day-old beard. But the waists are liposuctioned, the busts are silicone, and the savvy quips are read from scripts.

It’s all fake, bluster, and swagger; even the casual beards require makeup-artist-scheming to make them look unplanned. The details of attraction rise and fall with the tides of time.

Except one: God has always been attracted to the humble.

The Imitation of Christ

The almost six-hundred year-old Imitation of Christ has recently captivated me. I read it slowly in 2014 and I’m re-reading it even slower this year. Three weeks ago I began the chapter called Self-Abasement in the Sight of God, and I can’t get past the first page. It starts simply:

I will speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. (Book III, chapter 8)

His total poverty, lack of pretentions, and utter emptiness, they move me. He approaches God with complete humility, nothing to offer, no self-justification, and no excuses. He asks to converse with God on the basis of God’s great mercy alone. He continues,

If I abase myself, if I humble myself to nothingness, if I shrink from all self-esteem and account myself as dust, Your grace will favor me.

The God of Scripture is attracted to the humble, and it is the humble he loves to raise up. That’s why Jesus invites the broken-hearted: “Come to me all who are weak and heavy-burdened.” Thomas à Kempis continues,

“If You look upon me for an instant, I am at once made strong and filled with new joy.”

Jesus didn’t come to us astride a war horse, the high and mighty son of Caesar; he came riding a donkey, the meek and lowly son of a poor tradesman. Why would we come to him any different?

We can approach God full and walk away empty; or we approach him empty—no excuses and no self-esteem—and walk away full.



The idea of hearing God is core to every human heart. Please consider buying Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere. It will be released in mid-July by Kregel Publications.

I believe it will help you begin to hear God in a new conversational relationship.

Please consider pre-ordering the book now by Latest March 22 2016clicking on one of these links or on the book cover.

Topics include:

  • Learning to recognize the sound of God’s voice
  • Hearing God in his silence
  • How to Brainstorm with God
  • Hearing God in Scripture
  • Hearing God for guidance

Wayne Jacobson, pastor and author of He Loves Me and Finding Church, said this:

If you want to grow in your ability to recognize how God makes himself known to you, I can’t recommend a better guide than Sam Williamson’s Hearing God in Conversation.

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What do YOU think?

22 thoughts on “Hearing God in our Emptiness

  1. Thanks for letting God speak the truth through you against popular opinion Your last line spoke to me from where I’m at and how I’ve been practising to “see” where I should be.
    I recently had an mri and as I lay in that claustrophobic tunnel, I started to speak spiritual panic talk to God. After awhile I ran out of “blah, blah, blah” and sensed God saying, “Shut up and be still.” What a relief.

  2. Good Morning Brother.

    The Lord certainly has a way of driving home a message. In the last 2 days, My Utmost for His Highest Dec. 9, 10, 11 (yes I’m behind); The Pursuit of God, chapter 8 especially the prayer at the end. (found here: http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/tozer/5f00.0888/5f00.0888.08.htm); and now your post.

    Nothing relays the Love of God to us more than when we know He is speaking to us directly and personally. Now to the listening and obeying part – Joshua 1:8. I’m feeling ultra blessed and loved.

    PS: The Imitation of Christ is $2 for kindle and only $2.99 on Audible.com if you get the kindle edition first. Can’t wait to read and listen.

    I appreciate you Sam. Love and blessings from the Southwest.

    • Hey Russ,

      Great suggestion on the pricing for Imitation. I haven’t heard it on Audible, though I use them for other Books on Tape.

      Love and blessings back from the Midwest (though, to be honest, Michigan more like the upper-western-part-of-the-East)

      • Actually the link above is to Chapter 8 of Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God” with the prayer we both loved so much at the end. The entire book is at that link to read for free. Just use the previous/next links at the bottom to navigate. My post is here http://ummov.org/self-self-self/ and thank you Sam for the mention, and visiting, and moreover all you do brother… 🙂

        Here’s something curious about our geography. I think we’re colder down here, than you are up there and it’s December 15th. Bet that almost never happens.


  3. I love my church and my volunteer work for a Christian organization. After reading this blog, I was reminded that I have no “bonus points” when it comes to talking with God. This is a great reminder to seek God in humility. Thank you!

  4. Sam you’ve highlighted something I needed to hear. I have read numerous articles on how we need to listen for God’s voice. For prayer, I have been told to eliminate distractions, allow time and not be rushed, stop asking for things, and just spend time listening. All those things are good, but the one distraction that is rarely addressed is that subtle voice of our pride and ego. Being humble and emptied, or even broken in some way, might be good conditions for hearing God, or at last hearing him better. But even being poor in spirit, contrite, and lowly might not work if we concentrate on those things instead of God.

    This subject reminds me of scriptural accounts of the Phairisees. I know they are good to read about, not so much to know what I do not want to become like, but to know what I already am like.


  5. I wonder if we resist taking responsibility for our shortcomings because it frustrates our pursuit of glory. Ever since the fall we’ve been imitating Satan instead of God by trying to steal the glory of God. We want to be glorious – we are convinced that it will make us happy. We recognize that our faults make us un-glorious, so we make it the fault of others and thus try to eliminate the original sin. As you’ve said many times in your blog, true humility is refocusing on Jesus, making Him the center. Self-esteem is the sinful replacement of redemption, because who we are in Christ is so amazing that it leaves self-esteem behind in the dust. When we glorify Him, only then will we be glorious.

    • Havs,

      Beautiful and well spoken.

      Many Christian thinkers (good ones!) say that the real sin in the Garden was us trying to be God. The self-esteem and self-love movements are thinly disguised versions of the same problem.

      We are meant to receive our dignity and glory from God alone; not from our claims. God delights to pour his glory into us, but we must come empty of our own self-glory in order to receive it.

      It is true that we are meant for glory. Yes! That is why people strive for it. But we are only meant to get it in a relationship with God who pours it into us.

      Anything else is idolatry.

  6. Another good word, Sam. No room for God in my life if I’m too full of myself – but my self talk ranges from “What a kind, compassionate, humble servant you are!” to “You undisciplined worm you turned out to be!” I’m almost as likely to find fault as to find glory. And I think the key is, as Annie sensed, is to shut up and be still.
    In an Ann Voskamp devotional she talked about hearing the frogs croak in the pond, and how when you’re thrashing around, they just go silent. Only when you stop, be still, and listen will the amazing chorus begin. And that goes for our self talk, both good and bad. Knock it off, listen to the Father.

    • Hi Lyman,

      Thanks for reminding us of that “voice” of self-condemnation. I find it comes from two sources: Satan is the accuser (thus the condemnation), and … sometimes I almost use it as a self-justification to God: “Look God how bad I feel about myself … surely you’ve got to listen to me now.”

      Alas! We play such tricks with ourselves.