How To Hear The Voice of the Lord
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me..."
When talking about relationship, we must remember we are in relationship with a God who is alive and not distant. We have already discovered that He desires to have an intimate communion with us. He wants us to know Him even as He knows us. But how do you get to know someone intimately? How do you get to know God? I have several small children at this juncture of my life. It seems they never tire of asking me questions about myself and what I was like as a child. They enjoy - no, relish would be a better word - the opportunity to quiz other relatives (like my own parents) about what I was like as a child. Why do they do this? Because they want to know us...and I believe also because it also helps them understand a bit more about who they are and where they came from - whether they cognitively realize it or not. They get to know us - and themselves - by asking questions. Since our faith comes as a direct result of our ability to ‘hear' God's voice. Faith is born when we ‘hear' the Word of Christ. How can we hear the Word of Christ if we do not ask Him questions about Himself? How can we get to know Him?
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. "
What is the Word of Christ?
We know that all Scripture is God's Word and profitable (necessary!) for the man or woman of God.
2 Tim. 3:16-17
For years and years and years, I can remember trying to know God simply by reading His Word. Even though I could read that Word and, at times, find direction for my life there, I never felt I had direct access to God - no real relationship. I finally discovered that I could never have a real relationship with a book! I had to seek the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. I had to seek a real, living, vital, heart to heart relationship with Him! We do not have a relationship with a book but with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebr. 4:12; Rev. 19:11-13).
Who can hear God's voice?
I grew up in a non-charismatic church...but had a grandmother who attended the Assemblies of God church in town - a grandmother who faithfully followed the ministries of Oral Roberts, Kathryn Kuhlman, T. L. Osborn and others of a charismatic persuasion. I can remember hearing those ministers speak of hearing the voice of God and wondering why they could hear Him and why I could not. Even my grandmother told me that she often heard the Lord speak to her. She once told me she would recognize my grandfather Jernigan when she got to heaven because God had told her his new name in glory! I was flabbergasted to say the least. And made more curious by such bold statements. When I came to the end of my rope after college and really got desperate to know God, I began seeking to hear His voice. I soon came to understand that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:27). This only spurred me on to seek to hear His voice that much more - especially after I came to the point of realizing I truly was His sheep! Those who have heard His Word who are born through faith into His Kingdom (Romans 10:17)...and that was me!
So how did I begin to learn to hear His voice? Initially it was just as my children seek to know me: I began to ask Him questions...and then wait for His answer. I soon learned that God was not afraid of any questions I might ask - so I began to ask some very difficult questions. At first, my questions were very child-like: Father, do You love me? But they soon became more and more complex: Father, how do You love me? How can you fix the mess I have made of my life? How can I minister life to this person who faces physical death? etc., etc., etc.. Over the course of my personal journey of learning to hear His voice I have put together my own practical reminders...little tidbits of wisdom which I hope will be of some benefit to you as you seek to hear His voice. The best worship leaders are those who are about their Father's business. How can we know what He is doing moment by moment? Learn to hear His voice moment by moment.
Be quick to hear.
So often with my children, I instruct them to do a certain task only to find that task unfinished when I make my inspection. I hear everything from ‘I didn't hear you' or ‘I don't know that's what you meant' to ‘brother said you didn't mean what you said' or ‘I didn't know you meant ‘now''! As I look at my children, I am reminded that I have made all those same excuses to Father God when I thought I have heard His voice. ‘But I didn't hear You, Lord...Pastor said You didn't mean what I thought You meant...Lord, I didn't know you meant ‘now''! As new creations, we are brought forth by the Word of Truth. This truth reveals our true nature as first fruits among God's creatures. If we do not learn to hear the voice of our Father quickly, the enemy can often wreak havoc upon our souls. My children learn from their mistakes: that all of our actions (even being slow to hear) have consequences. If I learn to hear God's voice, I am more apt to quickly put down the lies of the enemy...because I have learned to discern between God's heart and voice and the condemnation or quick-fix mentality of the enemy. Let us be quick to hear that truth day by day and not be deafened by anger or by the lies of the enemy (James 1:18-19).
Who He is reveals how He speaks.
We know His voice by its content. We know His voice by what He says about Himself. How would a shepherd speak? What would he say? When would a shepherd speak? What are the results of a sheep hearing a shepherd? What about a King, Father, Provider, Victory, Peace, Creator, etc.? (John 10:27). When we are in relationship with someone...when we spend time asking them questions then waiting for the answers, we learn what they sound like...but also what their character is like. In other words, God cannot lie...and He would not treat one of His children like anything less than one of His own. So what is God's voice like?
He speaks truth.
