Since the beginning of time God has spoken,
to every generation, and to all who seek him. No one who has encountered the Word of God has walked away unchanged. Profound wonder, peace, and impact marks communication with our Creator. But what does it mean to hear God?
Listen for his voice
Much like our own thoughts are unseen but very real; the spiritual world, while it makes an impact on the world around us, is sensed differently than the physical world. To hear someone say "God spoke to me" might sound very new to you. But the person who is learning to hear the voice of God is turning their spiritual ears to hear a voice that's different than audible sound. It's kind of like when someone says, "Oh! Do you hear that bird?" and you hadn't even noticed a bird at all. But when you open your ears and search for the sound of that bird, there it is. It had been singing all along, you just hadn't noticed.
It's different for everyone. Those who enter into the mystery of communicating with God may describe it as "hearing God's voice," "feeling his presence," or "receiving knowledge." It's something that can happen the minute you seek God for the first time, and it's something that can be mysterious even twenty years after our first encounter. There's no formula, but here are some considerations that may help.
“and god said…”
Almost every account in the Bible is about how someone responded to what God said. Reading through the Bible and observing the relationships that developed through the words shared between God and people, is a great way to learn how God speaks. That and listening for God’s voice yourself.
Read, Listen, & Journal what you hear
Reading scripture with a listening ear is profoundly life-changing. Head over to BibleGateway.com with your own paper or purchase a special journal like the one here. Regardless, the most important thing is to quiet your heart and listen.
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How do we hear God?
Ask God a question. In your mind or out loud, it doesn't matter. Where you are is irrelevant. Just ask.
Turn your ears to hear. Open your awareness to the possibility of hearing God's voice and wait. Wait quietly for a time, or go about your day, with an attitude of waiting. Try not to fill in the space with words or thoughts.
Hear. It may come as an impression, and idea. Suddenly you have knowledge that you didn't have before, and the surety of that knowledge is uncanny. You may be able to put words to it, and know what it means, even though you didn't hear actual words. You may see, hear, or read something and it stands out like never before with a stronger meaning than usual. But how do you know? How do you know it's the voice of God and not just your own mind making things up? How do you tell God apart from your own desires?
How do we discern God's voice from others, even our own thoughts or ideas?
There are some indicators that help us know if what we’re hearing is coming from God.
God's Word draws you closer to God Sometimes our desires war with God. We want something material to make us feel better, or we want to see someone change according to our ideals. Ultimately, though, we often find that God's Word spoken to us reveals the surety and goodness of God's plan for us. He may show us that our ability to do what he is calling us to do doesn't just lie on our shoulders. There are a thousand ways God responds to our listening hearts, and it always draws us closer to him.
God's Word is undeniable. If it's your own desires, they'll change over time, or maybe wane a little even a little while after feeling them. But when you check something in your heart that God has said, it will remain steady and certain.
God's Word eventually brings peace. Something God asks us to do something difficult, and we may feel apprehensive about being able to proceed. But as we rise to the challenge, it will be accompanied and followed with peace. Your desires and fears, and the circumstances may swirl around you, but every time you return to that Word, to that new knowledge, it will bring peace.
God's Word is not accompanied by urgent panic. There's a voice inside our head that pushes us and compels us to move forward towards our own desires. Sometimes those can even appear to be good desires - to help someone or do something great. But if it's not God calling us into it, our feelings can really lead us astray. Don't misunderstand, God may ask you to do something right away, but God can still accomplish his purposes even if you don't follow through. Acting in frenzied panic is never part of the mix.
God's Word is always right. 100% of the time. It may take time to learn to recognize God's voice. We have our own wants and ideas that sometimes shout louder. If you hear something that you think might be God, and it doesn't come to pass; that's a good learning experience in what is not God's voice. If it does come to pass, you may be onto something.
Is it constructive or destructive? God brings life. God brings wholeness. God brings new things. He doesn't destroy relationships, he heals them.
Learn what God has done in the past. While his response to individual situations may be unique, God's character is unchanging. One reason people read the Bible is to observe God's character. Talking to other people who have experienced communication with God can be another check. Knowing what God has done before, said before, asked people to do before, can help you discern whether what you've heard lines up with God's character.
Was it a sign? This is often asked - maybe you see a rainbow just after requesting a word from God, or maybe your lucky number. Was this a sign from God? God does send signs. It's only a sign from God if his Word accompanies that sign. You can see the rainbow, but if he didn't speak to you in your heart, then it's just a rainbow.
Be open to mishearing God. Our hearts are full of desire. Sometimes those voices of desire can clamor louder than any voice. Take a step back, don't be discouraged, and try again.
A word of caution. None of us want people going around telling others that we said something that we didn't. This is of greater consequence when professing to speak for the Creator. Until you're 100% sure that it was the voice of God that you've heard, when talking to others consider phrases like, "I was praying and I felt this message strongly," or "I think God may be saying this and I'm trying to discern if that's true."
Experience doesn't matter. Whether you're just now furtively stepping out into this unknown, or whether you've known and believed God for years, God's voice can be heard. Hearing God's voice doesn't depend on intellectual capacity, age, race, class, our mental health, how many blogs you've read, or anything else that people stake their knowledge or abilities on. God created all of us and we are all eligible to hear God's voice.
Response does matter. If you hear God's Word, respond! God's power, joy, and contentment follows the person who responds heartfully.