Watchtower, pexels-photo-289319While the Bible is the primary way that God reveals himself to us, people have heard the voice of God throughout history. There are dozens of biblical examples in which people literally heard God, from Adam (Genesis) all the way through to St. John on the Isle of Patmos (Revelation). But who can discern the voice of the Almighty?

Jesus says his sheep know his voice,[1] which means that the Christian who doesn’t know when God’s speaking is “in trouble at the heart of his Christian life.”[2] And in relation to dilemmas the Bible doesn’t address, only with the benefit of hearing God can we have confidence that we are doing his will.[3] As sheep of the Good Shepherd, we are called to depend upon all of the ways he speaks to us,[4] including his voice, to guide and protect us.[5]

So what does God sound like? Being God, he can make himself heard in any way he wishes. Some argue that God no longer speaks audibly but, through the Holy Spirit, brings to mind certain things—passages of Scripture[6] or thoughts. He spoke to Elijah in a still small voice, like a whisper.[7] Other places in Scripture describe his voice as being like the sound of thunder[8] or the roar of many waters.[9]

My most dramatic encounter with God occurred twelve years ago. Our family was undergoing a very stressful transition with no end in sight. As I pleaded with God to deliver us from the uncertainty, I heard him say “I’m about to reveal my plans to you.” Then God confirmed his spoken word to me in two ways: through interactions with six believers in two different US states, and through an incredible alignment of circumstances.

I don’t know whether God spoke to me out loud, but I know I heard him.

Sometimes, God’s been gracious to provide me with extensive confirmation of what he’s said to me.[10] More often, though, I perceive his voice in less thunderous ways, as a thought that gets my attention in the way that a still, small voice might; a recollection of relevant Scripture; or a gentle nudging.[11] I’m grateful, though, for all he conveys, knowing that without discerning and following my shepherd’s voice, my aimless wandering would lead to despair.

Because aimless wandering is entirely at odds with God’s purpose in creating us, and because of God’s unsurpassable love for us, believers should have a strong desire to hear his voice. And while it is up to God to choose to speak, with his help our ability to recognize his voice can be refined by…

  • studying the Bible, with a focus on learning more about God’s character and his desires for our lives,[12]
  • praying for understanding and wisdom, related broadly to divine truth and specifically to the situation we face,[13]
  • developing relationships with fellow believers, looking to them for wise counsel (and being equipped to provide counsel when it’s our turn),[14] and
  • committing to listening for him with patience and in a state of complete submission.[15]

During my childhood, my mother was the most important person in my world. In a busy corridor, I could distinguish the sound of her footsteps from all of the others. My familiarity with the sound of her walking is similar to the kind of intimate knowledge we should seek to have of God.  The closer our relationship with God, the more easily we’ll recognize his voice when he’s speaking to us.

As followers of Christ, we are called to live for him and not for ourselves.[16] If our will is to do God’s will, we can know whether what we’re hearing is from him.[17] We’ll be like the prophet Habakkuk, climbing up to our watchtower to wait with humility and anticipation to see what God will say. [18]  We’ll step out of our present to seek the eternal. God wants us to inquire of him[19] and he promises to answer us.[20] And although what God guides us to do sometimes seems irrational and maybe even irresponsible,[21] true faith requires us to trust and obey.

Once we perceive that God has spoken to us and we’ve tested what we’ve heard for consistency with Scripture, we need to be good stewards of what he shared with us. To be good stewards, we must follow his guidance. Jesus tells us to be careful how we hear.[22]

Revelation 3:20

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Hebrews 3:7-11

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

REFLECTION

  • If you have not heard the voice of God ever or in a long time, spend more time in his Word and in prayer seeking understanding of his character and his will. Consider whether you have the kind of faith that is required of those who would draw near to God.[23] In order to draw near to God, we must have a faith that is more than acknowledgement of his existence—a faith through which God changes who we are and how we live.[24]
  • We all fall short at times, but is your primary desire to know God better and to do his will? If you need help with this, he is ready and able to come to your rescue. Ask him for help.
  • If you have a confirmed word from the Lord that you are resisting, ask him to help you trust him more. Remember that his ways are superior to ours.[25]

PRAYER

Dear Lord, please help me to know you so intimately that I will more readily recognize your voice. Please help me to love you so deeply that I will want to obey.

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FOOTNOTES

[1] John 10:2-4, 14, 27

[2] Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King, Unit 5 “God Speaks, Part 1,” in Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God (Workbook) (Nashville, TN: LifeWay Press, 1990), 73

[3] Robert Morris, “Hear God’s Voice Through Worship,” Chapter 4 in Frequency: Tune In. Hear God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016), Kindle edition, 6.

[4] See blog post What does it mean to “seek Jesus”?

[5] John 10:1-5, 27-29

[6] John 14:26

[7] 1 Kings 19:11-13 (ESV), 1 Kings 19:11-13 (KJV), Job 26:14

[8] John 12:28-29

[9] Revelation 1:15

[10] Consider Gideon’s experience in Judges 6:11-40.

[11] An example of a nudging is described in blog post “What does it mean to trust in Jesus? ~ Embracing Freedom.”

[12] Psalm 119:11, John 8:31-32, Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12. Also, see the blog post “Seeking Jesus through the Word.”

[13] James 1:5-8. Also, see the blog post “Seeking Jesus through Prayer.”

[14] Ephesians 4:15-16, Colossians 3:16. Also, see the blog post “Seeking Jesus through Fellow Believers.”

[15] Psalm 27:14

[16] Deuteronomy 30:19-20, Romans 12:1-2. Also, see the blog post “What does it mean to live for Christ? ~ Finding the Way.”

[17] John 7:17

[18] Habakkuk 2:1

[19] Luke 11:9-10

[20] Jeremiah 33:3, Isaiah 30:19-22

[21] Consider Noah’s building of the Ark and Abraham’s leaving his home for an unknown land, for example.

[22] Luke 8:16-18, Mark 4:21-25, Robert Morris, “Hear God’s Voice Through Worship,” Chapter 4 in Frequency: Tune In. Hear God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016), Kindle edition, 121-127.

[23] Proverbs 3:5-6, Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 4:18, 2 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 11:6, James 2:19

[24] Romans 8:28-30

[25] Isaiah 55:8-9

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