One of the best ways to discern the lies of the enemy from the voice of God is to simply ask yourself, "Would Father say that? Would He say it that way or with that tone of voice? Would He say something like that?" Always remember - God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18)!
Ask the right questions. Be specific.
God is God. He can handle whatever we bring to Him. Often, my children may ask me for something only to be disappointed when I don't come through. Many times, this is simply because they did not ask a specific question. In a relationship, you get what you ask for many times! If you desire specific answers, you must ask specific questions. "Father, do You love me? How do you love me? Lord, is this sin? Holy Spirit, what is the wise direction here?" God's Word says it like this, "You have not because you ask not!"
Forms of Communication
Just as we have many ways of speaking to one another on a human level, so, too, God has created many varied ways for us to speak to and hear from Him. Again, this is not meant to be an exhaustive study on hearing God's voice. My main desire is to let you know really how simple communication with God can be - that we can hear His voice if we learn to listen. I also hope to stir up in you a desire to seek God in deeper and more creative ways. His presence is much more vast and magnificent than you or I have discovered to this point...and that is as it should be! Listed on the following pages are many of the ways I have personally used to hear God's voice...to know His heart.
What is prayer? According to the dictionary, prayer is simply communion with God. Communion is the sharing of thoughts and feelings. In other words, we we pray we are simply communicating with God our thoughts and feelings. Simply put, prayer is talking to God! One of my greatest joys in talking with God is that I do not have to wait until all is quiet and I am alone with Him. We can approach Him boldly anytime or anyplace for any reason...even in the midst of a worship time we are leading...or even in a crowded room...in a storm...or in a quiet moment alone. Prayer is simply talking to God. Of course, when talking with someone we must always remember to take time to listen for the other party's response! (Hebrews 4:16). Also, remember that prayer can take on many varied forms: unknown tongues, groanings, wailing, tears, etc.. Do not ever look down upon the various forms of prayer. God uses them all! (See "Other People" in this same chapter).
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is God's Spirit on earth. Jesus said that once He had ascended into heaven that He would send a Comforter - the Holy Spirit - to be our guide in this life...to facilitate God's presence on earth! Jesus promised to send Him to comfort, teach, and lead us (John 14:16; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7). What we must realize is that He is real and that He is with us. He will not leave. He will not forsake us. If He is with us, we must simply believe and receive that truth by faith...and dive heart first into ready communion with Him!
What is a vision? Something perceived by the spirit from the heart of God - a supernatural sight! God's Word tells us that God often spoke to His people through visions. Remember Ezekiel and Daniel? What is so awesome about our relationship with God is that He has promised in His written Word to do the same thing for us! For me, visions come when I allow God to speak to my mind through the spiritual realm of His nature...to see my life from His point of view.
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh;
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions..."
What is a dream or what does it mean to dream? To dream, for the believer, means to meet with God in out sleep! He did so for Joseph and for others in Scriptural history...and He has promised to do the same for us! One of my favorite things to do is to go to bed anticipating meeting with God in my sleep. Often He will give me great visions as I sleep, thus combining two forms of communication, visions and dreams! We should never limit God's ability to speak to us as we sleep...and should never limit our ability to hear and receive from Him even in our sleep. After all, we are new creations! We are His children!
"It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep." Psalm 127:2
What is nature? The material or physical world and all it contains. God spoke all of creation into existence. He put that creation in motion and gave it order. Through nature He has often spoken - loudly and clearly. He made it and it belongs to Him. He uses it as He wills (Ps. 29:3-9). If you don't believe me just think about the children of Israel in bondage to Egypt. God needed to get Pharaoh's attention...so He sent a ravaging hail storm, a plague of frogs, a pestilence of flies, and even turned the Nile River into blood. God uses nature...and still does today. Are you listening?
Angels are supernatural beings, created by God to do His bidding and to deliver His messages. An angel, after all, was used to tell Mary she would be the earthly vessel God would use to bring His Son to this world. They are His personal messengers - and they are active even today. Are you listening? (Matt. 28:5; Luke 1:13; Luke 1:18-19; Luke 1:28; Luke 1:30; Luke 1:34; Luke 1:35).
How many times have we asked, "Why did You allow this to happen, Lord?" Somehow, inherently, we seem to know God is a good God, yet we know that even in His goodness bad things happen. Why? Because of sin, pain and suffering came into this world. Because we are not forced to love Him - because He wants us to want Him - He gives us a choice in serving Him. When bad things happen to us, there are any number of reasons God has allowed them. The glory is that He can take anything that life throws our way and then use it to speak life into our hearts. Paul was shipwrecked for a reason (Acts 27:41). Jesus was crucified for a reason (John 3:16). God uses the circumstances of this life to build His life into us.
