How to Listen to God's Voice

by A. Gene Veal

We believe this study is extremely important. It could have an immeasurable impact on your Christian life. Please read this article and related articles prayerfully.

Before we present our comments on Listening to God, note C. H. Spurgeon’s comments on the importance of “HEARING GOD” —

“Hear So as to Be Heard”

“If ye abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7).

Note well that we must hear Jesus speak if we expect Him to hear us speak. If we have no ear for Christ, He will have no ear for us. In proportion as we hear we shall be heard.

Moreover, what is heard must remain, must live in us, and must abide in our character as a force and a power. We must receive the truths which Jesus taught, the precepts which He issued, and the movements of His Spirit within us; or we shall have no power at the Mercy Seat.

Suppose our LORD’s words to be received and to abide in us, what a boundless field of privilege is opened up to us! We are to have our will in prayer, because we have already surrendered our will to the LORD’s command. Thus are Elijahs trained to handle the keys of heaven and lock or loose the clouds. One such man is worth a thousand common Christians.

Do we humbly desire to be intercessors for the church and the world, and like Luther to be able to have what we will of the LORD? Then we must bow our ear to the voice of the Well-beloved, treasure up His words, and carefully obey them. He has need to “hearkendiligently” who would pray effectually.

C. H. Spurgeon,
The Cheque-Book of the Bank of Faith

Now please read our comments on “Listening to God.” The following study has been taken from our album of the same name. It has been partially transcribed from the three hour study and has been edited and adapted for our website by Lynn Margason.

Hearing God

I am not exaggerating when I say many Christians are threatened by the idea that God speaks to us here and now. Why is that? They go along thinking they have God tucked securely into their theology, believing they hold the key to knowing Him in their doctrine, and it unnerves them to hear reports that God is speaking to people they know at work, at church, or right next door. They are comfortable learning about Gods existence and His attributes, but show me a theological seminary anywhere with a class teaching students how to hear God speak. Wouldnt such a class be controversial! Objectors would rage against such subjectivity. So, no such classes are offered. This omission affects sermons and teaching in our churches; it results in the perception that God is “up there somewhere”, not here with us now.

It is normal for God to speak to His people. When youre in trouble; it is normal for you to expect God to send His messengers to help you. He sustains you. It is normal for God to comfort your heart and speak to you so definitely that you can stand in the middle of trial and tribulation and boldly proclaim what God gives you to say, or do what He empowers you to do. The entirety of Scripture witnesses to this. Think of Elijah, David, Nathan, Ezra, Jeremiah, Hosea, Isaiah Think of how God arranged for Philip to meet up with the Ethiopian eunuch. Think of Priscilla and Aquila enlightening Apollos. Think of John in exile on Patmos. God speaks to and through His people.

There are some people who are afraid to open themselves to the spiritual dominions; the very mention of words like meditation and tuning in to the unseen alarms them. The Bible does have plenty to say to any who fear evil. Fear should not motivate what you do or dont do. Whenever people in the Bible are approached by an angel, they have to be told first not to be afraid. It is natural to fear the supernatural. But, the Holy Spirit indwells us; Hes already on board. How are we to commune with Him?

The church is not made up of people who maintain archives on the subject of God; the Church is the living Body of Christ. The true Church is made up of members who maintain an ongoing, personal walk with Christ. They are empowered by His divine eternal energy step by step, hour by hour. Unless we know the vital voice of God in our spirits, unless we have that filling Bible-fed fellowship with Him by His Spirit, we are nothing. Unless we are dispensers of His love and grace, we are empty vessels.

When we gather together and share how God has impressed our hearts, we should find that what He has said to us is in keeping with what others have learned. There are four gospel accounts: Matthews, Marks, Lukes and Johns, but there is only one gospel. Why four versions? Because together they make the whole. Thats why we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. When we worship Him in Spirit and Truth, everything fits together. It is by His functioning love in us for one another that we know, and others see, we are of Him.

WHO are we listening to?

