What if you could hear God speaking? What diﬀerence would that make in your life? I don’t mean hearing an audible voice. I wouldn’t need to write about hearing that. You would just listen. Instead, I mean receiving a message from Him as a thought in the mind. The hearing I’m posing refers to receiving internal guidance from God, the leading of the Holy Spirit.
We need the instructions that Isaiah described: “Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left” (Isaiah 30:21, nlt). We need the fellowship that Jesus promised: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20, niv, emphasis added). He would not have told the church at Laodicea to listen for His voice at the door if no voice was coming.
Couldn’t we get more work accomplished investing four hours a day following God’s marching orders than we could in a ten-hour workday under our own wisdom?
1) Draw Near to Hear
God won’t track us down and tackle us to be heard. He speaks when we draw close enough to hear Him whisper. We will need to build into our lives patterns of personal worship, reflecting deeply on Scripture, and substantial times of prayer, connecting with God. But how can we finally crack the code to constancy in our devotional life?
I often hear people complain that they have never spent consistent time praying. With a guilt-ridden grimace, they explain that they just get busy and forget. I doubt that consciously trying hard to remember will ever solve the problem. The minute you get stressed, your discipline will lapse.
We need spiritual habits instead. The key to establishing spiritual habits is finding a time of day that consistently cues the habit. Then repeat your devotions at that same cue every day. Create a tenacious pattern that forms an impenetrable bastion of Scripture reading and prayer, triggered by that moment of the day. Have you ever had a bad habit that felt impossible to break? Good habits can become just as powerful as bad habits.
2) Join God in Doing Something He Likes to Talk about
Why should we expect God to give us speciﬁc directions if we aren’t doing something He’s interested in? If many of my prayers concern my own comfort, convenience, and wealth, it might turn out that God has little interest and no guidance to give me about such things. He may seem utterly silent because we haven’t yet asked Him any interesting questions.
When we pray about ushering in the justice of God’s Kingdom to our neighborhoods or the world, we may ﬁnd we have ﬁnally attracted His full interest. He may have a lot to say.
3) Discern the Voices
Our problem doesn’t seem to be that we can’t hear from God. It’s not a lack of voices. Our problem is having too many inﬂuences, a host of voices running through our minds and not enough discernment. We haven’t worked hard enough yet to test the voices and identify them. So how can we tell the difference? Start by recognizing the impact the voices have on your life.
Source of Thoughts Result
You Normal life at best and confusion at worst
Human expectations Anxieties
Demons Accusations, temptations, addictions, divisions, threats
God Eternal fruit, peace, contentment, rest
Look at the chart and ask yourself, “When I acted on that thought, what was the result?”
If you listened to a thought in your mind that led you to take action that bore eternal fruit, that’s the voice of God. No other could do that.
Do you recognize diﬀerences in the tone and the intention of each set of voices? We learn to distinguish between the voices in our heads the same way we discern the voices of people we know. Diﬀerent people sound diﬀerent.
You will learn to recognize God’s voice, just as surely as a sheep knows the shepherd. Jesus said, “His sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4, niv) and “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27, niv). If sheep can do it, we can too.
4) Think in God’s Presence
Often during my times of prayer, when I begin interceding for some person or project, I ﬁnd myself zoning out and thinking about the problems I face related to that person or project. I reﬂect on challenges and ruminate on potential solutions instead of doing anything that resembles prayer. I might be tempted to think I’m getting distracted from prayer. But what if my time of reflection can become part of hearing God’s voice?
In those moments, I can fall under the inﬂuence of the Holy Spirit’s guidance as I grapple with my problems. I call this “thinking in God’s presence.”
I believe Paul was talking about this when he said, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16, niv). Having the mind of Christ opens the door for us to comprehend mysteries and instructions that only God can reveal to us. Suddenly, you might find yourself eagerly writing down game-changing ideas and marching orders that seem downloaded straight from God.
5) Discern and Corroborate What You Hear
Once you have received what you perceive as a message or idea from God, test the idea to make sure it’s completely biblical. Spend time soaking the idea in Scripture to verify its source. Many have recreated God in their own image and heard from Him only the things that their itching ears longed to hear.
How can we tell for sure we aren’t just making stuﬀ up? Moses helps us answer that question:
But you may wonder, “How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?” If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message.
Deuteronomy 18:21-22, nlt
Test what you believe you are hearing to see if it results in spiritual fruit. Any words you receive from God should lead people closer to Him and to His Word.
It helps if others corroborate the message you believe you have received from God. You won’t be the only person in your faith community who is sensitive to the Spirit. It’s better if more than one seasoned follower of Christ comes to the same conclusion about the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Once you have some ministry success based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, remember that practice. What did that voice sound like in your mind? Learn the voice of the Shepherd. With experience, you can learn to more consistently receive guidance from God.
Greg Pruett has served as president of Pioneer Bible Translators, based in Dallas, Texas, since January 2007. Before that, Greg, along with his wife, Rebecca, and their three children, lived in West Africa for more than 12 years, where they completed a translation of the entire Bible into the Yalunka language and shared Christ’s love with people who traditionally follow the Quran. He has a degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M and both a master’s degree and a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary.