Have you heard God’s voice before?
Most of us probably haven’t heard him audibly. But if you have surrendered your life to him and are now a new creation, you have heard his voice. It was the Holy Spirit’s leading, or the voice of God, that drew you to receive Jesus in the first place.
Through an audible voice
It’s fascinating to see God’s communication and interaction with men and women in the Bible. A classic encounter where God spoke audibly was when he appeared to Moses out of the burning bush in Exodus 3. He was shepherding a flock out in the plains of Moab when he noticed a bush caught on fire, yet not consumed. God told him to take off his sandals because the ground on which he was standing was holy. Moses had his first real encounter with the Great I AM which changed his reality forever. He would no longer be tending sheep, but he would be leading God’s people out of Egypt into the Promised Land.
The Father at the baptism of Jesus
God spoke audibly at times to publicly acknowledge His Son on earth. When John baptized Jesus at the beginning of His ministry (Matthew 3:17), God the Father spoke, “This is my beloved Son, of who I am well pleased.” On a different occasion, Jesus is teaching and says out loud, “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (Luke 12:28). Jesus later said that His Father spoke out loud for everyone to hear so that the people would recognize His authority and know that the Father did, in fact, send Him.
Let’s examine the story of young Samuel when God speaks to him in an audible voice in 1 Samuel 3. The Bible said that “in those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (verse 1). People did not receive many direct revelations of God.
So Samuel didn’t know God’s voice when He first called him. He thought Eli, the priest who was raising him up to be set apart for God’s work, was speaking to him. However, Eli didn’t know the Lord was calling Samuel either until after two more occasions of Samuel coming into his bedroom, thinking that Eli was calling him. Finally, Eli had the revelation that God might be trying to get the boy’s attention. He told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” Samuel then obeyed Eli, and the Lord did indeed speak to him a third time.
The message that God delivered to Samuel was a hard one to hear: He told him how He was going to discipline Eli’s family, as his sons had no regard for the Lord, and Eli had failed to correct them (1 Samuel 3:13). It’s interesting that God didn’t just go right to Eli, but instead He chose to speak this message to Samuel, a child. Clearly, God does not hide important messages from children. Rather, He trusts them with important information.
God does not always reveal Himself through an audible voice. In fact, He more often speaks through other forms. Through the story of Elijah, we see His glory manifested to the prophets of Baal and the people of Israel. And in the next part of the story, we see how God reveals Himself to Elijah in a very personal way.
The prophet Elijah had just witnessed the Lord reveal His glory and righteous zeal to the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, the servants of rebellious Queen Jezebel. He had just administered a showdown between the powers of Baal and the one true God. He told all the people that the God who would answer by fire is the real, living God. To no avail, the servants of Baal had spent all day asking their god to consume an altar with fire. From morning until noon, they called on the name of Baal, with no answer. They started cutting themselves, their blood flowing freely as they danced around the altar to get his attention. Finally, it was Elijah’s turn to show them who was boss.
He built an altar to the Lord with a deep trench around it. Then he designated four large jars full of water to lay on the offering and on the wood. Not just once, but three times. Next, Elijah cried out: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God and that you are turning their hearts back again” (verses 36-37). Elijah’s heart cry was that the people would have an understanding of the Lord’s nature. So how did the Lord respond?
The text says that “the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they prostrated themselves and cried, ‘The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!’”
Through a Gentle Whisper
Elijah’s story does not end here. You would think that Elijah would rest securely in the Lord after he saw him move in this mighty way. How often do we see God do something miraculous but then fail to trust him when life gets scary?
King Ahab, as you can imagine, was not too happy about this holy demonstration of power. He also did not love that his prophets got synched after Elijah orchestrated their destruction. He set out on a mission to kill Elijah.
As one would expect, Elijah ran for his life. He was planning on spending the night in a cave when the word of the LORD came to him:
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” The Lord clearly has a sense of humor, since it wasn’t a mystery to him what Elijah was hiding from King Ahab. But God is good at asking questions that reveal our heart to us. He doesn’t ever need information from us but instead desires vulnerability in our communication with him.
Elijah replied, a little defensively: “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
“The Lord says, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
Elijah came to the Lord afraid of being killed, but the Lord did not chastise him for this. The way that the Lord responds may at first appear as if He doesn’t care about Elijah’s safety. That is not true. Instead, the Lord is most concerned about relationship with Elijah. He is excited for Elijah to encounter Himself.
