Editor's Note: Read Part I of this series, God Is Not the Silent Type.

How many times have you sensed a voice telling you to do something but you considered it a distraction? Maybe other times you’ve felt the inkling to do something, but brushed it off as silly or too elemental to be the voice of God.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve had many people, especially young women I’ve been discipling, ask me about how to actually hear or discern the voice of God. We can sometimes think our own hopeful thoughts or our doubtful, misleading thoughts are God’s voice. And there are other times we mistakenly pass off God’s genuine voice as merely our own thoughts.

Some women sit down to read their Bibles and have a myriad of distracting thoughts: I should do the dishes first. I’ve got to remember to call Mom. I wonder what that ache in my shoulder is really about? It’s safe to say these are clearly thoughts from our own human nature that distract us from spending time in God’s Word. Other people I know have frightening thoughts they believe are from God, such as visions that they or loved ones will be injured or killed. But 2 Timothy 1:7 says God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear. We also know that the Spirit of God is a Comforter, not one who instills fear. Therefore, we should ask ourselves: Is this thought in the nature of God? Does it sound like something He would say?

Not every “distracting thought” is God’s voice. You would need to ask yourself:

  • Does the thought have anything to do with what I’ve been praying about?
  • Does it sound more like human reasoning or spiritual direction?
  • Is it consistent with the nature of God?
  • Does this thought strengthen me spiritually?
  • Does this thought prevent me from pursuing God’s ways?

Sometimes, though, that “distracting voice” is God trying to tell you what to do. It’s His whisper. But we must be sensitive to recognize it. Jesus said in John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Here are four ways that you can begin to tune your ear to hear God’s voice so you recognize it, follow it and don’t miss what He’s trying to say to you:  

1. Cut out the noise

Michael W. Smith recorded a song back in the 1980s about how we live in a “world that’s wired for  sound.” Yet how much more background noise is around us today – from house-hold appliances, to blaring traffic, car alarms, cell phone ring tones and the noises that get embedded in our heads. We even walk around with iPod cords hanging out of our ears! I know people who don’t like it when the house is too quiet and actually keep their televisions on for background noise or can’t imagine driving without the radio playing.

Try shutting off the television, switching off the radio, taking out the iPod and cutting out the noise. There may be some ringing in your ears for a few minutes, but that’s the sound of silence. And it’s the first step to getting ready to listen. We can’t expect to hear God if we’re crowding Him out with other voices and sounds.

2. Confess what’s in your heart

By confessing sin, you are eliminating the barriers in your heart and mind that may be preventing you from hearing God’s voice. We can lose the ability to hear God’s voice when we develop hearts that harden and then become callused with sin. Sin builds a deafening ear to the voice of God, just as sin in our life deafens us to God’s ear, as well (Psalm 66:18).  Confess not only your actions, but your attitudes and anxieties as well. When your heart and mind are cleared of any offenses against Him, you will be prepared to hear Him.