Five venues to hear God’s voice – certainly there are more than five venues to hear God’s words, but as a person who likes things clearly explained, I want to share the gritty details and nuances on hearing God’s voice. A caveat: hearing from God is different from hearing voices. The Bible gives clear instructions on how to differentiate in 1 John 4:2 “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (ESV) If in this case you need immediate answers relating to differentiating the voices, talk to your pastor or do a web search for “Testing the Spirits” by Michael Bradley. My purpose for this blog is to investigate ways you can hear God. So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
Venue 1: Hear God through His words.
For example, when you read the Bible you are hearing (seeing) His words. Sometimes I read the Bible and a new verse jumps out. What does that even mean? For me that means, my heart sometimes feels a little tight; I feel like I have an “eureka” moment where something fits just right in my life. Additionally, my understanding of the world becomes a little more complete. Other people have told me the verse seems to stand out from the page like it is highlighted. Certainly there have been times where I read something and I have an “Ooh, that’s good!” reaction. Occasionally I’ve felt a gut drop sensation after being convicted of something that needs to change in my life. Both instances are important to me because I know a loving God gives good things (Matthew 7:11) and will also correct His children (Hebrews 12:6).
When God does point out an important change, He does it without laying on guilt. Initially you may want to stick to reading the Bible and hearing from God that way because it helps you know His voice, however, as you mature in your faith, there are other ways to hear from God.
Venue 2: hear God through people around you.
In addition to pastors, other Christians around you are great for wisdom, direction, and encouragement from God. Listen to others carefully and pray about it to see if it is for you. Search with your spirit, because it isn’t wise to say you know everything about God. A conversation between Peter and Jesus is a great example of something good and bad coming from the same person. In summary, in Matthew 16:13-23, we find recorded that Peter relates that Jesus is the Christ and is then praised by Jesus for discerning that truth. However, later Peter rebukes Jesus saying Jesus won’t be killed and raised again and, in turn, is told, (by Jesus) “Get behind me Satan!”
Alternatively, I sometimes have an experience where I know something is a promise for me, but I just don’t see it in my life. I don’t fully believe it is for me or possible in my life even though the evidence is clear and Biblically supported. Conversely, the things some people say just don’t seem Biblical. Maybe I haven’t read my bible enough to find out what supports their claim. Perhaps the person who shared that insight has a relationship with God deeper in a certain area that mine hasn’t reached yet. Whatever the reason, if it doesn’t seem right, don’t mindlessly glom on to an idea because someone said so. Your relationship with God needs to be real, not by hearsay. Ideally, get more Bible verses from those people to look up and read around the verses to get a better context.
Conversations with God aka prayer: the third venue
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘prayer is a 2-way street’ or ‘God is speaking, are you listening?’ Hearing God in prayer is tricky to describe precisely, but I will do my best, so stick with me. Sometimes God’s voice can be an actual audible voice. 1 Samuel 3 tells of the boy Samuel, and his first encounter hearing God’s voice. He heard a voice calling his name and he thought it was Eli (the high priest) from the other room. Uniquely, Samuel most likely had been taught prayers and prayed to God before this experience. So here is my encouragement to those who haven’t heard God’s voice yet: in verse 7 it says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” (ESV)
Samuel needed to know the Lord and learn his voice and God was already talking to him! Likewise there is hope you can learn to hear God’s voice as well! In my experience, I have not heard God audibly, but I have had thoughts that had a distinct “not what I would come up with on my own” feel to them that were beneficial and uplifting to hold on to or follow.
My personal experience hearing God’s beneficial advice
For example, I was considering moving my seat next to someone for my personal enjoyment that wasn’t good for me spiritually and I got a distinct, “Do not go there, girlfriend!” impression of a black girl with finger snap and head motion included as a rebuke. Subsequently, I stayed in my seat, bemused by the thought and image. It was just the right flavor to stop me in my tracks, tune in to God, and learn something new about God and myself. God can use all His creation to connect with you, in whatever form, and rebuke you with a sense of humor while still being firm. Additionally, I followed God’s instructions and learned how to notice a slippery slope I was struggling with.