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good
to those who love God and are called according to His purpose." Rom. 8:28
Even though I have never personally heard the audible voice of God, I know He still speaks - because He has not changed! He spoke audibly many times throughout Scripture...and I believe He still desires to do so today (Acts 9:3-6). Are you listening?
Still Small Voice
This one I have heard! When I listen for God's voice - especially after asking a specific question - I wait for Him to speak to the center of my being - what I call the place of ‘knowing' in the center of who I am (1 Kings 19:13). The best way I can explain it is that sometimes ‘I just know'!
God often sent human messengers to speak for Him. Moses and Samuel are two that come readily to mind. In my own life I have had several such experiences. One I recall quite vividly involves the near-death of my wife, Melinda. She had just given birth to our twin boys nine weeks early. The very next day her liver began to hemorrhage...and we were told we faced a matter of life and death. I began to weep and asked God to help me because I could not pray...I could only cry (a form of prayer). He spoke in that ‘still small voice', telling me that He would save the tears I cried. I did not understand...and wondered if I had really heard His voice. A few moments later, a nurse came to me telling me she had been called in for duty...and that God had sent her just for me and Melinda! She told me God had raised up many people to stand in the gap for us. As she was about to leave, she said she had one more thing from the Lord. She told me that He wanted me to know that He saved all my tears when I cried...and that He would use them as weapons of prayer to put back the enemy! God uses others. Do we listen?
I am sure, if we took the time, we would find many, many instances of God using one or more means of communication in conjunction with another. How many times have we experienced circumstances and heard God speak through them and then to confirm His message through His written Word or through another person or through nature, etc.. He often used angels and dreams together to speak His heart and will to His children (Matt. 1:20; Matt. 2:13; Matt. 2:19).
The Written Word of God
Even though we have a relationship with the Living Word of God, we have the greatest love letter ever written at our disposal - the Bible! Think about it. God has taken the time to put into writing how He feels about us and all He desires and plans for His children. For someone to put something in writing requires a great deal of confidence...to put one's deepest feelings in a form all the world can see means that the writer must really love the one he is writing to. That is God! I receive many letters and notes of encouragement or words of wisdom from my pastor and others whom I trust and value. I save them all...because I enjoy going back from time to time and refreshing my mind with all I know to be true of our relationship. The life is in the relationship, but the written reminders renew and refresh the joy of that knowledge. So it is and more with God's Word. His Word does not return void...but always - always - accomplishes whatever it was sent out to do. Take this love letter out often and use it to deepen the relationship you have with its Author. He speaks volumes through it!
As with any endeavor to somehow explain what we know of God, we eventually come to the point of realizing the most we can ever do is touch or scratch the surface of Who He is. The joy for you and I as believers is in the journey. What a blessed adventure this life becomes when we simply purpose to live it in relationship - in communion - with our God. he has made a way for us to hear and know Him. Where do we begin?
Ask God to open up your spiritual ears.
Just as the blind and deaf came seeking to have their eyes and ears opened, we need to see the truth of our need for Jesus...and then follow Him (Matthew 20:33; Mark 7:37). A simple prayer of beginning is to simply ask Him to open up your spiritual ears to better be able to hear His voice - in all of its many facets! You, as a new creation, already have those spiritual ears. As with a child who is learning to walk or speak, he must take that first step or say that first word for the endeavor to be successful. If you never try, you never will! By faith just believe you can hear the Lord...and then simply begin asking the right questions - and listen!
God speaks to those who are listening.
Listen for answers.
Be available. Those who wish to hear must put themselves in a position to listen. What would keep you from listening for His voice?
"My soul waits in silence for God only"
"My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him."
"Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to them,
"Sit here while I go over there and pray."
"And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying,
O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."
"And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep,
and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? "
I'm so busy! How can I take time to listen?
We make time for things we consider important. If I consider my family to be important, I will spend time with my family - no, I will make time for my family...or my wife...or my job...or my hobby...or my friends, etc.. You get the picture. Even when our families or our jobs seem to take a majority of our time, God has the ability to speak to us even in a crowd. So what does that mean for the busy man or woman? We must learn to hear Him even in a crowd. Of course, we need to seek time with God - alone time. But when that is not possible, we must open our ears to His voice no matter where we are. That would be the wise thing to do anyway!
So, how can I recognize God's voice?
