I have been a Christian for many years, but I can still think of God as ‘out there’. How can we know his love if he is not physically present to encourage, provide, protect or do all the things good dads do? How can we be sure he won’t abandon us, fail to answer our prayers or even hurt us?

Whether or not we had a good relationship with our earthly father, we all question sometimes if the love of God is real and, if so, how we can experience it?

The Bible is full of descriptions of God’s love and care, such as Zephaniah 3:17, which testifies: “The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.”

This describes many of the qualities of good fatherhood: his protection, affirmation, hands-on love and care, always being available, guiding us and working on our behalf. These are powerful words and we can read how God fulfils them in various Bible stories which show him comforting people and drawing them into heartfelt worship of him as Father.

If it was true then, it must be true now, for Hebrews 13:8 tells us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” So how can God’s love become more real to us?

For me, it began a few years ago when I was reading my Bible. A phrase suddenly dropped into my mind. “Receive the Father’s kiss.”

I sensed God’s longing for me to know him as the Father who is always there, who delights in me and speaks words of affirmation over my life. A Father who loves to transform my mistakes and heal my pain, forgives and sets me free.

Initially I thought, “I’ve known you’re my Father since becoming a Christian.” But I sensed him reply, “You know it in your head, but I long for you to know it in your heart.”

“Lord, can we really experience your love?” I asked him. “Especially those of us who have been hurt by our dads? How can we know you experientially when we cannot even see you?”

God showed me that he created us all with the innate ability to know him, but that he also made each one of us unique, so the ways we experience him vary. He asked me to take time to discover how deep and real his love is and then to write about it so that others could experience it too.

The result of that conversation was a roller coaster four years during which I began to experience God as my father. I wrote about my discoveries and my book, The Father’s Kiss, was published last year.

One thing that really became apparent was how much God loves to be in real relationship with us. We may want to know him more, but that is nothing compared to his desire that we live as his beloved children.

I discovered the importance of listening to his voice above all other voices, so that we might know our true God-given identity. The Holy Spirit is our counsellor and, as Jesus taught us, he takes the very words of God and makes them known to us.

So how do we hear him? The Bible reveals that taking time to reflect on Scripture is key, but that God also speaks to us through the everyday things of our lives: creation, other people’s words and actions, or Spirit-inspired thoughts and pictures. He is a communicative Father, not absent or aggressive like some earthly dads many have known.

One of my first experiences of hearing God came when I was walking up to college one day. I was full of anxiety, induced partly by my struggles with the course and partly by my inner wounds after years of abuse. My route led me through a beautiful landscape which I had barely noticed because of my agitation. As I stomped along, I suddenly had a strong impression that I should take time to drink in the beauty around me. Reluctantly I gazed out over the fields glittering with dew, the majestic trees, the tiny wildflowers, the scudding clouds and soaring birds. As I did so, an amazing thought crystallised within me: “I made all this so you could know that I am good, but none of this is as beautiful to me as you are.”

Me, beautiful? I’d have dismissed it, but I knew I could never imagine such words or the unexpected joy they brought into my heart. God my Father had lovingly affirmed me by encouraging me to look at what was around me. Later, I discovered that Jesus spoke to his friends in a similar way when they were walking through a field. He told them not to worry, but to look at the flowers and birds, and be open to hear the Father’s voice.

Jesus wanted them to know how valuable they were to Father God and to hear that message by reflecting on what was around them. This is a key way of experiencing the Father’s love and every time I make time to stop, look and listen, God enriches me with something precious.

I wonder if you have experienced his voice like this? Shall we try now? Take a few minutes to pause and reflect.

• Read through Matthew 6: 26–30 and reflect on how Jesus encouraged his friends to hear God through creation. Tell him you’d like to hear him like that too.

• What does that word ‘valuable’ say to you?

• Go outside and find something lovely to look at. A landscape, a tiny flower, a leaf, a butterfly… How would you describe it: fragile, majestic, calming, exuberant…? Ask the Lord, “What does this show me about you?”

• Now ask him, “What do you want to say to me through this?”

• Jot down anything that comes to you and thank him for affirming or blessing you.

Hearing God’s voice wonderfully builds up our experience of the Father’s love and is very powerful. I’d heard for years that I was rubbish and hated myself, but then God told me I was beautiful. That word released me to know my true identity as a beloved child of God.

God your Father loves you. It may be he shows you that love through the kindness of a friend, or a prophetic word, through unexpected provision or help … You are his beloved child and I pray you will know the joy and comfort of his love in ever increasing ways.