God’s Not the Silent Type: Learning to Listen to His Voice
“What am I doing wrong?” Rita asked me with a look of exasperation in her eyes. “Why doesn’t God speak to me?”
Rita had known the Lord as her Savior for a year, but she had never “heard” His voice.
“What are you expecting to hear?” I asked Rita, trying to understand where she was coming from.
“His voice, the thundering, the boom – I don’t know – you tell me!” she said, throwing up her hands in frustration.
All this time that Rita had been growing in her relationship with God, she’d been waiting for God to speak audibly to her from heaven. She’d been listening for His whisper to warn her as she headed out the front door. She was looking for the burning bush, the bright lights, the vision full of crystal-clear direction. And all this time, she heard and saw nothing.
After I talked with Rita for a while about the way God speaks to His loved ones, she began to recall that God had spoken to her – through the counsel she received in His Word, through circumstances that led her in a certain direction, through godly advice she received from a leader in her church. God had spoken, she admitted. But she had never realized it was Him.
Like Rita, 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.
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. 2 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. But 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 its 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 His 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.
For more on hearing God’s voice see the chapter, “Listening to His Loving Voice” in Cindi’s book, Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs.