How to Recognize God's Voice

Sure, God still speaks today—but how do we know it's Him?

It was late, well past midnight, and I was returning homeward on my regular jogging route. Then I felt an internal urge to turn left. I had passed a teenager earlier on the trail, who had been strangely lying on the ground next to his bike. He assured me he was uninjured and just resting, so I had continued my jog. Yet now on my way back, on the same street, I felt like I should go back to him. He was lying on the ground in the middle of the night—surely something was wrong.

The only problem was he was not where I’d last passed him. He could have gone anywhere by now. I prayed and asked God to help me find him, and as I approached the next cross-street, I was impressed to turn left, so I did. I turned and jogged up the unlit sidewalk. After a few minutes, I found the young man wandering down the unlit sidewalk. I asked him what he doing out so late, if he was OK, and we were able to talk together. He listened as I told him that God had a plan for his life. He even allowed me to pray with him.

But what do we do when Scripture does not directly speak to our circumstance?

We often hear stories where God speaks with that internal voice we’ve come to love. But just as often, we struggle to know how to hear His voice ourselves. Of course, the primary way we hear God today is through His Word. Even when He speaks to us in another way, we recognize His voice by filtering it through what we know of Him in His Word.

But what do we do when Scripture does not directly speak to our circumstance? Personal situations are not directly addressed by the Word. For example: Should I move? Is the job opportunity the right one? Should I marry this person? Ultimately, the question is: How do we hear God to guide us in our personal lives?

First, we must recognize that God is still speaking today, and we can still hear Him. God has built us for a covenant relationship with Him and relationship requires communication. In other words, He wants you to hear Him more than you do! In John 10:27, Jesus clearly states, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus made it clear that “He who is of God hears the words of God.” (John 8:47). In the epistle of 1 John, the apostle elaborates on this point by saying, “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie.” God wants to communicate with you directly! That’s exciting!

Elijah details the qualities of His voice in 1 Kings 9:11-13 when he covered himself at the sound of the “still, small voice.” And He still speaks to us today in a quiet, internal voice. We often identify this as our own internal thoughts. “Imagination” isn’t something we often value in Western culture, but it is in this widening of the spiritual imagination that allows us to sense and perceive the Spirit.

Yet it’s important to note that God’s voice isn’t the only one we can hear. We also hear the voices of our own self and the enemy. Discerning the enemy’s voice is relatively simple: It will always contradict Scripture, have a bent towards selfishness, or hold an ulterior motive. The key to hearing God is discerning between His voice and our own, and this familiarity largely comes through practice.

Yet it’s important to note that God’s voice isn’t the only one we can hear.

God, in His magnificent grace, speaks to us in the way we are listening. What follows is only one way of many ways to hear God. First, start a conversation with the Lord. Talk to Him and ask Him open-ended questions. Then after you ask the question, still your mind and wait.

When the Lord speaks He always agrees with the Word. He does not contradict Himself. Many times He will speak to you with scriptures, song lyrics, or the counsel of trusted friends. When He does, continue the conversation. You could even write your prayers so you can look back later and see how He’s answered you.

Another way to get started is to ask God to show you something. Take a Bible story and ask Him to show you the story. Open up your sanctified imagination and listen to what He’s trying to say. Habakkuk “watched” to see what the Lord would say to him (Habakkuk 2:1), and we can do the same.

Hearing God’s voice is not a mystical experience for the “super-spiritual.” It’s a natural dynamic of being in relationship. And in this relationship, God is speaking, He hears us, and He wants us to know and follow His voice.

Top Comments

Mike Mollineaux

1

Mike Mollineaux commented…

Jeff,

Strangely, I just finished "Hearing God" by Peter Lord. Seems like your and his thoughts sync up together rather well.

You said, "The key to hearing God is discerning between His voice and our own, and this familiarity largely comes through practice." Wondering if you could expound a little on that...

Frankly, this has always been the reason I've probably avoided seeking God's voice--fearing that I'm hearing my own sub-consciousness rather than God. I truly believe I've experienced both, but I've found very little practical advice regarding to how to make a proper distinction.

Thoughts?

Tania Harris

23

Tania Harris replied to Liz 's comment

Hi Liz,

Just read your comment and thought I'd respond. Yes there is a difference between the voice of intuition and the voice of God. As Christians we can get great at listening to both.

The challenge of course is, they often both sound the same. They often come as an inner thought in our minds. But a difference is that, God's words often come from 'left field', they are different to our natural thoughts and often require a step of faith to follow. Also the Holy Spirit will often confirm his word through another person like he did for Mary and Elizabeth. This article may help: http://godconversations.com/blog/can-you-ever-be-sure-its-god/

Happy listening!
Tania

12 Comments

Stephen Harris

4

Stephen Harris commented…

Good article, Jeff. I want to add something.

When we become born-again, we recieve the Holy Spirit. The Bible states that He(The Holy Spirit) will show us things to come (John 16:13).

