How to Hear God’s Voice

Question from a Site Viewer
My question is this: how do you know that God is talking to you? How do you hear God’s voice?

Tim’s Answer
You ask a very good question. Christians throughout the world have differing opinions. We know that God can speak to us, but how is this realized in our lives? How do we recognize God’s voice?

Hebrews 1:1 tells us that God, in times past, spoke in various ways to Israel through the prophets. Sometimes it was by dreams and visions; sometimes God simply appeared and spoke directly (Numbers 12:6-8).

Then, Jesus appeared. Hebrews 1:2 tells us that God has spoken to us by His Son. All Christians should take the time to study intently the four gospels, as they contain the direct words of Jesus to us.

But Jesus does not confine our listening to the four gospels. Jesus tells us in John 16:13-15 that the Holy Spirit would come and speak about Jesus to His people. The Holy Spirit has done so through the holy apostles. Thus, in the words of the author of the book of Hebrews, the apostles confirmed to us the word spoken by the Lord (Hebrews 2:3-4). When the Thessalonians listened to the apostle Paul, they received his words as the very word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The apostle Peter reminds the believers to be mindful of the commandments of the apostles of the Lord and Savior (2 Peter 3:1-2). The apostle John tells us that those who are of God will listen to the apostles (1 John 4:6). Thus, it is important to hear the words of God in the testimony of the apostles, as related to us in the New Testament.

The Old Testament is also very important to us. Jesus tells the people of His day that the Scriptures (referencing the Old Testament Scriptures) testify of Jesus (John 5:39). When we read Scriptures, we should be sure to look for what they teach us about our God. This is a way to get to know our God. And it is listening to the words of Scripture that is the primary referent in the New Testament to passages speaking about listening to God. Thus, we should never forsake or make the words of Scripture secondary in our lives.

Now, as to the rest of what I share with you, not all Christians would agree. However, what I share is what I find in the Scriptures. I believe it is possible to hear the voice of God from the church (see Acts 15:22-29), from other believers (2 Corinthians 7:6-7 – the words of Titus were the words of God to the apostle Paul), from unbelievers (2 Chronicles 35:22 – God spoke through the king of Egypt), and from within our own minds (Romans 8:16). In fact, I do not know of any limitation God has placed on Himself in the ways He is able to communicate with us.

However, not every voice we hear is God’s. There are many false voices in the world. And our own minds can be deceived. When we want something we often find a voice saying “do it.” Because of the problem of discernment, some Christians have adopted the position that God today only speaks through the Bible, and through no other means. Thus, they create a safe position. I, however, do not think this is a Biblical position.

Scripture tells us not to quench the Spirit, not to despise prophecies, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). And in 1 Corinthians 14:32, we are told that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. There is no indication that God has stopped speaking orally to His people. But, we are told that there must be a way to test whether what is said is of God. Scripture also tells us in 1 John 4:1 not to believe every spirit, but again we are encouraged to test the spirits. John follows with a particular test applicable to the issue facing his readers. I believe it is important to test every voice to determine whether it is of God. But we should do so, and not simply reject all voices as not of God.

I believe the same Spirit who has spoken in times past wants to speak to us today as well. This is what I think Scripture means by fellowship with the Father and with His Son (1 John 1:3). God never intended this to be a silent fellowship, but rather a dynamic, intimate, and richly rewarding relationship. Jesus tells us that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:27). Several years ago I was speaking to a young people’s group on the subject of sanctification, and the desire of God to speak to us intimately and personally. We had a period of prayer and I encouraged people to find a place to be alone, to confess their sins before God, purify their lives, quiet their hearts, and listen for Him. Shortly after this time, I had a person who was very skeptical come to me with an incredible story. He decided to take up my challenge. As I stood there listening, he told me that what he never thought was possible happened – God spoke with him.

So, here is my advice. If anyone wants to hear the words of God, they should examine themselves and confess and forsake any known sin. Sin breaks fellowship with God. Second, they should set their will to love God with all of their hearts, for His relationship is a love relationship. Third, they should quiet their lives and listen for His voice. Fourth, they should take care to discern whether the voice is His. And they should flee from strange voices (John 10:4-5).

How do we discern His voice? We know the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The voice of God will always partake of the character of God. If the voice does not partake of the character of God, it is not God’s voice. We should flee from that voice. God’s voice will be loving, joyful, and peaceful. His voice will be holy and pure. It will bring life, delight, and the peaceful fruit of righteousness to our lives.

And when there is doubt, it is good to confide in other godly people to see if their spirit confirms the source of the word.

A few years ago we had an earthquake just south of Portland, Oregon. A young man in the area felt that God was speaking to him to warn the city that in 40 days there would be a massive earthquake that would destroy the city. His pastor confirmed that the young man lived a godly life. Some people took the message seriously and left the city. In 40 days, there was no earthquake, not even a small trembler. What was wrong?

I believe the young man sincerely believed that he had a word from God. It seems to me that clearly it was not a message from God. I think while the young man may have sought to live a righteous life, he had not trained his ears to hear the words of the Shepherd. When a person has not trained their lives to hear His voice, then any voice may seem to be His. And, this young man made a further mistake, as did his pastor; he uttered a prophecy that could not be tested. If we believe that we have a prophetic word from God, there must be a way to test it. If it cannot be tested, then, as I understand 1 Thessalonians 5 and 1 John 4, it should not be believed. God is faithful to confirm His word, as He has demonstrated time and time again (see the story of Gideon in Judges 6:12-14, 17-22, 36-40; 7:9-15).

We need to learn to be discerning about the characteristics of His voice.

I find that He speaks mostly about very ordinary kingdom things, telling us to pray for a person, to call or encourage someone, to visit someone, to help someone in need, to give of our resources, and to do many other ordinary things of the kingdom. He may tell us that He loves us, that He forgives us, that He desires our hearts. But He is not a silent God. He may remind us of a passage of Scripture, or a word from some wise person, or a song of praise. Sometimes His word is simply an impression of the heart (Nehemiah 2:12). And often, to hear His voice, we need to quiet our lives, to pray, and seek to listen.

Finally, in listening for His voice and seeking to live a life with Him, we must always return to a contextual reading of Scripture. Throughout the epistles, the emphasis is on teaching the Scriptures, learning them, and living them out in our lives. There certainly are passages telling us that the Holy Spirit speaks with us, but the controlling thought is that we should listen to the Scriptures. The apostles always take us back to the instruction of Scripture. Like David of old, let the Scriptures be the joy of life. Any voice that takes one away from the Scriptures, or substitutes itself for the guidance of life, is not of God. You can safely use Scripture to judge who is speaking. So my final advice is to study and live out the Scriptures. If you love God and live Scripture, you will be pleasing to God. And then, when He speaks, you will know.

I hope this is helpful to you. May the God of peace give to you the full measure of His Spirit as you seek to listen, learn, and grow in Jesus Christ.

a fellow servant,

tim

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