So much could be said about this topic that I can only scratch the surface here. For anyone who seriously wants to learn more about hearing the voice of God, I’d encourage you to pick up one of the following great books by Larry Kreider, who is a true spiritual father and reliable guide. Hearing God 30 Different Ways (2005) and Speak Lord, I’m Listening (2008) are both readable and practical resources to build your faith as you seek to hear God’s voice.
With that disclaimer, let’s jump in!
The Bible is full of examples of God speaking in extraordinary and powerful ways at special times in the history of His people. Here are some familiar examples :
- The Lord speaking to Moses out of a burning bush ( Exodus 3:1-6 )
- The Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary when Jesus was conceived ( Luke 1:26-38 )
- The voice from heaven at the time of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:16-17)
But even though God can and does still speak in these extraordinary ways, far more commonly he speaks to us in less dramatic ways.
Here are some of the most common ways God speaks to His people today
- Through the Bible
- Through dreams and visions
- Through thoughts, words or images that he places in our minds.
- God can speak through various spiritual gifts such as words of prophecy, tongues, or interpretation.
- God can speak through the advice of a friend or even a common everyday conversation
- Intense emotions, especially when they aren’t related to any obvious external cause, may be a sign that God is getting our attention about something.
- God can speak to us through His creation.
- God may speak through a time of prayer and fasting.
- Journalling can be a powerful tool to help us process what God is saying to us.
- God can get our attention through “unspiritual” means such as media – billboards, radio, TV, internet, movies, books. Obviously not everything we experience through the media is a word from God – the vast majority probably is not – yet God has the amazing ability to take a scene from a movie or a picture on a billboard and use it to communicate a powerful message to our hearts.
When God is speaking a personal word to us through any of these means, if we’re paying attention, we’ll sense an inner witness of the Holy Spirit speaking to our spirit. This helps us recognize that God is trying to get our attention. This is subtle and easy to miss at first, but with practice we can learn to recognize the inner voice of the Spirit of God.
Jesus says that for those who believe in Him, the Holy Spirit is like a spring of flowing water bubbling up from within us. This is a very helpful word picture that can help us get used to listening for the voice of the Spirit. Hearing God’s voice is very different from the process of consciously thinking about and trying to understand a problem or a concept. The voice of the Spirit often comes as spontaneous thoughts, words or images that have a different “feel” to them than our normal thoughts. This may happen when we are intentionally listening for God’s voice, but it can also happen when we are focussed on some routine task or activity and our minds are not busy with our own thoughts and agendas.
Many people are concerned that if they open themselves up to the possibility of God speaking to them, they may get deceived. Yet the ability to hear the voice of the Lord speaking to us personally and intimately is part of our inheritance – it’s part of the promise of the New Covenant. Here are some safeguards that can guard us from deception.
- Get to know the written word – the Bible. It is your plumbline to help distinguish truth from falsehood.
- Humble yourself before the Lord. Pride is a major obstacle to hearing from God.
- Submit your will to God so that your motive is to obey Him no matter what He says. Doublemindedness is a major cause of deception. Jesus said that if our eye is single (single focus), our whole body will be full of light.
- Let the peace of God guard your heart. If you are hearing from God, there will be a peace – a “rightness” about the message.
- Seek counsel from other believers whom you know and trust.
If you want to hear from God, the most important qualifications are faith, expectancy, humility and a yielded heart. Be assured that God loves you and wants to speak to you. Jesus says that it is normal for His sheep to hear and know His voice. He says that those who have put their trust in Him are his friends. So we can be confident that God desires to speak to us daily. Turn to Jesus and ask Him to speak to you by His Spirit. He won’t mind if you make a mistake – He is willing to teach you. Ask others who are more experienced to help you interpret what you sense God saying to you. God will be delighted that you are unwrapping His most precious gift – an intimate relationship with Him.