One thing we all crave is to hear the voice of God. Whether we want to hear God speaking to us because we want to know that we matter to Him or because we are seeking direction in our lives we all want to listen to God speaking to us. As those contemplating the call to go to the nations, we wonder if that is God’s will for us. Others do know that God has called them to be message bearers, but they are asking where to go. Still other message bearers are already on the field, and they want to know that when language learning is difficult and culture mistakes have been made that God still knows right where they are, He hasn’t forgotten, we aren’t off track, and He still has a plan for us in that place.
When we think of receiving direction from the Lord, most people think this is just a feeling, sense or impression that we should do something in particular. But few of us think we ever hear God speaking to us in specific instances. For some reason, most people think that if they haven’t heard the audible voice of God then they haven’t heard God speak. Sometimes God speaks to non-Christians to turn their hearts toward Him or reveal something important, but as children of God we are His sheep and He promises that we will know and can hear His voice. (John 10:1-5) God speaking to us isn’t only just a general sense of knowing, but also a specific instance of hearing specific words. What does His voice sound like? How can I learn to hear His voice? If the Lord is speaking to me, then why don’t I hear Him?
First Steps: Learning to Recognize His Voice
have to learn the ways God speaks. The Lord loves us and wants to speak to us but because we don’t know what it sounds like we often miss it. Growing up, often I would go on walks through our farm with my dad. Dad would hear a bird call and he would call back to it. They would go back and forth chattering to one another, but I was unable to enter into the dialogue because I hadn’t learned the language. I didn’t even know what to listen for out in nature much less how to communicate back again. Sure, I had heard the birds chirping before but it had all sounded the same because I couldn’t distinguish distinct bird calls. In the same way, we may hear the words that God is speaking but because we aren’t trained to recognize His voice we just think of it as the same things we have always heard. The God of the universe wants to speak to us, but we can’t enter into dialogue with Him unless we are able to hear and understand what He is saying.
Training Our Ears to Hear
After we have learned to recognize God’s voice, we must train ourselves in listening for Him to speak. Sometimes we realize that we can hear God’s voice, but we don’t actively engage with God ask Him questions and listen for His response. We have to practice listening, discerning, and responding. It is just like playing sports. If one wants to be a good basketball player, it takes more than just learning how to shoot the ball. We have to practice shooting, practice defense, and listen to our teammates. We can’t just tell ourselves that once we have learned to hear the voice of God that that is enough. We have to be able to distinguish His voice in times of stress, chaos, and transition when many things are clamoring for our attention. By having listened intently repeated times when it is not stressful, we are more able to discern the Lord speaking to us when there is a crisis in our lives.
Our Response: Obedience vs. Disobedience
Finally, hearing God’s voice is based on our response. In those times we do hear the Lord speaking to us, our responsibility is to obey quickly. Our lack of obedience will bring with it an inability to discern God speaking in the future. Disobedience to the Lord has severe consequences. Repeatedly throughout Scripture we see those who disobey being cut off if they don’t quickly repent. In the church today, a seeming lack of respect for obedience to the Lord has become the norm. Once the Lord tells us something, we are not free to then do whatever we want. The Lord requires obedience.
Saul is a classic example of the consequences of disobedience. While Saul had several cases of disobedience, his most poignant example is in 1 Samuel 15. The Lord speaks to Saul through Samuel the prophet telling him to utterly destroy the Amalekites, killing both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. Upon receiving this word from the Lord, Saul goes to attack the Amalekites and the Israelites rout a huge victory by the Lord’s hand. However, Saul spares Agag the king and the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, lambs, and all that was good. (v. 9) Samuel comes to Saul and confronts him saying, “Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord?” And Saul responds saying that he did obey the voice of the Lord and utterly destroyed the Amalekites and has brought an offering to sacrifice to the Lord. But Samuel says, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice … Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” (v.22-23) The Lord’s verdict may seem harsh, but Saul’s repeated acts of disobedience showed the Lord that Saul’s heart was no longer turned toward the Lord.
As we read this story of Saul, we may say that this doesn’t apply to us because we aren’t kings, we don’t have prophets speaking the word of the Lord to us, and we sure aren’t offering up oxen as burnt offerings. However, Saul’s actions can and often do look a lot like ours when it comes to responding to the voice of the Lord. Saul began with small acts of disobedience. When the Lord asks us to do something, no matter how small, we must quickly respond in obedience. Sometimes it is easy to rationalize that God would never really want me to do that He must have meant for me to do this.