If we have a friend who is a historian studying George Washington, we may be very interested in the facts he unearths about one of our founding fathers, but, if that same friend comes to us and says, “while I was talking to George this morning,” we will immediately be concerned for him. George Washington is dead.

Jesus is alive.

God the Original Communicator

There are two essential truths in the Bible that are never explained. They are always assumed. The first is the eternal existence of God; the second is the fact that God speaks. There is an unbroken chain of communication between God and His people all through the Bible, but it is never discussed or proven, it just is. All that exists arose out of the womb of nothingness and the Voice of God. At the end of creation God created man in His own image. Whatever else that means, it means God made man able to talk and God, in the very beginning, introduces Himself as the Voice-Maker, the Communicator. He, the Original Communicator reaches out to the lesser communicator, Man.

Do you ever stop and ask yourself, “Who am I?” Most people question existence; but few marvel that they have the means to question it: speech. Go back to the events in the Garden of Eden and see this is what were made for: to communicate with God. When God made man, the first thing they did was talk; they had a conversation together. After man sinned, when God came to Adam and Eve, they still understood what He said and they were still able to reply. Even when the fall took place, this aspect of the relationship between God and man remained. Throughout the Bible those spoken to by God evidence not just a passive feeling, but a response. Sometimes their response is joy. Sometimes it is anger. When God spoke to the murderer Cain, Cain was resentful. That was his response. When God spoke to Moses, He met with resistance. There are people who argue with God. He is real; we are real. However you look at it, the Bible doesnt describe people experiencing mere ethereal thoughts; what is going on is solid, authentic communication between Creator and creature.

Plenty Imparted

Now, what did God say? We have plenty preserved of what God said to Adam and Eve and their descendants; many of His exact words are written for us, but much God imparted to those in scripture isnt quoted. In Genesis it says Enoch walked with God. You remember Enoch had a child he named Methuselah? Well, that name suggests God spoke to Enoch when they were walking together, because Methuselah means, “when he is dead it shall come.” The name pointed to the fact that when Methuselah should die, the flood would come. So, God must have imparted enough to Enoch for him to give his son such a name. And sure enough, Methuselah, who lived the longest life of any man ever recorded, did die right before the flood came.

Have you ever wondered how Noah received the plans for the ark? Somehow God gave him the blueprints. Now that is communication: to receive the exact dimensions of a vessel which had never been built before, that would be able to withstand the extent of the flood described in the Bible. Thats amazing!

Is the method of transmittal mystical?

Abraham was no mystic. These people God speaks to in scripture are not going around abstracted from their environment. These are just ordinary people. The Bible is down to earth; it speaks to us where we live. Abraham was a business man, a very successful one. Abraham couldnt have done what Im doing here; he was no teacher. He was a nomadic rancher. He moved along the regular trade routes of the Middle East. Yet God chose to speak to Abram out of all the people in his day; He spoke to him first back in Ur of the Chaldeans. God told him He would lead him to another land; He told him he would have a child; He told him that through that descendant all the families of the earth would be blessed. Abraham ordered his life around that inner voice of God. God entered into covenant with Abraham. You cant enter into covenant with an idea or a thought. You enter into covenant with a person.

Jacob is the last person youd classify as a mystic. Would you buy a used car from him? Not Jacob, the cheat, the twister. But Jacob was a man with a craving for God in his heart that wouldnt be put down. When God came to Jacob first in a dream, Jacob wrestled with Him. Jacobs lengthy life centered on the speaking voice of God.

God spoke to Jacobs son, Joseph, in dreams. What would you do if your sixteen-year-old came down to breakfast and said, I had a dream last night and all you guys were bowing down to me. That is what happened in Jacobs family; God spoke to that sixteen-year-old through dreams and continued to so communicate all through Josephs life that when he stood before Pharaoh, Pharaoh extolled, “there is no man like this in whom dwells the Spirit of God.” Joseph had the ear to hear the voice of God.

