How to Learn to Hear God's Voice, Part 1
He's Calling You...Can You Hear Him?
God Has a Voice You Can Hear
Your ears and heart are designed to hear God's voice. He speaks in many ways, and not all of them are mysterious. He has ways of speaking to you, personally, and clearly. So why haven't you heard Him lately? It could be you don't know how to listen. But you can learn.
There are several reasons for a seeming inability to hear God. Perhaps the most prevalent one is stubborness...a refusal to accept God's best for you. If this turns out to be your reason, take heart - God can help you mend your ways, and you can learn to hear Him as if He were bodily at your side.
The Bible gives many statements promising that you can hear the Lord's voice. Hear are a few of them:
John 10:3-5 - "To [the Good Shepherd] the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers."
John 10:7b-9, 11, 14-16 - "Verily, verily, I say unto you, I [Christ] am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. ... I am come that [my people] might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. ... I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold [Israel]: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."
John 10:27-30 - "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them to me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one."
A careful reading of these promises reveals several things.
First, there is only one Shepherd. Either you belong to Him, or you don't. Either you are of His fold, or you aren't. Think carefully. Does your spirit within you testify that you are, indeed, one of the Lord's own people? Do you know Him in your heart, with an increasing desire and growing intimacy? If not, then you cannot expect to hear His voice. He says his own know Him and hear Him.
If you find that you are not His, but you want to become His, then tell Him so. He won't turn you down. It really can be that simple. He's done all the work necessary to adopt you as His own - as family member, friend, and even confidante. All you've got to do is believe this is so, and acknowledge that you'd rather not be enemies any longer.
Second, Christ says, I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. Stop. You've probably read this before. But stop. Really, to what lengths would your best friend go for you? To these lengths? What about you? To what lengths would you go for the person you love most? The thing is, not only did Christ actually lay down His life, yielding to a deep, dark, horrible death, but He took it up again, and still gives His life for you. Do you know what He's doing now? He is your mediator. He stands between you and His Father's natural abhorrence of sin, and instead of seeing the awful things you have done, all the Father can see is the new life He has given you through His only begotten Son's perfect yieldedness to Him. As a mediator, Jesus is your lawyer, day in, day out, until you come into His perfection. Hebrews 7:25-26 says: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens."
Third, he calleth his own sheep by name. God knows your full name - even your pet names - and he uses the name most meaningful to you when talking to you. This is one way He proves His love and care for you. You are never just a number, or a statistic, in His eyes.
Fourth, he "goes before you." Isaiah 40:11 says that he leads gently: "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." He won't drive you before Him. It's not in His nature to be domineering and rude. But if you are following Him, where does that mean you're going? The text tells you: "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. ... I am come that [my people] might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." I'm not sure what "pasture" means to you, but when I see a pasture in my mind's eye, I see all needs met. I see a wideness filled with the green of springtime, adorned with wildflowers and swooping birds. And I see the Shepherd always there. Consider the words "more abundantly." What would your life look like if it were "more abundant"? Especially consider your soul and spirit. What does a more abundant inward life look like? Remember, this very thing is among the good things the Lord desires to give you.
He makes you a fifth promise. Besides hearing His voice, and being led in and out to more abundant life, he promises that you can know who to stay away from. How many toxic relationships do you have? Do you think the Lord would like to tell you something about these? What about your negative thought patterns, and those dark, dirty little voices that occasionally ruin your day? Christ has promised that He is the door. The same door that lets you in and out to find pasture is there to keep toxic relationships from overwhelming you. Each and every trouble in your life must pass through God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit before it ever reaches you. The catch is, these toxic things don't just get scraped off as you pass through the door. You've got to want to be rid of them, and you must allow the Shepherd to remove them from you, like thorns tangled in a lamb's wool, piercing the tender skin.
Lastly, Christ says, "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." You can live in perfect, absolute security that no one - not your mother, not your spouse, not the devil - can take from you the gift of eternal life that God has given you.
Concerns You May Have
In spite of the above promises, I've heard some interesting questions from well-meaning people. Questions such as:
- Does God actually talk to individuals?
- How can I know that I'm hearing God, and not someone else?
- Why would God want to talk to me?
