Hearing God`s Voice
Back Home Up Next


VIII. How to Hear God’s Voice

Hebrews 1:1-2 God who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last day spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds….”

God has spoken to us by His Son. Here, in this first verse of the book of Hebrews, we find that God has spoken to us by giving us His Son, by sending Him into the world to die for us, so that through His death we could be saved. How much more eloquently can God tell us that He loves us?

As we read the Old Testament we also see the “various ways” by which God spoke. God spoke directly to Noah, Gen. 6:13-21. Moses saw a burning bush, and heard an audible voice, Exodus 3:1-4. Jacob dreamt a dream of a ladder and angels, and heard God speak to him in a dream, Genesis 28:10-15. Joseph dreamt dreams that made his brothers burn with jealousy, Gen. 37:5-11. The Lord spoke directly to both Moses and Aaron, Exodus 12:1, and when Moses spoke with God, his face shone, Ex. 34:29-30. Elijah heard God speak in a “still, small voice,” 1 Kings 19:12. Samuel audibly heard the Lord’s voice when he was still a young child, 1 Samuel 3:1-10. Ezekiel had visions in which God’s Spirit lifted him up and showed him different cities, Ezek. 8:4; 11:24. Daniel was told Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation in a “night vision“, Dan. 2:19. Another time, an angel of the Lord appeared to Daniel and spoke with him, Dan. 9:21. These are just a few. Realize that God can and has spoken in a variety of ways in Old Testament times.

But does God still speak to us today? I believe He does. First, Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit:

John 14:16-18 (Jesus speaking) “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever--the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”

John 16:13-15 ”However, when He, the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”

This promise that we will hear the Holy Spirit was so immediate and so strong, that Jesus promised that even in times of extreme trial we would be able to hear Him speak to us through the Holy Spirit:

Mark 13:11 (Jesus speaking) ”But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

The ability to hear God’s voice, I believe, belongs to all of God’s children:

John 10:27 (Jesus speaking) “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

Jesus’ sheep hear His voice, not just upon initial salvation, but from day to day as they follow Him. Notice, Jesus didn’t say, “My extra-special, extra-long, extra-woolly merino sheep hear My voice, “ or, “Only My male sheep with staggeringly big horns hear My voice.” Jesus just said, “My sheep.” If you are God’s sheep, you should be able to hear His voice.

But how to hear God’s voice? And also, how can you be sure that what you hear is God’s voice, and not your own voice--or the enemy’s?

First and foremost, remember that God’s Word is His voice. This is the foundation for hearing God’s voice. It is also the measure used to determine whether something is from God or not.

Do you want to hear God’s voice? Then spend more time in His Word. A good rule is that the more you are in God’s Word, the more His Word will be in you. Reading, studying and memorizing the Bible will strengthen and increase your faith, Rom. 10:17. It will also enable you to know His nature and character. Finally, it will enable you to recognize His voice, because you are already listening to Him from day to day as you read the Word of God.

When it comes to spiritual matters, GIGO is true! GIGO is a business acronym that stands for “garbage in, garbage out.” What we put in our spirit is what we can expect to hear. Jesus said, “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” Matthew 12:34. Therefore, put good things into your spirit! Turn off the voices of the world--TV, newspapers, books, at least for a while, and spend time in God’s Word instead. Read, study, memorize. Compare spiritual things with spiritual. This more than anything else will help you hear God speak to you, through His Word, and in other ways as well.

There are several other ways we can hear God’s voice, but here is a foundational principle which must always be applied:

There is only one Holy Spirit. He wrote the Word of God, 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us. He does not speak against Himself, He does not deny Himself and He never contradicts Himself. Therefore ANY other guidance you get from the Holy Spirit must be consistent with God’s Word. If it is not, then throw it out.

No matter how lovely, how spiritual, or how convincing a vision, dream or experience may be, if that experience is not consistent with God’s Word and character, then DO NOT ACCEPT IT.

Galatians 1:9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

Throw out a bad word, even if you’ve seen an angel!

2 Corinthians 11:14 …For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.

Remember that Satan can do miracles, Exodus 7:11-12, 22; 8:7, he can quote God’s Word, Matt. 4:1-10, and he can even appear as an angel, 2 Cor. 11:14. EVERY word received, whatever the source should ALWAYS be tested by God’s Word. NO EXCEPTIONS. To accept any word that is inconsistent with God’s Word is to open yourself to deception.

God speaks to us through His Word, the Bible. He can also speak to us in other ways, just as He spoke in Old Testament times. Moreover, we have the promise of the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us into all truth. We also have this promise:

Acts 2:17 (Peter quoting Joel 2:28) ”‘And it shall come to pass in the last days,’ says God, ‘That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.’

