Hearing God's voice
Blog -> Bible
Last Friday we had a great discussion at our Aletheia Bible Study group. Our topic was “How to hear God’s voice”. For the last few weeks, we’ve been stressing that “praying is not about telling God what we want, but praying is about what God wants us to pray”. Now the question that many people then ask is: “How can I hear God’s voice?” That was the topic of our discussion last Friday, and that’s what I would like to share here as well. So here is a summary of what we talked about.
First of all, I want to start with a disclaimer: I cannot tell you how God speaks to you. I could tell you how God speaks to me, but that won’t be helpful to you. Cause God won’t speak to you in the same way that He speaks to me. So no, I cannot teach you how God will speak to you.
However, what I can do is share some biblical principles on how we can hear God’s voice. And as we practice these principles, we will learn how God speaks to us.
So let’s dive into some of these principles.
God expects His followers to be able to hear His voice
John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
John 8:47 He that is of God hears God's words: you therefore hear them not, because you are not of God.
Verses like these make it very clear that “hearing God’s voice” is not something that’s reserved for super-Christians. Genuine followers of Christ will be able to hear His voice. Being able to hear God’s voice is actually one of the marks of being a Christian.
The Holy Spirit is essential in hearing God’s voice
When we are talking about “hearing God’s voice” we obviously talk about the Holy Spirit. God speaks to us by His Spirit. For example, Paul writes this:
Romans 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
Jesus said this about the Spirit:
John 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of me
“Being led by the Spirit” and “the Spirit testifying to us” are simply other ways of saying: “God is speaking to us”. So clearly, being filled with the Holy Spirit is an important element in hearing God’s voice. Now the question on “how to be filled with the Holy Spirit” is a topic for another time. For today, I simply want to say: We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit to hear God’s voice. And if today we are not (or we are not sure), then we need to receive the Spirit first, before we can talk about hearing God’s voice.
Knowing God’s Word
Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Proverbs 2:1-5 My son, if you will receive my words, and lay up my commandments with you; So that you incline your ear unto wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; Yea, if you cry after knowledge, and lift up your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures; Then shall you understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
Now to add on to the last point on the Holy Spirit: The Spirit can NOT replace God’s word. There are people who call themselves Christians who solely rely on the Holy Spirit and never read their Bible. That often leads to very unbiblical actions. “God told me to divorce my wife” or “God told me to have sex with this person, even though we’re not married yet”. Such guidance is NOT from the Holy Spirit.
It’s also dangerous to rely on the Bible only, without the Spirit. Because without the Spirit giving us insights, without the Spirit teaching us what the Bible actually says, we can also be led astray. As we know, the devil is very good at twisting and misusing the very Word of God. (He quoted the Bible to temp Jesus into sin in Matt. 4:6) So God’s Word without the Spirit is also very, very unhealthy, or even dangerous.
For a healthy spiritual growth, we need both. We need the Logos Word from the Bible, and we need the Rhema Word from the Holy Spirit. This balance between the two is essential in hearing God’s voice and growing in our relationship with God.
God often speaks to us in a still small voice
1 Kings 19:11-13 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What do you here, Elijah?
God sometimes shouts at us. But usually, He speaks to us in a still small voice. The problem is: We don’t hear, because we’re not quiet. One of the keys to hearing God’s voice is to slow down and calm down, so we can hear. Nothing wrong with “praying throughout the day”, asking God for help in situations, as we face them. But we also need that quiet time, that time without distractions, that time when we simply shut out the noise from our lives, calm down and say: “God, the next 10, 20, 30 minutes (or whatever time you can give Him) are just for you. I’ll be still. Please speak to me.”
Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.
God spoke to the people in the church of Antioch when the members were doing two things: Ministering (some translations use the word “worship” here) and fasting. God often speaks to us when we practice our spiritual disciplines. It’s when we pray, worship (e.g. in songs), give our tithe, minister to others,… that we often hear God’s voice the clearest. It’s when we practically live out our Faith that God makes His will known to us.
This includes fasting. The practice of not eating makes us spiritually more sensitive. Fasting doesn’t automatically make our prayers more powerful. But we can often hear God’s voice more clearly. And when we hear God’s voice more clearly, we can pray more effectively according to God’s will. That’s the power of fasting in combination with prayer.
John 5:30 I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father who has sent me.
Jesus said that He can’t do anything by Himself. (A study on this statement alone could fill a whole book) Jesus’ sole goal is to do whatever the Father is doing, and then doing it with Him. He completely surrendered everything to the Father’s will.
You and I are called to do the same. So when we pray, we need to ask ourselves whether we are truly seeking God’s will from our hearts, or whether we are simply saying one thing, but deep down mean something else. Do we really mean it when we pray: “God, I only want this job if it’s from you”? Or do we just say that out loud and really mean: “God, I really want you to give it to me.” Do we really mean it when we pray “God, I have feelings for this person. But I only ever consider a relationship if you’re in it! So please tell me your will.” Or do we really mean: “God, I’m going to pursue this relationship, whether you are in it or not. I would just feel better if you give me a ‘yes’ now. But either way, I’m going to do it.”