- I've been a Christian most of my life, but I've never heard God. Does this mean I'm not really His?
I'll take a few minutes to answer these questions through the Scriptures, and then, in Part 2, I'll give you a plan for how you might learn to hear God's voice for yourself. It is the plan I followed, and the plan which other people I pray with followed. Certainly it is not the only plan, and you mustn't think it is the only way to learn to hear God, but it is a good way. It is, I think, nearly fool-proof.
"Hear, Oh Israel..."
Question 1 - Does God Actually Talk to Individuals?
Absolutely. See how the Lord dealt with Moses:
Exodus 33:9-11a, 12-14 - "And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. And all the people [of Israel] saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. ... And Moses said unto the Lord, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people [to the Promised Land]: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now, therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may frind grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest."
This sounds much like what the Lord has already stated in the promises from the Gospel of John, doesn't it? Security, rest, grace, and intimate friendship.
Psalm 32:8 says by the mouth of King David,
"Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance."
And the Lord answers him, "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee."
In essence, the Lord is saying here that, "Yes, I will be faithful to protect, befriend, and teach you - but you mustn't be stubborn toward me. I've got to have your conscious cooperation."
Have you been stubborn toward the Lord, like an untrained mule? If so, then maybe He has nothing left to say to you until you get your act in gear, and do what He's already instructed you to do. He wants to talk to you as much as ever, but He won't push aside your free will - which was one of His gifts to you - in order to get at you. Better call a truce, and start over in humility, knowing He will give you the strength to do whatever He's asked.
Question 2 - How can I know that I'm hearing God, and not someone else?
The Lord's voice has a peculiar quality. You can only learn to know it by experience. Does not an infant know its mother's voice, though it may only have been born a short while? Yes, a child can learn even in utero to recognize its parent, without ever having seen her face or been held in her arms.
I will talk more about the Lord's voice in a few minutes, but for now, just know that if you hear a voice that is strident, selfish, domineering, sneering, in any way nasty, which speaks too quickly, or which urges you to do things contrary to the will of the Lord as revealed in His Word, it is not Christ's. Remember, He promises you that you can know His voice, and that you can recognize the voices of your enemies (including your old habits and negative self-talk), as well.
Jesus Cruising Around With 12 Friends
Question 3 - Why would God want to talk to me?
I am not going to tell you why the Lord would want to talk personally with you. I'm going to let a dear friend of mine do it. Not quite a year ago, when I was having trouble believeing that Christ, the King of the Universe, really had reason to be fully friendly with me (and I with Him), this is what my friend told me:
What do you think being able to see [Christ's] face [in your vision] means? A change in the relationship? A growing familiarity?
I’ll tell you what I think, though my interpretation is just as flawed as the next man’s. Jesus is trying to tell you a few things, and, as always, the best way to learn is to do, hence your sit-in [with Christ face-to-face]. But in this case, doing seems to be the source of the problem. You are possibly one of the most industrious people I’ve ever met. You are constantly doing something, and if something doesn’t need to be done you’ll come up with ideas for other somethings. I think it might tie back in with [your brother’s] mention of you having a very busy brain. There is also the subject of worth. As you yourself said your relationships tend to be give-and-take, and you pull away from them if this is not possible. If it’s not of value it might be kicked to the wayside. This is, again, very businesslike and industrious.
Christ is, I think, trying to tell you that friendship need not be an issue of give-and-take, nor does it need a purpose. Friendship can be something which exists between two people simply because two people are present and there is no inherent reason for them to feel enmity for one another. Friendship, like love, simply is. It is an inherently human behavior to reciprocate emotion and goodwill when given, and one, I think, which was planned when we were made.
You say that you have done many things in his name. That is good, certainly more than I can say for myself. But God, Christ, the Holy Spirit; they are like love and friendship. They exist. They existed before us. They will exist whether we acknowledge them or not. They will exist whether we praise them or not. They will exist long after we are dead. These actions only have temporal value. Something of greater importance in the eyes of Christ is something which is also more difficult, and understandably so. How do you feel love or friendship for someone you do not know? By being loved and considered a friend already. It is just reciprocation, and He’s already done the hard part.