Other times, we think that the Lord said one thing but according to our limited understanding we think something else would bring Him more glory so we alter His commands ever so slightly. God doesn’t want partial obedience because that means that our hearts are only partially surrendered to Him. When we disobey, we are saying yes to that part of us that hasn’t been submitted to Christ. As we do this, more of our hearts turn away from God rather than toward Him. Choosing disobedience means that we also choose to turn away from God. The more we turn away then the less He is able to speak to us. He wants everything and that requires wholehearted complete obedience. (1 Samuel 16:14; 18:12-15; 28: 5-6)
The Lord will continue to speak to those who respond with obedient hearts of love. God is not so naïve as to think that we will never mess up. Of course there will be times that we don’t get it right or we disobey what we know to be true. The test of our relationship with God is what we do with our disobedience. David is a stunning example of what our relationship with God can look like if our heart is fixed on God. David had his own rather large blunders throughout his life. Let’s imagine the pastor of our church being someone who had committed adultery, murder – pre-meditated at that, had sinned in taking a census of the congregation which he wasn’t supposed to do and had brought a plague upon the congregation, and yet still had an intimate and powerful relationship with the Lord. I doubt this guy would still be the pastor, but God had made David king and no man would undermine God’s plan. God loved intimacy with David because he quickly repented when he knew he had sinned. (Ps. 40:6-8; Ps 51; 2 Sam. 12:13, 1-15; 2 Sam. 24: 10-14)
Our Perspective Changes Our Response
David also knew his identity in Christ – not just as a child of God but as one who loved God and God loved him. David loved the Lord and he knew that God loved him so he ran into the arms of the Almighty, confessing his sin, embracing the consequences, but not letting that disrupt his relationship with his Father. When we think that someone doesn’t like us much less love us, we often don’t understand what they are saying because we are convinced of our own assumptions. We hear what they are saying, but we twist the meaning, even unknowingly at times, into something they never even said. We need to search our hearts because if we don’t think God loves us and likes us then we will never truly hear what He is saying to us. His words will be twisted in our own heads. God is crazy about you! He thinks you are the best thing since sliced bread! But it is not enough to know in our minds that God loves us, we have to be convinced at a heart level that God loves us.
Marriage is a beautiful picture of our relationship with the Lord. Before I married my husband, I had had many friends some who have stuck with me through thick and thin. However, none of them had seen me every day, good days and bad days, had put up with my moods, irritations, highs and lows. My husband is not perfect and neither am I, but we love each other. I know that when I have done something wrong, a list too long to enumerate, I can go to him because my identity in our relationship is as one who loves my husband and I know he loves me. In the same way, Christ invites us as His bride to come to Him, knowing we are loved and we love Him.
What Will Our Response Be?
Before we learn about how the Lord actually speaks to us, let us prepare our hearts to hear from the Lord. Are you ready to put in the time necessary to not just hear God’s voice but train your heart to listen for Him speaking day in and day out through the myriad of mindless daily tasks? Are you willing to give your “yes” to Him for whatever He says with wholeheartedness, not just to the easy part? What choice are you going to make when those times of disobedience come? Will you choose to get down on yourself and think that obedience is just not possible? Will you choose partial obedience which isn’t what God is asking of you? Or will you choose to run to the God who loves you so much that His arms are open wide and waiting for His precious child to come and rest in Him? Do you believe the Lord is crazy about you? Do you know that He thinks you are unique and special? Will you trust Him to hold you and love you in the midst of your pain?
The God of the universe, the Lord of all creation, our Savior and Redeemer has His heart set on speaking to you. He wants to tell you of the healing that He has for your past wounds. He wants to speak to you about your future and direction. He wants to give you hope and courage to face the difficulties that are before you. He wants to set you free from those things that hold you back from embracing all of the life that He has for you. Do you want to hear Him speak? He is waiting on you.
In the next part of this article, we will discuss the ways that God does speak, how to practically recognize God’s voice as He is speaking, and how to be purposeful in hearing and responding to the Lord’s voice.