What promise is given in this Scripture? Is it not that both men and women would prophesy, see visions and dream dreams? We saw that several men of God had had these same experiences in the Old Testament. Now God says that He is pouring out His Spirit on “all flesh.” This includes us!

As we read the book of Acts, there are several examples that show us how God’s guidance can be manifested. For example, in Acts 9:11, God tells the prophet Ananias to “go to the street called Straight“ and look for Saul of Tarsus at the house of someone called Judas. In Acts 10:19-20, Peter is told to go downstairs and meet three men and go with them. This directive resulted in the salvation of Cornelius’s household, Acts 10:44. In Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit told the church at Antioch to separate Paul and Barnabas for God’s work. In Acts 16:6, 9, 10, Paul had a night vision of a man in Macedonia pleading him to come and help him. Paul correctly interpreted this as a directive from the Holy Spirit to go to Macedonia and preach the Gospel. In Acts 18:5, Paul felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to testify to the Jews in Corinth that Jesus was the Christ. In Acts 21:4, Paul was warned not to go to Jerusalem. In Acts 27:23, Paul tells of seeing an angel the night before, who reassured Paul that the lives of those on the ship he was on would be spared.

These New Testament examples are instances of personal guidance, sometimes given through others, but nevertheless witnessed by those who received it. Does God still give personal guidance today? I believe He does. Here are the reasons I believe that God still gives words of personal guidance today:

1. We have been promised that the Holy Spirit will speak to us, John 16:13, and that He will teach us and bring His Word to our remembrance, John 14:26; 1 John 2:27
2. We are told that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is for every believer, Acts 2:17-18.
3. We have the example of guidance in the book of Acts, a book given to us, I believe, to show us what the Church should look like, and how it should operate.
4. We are told by Jesus Himself that He will never leave us or forsake us, Heb. 13:5, and also that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, Hebrews 13:8.
5. We are still in the same covenant that was sealed by the blood of Christ, and evidenced in the book of Acts. Therefore, everything we see in the early church can and should still be happening today.

Therefore, it should be possible today to hear God’s voice, either audibly or in one‘s spirit, to be guided by God in a dream, to have a vision, to be directed in ministry, and to be called to ministry by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Our problem, of course, is that we can hear more than one voice. Realize that there are three sources of guidance:

First, and most likely, your own voice. This can be the voice of your soul--your mind, your will and your emotions. Included are the “tapes” you may have left over from childhood, voices from the past that have been deeply embedded into your soul.

Second, there is the voice of the enemy, probably not Satan, as there is only one of him and he is not omnipresent. But certainly Satan assigns demons against Christians, and these demons can interject thoughts into a person’s mind, even if they are Christian. Remember that Satan tempted Jesus, Matt. 4:1-10, and therefore can also tempt you. Most demonic directives come with craftiness and a negative emotion, such as fear, despair, confusion, a feeling of isolation, or even pride. A demon can interject a thought into your head, something like, “I’m so sick and tired of…” or, “I hate such and such….” These can be discerned, as I will discuss below.

Third, there is God’s voice, who may speak Himself, or may speak through your spirit, Prov. 20:27: The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inner depths of his heart.

How to get God’s guidance? Ask for it. Spend time in prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of His word, and to lead you and guide in all truth, John 14:26. Remind yourself that God does promise you His guidance:

Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.

When asking God for personal guidance, I have found it useful to spend time shutting off the other two voices that are not God: my own thoughts, and those of Satan.

To do this, I first practice James 4:7-8. I submit to God, asking Him to show me any sin I need to confess and turn from. Second, I resist every devil that would try to speak to me. I do this out loud, in Jesus’ name. Third, I spend some time in worship, drawing near to God.

I still need to deal with my own mind, will and emotions, however! I quote verses like Galatians 5:24, that I am crucifying my flesh with all its passions and desires. I choose to be dead to self. I also tell God all my own great ideas and tell Him that I am putting these on the altar. I tell Him that I will not act on any of these ideas unless I know that He is giving them to me. I choose to wait, and listen. This may take days, and even longer. There is a test here--am I willing to wait on God? But many times I hear from God quickly, and I know the answer in my spirit.

When God speaks, He may speak without words, just a sense of knowing what to do, and a deep sense of peace about it. The answer may come in other ways as well, perhaps as a Scripture that rings through your spirit. Perhaps you are reading God’s Word, and find your answer right in front of you, in your daily reading. God can also speak with words, audibly, or, more likely, in that “still small voice” Elijah experienced, 1 Kings 19:12. God can speak through a dream. These dreams are not the usual dreams. They are clear, and clearly remembered. They also are filled with peace, regardless of the content. God can speak through visions. Most likely these visions will be things you see not with your eyes, but with your spirit. God can also speak through an open vision which you see with your eyes, but this is rare.