You say you have nothing in common with this person. Not true. You both were born; you both know the rigors, pains, and temptations of life. You both know its joys. Time has parted you, but humanity joins you.
You say why does He want to spend His time with you. Because He loves you. Because He loved you from the moment you were born and has always been with you. How blessed are we to be considered the pinnacles of Creation? The only living things to be graced with immortal souls? The beings which God will call to be with Him in Paradise? Guess what? You’re practically a celebrity! Why wouldn’t He want to be with you? I think you sell yourself short in considering your own self worth. Many of us do. But the fact is, God does not value us for what we can do for Him, nor what we can become in this life; He values us for us, period. Is it then so surprising that God’s laws are only meant to guide us toward brotherhood, friendship, love, and the avoidance of all things that blacken the soul and lead us on that downward path?
But that brings me back to my main point. Paradise is the end of all wants and needs; an eternity in God’s presence. If His presence is something we hope to look forward to, then shouldn’t we learn to relax and enjoy it? Perhaps Christ is trying to bring up the point that, though you accept him on many levels, you’re not at all comfortable simply hanging out?
You say the one thing you cannot do is enjoy His presence. But you already have; every moment of every day. So why is it then that being made aware of this bothers you so much? Why can you not look Him in the eye? They are as much there for your benefit as they are His.
I’ve rambled on quite a bit, probably because I feel so strongly on the subject, but it all boils down to this: you have viewed Christ as the “Great Physician, Redeemer, Brother, Counselor, etc” but you never viewed Him as a whole (or so I’m thinking). Christ was a man, a human being, and I get the impression He never wanted to be “Great Physician, Redeemer, Brother, Counselor, etc”. Think about what He did with His life. Yes, He went about performing miracles and preaching God’s word. He went about trying to right wrong ways of thinking and living, but how did he go about doing it? By cruising around with 12 friends and hanging out at picnics, fishing trips, boat rides, weddings, and wakes. I always see Christ as having a great sense of humor and a true love for all the mundane activities and moments of life, and He would much rather have friends than followers. And guess what, be His friend and you get all the benefits you already had and much more besides.
He Extends Friendship
Question 4 - Does Not Hearing God Mean I'm Not a Christian?
Not being able to hear God consistently (or at all) bothers many Christians, and brings feelings of defeat and doubt to their souls. But not hearing the Lord doesn't necessarily mean that a person is lost and on their way to hell.
It more likely means that they're not paying attention. It could also mean that they have some cherished sin that they have been unwilling to own up to and let go of. For instance, in I Peter 3:7, the Lord warns husbands that if they are harsh with their wives, their prayers may be hindered: "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with [your wives] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker [more sensitve] vessel, as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." The Lord keeps His promises, both negative and positive. So soul-searching and repentence of any known sins would be the first step to take, if you are having trouble hearing the Lord's words to you.
You may also need to examine what your expectations are. Do you expect the Lord to come thundering at you out of a cloud? Or are you willing to hear His whispers through His Word, the Bible? He has already said much of what He has to say there. Do you listen to the things He has created, and thereby learn about him? Romans 1:19-23 says that everyone can learn about God through nature: "For the invisible things of [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that [people] are without excuse."
When you read the Bible, do you consistently get nothing out of it? If so, you may need to re-examine your relationship with the Lord on the most fundamental level. Are you indeed united with him? He says that the things of God are foolish to people who don't personally know Him: I Corinthians 1:20, 27 - "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks [non-Jews] foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not man wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence."
Lastly, do you hear His words in what other people say to you? If you hear something kind and good, it is probably the Lord speaking through someone else's mouth. Philippians 4:8 gives a list of things that explain how the Lord thinks: Things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, having virtue, or worthy of praise. Conversely, if you hear a rebuke or admonition from another person, examine it to see if it could be the Lord's warning to you.
Mainly, learn to look for His words everywhere. He's not too picky about who or what He uses. He even gave a donkey voice to rebuke an erring prophet (See Numbers 22:26-31 and surrounding text).
Once You've Heard God's Voice, Your Heart Will Say....
In Part 2...
In Part 2 of this two-part series, I will tell you exactly what steps to take to learn to hear God's voice, speaking personally, powerfully, and consistently to you.
To continue with Part 2, go here.