If we are not willing to listen, why would God answer? He’s a gentleman. He speaks to those who are willing and ready to listen and obey. If a person has already decided “not to listen” (or: “only to listen if the answer is <fill in the blank>”), God often chooses to not say anything. So surrender is another key to hearing God’s voice. Not just religious, outward surrender. But surrender from our hearts.
John 8:31-32 Then said Jesus to those Jews who believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Knowing the truth in this verse is another way in which the Bible speaks of “hearing God’s voice”. Due to our upbringing and culture, we are used to the concept of “understanding first, then obeying”. But this is not God’s way. In God’s kingdom, the order is: “Obey first, then you’ll understand!” Many people don’t hear God’s voice simply because they don’t obey in one area of their lives. Dishonesty, sexual immorality, secret actions behind closed doors, when nobody sees,… All these things mean that we “don’t continue in God’s word” (as the verse above is saying). Some translations put it more plainly by saying “If you obey my word”. And the result of not obeying God’s word is that we won’t know the truth. Obedience comes first, knowing the truth is a consequence. The opposite is also true: Disobedience means we won’t know the truth. These two things go hand in hand.
That doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect. But a rebellious heart, willful disobedience to God’s moral law, will hinder us from hearing His voice.
Give God Time
We often want God’s answer today. But He’s usually giving us the answer later than we’d like Him to and later than we expect. Of course, there are real time pressures in this world. If I get a job offer and the company tells me that they need an answer by next week Friday, then I have to give an answer by that time. But unless there are outside deadlines like this, I do believe that time often gives us the answer. So just because we want the answer now doesn’t mean that now is the best time for us to receive the answer. God’s timing might be different.
Often when we wait, God does something. Sometimes He changes our desires, something we really wanted suddenly seems unimportant. This could be a way of God answering “no”. Or maybe circumstances change, and we suddenly realize that “what looked like a great choice 1 month ago suddenly doesn’t look good at all any longer”. Of course it can also go the other way around. Our original desires become stronger and stronger, more and more signs point us in a certain direction. These could be signs from God, Him telling us: “It’s me, go ahead!”
So very often, giving God time will eventually make it clear what God’s will is.
Generally: Stay where you are until God calls you somewhere else
From experience, God generally calls us “into something”, not just “out of something”. Unless of course it’s sin. Then He clearly calls us out of that lifestyle. But generally, He calls us “in” and not just “out”. What I mean by that is: When God calls us out of a job, He usually (though maybe not always) gives us another vision or goal or job opportunity, He usually doesn’t just tell us to “stop working for this company”, without giving us any clue about what’s next. He usually doesn’t just tell us “move out of this city”, but He often tells us to “move to this city”.
So generally, just because we are currently unhappy with our job, with our house, with the annoying people in our sports team,… doesn’t automatically mean that God wants you to move on. Usually, He gives you a sense of your destination first (e.g. a passion for a new job, a new company, etc) before He tells you to quit our old one. God calls you INTO something, not just out of something without any kind of idea or vision what your next destination might be. This might not apply to 100% of the situations, but certainly to many.
Check your motives
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Very often, our deep motives will tell us whether we are truly following God or just trying to pursue our own motives. If I consider a job, I need to ask why I like the job. If I only like it because it satisfies my pride and ego (and maybe also my wallet), then it’s probably not God’s will. But if I want a specific job because God gave me a heart to change to working environment for the sake of Christ in that company,… then it could be His leading.
If I’m in a romantic relationship only because “it feels good” then it’s probably not from God. But if I’m in that relationship because God gave me a desire to be a good example to others around me of “what a Godly relationship is supposed to look like” then it could be God. If I’m thinking of donating money to a charity because they’d put me on the front page of the newspaper, then it’s not God. But if I simply want to help, and don’t expect anything in return, willing to give in secret, so nobody knows who gave the money,… then it could be God.
So our underlying motives behind the choice we are considering could very well tell us whether it’s really God, or whether we are simply pursuing our own desires.
God’s peace (or the lack of it) could very well be a sign from God as well. Especially the lack of God’s peace (worries, anxieties, frustrations, resistance from all sides,…) could be a sign that God is NOT in it. But we also have to be careful that we don’t only simply go with “what feels right”. The Bible warns us that the heart is evil, wicked and easily deceived. (Jer. 17:9) So only going with “what feels right” is often a way to disaster. Because our emotions can easily lead us astray. But the lack of peace when we’re about to make a major decision is often a sign that “God is warning us”. And we should definitely seek Him again before moving in a direction that we feel no peace about.
So these are some principles from the Bible that help us hear God’s voice. Like I said in the beginning: I can’t tell you how God will speak to you. But when we practice these principles, we will eventually learn to hear when and how God speaks to us. And that is one of the most joyful experiences in life we could ever have.
Does it take effort? Oh yes, it does. Am I sometimes frustrated when God doesn’t speak to me when I want Him to? You bet. Do I sometimes feel like giving up? More often than I would like to admit. Do I sometimes get it wrong? Unfortunately, yes. (Just read here about how I felt last summer when I thought God told me we’ll get a certain apartment, and then we didn’t get it.)
But is it worth it, nevertheless? Yes, it is. Having God speak to you personally is an amazing experience. And if we dare to obey and see what God does,… then life gets a whole new meaning. Because then we experience what a good, faithful, loving and caring Father He really is.
I’m in. I’m praying you are too.
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