The question is, how to discern what is truly of God, and what is not?

Here are some guidelines:

1. First and foremost, any word or guidance must be consistent with God’s Word.

--For example, I had a pastor once who as a young man believed that he had a word from God that he should divorce his wife. Clearly, this was not God, and thankfully, he didn’t do it!
--Similarly, a “word” that says that Jesus is coming on a specific date is also not from God, because the Word says that we will know neither the time nor the season when Christ returns, Matt. 24:42, 44, 1 Thess. 5:1-2.

2. Any word or guidance should also be consistent with God’s character. For example:

--A prophetic word that condemns a person is not from God. God never condemns His people, Romans 8:1.
--A prophecy that is full of confusion or causes confusion is not from God, James 3:16. Our God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, 1 Cor. 14:33.
--Similarly, suspect a prophecy as bogus if the “word” is changed. Again, God is not the author of confusion, and He won‘t give a word and then change it.
--A prophecy that makes people fearful is not from God. Our God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind, 2 Timothy 1:7.
(Do you remember the “Y2K” dire prophecies? They were filled with fear.)

3. ALL prophetic words or guidance, AND those who give them should meet the standards of James 3:17-18:

James 3:17-18 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

--For example, if a “word” causes covetousness, it is not from God. It is not pure.
--Similarly, if a so-called “prophet” is living a sinful lifestyle, reject any word from him or her. They are not pure.
--Here is another example, that actually happened at my church: a woman came in who was not part of the church, nor submissive to any pastor, and gave a “word” that if we didn’t buy the land that was near us, the children in our nursery would not grow up to serve God. She then became angry when she was asked to sit down. Consider the indications that this word was not from God: this woman was not in submission to anyone, she was not willing to yield, there was no mercy and no peace, and her word was filled with fear, ‘If you don’t do this, your children won’t serve God!’

4. God’s word comes with peace, always, James 3:17-18, above. Satan can do miracles, quote Scripture and appear as an angel of light, but I have never known him to be able to imitate God’s peace. If you are being directed by the Holy Spirit, there will be a sense of peace in your spirit, always. Satan pushes with fear. God leads with peace.

5. Ask what the fruit of that word is. Jesus said that we would know false prophets by their fruit, Matt. 7:15-20. The same test can be applied to prophecy. What is the fruit? Fear? Confusion? Despair? Peace? Encouragement?

6. A word that is truly from God will draw you to Him, not drive you away. This same test can be applied to any sermon or teaching. For example, if you are given a word that generally says that you are no good and you might as well give up now, that is not God.

7. If you are a child of God, then any prophetic word should speak to your spirit as well. The same Holy Spirit who can give a word through another person lives in you, Romans 8:9. Therefore, your own spirit should testify whether or not a word is a good word.

8. Test the spirits! Any spirit speaking to you should be able to say that Jesus is Lord, and that He has come in the flesh, 1 John 4:1-3, 1 Cor. 12:3.

For example, suppose you believe that the Holy Spirit is telling you to do something. Say something like, “In Jesus name, I command you to tell me if Jesus is Lord, and if He has come in the flesh.” If the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, He will affirm both statements. He will also be pleased that you are testing the spirits, as 1 John 4:1 commands. If, on the other hand, a demon is speaking to you, that demon will deny both statements--or disappear. There will be no affirming statement.

I have heard of this test being used on people as they were giving demonic words. Because they were under demonic influence, they were not able to say these two statements, that Jesus is Lord, and that He has come in the flesh. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the boldness to try this test myself while another person was speaking, even though I knew that the word they gave was not from God. Too bad! Many people were misled by these so called "prophets."

9. A final test: Did that word come to pass? If the word given doesn't come to pass, then suspect that this word was not from God. Remember, though, that even the most positive prophecy is contingent on obedience for fulfillment. The word given may have been a good word. For example, Israel was told they would go to the promised land. Was this word fulfilled? It was fulfilled only for two of the original people, Joshua and Caleb, because of Israel's disobedience and unbelief, Heb. 3:18-19.

In summary, it is possible to hear God’s voice. God’s word tells us not to despise prophecies, 1 Thess. 5:20, but at the same time, the next verse tells us to “test all things.” We should not be gullible. God can speak to us today, but every word should be tested, always.

Diana Clancy
Copyright, November 2007