Moses the prince, the Godseeker, committed murder and ran off into the Sinai desert. There, as Moses the shepherd, he led what appeared to be a wasted life in the wilderness, until the voice of God came to him. God interacted with Moses right there on the job. God spoke to Moses from a burning bush. What happened to Moses could parallel you vacuuming your house and suddenly your vacuum cleaner bursts into flames right before you. Flames on your floor, but not spreading, and from the midst of them comes the voice of God. With the Voice of God directing Moses, the plagues of Egypt were delivered. When God gives you instructions He expects you to pay attention. Moses had to have complete confidence in God to stand before Pharaoh and tell him the frogs were coming. You better know for sure what God says before making such claims.

Do you remember little Samuel? There was no word from God in the land at the time Samuel was a child. The priest Eli was an old backslider, a tired old man who had let his children get out of control. The tabernacle was a mess; the goings on there were more like a mafia ring than a priesthood. Then, Samuel was given by his mother to the tabernacle to serve the LORD. And one night when he was falling asleep he heard someone calling his name. He jumped up and ran to the high priest and asked, did you call me? That tired old man, the backslider, remembered something about how God speaks. He told Samuel, go back and when you hear that voice again, say, “Speak Lord, your servant hears.” And thats how Samuel began an incredible career of listening to the voice of God and being a navigator for the nation of Israel through those terrible days. In Samuel 9 it says that God whispered in Samuels ear. As Samuel matured, God whispered and Samuel heard Him.

There were those holding conscious fellowship with God even in the dark age before the coming of Jesus. Simeon. The Holy Spirit had told Simeon he would not die before he saw the Holy One. Joseph, the betrothed of Mary, was capable of receiving Gods word in dreams. Even the Gentile wise men, who came from outside of the people of God, knew God had spoken; they believed the prophecies which pointed them to the star.

Hebrews 1:1-3 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds, who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

John the Baptist, like the moon setting, made way for Jesus, the Dayspring. Jesus rose like the Sunrise. Before Him the prophets had come conveying in part the message of God to His people. God had spoken through them so the people knew to expect their Messiah. But when Jesus came, it wasnt that He finally had the whole message they had prophesied partially. HE WAS the whole message. HE IS the final word from God.

The truth is not just facts God wants conveyed. The Truth is a person. Jesus is the Truth. Gods voice, Gods Word, Gods Truth are all summed up in the LORD Jesus Christ. In all that He is, all that He says, all that He did, in His finished work, you have the final Word from God. Theres nothing left to be said. Everything from the beginning correlates into Jesus. He is the message they all were given. This means our creed, our doctrine, our theology, are only shadows. Jesus is the reality.

How did they know God was speaking to them?

Jesus said His sheep know His voice. The early Christians burst on the world announcing that the Final Word from God had been given in Jesus Christ. They lived in a functioning communication with Him. Jesus was alive among them, in them, speaking to them. By His Spirit He led them and directed them in the furtherance of His Kingdom. Take Ananias in Damascus. The LORD told Ananias, go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and youll find there Saul of Tarsus. You dont find in that story that Ananias was astonished he was being spoken to by the LORD. Jesus is alive; what else should he expect? But he was astonished at what the LORD said. It was the content of what He said that shocked Ananias, not hearing Him. Think about that a moment. Here is Ananias living in New Testament times after Jesus resurrection and ascension. He is spoken to by God, the occasion is mentioned in Acts, but we arent told how Ananias heard Him. We just know he did hear and responded. He did what God told him to do. Through the obedience of Ananias, Saul learned what God had in store for him, and through Pauls response, we are given a plumb line to measure what we believe the LORD is saying to us.

Then, we have the incident when God revealed something almost inconceivable to Peter. Peter was a good orthodox Jew; hed been taught he shouldnt associate with gentiles. God came in while Peter was praying in the Holy Spirit, and through a combination of a vision and direct communication, He told Peter to go to the house of a gentile. The voice of the LORD swept away all of Peters prejudices and propelled him to the house of Cornelius.

