How Do People Actually Hear From God?

Facing one of the most important questions of our spiritual walk head-on

My “Samuel experience” occurred in college. God began to personally guide me in unexpected ways: emotional and mental impressions, visions, dreams and specific encouragement from others.

My newfound excitement accompanied me as I went home for a college break. I said to my dad, “You never told me God could personally speak!” He said, “Sure, of course He can.” I was amazed at the frank and normal way he responded to my question. Here I thought I was going insane.

And maybe I was. Does God still speak to people in these subjective ways, or are those kinds of experiences (visions, dreams, impressions) taboo for 21st century Christians? Had I wandered into theological error?

Does God still speak to people in these subjective ways, or are those kinds of experiences (visions, dreams, impressions) taboo for 21st century Christians?

Christians usually fall into two broad categories. Those in track A consider wisdom (common sense), precautionary prayer (praying to God about what you plan on doing in case it might not be a good idea), scripture (obeying orthodox teachings) and heeding mature, godly counsel the definitive way in which God directs.

Proponents of track A consider their methods objective while labeling other methods as subjective. They tend to place higher priority on Christian freedom. For example, you can choose any job so long as it is not inherently sinful. The same understanding is applicable to finding a spouse, a house or a car. I snuggly fit into this category for the first 13 years of my Christian life.

Those in track B add spontaneous promptings of the mind or will from God as another way in which God speaks. I fit into this category for the last eight years of my Christian life. While searching for a job, a wife and a house, I experienced God’s direct involvement in these moments just like Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24. However, I do not know if that will always be the case for everyone, nor can I fully discern how acutely my own emotions shaped my faith journey.

So what’s the deal? Are some Christians right and others wrong? Even respectable authors disagree. There are those who consider mental and emotional impressions either immature reflections of Christianity (i.e. the Corinthian Church), unhealthy human-derived impersonations of God’s voice, or, at its worst, a form of pagan divination. Still others passionately assert that God frequently speaks through impressions and other similar methods. How are we to respond and act when our own spiritual champions fall on different sides of an issue?

1. Study

Spend time educating yourself. This must be done in order to ascertain the entirety of an argument and to see how each author, even those with similar views, differs from another. For, “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines” (Proverbs 18:17).

Each side presents strong arguments. Hearing from God proponents frequently cite three bible passages: 1 Samuel 3, 1 Kings 19:9-18, and John 10:25-28. In contrast, opponents describe in vivid detail the chaotic mess this whole hearing from God thing can become. To them, there is nothing worse than Christians perpetrating foolish acts due to a sincere, but misguided belief in God’s voice.

2. Define

When someone says, “God spoke to me,” what does that mean? As I studied this idea, I came to see it as a broad way to define a sudden movement of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life in which they feel like they know God’s will in a specific situation.

How would these people attempt to hear from God? Those who claim to experience the Spirit’s leading cite diverse models: intense journaling, prayer-listening, listening to spontaneous thoughts while in nature, systematic scripture reading with an openness to hear about a personal issue and praying continually, then responding to the subsequent movement of God.

Realize that trusting in God will be the best thing you can do whether or not you experience special guidance from God.

3. Find Common Ground

Both sides unequivocally endorse obeying God’s Word, living righteously, seeking outside counsel and praying before, during and after decisions are made. If this is agreed upon by everyone, then it is probably a significant insight, worthy of future imitation.

So, how then should we live? My practical side always kicks in after engaging in theological homework. First, be sure to test everything. This includes those who view “following the Bible” as sufficient for their faith walk. God blessed us with a faith community for a reason. Don’t be that person who shames the faith by acting foolishly.

Second, recognize the possibility of a supernatural occurrence while being realistic about the fact that 99 out of 100 days will be plain-Jane ordinary.

Third, be merciful to those who do not share your unique perspective on how God interacts with His people. Ultimately, each side strongly believes in their stance. Wherever you fall in this debate, realize that trusting in God will be the best thing you can do whether or not you experience special guidance from God.




Roxy commented…

"...shames the faith..."

Grant Hooper


Grant Hooper commented…

yeah. i think that this instruction is dangerous for a lot of people. what i find is that people with pure motives get away with this by God's grace because they never really steer off course of the Word of God that they know and love.... but that there are people are simply aren't satisfied with their faith. or in Christ. they find a dissatisfaction in attending worship, evangelism, God's word, vocation, helping neighbors..... etc. they need something MORE.... but the problem is that they don't know the word of God. they have no anchor.... and following their own the article on yahoo mentioned by the person above, ends up steering them into the middle of the ocean with waves crashing over their head. i am more of the opposite end of the spectrum. used to be all about impressions and stick closely to the word. you said it yourself. you learned the Bible for 13 years or whatever before you did this..... mature Christians may be able to be more spontaneous but baby Christians need to be very careful as they take each foot carefully and place them on the tight rope, that is the faith walk, in front of them..... God is faithful and will always give them task, and something to work on..... but i do see some truth in the fact that you almost get into "automatic" mode once you have walked with God for a while. you have the word engrained in you and can just spontaneously know and apply it to real-life situations. the difference is that i think it still comes back to scripture. you know what God would want in a given situation, not specifically addressed by scripture, because you have come to know his character more, and what he would ask of you.....from the scriptures..... your using the Word of God, and you don't even know it....if done correctly. others, who don't know God....get into subjective messes, because they are operating on the basis of their own desires. all that being said...i think their is SOME truth to this, but that it's not necessarily good advice for everyone. i appreciate your being unbias and fair though in this article.

Stacy Ward


Stacy Ward commented…

Great topic to cover. It gets so tricky. I've never been a person who has physicially/audibly heard from God (though I don't doubt that this happens for others). In the past, during times of rebellion, I clearly remember pursuing sinful things/relationships and giving the excuse "I know this is what God wants for me." What that actually meant was, "I want this, and God hasn't thrown up an insurmountable obstacle between it and me, so I'm running after it at all cost." I think it's really important that we remember how God speaks through his word and his church. If you think God is "calling" you toward a decision, but everyone around you in your community has prayed about it and feels otherwise, maybe you need to re-examine whether it's actually God you are listening to, or if you are taking your own desires and trying to place them in God's mouth.

Nick Novak


Nick Novak commented…

Thanks for sharing this Cliff. Some very good points and helpful instruction.



JakeandMandy commented…

Nice work buddy. We're proud of you.

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