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4 Ways to Hear God Speak and Discern His Voice

4 Ways to Hear God Speak and Discern His Voice

Many of us talk to the Lord often and just want to hear Him talk back now and then. But sometimes we aren’t sure how He’s going to do it. We’re not sure what to listen for. In the more than 40 years since I’ve given my life to Jesus Christ, I can probably count on one hand the times God has spoken to me in a life-changing, memorable moment. And in none of those experiences was there an audible voice, a thundering from heaven, a burning bush, or a rushing wind. It was usually a still small voice that gave me an inner peace, a loving rebuke that changed my ways, the written Word of God that pierced my heart, or a sense of calling and direction that wouldn’t let me be until I followed.

God speaks in various ways by the Holy Spirit to those in relationship with Him – through His Word (the Bible), through prayer (and what He lays on our hearts to pray for), through circumstances in our life, and through the church (godly advice from believers). And in my experience, I would have to say that He has spoken most clearly when I’ve been the most obedient, the most in need of comfort, and for the most part, not straining an ear to hear Him.

First, let's look at four ways God speaks to us:

God Speaks Through His Word

God often speaks to us through His Word, bringing Scripture alive before our eyes to speak to our specific need or situation. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” His Word is all these things so that we will have everything we need – even intimate communication through His gentle teaching, reproof, correction, and training of our hearts and souls. So when you read God’s Word and you are enlightened, convicted or corrected, God has spoken to you.

The Bible also says God’s Word is “living and active.” “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit….it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). When your heart is pierced and you sense God is speaking directly to you, it’s probably because He is. He just touched your heart with His Word.

The Lord speaks to us in different ways at different times and in different tones, sometimes saying the same thing He always says but in a way that recaptures our heart and causes us to fall deeper in love with Him.

God Speaks through His Witnesses

God’s Spirit indwells those who have a relationship with Him. Therefore, God can speak to you through the wise counsel of another believer. Bu there we must be careful. When we sense God is speaking to us through someone else, we must ask ourselves:Does this contradict anything in God’s Word?

Is this something that provides peace and healing?

Is this within the nature of God?

Can this be backed up by Scripture or the affirmation of godly people?

I can recall many people God has spoken through to get a message across to me during various stages of my life. During my college years, my cousin gave me some timely words in a gentle way that really made me think about how I was coming across to others. Then God spoke through my youth pastor who confronted me from time to time about aspects of my character that could cause me heartache later on in life. Sometimes God speaks to us through others to convict us, reprove us, encourage us, or direct us. When He does, and we have tuned our hearts to listen, we will feel a sense of peace and rightness about what was said, even if the words are painful to hear.

God Speaks through the World He Created

Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” This Psalm tells us that God speaks through His creation – sometimes to tell us how great He is, other times to tell us how much we are loved.

God Speaks through Whispers on the Heart

Sometimes we feel urged to do something and we can’t explain why. Through prayer and discernment we can figure out if that is God’s whisper on our heart. Sometimes God speaks to us this way through prayer by nudging us to pray for something we wouldn’t otherwise have prayed for. When God directs our prayers He is speaking to us, whispering to us words of guidance, discernment, encouragement. Sometimes we call this our conscience or our “little voice inside.” But the One who dwells within us has a voice as well. I call it my “loving voice inside.” He whispers encouragement. He whispers to me suggestions for acts of love toward someone in need. He whispers words to say at the proper time to heal another’s heart. Sometimes it’s whispers of warning like “Stay away from that. You know better.” When you hear your ‘loving voice inside,” thank Him for what He spoke to you.

There is no sure-fire formula for hearing God speak. He speaks in His own way and in Hs own time to the hearts that are prepared to hear Him. But if we cultivate a heart to hear, we can be sure that His silence is not on account of our not listening.

How to Know it's God's Voice Speaking to You

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.

3. Come before Him quietly

Do you expect to hear God on the fly? Are you thinking He’ll interrupt the busyness of your life to speak? I’ve found in my own life that God tends to speak when I get quiet enough to listen. To come before Him quietly doesn’t necessarily mean silently. It implies stillness as well. David prayed in Psalm 62:5”My soul, wait in silence for God only.” We don’t know how long David had to wait, only that he waited. I imagine his waiting wasn’t just done quietly, however. David had to not only be silent, but be still. Silence is external. Stillness is internal. Being quiet in the inner recesses of our heart means not worrying, not thinking of things to do, cutting out the noise in our heads as well.

Sometimes we can be refreshed by God’s presence simply by being still. No words, no specific direction or command – only stillness. That is His comforting  presence on our heart, His smile at our stillness, His pleasure at our rest.

4. Consider the Lilies

Sometimes a few moments alone can cause us to look around and “smell the flowers.” It was times like this, when the songwriter, Asaph, was waiting for God to reveal Himself, that he saw Him in the clouds, rain, and wind (Psalm 77:17-18). Times of silence and reflection give God an open channel to your heart. Maybe the only thing He wants to tell you is to take notice of what He has made. Why? Because He loves you. Because He’s a great God. Trust your ability to perceive and recognize beauty and draw conclusions therein. It’s one of the ways that God can communicate with you.

No matter where you are in life, God wants to communicate with you. If you aren’t in the habit of listening for His voice, He wants to show you how. If you’ve been confused about direction for your life, He wants to clarify things for you. If you simply want to know Him more, He wants to teach you all you need to know in a relationship with Him. He also longs to encourage you in your need, comfort you with His promises, and affirm to You His love. But it’s up to you to cultivate a heart that listens so that you can receive what He has to say.

Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and the author of several books including When Women Walk Alone, Women on the Edge, and When Women Long for Rest. This article is adapted from her book Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs. For more on Cindi’s books or ministry or for free resources to help strengthen your soul, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.

Photo credit: unsplash/@rainierridao