As I stated earlier, God's voice is as distinctive as His character - His nature. Who He is will tell You how He would speak. In other words, As our Shepherd He will speak guidance when we are lost. As our Father, He will speak life and not death. Because He is a good Father and loves His children, His voice will also be recognizable by the power and results we see in His life. You see, just as the written Word of God does not return without accomplishing what it was sent to do, so, too, His spoken word does not return without accomplishing what He sent it to do! This means we will know His voice because we will experience His power in a real and tangible way in our lives. His voice will bring you:
- Encouragement - Hebrews 6:17-18
- Hope - Romans 15:4
- Peace - Phil. 4:6-7
- Increased faith - Matthew 21:21-22
- Sustaining power - Matthew 4:4
- Satisfaction - Rev. 3:20
- Security - Matthew 10:31-32
- Gratitude & Praise - Luke 18:41-43
- Healing - Mark 3:5; Mark 5:41-2
- Calming of fears - Mark 6:50
- Conviction of sin for the purpose of building us up.
Remember, the voice of the enemy speaks condemnation and attacks our identity and tears down our sense of worth (Rom. 8:1-5). The voice of our Father speaks truth and brings conviction of sin and always builds up the reality of who we are while tearing down the strongholds we have believed to be a part of our identity for so long. In other words, He speaks truth and the enemy speaks lies! Whom will you believe?
Another thing to remember about our Father's voice is that He will not force Himself upon us. He woos us as a loving Father who desires that we not remain in bondage to our old lives. He is jealous and patient and pursuant in His spoken love for us...but He does not force Himself on anyone who does not want Him...We must choose to listen!
...the kindness of God leads to repentance. Romans 4:2
Since the choice to listen and obey is ours, we must believe He can speak and give Him entrance to our hearts. There is no shame in admitting we have sinned. The true shame we experience is in not being honest with Him when we hear His questioning voice. To hide the sin (remember Adam and Eve?) only compounds the weight of our sin.
All things are possible to him who believes! Mark 9:23
What do we do when we can't hear His voice?
There have been many, many times and seasons in my life when I have found it difficult to hear His voice...times when I simply could not hear His voice. What do I do when those times occur? This is the point where faith and trust come into play. If He truly loves me and His Word is true, He will not leave me or forsake me. My job, as a new creation, is to lift up my ‘wings' of faith and fly on the ‘wind' of the Holy Spirit and trust that He is there even in spite of my lack of hearing. His Spirit will lift my faith above the dry times - through the unhearing times! He is there. I simply trust Him enough to know that He will not always remain silent and that even in His silence (as I perceive it) I know and trust His heart. He will not abandon me. I must simply trust Him with the depths of my being - with the depths of my heart.
And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
What would be a hindrance to hearing God's voice?
Noise is the biggest ‘deafener' I know! I cannot hear the voice of those who call to me as clearly in a storm. I cannot hear the voice of those who would call to me as clearly in a crowded room. I will not hear the voice of those who call me as clearly if I have my ears pointed toward other sources of sound. I cannot hear the voice of those who call to me as clearly if my focus is distracted by other ‘attractive' or interesting sounds. The enemy desires to deceive us. He often deceives us by imitating the voice of the Lord. The enemy can also speak through other sources. Not only can he disguise his voice, he will also add just enough of the truth to make his words seem somehow plausible. As Adam and Eve discovered, listening to other voices can get one into a lot of trouble. While other voices are not inherently or necessarily evil, they can become instruments of ‘vocalization' for the father of lies - the enemy of God - who very often comes to us disguised as an angel of light. What we must never forget is this truth: God cannot lie! Always test the voices you hear...for content of truth....content of God's nature and character...content of even the attitude in which the voice was spoken. There is a difference between blindly following every voice one hears and listening in a wise and discerning was. God cannot lie...therefore, His spoken Word will never contradict His written Word. When in doubt, seek those you trust and ask them to join you in discerning God's voice. We can trust the voice of God. We just need to make sure that is the voice we are listening to!
For they exchanged the truth for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.....and just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.
What are some other voices we've heard all our lives?
- Parents and family members
- Media: TV, Radio, Movies, Magazines, etc.
- The enemy - II John 7; Rev. 12:9
What are some examples of lies we often hear from the enemy?
- The Lie: This is just the way I am. I was born this way!
- The Truth: God can change your very nature! II Cor. 5:17
- The Lie: I've been told I was a failure my whole life.
- The Truth: God desires that you succeed. II Peter 3:9; Matt. 6:33
- The Lie: You are prideful and arrogant.
- The Truth: Let me show you how beautiful humility can be. Phil. 3:7-11
- The Lie: I'm so wounded I will never be able to trust again.
- The Truth: Let Me bear your burdens and take your greatest wounds or failures and make them your greatest strengths and triumphs!
- The Lie: God said He would not leave me or forsake me...but He did...
- The Truth: Let me take you back through the paths of your memories and show you how I was speaking...and why I spoke the way I did. Let me show you just how deep my love for you is. I was there.
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness.