“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
Does God really speak to us?
Is it possible to hear, recognize, and comprehend, the voice of God?
Jesus says we can. “My sheep listen to my voice.”
Throughout the Bible, God spoke…
- God spoke to Adam and Eve, face-to-face.
- God told Noah to build a big boat.
- God told Abram and Sarai they would become parents in their old age.
- God spoke to Joseph in dreams.
- God spoke to Moses via a burning bush.
- God spoke to and through the Prophets.
- God spoke to Elijah in a “still, small voice.”
- God spoke to Mary and Joseph through an angel.
- God spoke, and the “Word became flesh, and lived among us.”
- God spoke, through Jesus, to the multitudes.
“For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.” (John 12:49)
If God speaks, and if it’s possible to recognize God’s voice, inevitably the question is, “how?” How do we hear and recognize the voice of God?
I suppose the different ways God might speak to a person are innumerable. Sometimes, God might provide a literal “sign.” I have a small sign, that sits on a shelf in my office, that says, “If you’re looking for a sign, this is it.” It’s funny – but, probably not the sign most are looking for!
Sometimes God speaks through a person. Pastors call that “incarnational” ministry: when we become the human vessels through which Divine speaks or acts.
Sometimes God speaks through a painting, a song, a line from a book, a billboard, a dream, a movie, a TV show, a Social Media post, a “coincidence” – you name it. The possibilities are endless!
But, a word of caution is needed. Even the most experienced, godly, spiritually-gifted “listeners” hear God incorrectly, sometimes. Your “signs” might be from God, or they might just be wishful thinking! Your “signs’ might be from God, but you may not be very good at interpreting the signs. After all, we’re all biased by our hopes, desires, fears, and limited by what we don’t know or understand. If we want a sign badly enough, we will likely see one, whether it’s from God or not.
If and when you believe you’ve heard from God, before acting on what you think you’ve heard, I suggest the following…
- Pray more, and wait on the Lord for further confirmation, clarity, or instruction.
- Read the Bible. Is what you heard consistent with Scripture? God never contradicts his Word!
- Seek “wise counsel.” Go to the godliest people you know, share what you think you’ve heard, and be open to their feedback. Hopefully, they won’t just affirm what they think you want to hear!
- Consult with a Spiritual Director: someone who has training and the spiritual gifting to help you discern God’s voice.
- In seminary, a nun taught me to apply the Great Commandment to what I think I’ve heard God say. Does acting on what I think I’ve heard cause me to love God and my neighbor more, or less. “If more,” she said, “do it.” If an action fulfills the Great Commandment, we should act, whether God told us to, or not! Of course, if it doesn’t, don’t.
- One of my dearest friends always asks, “Is it the brave thing to do?” Often, God challenges us to move past our fears, doubts, insecurities, and complacency, requiring bravery to act.
- Pray and listen some more – it never hurts.
Like I said, God speaks, and may speak to anyone at any given moment. But, if you want to become more familiar with God’s voice, and to hear God’s voice more frequently, and with greater clarity… well, that takes faith, practice, time, and trial and error.
I begin every day (almost) with God. Sundays are a bit of an exception, as I’m preparing to preach (I consider this God-time too – it’s just different). Every other day, my morning routine begins with God-time.
Though my exact routine varies from day-to-day, most days begin with Scripture and devotional reading. Sometimes, I believe God speaks directly through Scripture, as a particular word or phrase seems to “leap” from the page, drawing my focus and attention. The same happens in my devotional reading.
I usually spend some time in relaxed silence. Silence can be hard for some people. Internal and external noise can be a distraction. For some, repeating a word like “love” or “peace” can be a helpful aid to focus – sort of like a mantra.
Throughout my silence, my primary focus is on God’s presence. Because I believe God is both intimate (within me, through the Holy Spirit) and transcendent (greater, higher, mysterious, ineffable), I focus my attention on God’s loving presence in me, and all around me. Usually, as I do this, I feel a gentle weight in the center of my chest. I don’t know why, but that’s what happens.
Then, I move into a time of listening. I simply ask God, “Is there anything you want to say to me? Please help me hear your voice.” Sometimes, I ask specific questions, or bring up issues I’m praying about. Then, I listen. I find that using a journal helps. I write down what I bring to God. Then, as I sense a voice, other than my own, speaking within me, I write down what I “hear” (this is rarely audible – more of an impression).
Let me be clear about this. Just because I sense God speaking, and just because I write it down, doesn’t mean I am 100% confident God has spoken. But, I do write down what I “hear.” I simply trust – by faith – that God is speaking. Time will tell if God actually has, or not. To me, the important thing is having sufficient faith to believe God DOES speak, and sufficient humility to recognize my limited ability to listen.
There have been a few, rare times I’ve heard an audible voice, that I believe was God’s. I can’t prove it. For the most part, I’ve not sought those occasions. Rather, it’s seemed I needed to hear a particular a word from God, that I didn’t know I needed. More often than not, what I’ve heard has been quite humbling, and usually uncomfortably challenging.
My personal belief is, God is constantly speaking to anyone who will listen. As God is essentially relational, and desires a relationship with each of his children, and relationship requires communication, it only makes since God is constantly striving to initiate a conversation with each of us.
The challenge is, God rarely shouts or screams. God is far more subtle. In my experience, God mostly whispers. So, while any of us could hear from God, at any given moment, most of us aren’t paying attention.
One of the questions I wrestled with, following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was, “If God speaks – which I believe – why didn’t God warn anyone about Nikolas Cruz? How could family, peers, teachers, administration, DCF, FBI, and law enforcement all miss it? Wasn’t God speaking to any of them?” I obviously don’t know the answers to those questions. But, I’ve come to believe God was speaking – because God is always speaking. Perhaps no one was listening. How tragic is that?
I try to listen for God’s voice, every day. I’m not a prayer expert, or a super-spiritual mystic. I just believe God speaks, and I don’t want to miss out, if God has something to say to me today.
Are you listening?