If we look at Colossions 3:15 we can see how the Holy Spirit communicates with us. Here's the verse in the AMP version: “And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (ACT AS UMPIRE CONTINUALLY) in your hearts [DECIDING AND SETTLING WITH FINALITY ALL QUESTIONS THAT ARISE IN YOUR MINDS, in that peaceful state] to which as [members of Christ’s] one body you were also called [to live].”

This is what is known as the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. All true believers have this ability, but most Christians choose to ignore it, thinking it must be their own thought.

It's all about the red light / green light or the unrest /peace we feel in our gut. That is the Holy Spirit telling us to take that job or don't move up north or whatever. We need to wait and listen to what the Spirit is telling us through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Let the Holy Spirit guide us.

I urge all Christians to read this study written by my friend, Pastor John Hamel : http://www.johnhamelministries.org/guidance_super_biblical_02_umpire1.htm

Liz

1

Liz commented…

I've believed this for a long time. But the basic psych concept of id, ego, superego sounds a lot like the quoted paragraph below. Does anyone else see that comparison? If this is about the Holy Spirit, shouldn't there be a difference between how Christians and non-Christians listen within themselves? Completely honest question, that I've been scared to ask.

"Yet it’s important to note that God’s voice isn’t the only one we can hear. We also hear the voices of our own self and the enemy. Discerning the enemy’s voice is relatively simple: It will always contradict Scripture, have a bent towards selfishness, or hold an ulterior motive. The key to hearing God is discerning between His voice and our own, and this familiarity largely comes through practice. "

Tania Harris

23

Tania Harris replied to Liz 's comment

Hi Liz,

Just read your comment and thought I'd respond. Yes there is a difference between the voice of intuition and the voice of God. As Christians we can get great at listening to both.

The challenge of course is, they often both sound the same. They often come as an inner thought in our minds. But a difference is that, God's words often come from 'left field', they are different to our natural thoughts and often require a step of faith to follow. Also the Holy Spirit will often confirm his word through another person like he did for Mary and Elizabeth. This article may help: http://godconversations.com/blog/can-you-ever-be-sure-its-god/

Happy listening!
Tania

Tania Harris

23

Tania Harris replied to Liz 's comment

Hi Liz,

Just read your comment and thought I'd respond. Yes there is a difference between the voice of intuition and the voice of God. As Christians we can get great at listening to both.

The challenge of course is, they often both sound the same. They often come as an inner thought in our minds. But a difference is that, God's words often come from 'left field', they are different to our natural thoughts and often require a step of faith to follow. Also the Holy Spirit will often confirm his word through another person like he did for Mary and Elizabeth. This article may help: http://godconversations.com/blog/can-you-ever-be-sure-its-god/

Happy listening!
Tania

Shane Nefdt

1

Shane Nefdt commented…

Thank you for this insighful article!

The second-last paragraph I found a little jarring though: "Open up your sanctified imagination and listen to what He’s trying to say."

Surely God NEVER tries anything - He merely DOES! This is because He is perfect in every conceiviable sense of the word - it is we who are the ones trying... to understand more of and about Him....

Mike Mollineaux

1

Mike Mollineaux commented…

Jeff,

Strangely, I just finished "Hearing God" by Peter Lord. Seems like your and his thoughts sync up together rather well.

You said, "The key to hearing God is discerning between His voice and our own, and this familiarity largely comes through practice." Wondering if you could expound a little on that...

Frankly, this has always been the reason I've probably avoided seeking God's voice--fearing that I'm hearing my own sub-consciousness rather than God. I truly believe I've experienced both, but I've found very little practical advice regarding to how to make a proper distinction.

Thoughts?

Matt Hammell

15

Matt Hammell replied to Mike Mollineaux's comment

I look at who I was before I became a Christian, and who I have become after accepting Christ to help me decide who's voice I'm hearing. For example, I used to be a shy person, hesitant to say and do things at times. Now when I feel that way, it's usually just my old habits keeping me from speaking to someone. I felt that way at church today about talking to a guy who used to be the drummer for the band. I found excuses not to ask him why he isn't in the band anymore, since I think he is talented and makes the band sound better. Just at the author wrote, I had an urge, but an urge different from lust or something negative. Yet it was hard to act upon it. Another example is with the fundraising I'm doing now. I keep hearing the voice in me that it won't work out, but I know that's not God, and it's not even me really. I trust God, I just find the wrong thoughts plaguing my mind. Yet if I get focused on praying to God, I hear Him tell me it will happen, and I've been encouraged to keep at it by a friend/former boss in ministry who is involved in this process. Talking to someone who is a solid follower and concurs with what I think I hear God saying is helpful when trying to decide if it's God's voice or my own. But like the author said, this takes a little time to develop, and patience during prayer to seek his voice.

Joel

3

Joel commented…

I disagree that the enemy will always necessarily contradict scripture. The trickiest lies are the ones cloaked in at least partial truth.

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