4In the last article we discussed important considerations before we can hear God speaking to us – recognizing His voice, training our ears to listen, and choosing our response. The Lord desires to speak with us and have intimate fellowship, but without recognizing His voice or training ourselves to listen we could miss Him every time. Relationship and conversation with God is purposeful and deliberate. We will not be any closer to God when we die than when we met Christ if we don’t engage with Him.
Learning to hear His voice and responding is a huge part of learning to engage with Christ at a personal level. If we can practice sitting in His presence and listening to Him, then walking through life with Christ will become much easier because we have learned the difficult part first.
How does God speak to us? We will look at a variety of ways God can speak to us both biblically and from my own personal walk with God. We will see that rarely throughout the course of Scripture does God ever talk audibly to His children. More often God uses various means to keep us in line with Him.
When we do think we hear God’s voice, it is important to test what we have heard. Sometimes we can wake up thinking we had a dream from God when it was just the result of circumstances from the day before. Testing it will keep us from making mistakes or wrong decisions based on what we “thought” we heard. Finally, all of this is just head knowledge if we don’t practice it on a daily basis. The more we listen and test it and even make mistakes, the more we will understand what is really God versus what are the other competing voices that are not Him at all.
Ways that God Speaks
Out of the multitude of ways that God speaks most of us first think of the audible voice of God thundering down from above. Believe it or not, it is rare for God Himself to speak audibly to His children. After Adam and Eve who took strolls in the garden with God, Moses was one of the lucky ones. Not only did Moses hear the voice of God, the Lord describes His relationship with Moses with these words, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the LORD.” (Numbers 12:6-8)
Here, even the Lord Himself declares that He rarely speaks even to prophets in an audible voice. But Moses heard the voice of God, spoke with God face to face, clearly understood what the Lord said, and had even seen the form of God. Moses’ relationship and communication with the Lord was unique. No one else in the Bible is referred to in this way as to hearing the voice of God.
Other biblical examples of people hearing the audible voice of God include Samuel, Paul, Jesus and others. It is hard to say how many or which of the prophets heard God speaking to them audibly as it is often not clear from Scripture.
As a young child, Samuel hears God speaking to him while he is sleeping. (1 Samuel 3:1-14) Paul on the road to Damascus has an encounter with the Lord during which even the men around him heard the voice speaking to Paul. (Acts 9:3-7) The other very notable exception of the audible voice of God in Scripture is when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22)
Sometimes it is easy to think that unless God puts His message to me in neon lights that I’m not going to get it. Though sometimes God will make Himself very clear to us so that it might as well have been in neon lights, He doesn’t always.
If every time we needed direction, God had our pastor come to us and say, “God says, ‘Turn right.’” Then we would begin to look to our pastor or whatever else made getting direction easy rather than doing the hard work of developing our relationship with God Himself. He is jealous over us and He wants to have a deep and intimate walk with us.
Small Quiet Voice
I love the story of Elijah, who was a major prophet who clearly heard God speaking to him, but still he had come to a point where he was ready to give up. After just finishing a massive showdown with 450 prophets of Baal as well as King Ahab, Elijah runs for his life and ends up in a cave ready to die. But the Lord sustains him and calls him out in order to speak to him. The Lord sends a great wind like a tornado breaking rocks into pieces, an earthquake, a fire, and finally a still small or whispering voice.
Even the prophets who we would think have it all together have bad days sometimes. God didn’t reveal Himself as He had to Moses with spectacular displays of power, but He comes in gentleness, speaking quietly to Elijah’s heart. It will not always be the spectacular like an audible voice or angels visiting us, but God does want to speak to us.
Now, let’s look at some other biblical examples of hearing God’s voice. Paul had several visions that are recorded throughout the book of Acts as did Peter. Peter’s vision regarding what is “clean” and “unclean” is paramount to Peter’s ministry and focus over the course of his life. (Acts 10:9-16) Paul’s first vision recorded in Acts 16:6-10 calls Paul to go to a specific place, Macedonia.
Though Paul was imprisoned there, he knew that God had called him to go to that place and minister there. Paul’s second vision, Acts 18:9-10, is a vision at night where God encourages him to do what He has called him to do and He will protect him.
Another way God speaks is through dreams which God Himself referred to when speaking about Moses. Many dreams are recorded throughout Scripture, but a few examples can be taken from the life of Joseph. Early in Joseph’s life, he has two dreams about things to come. He dreams of sheaves of wheat, each of the brothers having one sheaf, and the brothers’ sheaves bow down to Joseph’s sheaf. His second dream was about the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to him. (Genesis 37:6-9) Unwisely, Joseph shares these dreams with his brothers, making the brothers mad. However, God uses Joseph’s unwise decision to get him to Egypt.
Sometimes when God speaks to us we need to write it down and sit on it for awhile, and other times we need to share it. The key is to ask the Lord what to do with what we have heard. Many other dreams are recorded throughout the Bible, and each time the Lord desires to speak to the one with the dream.
While it is not an everyday occurrence, the Lord does speak through angels. In Luke 1:28, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary to announce the Lord’s birth through Mary. We also see angels in the Old Testament. When Sarah deals harshly with Hagar and makes her leave, the Angel of the Lord visits Hagar in the wilderness. (Genesis 16:7-12) Though this is not common, angelic visitations are a special way God uses to deliver very important messages to His children.