First, He manifests himself through a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but then He chooses to speak to Elijah through a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard the whisper, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out to meet the Lord at the entrance to the cave (1 Kings 19:13). There, he told the Lord his fear about losing his life. Out of this conversation, the Lord raised up a successor for Elijah- Elisha- who would continue his ministry in an even more glorious way than Elijah.
The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
Maybe you’ve heard the Lord’s gentle whisper before, and you didn’t know it was Him. Have you ever had a thought that seemed to come out of thin air? Maybe you had an idea that brought clarity to a decision or showed you where to go. Or it also could have reminded you of an important piece of information that you needed to know at that moment. Or perhaps it was leading you to speak to a certain person. It is easy to mistake the voice of God for our own thoughts.
But in reality, if the Spirit is living within you, then you can trust that He will lead you and speak to you, not just regarding big decisions, but in all areas of life. John 16:13 says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” That means the Holy Spirit wants to give us His thoughts, emotions, promptings, and inspirations.
Aligning our Thoughts with the Word of God
How do we know if a thought is from God? Most often, God speaks to us through His Word. The Bible is the way we learn about God’s character and His dealings with people throughout history. All Scripture is “breathed out by God” and is the guide for a life set apart to Him (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
We must bring all thoughts, desires, inclinations, or urges to the Word of God for comparison and approval. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
We can ask the question: Does this thought line up with the Word of God? If the thought is not encouraging or aligning with God’s character and nature found in the Bible, we can assume it is either our own thought or a lie from the Devil. The Holy Spirit will never lead us to gratify the sinful desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16); He will always show us how to be more like Jesus (1 Peter 1:2).
Life on earth is a spiritual battle. The Enemy is eager to take us off course to distract us from God’s will (1 Peter 5:8). We must stay aware to ensure that what we need is more than a feeling but is truly from God Himself.
Here’s some more questions to ask when “testing the spirits” (1 John 4:1): Are the promptings confusing or vague? Remember that God is not the author of confusion; He is the Author of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). Do the thoughts go against God’s Word? God will never contradict Himself. Will following these promptings lead to sin? Those who “keep in step with the Spirit” have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24–25).
In addition, it is good to seek counsel from a Christian friend, family member, or pastor (Proverbs 15:22). Our spiritual leaders are there to help shepherd us: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).
God does not want us to fail. He’s our cheerleader. He constantly is speaking, if we will take time to listen. The more we wait on Him, the better we will be at distinguishing His voice from the other noises in our heads. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gives His promise: “He goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). Others may speak, “but the sheep [do] not listen to them” (verse 8). The better we know our Shepherd, the less we have to worry about listening to the wrong voice.
If you are a follower of Jesus, then you can trust that the Holy Spirit is living in you, and you do hear the voice of the Lord. Taking time throughout the day and asking questions like, “Lord, how do you feel about me right now?” or “Lord, what are you saying about this person?” or “Jesus, how do you see this situation right now?” can help you to stay in a place of hearing from him and abiding with him.
Hindrances to Hearing God’s Voice
There are little foxes or pitfalls that can keep us from hearing what God is saying to us. It’s important to move in the opposite spirit in order to stay in a place of alignment with the Lord.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart for any bitterness or unforgiveness. If He does reveal something of that nature to you, deal with it immediately by repenting or asking forgiveness to the highlighted person before you continue in prayer (Mark 11:25).
- James 1:8 tells us not to make requests with doubt in our hearts but to believe with full assurance that God does hear our prayers.
- Another hindrance to hearing the Lord’s voice is forgetting to or not taking the time to wait on Him. However, the promise from Isaiah 64:4 is extremely encouraging: “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him.”
Take a Step of Radical Action
Take a moment and pray out loud: “Jesus, I believe that you do speak to me. Thank you that you are living within me and have made a way for me to communicate with you. Thank you that nothing is separating me from constant fellowship and relationship with you. I love your Word, and I know that you want to speak to me through your Word, so give me a greater love and delight for your Word. Forgive me for not taking the time to listen to you. I know that you love me and your desire is for me to know you more. I want to know your voice more clearly. I invite you to speak to me even now.”
Now believe that God hears you and expect Him to speak in whatever way He wants!