Does God speak to you? One of the greatest joys of the Christian life is hearing the voice of God. He may be telling me what to do, which way to go. He may be revealing new insights about Himself or others. Sometimes I just hear a quiet “I love you,” and those are the words I cherish the most.
One challenge in listening to God is that He so rarely speaks audibly. Rather, it’s that “still, small voice” inside of us, whispering to our spirit. We have to still ourselves to hear Him. And while God is perfect at making Himself known, we don’t always hear perfectly what He has to say. Sometimes, we simply get it all wrong.
Then, there are the other voices we hear, voices that are not from God. Demons are real, and their insidious voices whisper lies. “You’re not good enough.” “God can never forgive what you did.” “Go ahead—you can always ask for forgiveness later.”
Often, the loudest voice I hear is my own. Especially when I intensely want something, my own desires drown out any other input. It’s almost impossible to discern God’s voice when our own is clamoring.
With all this noise, how do we know that impressing we’re getting is from God? How can we be sure we’re hearing clearly? It’s not easy, but God doesn’t leave us guessing. After all, He wants us to obey. We can be confident that effort on our part will be rewarded if we honestly seek Him.
Our first stop should be the Bible. God will never contradict Himself. He voice never conflicts with His word. If you aren’t 100% familiar with every verse (and who is?), try using some Bible software such as BibleGateway.com or the Blue Letter Bible. You can look up keywords or search through a list of applicable verses on a number of topics. Remember to do more than confirm what you heard. Look up the opposite point of view, too. You might be surprised by what you learn.
For example, we know someone who is unemployed, out of money, but refusing to look for work. He insists that God told him not to, and is expecting others to provide him with food and housing. Yet, 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Did he hear God correctly?
What about times when the Bible isn’t clear? There are areas where sincere Christians disagree, but we call it heresy when Scripture is twisted to conform with “special revelation.” That kind of attitude gives rise to cults. Compare your interpretation with that of orthodox belief. The church has been around for 2,000 years. As our pastor likes to say, “Old is good.”
It also helps to check out commentaries, blogs, and other resources. Just remember, those are human interpretations, not God-breathed truth.
We may find that what we hear is Biblical—but does it apply to our current situation? There’s the classic joke about the new Christian asking God what he should do that afternoon. Flipping through the Bible, he jabbed his finger onto a page at random and read So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5) “Shocked, he flipped to a different page and tried again. This time he read Luke 10:37, “Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Is God telling you something that fits with reality? What happens when we think God told us to do something, but it isn’t possible? More than once, we’ve heard stories like this one:
God told me to start a ministry. I’m supposed to do [such-and-such] and give it this exact name. We prayed and He even gave us this exact URL.
Well, that’s great, but did you know that this other ministry is doing exactly the same thing, and they already own that name and URL? Are you prepared to either join them, or pay a lot of money to convince them to sell it to you?
God has some pretty crazy ideas. If you heard Him say, “Go to Mars!” you might want to get your spiritual hearing checked! On the other hand, God’s directives don’t always make perfect sense, at least from our earthly perspective.
He told Paul to go to Jerusalem, knowing that it would be a death sentence. He told Pete and I to give up an ideal ministry situation, where all our expenses were covered, and move 1,000 miles to another state to live off sporadic donations and intermittent consulting work.
How do you know if the crazy idea you’re hearing is truly from the Lord? Put out a fleece. Here’s how it worked for us:
In order to verify that we were indeed hearing God’s voice, and knowing that a mistake would be very difficult to correct, we asked Him for confirmation. He was happy to provide plenty, and we could obey with confidence.
If you sense you’re supposed to go to New York, and you only have enough gas to get to Ohio, ask God for confirmation and then get on the road—and trust God to provide as you obey. (But don’t use “waiting for confirmation” as an excuse to delay your obedience!)
Check the Bible. Check reality. Double-check what you’re hearing. Then step out in faith.