If you’ve been around church or Christian culture at all, you’ve heard some form of the expression, “the voice of God.” Most likely, you’ve wondered what that really means. Is it an audible voice? Does God really speak to “regular” people? Can I hear God’s voice? Is it all just a bunch of religious hype?
There is a story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elijah. Elijah was used by God to push back against the godlessness permeating the nation of Israel. Elijah stood up against the false god, Baal, and two of his most important followers, the king and queen of Israel (Arab & Jezebel).
The still, small voice of God
In this story (1 Kings 18-19), Elijah has just defeated the prophets and priests of Baal in an epic showdown. God shows up, and puts these holy men to shame (think water, fire and wicked, smart quips). The people of Israel rise up and kill these false holy men. The queen, Jezebel, is beyond angry and vows to kill Elijah.
Elijah runs for his life.
Hiding on the side of a mountain, Elijah has this encounter:
““Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?””
1 Kings 19:11-13 (NLT)
One of the outcomes of Jesus’ coming to earth was His gift of the Holy Spirit to us. Jesus and the Holy Spirit tore down the wall between the average person (me and you) and God. It allows for us to have the same type of encounter Elijah did with God. Specifically, it allows us to experience the “gentle whisper” or what the King James Version of the Bible describes as the “still small voice” of God.
How to hear God’s voice:
So, yes, God speaks, but it’s not usually in a loud, ostentatious rumble. God speaks quietly to our hearts. It’s quiet…a whisper.
Yes, God wants to speak to you, so how do you hear? How do you hear the voice of God?
There are lots of ways God speaks to people, but here is what I’ve done to hear God speak to me, and how I’ve found God most commonly speaks in my life
1. Slow Down (and be quiet)
We put too much of our spiritual life to chance. We live life so intentionally in our relationships, our eating habits, our physical routines, and our finances, yet when it comes to our spiritual lives we just let life happen.
I’m guilty of this. I’ve found the problem isn’t, “Will God speak to me?”, but “Will I listen for the voice of God?”
There really is only one way to listen, and it doesn’t mix well with our 21st century lives. How do you hear God’s voice? You need to slow down and be quiet. It may be one of the hardest things to do in today’s culture, but you have the choice to take intentional breaks to listen for God.
Patterns and habits work really well. For me it happens early in the morning at my kitchen table. For you it may be during the lunch hour walking through a nearby park. It could be in the evening in your favorite lounge chair. The key is finding the time and place where your heart and mind can be quiet and still. It’s the place you won’t be interrupted by people or technology.
Where is your quiet place? Where can you slow down and listen?
2. God’s voice: pay attention to “loud thoughts”
Why do we need to slow down and find a quiet place? If we go back to that story of Elijah, most often, God will speak to you through a gentle whisper to your spirit. If you’re not in a physical or emotional space to hear it, you won’t hear it.
Now, what does it mean…a gentle whisper? What is a still small voice? I’ve heard it described as “loud thoughts”. It’s a thought, an impression, or even a feeling that jumps out at you.
These are thoughts that you can’t quite let go. You try to move on to the next idea, but you keep falling back to the loud thought. I suggest if you come across one of these loud thoughts, write it down. Use a journal or a notes app in your phone to capture this idea.
Just because you have one of these loud thoughts, it doesn’t mean it is the voice of God. We’ll take a look at how we can measure these thoughts below. Between those safety nets and experience, you’ll quickly begin to decipher God’s voice in your life.
What “loud thoughts” have you had recently? Where did you record it?
3. God’s voice: the “outside voice”
When I was a kid, I was scolded for being too loud inside. I’m sure you were too. You may have been told to use your “inside voice” not your “outside voice”. Many times God speaks to us through an outside voice.
I don’t mean it’s a loud, audible voice (though God can speak this way). The outside voice is God using people, circumstances, music, books, media or any outside source to speak to you.