The book of Acts is packed with occasions when God gave instructions to His people. At a critical board meeting in Jerusalem, after much dispute, the elders and deacons were brought to peace by the Holy Spirit and its written into their church minutes. The church in Jerusalem wrote to the “brethren who are Gentiles” saying, “for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” Because of His Presence among them they made a decision which affected the course of history for the Christian church. The Holy Spirit was chairman of their board. Thats how they operated; Im just reporting.

The Holy Spirit was so clear to them that when they wanted to go to Ephesus, He said, “No.” So, they turned around to go to Bithynia. He forbade them to. Then when they landed in Troas, He came to them in a dream and changed their heading. God was the vital directive influence in their lives. When Paul was in Corinth in the pits of depression, the LORD came and stood in his bedroom and said, “Paul dont give up, keep on preaching; I have many people in this city.” And He comforted him and strengthened him with the fact that even though he hadnt preached there yet, God had already chosen many people to listen to the Word and believe. He encouraged Paul by coming to him and talking to him personally.

How does it happen?

When God speaks, you know it in your spirit because He speaks in your spirit. You dont make it happen; He does. God is the initiator.

There is not an official mechanical means by which God speaks to every person. Even examining the Biblical descriptions we have, we find a curious variety of methods. God spoke through angels, bushes, donkeys, husbands, fleeces, thunder, wives, prophets, winds, parchments, visions, dreams, and a mysterious priest named Melchizedek. His voice is both described as a still, small whisper and like the rushing of many waters. It is interesting to look at each encounter between God and the person He is speaking to and note that about the only similarity in these cases is that each person knew he was being spoken to by God and he heard Him. Most of the books of the prophets begin with the baffling phrase, the Word of the LORD came to. It often tells us where this took place, and in what year, and to whom it came, but it doesnt tell us how it came. It is almost as though there is an unspoken understanding that the way in which we personally hear God need not be described. The mode by which He speaks to us isnt what God wants us to react to; it is what He says that matters.

There are distinguishing characteristics about His voice and His words which set them apart from all others. Several times in the Bible His voice is compared to the sound of rushing waters. What might that tell us about it? Like rushing waters, it overwhelms our senses, it drowns out all else, it rivets us.

When God speaks in your heart it doesnt matter where your mind has been going; He blocks and overrides all circuits. You are captivated by His voice speaking to you. He commands your undivided attention. There is absolute certainty in what He says. What He says is right. His word has perfect balance and proportion. Everything He shows us fits together seamlessly. The word He gives us is complete. Everything He says compliments everything Hes been showing us. His Presence fills us with well-being.

When does He speak?

When you are immersed in His Word and in knowledge of Him and are waiting on Him, He makes Himself known to you. What Im talking about is His Presence; not just an emotional experience which suggests Hes around, but He, Himself, manifesting His Presence. As we abide in Him, He comes and makes His Presence inexplicably known. God first impresses us with His Sovereignty. This aspect of the voice of God causes us to drop all that were doing, so we just stand in wonder, in worship, awestruck before Him as He shows us Who He is: Holy, unbegun, infinite, eternal. By contrast He reminds us of our creatureness; He awes us into place. Then once we are ready to hear Him in humility, He comes to us personally. He speaks His Word of wisdom, of direction, of comfort, of assurance, of strength. We recognize that all we need comes from Him, not from ourselves or any other source. He proves He is with us. His Presence speaks to our spirit just as it did after His resurrection. Although they knew He was gone, they also knew He was there.

How are we to listen for Him to speak?

We must have an attitude of childlike openness. Remember little Samuel?

To have functional fellowship with a living God we must develop the habit of stillness. We cant hear God speak when there is a din of noise inside us. He doesnt speak to our flesh and our emotions. We must learn to be still and know He is God. Jesus said, enter into your closet and shut the door. There is a closet inside of you where you can shut the door while life goes on around you. And so often, when you shut that door, you get direction about how to proceed in the midst of whats going on. You must practice being present to God. It is very little comfort to know that God is present everywhere if you are not present to Him where you are. Thats stillness. We are to wait on Him, worship Him, recognize it is Him we want, not His blessings. It is Him we want, not the experience of Him speaking. (See our album on Being Present to God.)

