This week's question comes from Rich who writes, "God spoke directly to several people in the Bible. . . . Why don't I hear the Holy Spirit in audible voices? . . . My conversations with God are not what I want. I want something more tangible."
In answering this question we have to deal with two different issues: (1) How people hear God; and (2) getting what we want.
In the Bible we read of God talking to people. According to Genesis 3.8-9, God strolled through Eden with Adam and Eve and conversed with them, apparently in their presence. Abraham seems to have a face-to-face conversation with God in Genesis 18.22. Moses spoke with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19.20-21). And in the New Testament we read of "a voice from heaven", presumably God, speaking to the disciples (Mark 9.7) and another time speaking to Jesus (Matthew 3.17). Jesus spoke to Paul from the eternal realm in Acts 9.4-5. And John had a lengthy vision in which he heard God speak in the book of Revelation. It would seem that audible conversations with God have been a frequent occurrence over the years.
However, those who "spoke and heard from God" in the Bible were the exception, not the rule. It's easy to see this, especially when we do the math: the number of years recorded in the Bible to the present total about 5,000 years. Divide this by the number of people in the Bible who had verbal contacts with God (less than 100). The answer indicates God is verbal to less than one person every 50 years. The numbers become quite fantastic when we contemplate the number of people on earth in any given year (let alone in any given 50 years). Today the ratio would be 1:5,880,000,000. So, if you're not "hearing" from God with your ears, don't feel bad. God seems to verbally communicate quite rarely and few claim to have ever "heard" God's voice with their ears.
In the psalms we read even in biblical times people felt out-of-touch with God and yearned to hear God's voice (Psalm 22; 102). Wanting more "proof" of God and feeling a need to "know" God is normal -- look at Thomas who refused to believe in the resurrection until he saw Jesus' wounds (John 20.25). The reality is few, very few, people ever experience the literal voice of God. God seems to reserve that for times when God has something to say to us, not just because someone desired it.
Which brings us to the question of getting what we want. Just because we want something doesn't mean we're going to get it. Christianity is not about getting what we want. Instead it's about sharing what we have. Jesus once said, "Seek first the things of God's kingdom, and all these things [our needs] will be given to you" (Matthew 6.33 para). "Hearing" God isn't one of God's promises nor one of our "needs." It would be nice, but. . . .
So, can we ever hear God? According to the mystics and to those who devote themselves to prayer, yes we can, but God is heard from within. This is done through prayer and meditation. There is a tendency with those who pray to "say their prayers" and then to get on with the rest of their day. But for those who want to hear God they must be willing to listen. And listening involves waiting and silence. The early church mystics suggested that silent meditation was synonymous with worship and that we ought not ever expect God to speak to us. Instead, we should willingly devout our silence as a gift to God. And if perchance God did speak to our hearts, then we should be gratified, if not a little surprised.
For those who truly want to pursue the practice of prayer and meditation, The Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius of Loyola and Imagery for Preaching by Patricia Wilson-Kastner both contain exercises to enhance the experience and to usher in God's promised presence (both are available from Amazon Books). And perhaps in your silent meditations God will speak.
If we really want to hear God, we have to listen. And to listen there must be silence. The only question is, are we willing to do what it takes, and are we willing to take the time, to listen?