Deciphering God’s voice from mine in prayer
How do I tune my ear to God then? God’s voice calms, comforts, convicts, encourages, enlightens, leads, reassures, and stills you and others. When you have a phrase or thought that strikes you differently than your own usual mix of internal dialogue, pay attention to how it affects you. Does it have a lightening or burdening effect on your inner well-being?
God’s word carries weight and if your first inclination is to dismiss the thought, you may feel a bit of resistance or a second guessing as you are about to dismiss it from your mind. That should give you pause, especially if you want to hear God and follow His directions that He has specifically for you and your life. In like manner, prepare your heart and mind to go through some major perspective changes because you may have expectations of how God will answer your prayer and if you reject His answer because it doesn’t match your scope of possibilities for His answer, you aren’t allowing God to lead you completely. Rather than holding on to God, you’re still holding on to you.
Venue 4: Hear God through Worship
Music has a way to reach our spirits, and since God is spirit, what a great medium music is for us to converse with God. Recently, I was practicing for worship and broke down crying. Sometimes tears happen when the Holy Spirit is moving (learning about God via venue 2 above). I wept, and sang, and prayed over my church. Undoubtedly, God wanted to do something big. I prayed for what I noticed was making my heart heavy: one of my friends really wanted to get pregnant but she had been experiencing miscarriages. I prayed that God would work in her body for healing and for peace and for something special. Even though I was afraid to pray for a baby, I knew that God was already working something amazing and I didn’t want to define or limit the scope of what God was doing. I knew through my worship, God would do His best work.
Later, I told her during service that God had something special for her, and I hoped she was able to receive it. (To clarify, if that was too ‘Christianese,’ I meant that I wanted her to feel changed in some positive way — that she would know that God loved her and was giving her a good gift in body or in spirit or in mind.) Eventually, my friend shared her new due date and after some mental footwork, I realized it was 9 months after that worship time. The surprised joy and delight that I felt floored me.
Acting on what you hear from God
Did you notice an additional step of faith? Not only did I pray for God’s will, but I shared God’s message (awkwardly, sorry friend!) with the person in whom God was doing something amazing. Afterwards, I went back and praised God for the good He did, continuing our conversation we started months earlier. Consequently, sharing with my friend and hearing her story after reaffirmed my confidence in my relationship with God and ability to hear Him. That time of worship let me be part of a spiritual movement of God that gave a promise and an answer.
Finally, hear God’s voice through journaling and testing
Furthermore, in order to grow familiar with God’s voice do something that records your experience. For instance, write down what you felt when you heard that thought or phrase. Before the thought slips away, describe how you interpreted what God said. Meanwhile, make a mental note that you had a time that you heard from God. This is beneficial for you two-fold: 1) You have a record of a genuine time that God spoke to you which is encouraging to come back to and say to yourself, “This was real!” 2) You have a record of what you think was God speaking so you can go back and tell if it was God speaking to you or not by what happens next. So please, not only make a record of what was said, but also act on what God told you.
In any event, learning God’s voice takes experimentation and testing. Learn from the fruit of following what you heard from God. I’m referring to Luke 6:44, “For each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.” (ESV) Evidently, if what you are hearing is from God, you will get good results because God is good. Instead, if what you were hearing is not from God (think you, the media, well-meaning friends), the outcome won’t be as effective.
Moving forward in hearing God
In short, to hear God’s voice, don’t just go through the usual suspects of reading your bible, going to church, worshiping, journalling, and prayer as a religious activity — doing it to do it because you’re supposed to. Instead, do it with intentionality, a desire to hear from God; not forcefully wishing a response or a spiritual encounter, but with an openness. One in which you are willing to listen without judgement. Set aside preconceived ideas and expectations.