Another way God speaks to us is through prophets. A prophet is one who delivers a message from the Lord. One example of a prophet delivering a message is when Nathan the prophet confronts David about his escapade with Bathsheba and having Uriah killed. (2 Samuel 12:1-15) Sometimes the message the prophet delivers is not easy to hear, especially when he is confronting sin in our lives. Other times, the message is one of hope and vision for the future.
Samuel is commissioned by the Lord to go to the house of Jesse to anoint one of Jesse’s sons king over Israel. (1 Samuel 16:1-13) David accepted both of these prophets into his life and responded in obedience to both messages. Once again the issue of response becomes the key to hearing the Lord speaking to us. The idea of a prophet may not be as common to some of us today. But I’m sure many of us including myself have had friends who have come up to us and spoken truth, powerful, pointed, and right to the heart. We must choose like David how we will respond to this truth.
Another way to listen to the Lord speaking to us is through confirmation. Gideon had the Angel of the Lord visit him and commission him to defeat the Midianites. After tearing down the altar of Baal, Gideon sees the Midianites and Amalekites rise against him. He wants to confirm that the Lord is with him, and he has heard the Lord correctly so he puts out a fleece. He asks God to make the fleece wet with dew and the ground dry all around it. And the Lord does it. But Gideon needs one more confirmation as the task before him is great. Gideon asks the Lord to make the fleece dry and the ground wet. And the Lord grants his request. If we are unsure concerning what we heard the Lord say, we can ask God to confirm His word to us.
A few other ways that the Lord can speak to us are through Scripture, circumstances, and media. Often times I will be reading the Scriptures in the morning, and one verse or phrase will jump off the page. I will meditate on the verse or phrase and ask the Lord how it relates to me. Sometimes circumstances can be how God speaks to us.
Common in Christian culture these days is the philosophy of closed doors being God saying “no” and open doors being God saying “yes.” However, this is not always accurate. Sometimes there is an open door or closed door, but the Lord is testing us. If the door is open, God might want us to stay where we are and if the door is closed He might be testing us to see if we will fight to open it.
Be wary of always just going with what seems apparent. If God has called you to go overseas to the unreached and funds don’t seem to be coming in, He is not meaning that as a closed door. He might be testing you to see if you will believe Him even in hard circumstances and have faith even when you don’t see how it can work.
Finally, God can speak to us when we are reading books and a theme or word is highlighted for us. We can also hear God as we are watching movies or on the internet. God is speaking if we are only tuned in to hear Him.
Testing What We Hear
At times, it can be difficult to discern whether or not it is God speaking to us or just our flesh. I might get confused if I really want something, regarding whether God is saying that it is okay and good or just my flesh saying that. I suggest three ways for answering this dilemma: prayer, Scripture, and confirmation.
First, take whatever you have heard from God and pray it back to Him. If you are seeking direction or asking the Lord about something specific, it is wise to pray it back. Lord, this is what I thought I heard you say. See if you sense the Lord’s peace on the matter or if something just doesn’t seem right. The peace of God in your heart is very important.
Paul writes, “Let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Even if God is calling you to do something very hard, you will have His peace if He is the One who is calling you to do it.
Second, take whatever you heard from God and test it against Scripture. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 reads, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” How do we test what we have heard? We hold it up against the whole counsel of God’s word. Does what you heard line up with God’s moral standards? Does it call you to do something that is clearly prohibited in the Bible? Does it call you further into relationship with Jesus? God’s words to us will never lead us away from Himself. Everything He speaks to us is to draw us ever closer to His heart.
Third, a wise practice is to seek confirmation. Confirmation can take many forms. You can seek wise counsel from a spiritual leader that you trust. You can ask God to confirm His word as He did to Gideon by laying out a fleece of some kind, not necessarily a literal fleece. You can listen for God’s confirmation – you might hear the same words come up in a sermon, then a book, then song you hear. If you keep hearing the same thing over and over again, take the hint and do what God’s telling you if it passes the first two tests.
First, hearing God speak takes practice. We won’t always get it right, but the more we practice the more we will know the sound of His voice. We can be confident that we can hear His voice because His sheep hear His voice. (John 10:1-5) The hard part is that not everything we hear is God speaking to us.
We need to take time to tune in. Tuning in means creating space for God to speak. Find a quiet space. Tuning in also means that we have to tune other stuff out. It is a lot harder to hear God speak when the TV is on, the stereo is blaring, and you are sitting at your computer. Once it is quiet, I find myself thinking of a million things that I need to do. So I keep a pad of paper near and just write them down as they come to me so I will remember to take care of them later.
Tell God that you want to hear His voice. If there is something specific you want direction on or help with, then tell Him. Then comes the hardest part, wait. Not wait for a minute, though He could speak just that quick. Often, however, it takes many minutes, days of bringing it back to Him and continuing to listen.
It isn’t just listening when you have quiet time, but throughout the course of your day. I know this seems odd, but I have had some of my most profound moments with God while doing my hair. I just stand there and listen, and He speaks.
Finally, remember that your response is a key part of the conversation. If God asks you to do something, and you don’t, then that’s disobedience. If you do disobey, run to the arms of the Father in repentance. Don’t cling to your hard heart or your own way. Do it His way and do it fast. The longer we take to run to Him, the harder it becomes. Choose to listen; choose to wait; choose obedience.