We’ve all felt a twinge of suspicion when someone claims to have “heard from God.”
We know God speaks, but hearing Him can be difficult. Learning how to hear His voice by trial and error can be an unnerving experience.
Is there a way to hear God’s voice clearly? Yes.
Let me begin by saying God wants you to hear Him. At the top of His want list, He desires for you to hear Him. God wants our dialogue with Him to lead us into a vibrant relationship. In John 10:27 Jesus says that we can know his voice in the same way a sheep can distinctly recognize its own shepherd.
There are two questions I am often asked by those who are learning to hear God’s voice.
1. What if I fall into the deception of thinking I am hearing God but it is truly the voice of the enemy? Reading Jesus’ statement in John 10:27-29 we find that He gives us an assurance about hearing Him. He says,
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; And no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”
We can be confident that God’s ability to speak to us is greater than the enemy’s ability to deceive us. When can we be deceived? When we are in search of something other than God’s voice, namely a selfish desire (James 1:14).
2. “What if I miss it?” Is another common concern. Yes. Let me assure you that you will miss it. There will be times you think God is speaking to you and it is merely an exaggeration of your desires. However, when you miss it, that moment can be an opportunity for humility. There will be times you’ll need to go back to someone and say, “I thought I heard God, but I was wrong.” The humility practiced will develop you more than a flawless record of accurate hearing.
On a practical note, when I talk with people about what I feel God is saying, I always preface my words by saying, “I feel like God is saying this to me for you.” This allows the recipient to decide if what I say is from God or not.
Let me reiterate that it’s ok to make mistakes when it comes to learning how to hear God’s voice. It’s better to fail occasionally while trying to hear God rather than to fail repeatedly by not hearing Him at all.
How does God speak?
When God speaks to us it is not always a dramatic theatrical experience. Many times God’s voice is in our stream of thoughts. The closer you get to Him, the more frequent His dialogue with you will become.
Of course it is exciting to hear stories of God appearing in brilliant splendor with an earth-shaking voice. I love to think of the few times that God has spoken to me in such a way. But radical encounters are not what will carry you in your relationship with Jesus. It’s in ordinary conversations that progressive change often occurs.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet with Georgian Banov. If you don’t know who he is, his life story is incredible. He and his wife are the founders of Global Celebration, a ministry that reaches many of the poorest communities around the world.
When we met I had a few of our interns with me. Georgian shared a mind-blowing story with us about how he saw God in a literal throne room experience. Following this story someone asked, “what would you say to those who haven’t had a radical encounter with God as you did. How do those with a less dramatic experience navigate through hardship, having never seen Jesus?”
His response was profound. Banov replied that even though he had seen a vision of God’s throne, this one experience did not carry him from day-to-day. He said his daily encounters, through reading the scriptures and praying, moved him forward in relationship with Jesus.
I can say the same is true in my own life. I cherish the powerful visions and experiences I’ve had with Jesus, but it is His constant presence in my own thoughts that fuel my love for Him.
What about all the other voices in my head?
Every thought in our minds has a source. Though the sources may be numerous, but we can reduce them into a few simple categories. They are:
- The voice of the Holy Spirit.
- The voices of angels speaking to us – Acts 8:26, Acts 10:27, Hebrews 1:14.
- The voice of our own spirit speaking to us – Ephesians 5:19 (KJV)
- The voice of evil spirits speaking to us.
- The voices of people from our memory.
Each voice influences you. The humorous realization is that they all will sound the same in your thoughts. They sound like you. However, every voice has one of two sources. They either are from God or they are not. We have the responsibility to determine what is from God and what is not. (1 John 4:1) We can’t reduce all voices that are not from God to be evil, but we must give value to each voice as needed.
For example recalling advisory thoughts of a parent’s voice from years ago is not the voice of God, but it may be a word of wisdom. It will get wearying if you try to hunt down the source of each thought. However, you only need to determine if a thought is from Jesus or not.
How do I test what I am hearing?
To determine if the voices in our thoughts are of God we can look to the counsel of God’s word. What does this mean? We must ask if the thought we hear agrees with a principle that is repeated and clear in the scriptures?
You can always find a single scripture to validate almost any idea. However, reading a passage in its full context will give you the complete counsel of the scriptures.
For example lets say a young believer, after her recent decision to follow Jesus, is met with adversity from her spouse. The contention is intense and she begins to consider divorce. She remembers the passage in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that reads, “ if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” In recalling this single verse she feels a sense of liberation to end her marriage because it occurred before her conversion. Is she hearing God’s voice in this thought? Of course not. The passage is being taken completely out of context. Paul in this writing says nothing of marriage. To address the marital concern this bride should go to 1 Corinthians 7 to see how Paul addresses this specific marriage situation. I could go on with this example, but the principle is simple.
Don’t make a decision based on one scripture and a strong feeling. Pursue hearing the full counsel of God’s Word.
Another way to determine if the voices in your thoughts are of God is discussion. Discussing your thoughts with a friend is a safeguard from deception. (Proverbs 11:14) Having a healthy relationship with someone who can hear God’s voice will develop your hearing ability. Godly friends can also caution you to thoughts that are masquerading as God’s voice. On that note, let me insert advice about how to present what you feel God is saying to you.
If you believe God is giving you a specific directive, how you approach a friend is important. If you say, “I believe God told me to go start a ministry to chickens in Africa, will you pray about this with me?” You are not asking for advice or even for an affirmation that you’re hearing from God. What you are doing is telling your friend what you plan to do.
When you pull the God-card, few people will object. No one is comfortable questioning your ability to hear God. On the contrary, if you say, “I feel like I’m suppose to start a ministry to chickens in Africa. Do you think this is God?” Then you are submitting your idea to godly insight rather than merely telling someone what you are doing.
Telling and asking indicate two different motives. Telling someone what you feel God is saying allows no room for correction. Asking someone if you are hearing from God gives place for others to be honest with you. It also implies that you are humble enough to hear what they say.
Why is this important? Because God speaks through leadership. Spiritual leaders must be receptive to the thoughts you may feel are from God. This doesn’t mean that leadership will always agree with you, but you should be cautious when they do not. Especially when you are dealing with significant directions for your life. It is wise to listen to the input of those who have a proven lifestyle of hearing God’s voice. No one gains great revelation from God independent of godly friends and leaders. Even Jesus, when He spoke with the Father, had the company of disciples to witness it. (2 Peter 1:18)
How do I start hearing God’s voice?
The easiest way, I feel, is through the method of journaling. It can begin with a simple time of worship. You don’t have to be a musician or have complicated equipment. Simply turn on a favorite worship song and turn your affections to Jesus. Worship leads us to confess what we believe and in a reciprocating manner our confession empowers a deeper belief.
After a time of worship, I’d encourage you to read a passage of scripture. After reading, take a few moments to write what you feel God is saying to you through what you’ve read. Writing tends to take things out of our abstract world of thought into the concrete world of written language. There is no perfect way to hear God but this is a basic practice that can begin your journey.
Once you’ve written your thoughts, read over your notes and consider if what you feel God has said is worth sharing. If it is, share it with someone who will encourage you to continue listening.