In some ways it is similar to those loud thoughts from God, it just comes from outside of ourselves. I may hear the outside voice of God as I read – the Bible, spiritual non-fiction, non-fiction and even a fiction book (Have you ever noticed how often an author promotes a particular world view?). Sometimes I hear Him driving in the car, listening to the radio. I even will hear the voice of God watching a movie or television show.
It won’t always be a “Christian” source either! God isn’t picky when it comes to speaking to us. God is Lord over all creation. He will use creation (His creation and human creation) to speak to you. He will use anyone and anything to speak to us…even a donkey (Numbers 22:21-29)!
Again, the question isn’t will God speak in this way, it’s will you hear His voice when he speaks. In this case, it doesn’t mean we are in our quiet place, but our heart is in a posture to hear.
The posture is humility.
Too often we approach conversations and circumstances with a belief we already know answers, outcomes, and truth. It may be true, but it may not be. If we don’t listen and hear with a posture of humility we’ll never know what God may be trying to tell us.
When have you heard God using His outside voice? What is your current heart posture?
4. Measure it (pt 1): Compare to scripture
So you had one of those loud thoughts, or you had a conversation that has changed the way your think about something. How do we really know if it is God speaking? Is it just my own weird idea? Was that person just really convincing? Was it the burrito I ate last night?
The first place to turn is scripture. You can be assured about this when it comes to the Bible:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT
If we hear something that contradicts the Bible, then it is not God.
If you think you hear God saying, “Ask that person on a date,” while you’re married, you know it’s not God. Why?
“You must not commit adultery.” –Exodus 20:14
“Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.” –Hebrews 13:4 (NLT)
That may seem like a obvious and simple example, but this is why so many people are skeptical when someone says they heard the “voice of God”. That phrase has been used to abuse people, institutions and the truth. We protect ourselves and others by comparing what we hear to what God has already said through the Bible.
If you are new to the Bible, this may be overwhelming. How do you know what the Bible says about what you heard? The internet is your friend. But don’t search for people’s opinions. The internet is full of “Christian” opinions that have nothing to do with the Bible.
When you search the internet, search for scripture. In the above example, search for scripture on “marriage” or “adultery”. You’ll have plenty of options to look and read through on almost any subject you are weighing. Also, don’t settle for finding just one verse or story. Try to find multiple references in both the Old Testament (before Jesus) and New Testament (after Jesus).
What does the Bible say about what you’ve heard from God?
5. Measure it (pt 2): Take to mentor
Sometimes scripture isn’t clear. It may seem obvious when you read one passage, but you read another that seems to say the opposite. In some cases, scripture doesn’t specifically cover what you’ve heard at all.
Maybe you felt like God called you to quit your job to go back to school, so you can get a better job. There isn’t a great scripture to answer the question, “Is this from God?” You do have the ability to take it to another source. Take to someone you admire and trust in the way they live their lives. It could be a pastor or minister you know. You may have a friend or parent who fits this role.
Again, the important position to have is humility. They may respond with the exact opposite of what you want to hear. They may challenge you in areas of your life you don’t want to deal with.
“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” –Proverbs 1:7 NLT
Submitting what you think you heard from God to another person (or group of people) is wisdom. The fear of the Lord is respecting God enough to make sure you are truly hearing from Him.
Who can you turn to when you hear God’s voice? Do you fear God?
Now you know.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, we tend to complicate things. We make knowing God harder than it needs to be. We complicate scripture. The same applies to hearing God’s voice. We make it bigger and more challenging than it needs to be.
God wants to speak to you. In fact, He probably has spoken to you more than you realize. You just haven’t been still and listened for the loud thoughts. It may be you’ve dismissed those outside voices as something besides God. Trust that God has been trying to speak to you, so take those loud thoughts and outside ideas to Scripture and a few friends.
Now you know, and as I learned from GI Joe in the 4th Grade, “Knowing is half the battle.”
What has God spoken to you recently?