How do we discern the difference between our own thoughts and His Voice? When we are quiet there are many thoughts that come; but our task is to hear Him in the midst of those thoughts. Its like tuning in a radio to a particular frequency, you have to ignore the whole mass of static and strange voices coming in, and zero in on the one you are searching for. Hes speaking, were just not always listening. At work, you puzzle over a problem and then He comes and you know the answer to it. You only know it because He told you. He gives you wisdom beyond your own. There are times when you are wallowing in depression, there seems no way out, but Hes there. Just as He was with Paul. And He speaks a word and suddenly a peace that passes all understanding comes over you. Nothing in your circumstances has changed, but you now have His perspective on them, you are learning like Paul to be content in whatsoever state you are in.

How do we tune in?

If God is going to be heard clearly, we must live in a habitation of mediation upon His word. We must immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, basing our thinking upon His Word, filling ourselves with it; letting His Living Water wash our minds clean of the worlds distortions of reality. Then, when through His Word He speaks to us, we are in the right state of mind to receive what He says.

Hebrews 4:12 For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts an intentions of the heart.

Those words describe Jesus dealings with us as the Word of God. The first test of whether Ive really heard God speak to me is to check what was said against the written Word. The first two screening questions must be: does this add to the written Word of God? Does this contradict what He has already said? If it disagrees with the Scriptures, it is not of Him.

Paul wrote some harsh words to the Galatians. Galatians 1:8-9 Even if we or an angel from heaven should speak to you a gospel that is contrary to that which we have preached, let him be accursed. In verse 9 he repeats the same thing. Twice over in two verses. When angels come to visit, we arent to drop the Bible and receive them without question. Rather, we should say, “sit down, angel, let me check what you say with the scripture.” Gods Word is the last word. If what were hearing doesnt line up with the Word of God, its not His Word. Theres more out there than the Holy Spirit; we dare not walk in this world except in the Spirit. Without His protection we can get really weird; we can commit gross sin. Every confused and amateur Christian is in that condition due to ignorance or disregard of Gods written Word. Listening to God never means seeking extra-Biblical revelations. If what we hear really is God speaking in our hearts, it will be encompassed in a principle already written in the Word of God. He will be showing us a Biblical principle to apply to our lives today. Jesus was saturated in the Scripture; he quoted it continually. In this, as in all things, He is our model.

So does God ever speak outside of His written Word? Well, if you consider there are countries where no Bibles are allowed, I would dare say God has ways of speaking to His people who are in those dark places. They dont have a Bible. But isnt it interesting, that those people who first hear God without the Scripture, will risk their physical lives to lay hands on a Bible. God reveals Himself through His Spirit. In the actual experience of hearing God speak to us, He may speak to us in an inner voice, or while we are listening to teachers, or He may say something to us deeper or not even connected with the sermon we are listening to, but although He can speak to us through circumstances, collectively and individually, anything we hear which we attribute to Him must be in harmony with His objective and living Word.

Gods communion with us is ongoing. Within that on-going-ness there are moments when you dont know where to stand or where to turn. As Isaiah says, “you turn to the right, you turn to the left; you hear this voice behind you saying, this is the way walk in it.” Go on, walk in it. Hes telling you. This is the Christian walk.

Colossians 3:15 Let the peace of God rule in your heart.

Finally, there is the confirmation of His Peace. Whenever God speaks, even if what He is saying to us is corrective, there will always be His peace with it. The peace of God acts as an umpire in your heart. This is how we know what we are hearing is from Him; there is a peace that accompanies it. Maybe there comes a time when an opportunity opens for you, but you dont feel right about taking it. Just stop. Your peace is disturbed. Wait for His peace to tell you it is OK to go ahead; if you dont receive it; dont go. In walking with Him, in making decisions, keep consulting His umpiring peace.

May the Peace of God umpire your heart and mind as you continue to learn how to listen to Him. God bless you with a full knowledge of who you are in Christ.

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