How many times have you sensed a voice telling you to do something but you considered it a distraction? Maybe other times you’ve felt the inkling to do something, but brushed it off as silly or too elemental to be the voice of God.
Over the past 25 years, I’ve had many people, especially young women I’ve been discipling, ask me about how to actually hear or discern the voice of God. We can sometimes think our own hopeful thoughts or our doubtful, misleading thoughts are God’s voice. And there are other times we mistakenly pass off God’s genuine voice as merely our own thoughts.
Some women sit down to read their Bibles and have a myriad of distracting thoughts: I should do the dishes first. I’ve got to remember to call Mom. I wonder what that ache in my shoulder is really about? It’s safe to say these are clearly thoughts from our own human nature that distract us from spending time in God’s Word. Other people I know have frightening thoughts they believe are from God, such as visions that they or loved ones will be injured or killed. But 2 Timothy 1:7 says God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear. We also know that the Spirit of God is a Comforter, not one who instills fear. Therefore, we should ask ourselves: Is this thought in the nature of God? Does it sound like something He would say?
Not every “distracting thought” is God’s voice. You would need to ask yourself:
- Does the thought have anything to do with what I’ve been praying about?
- Does it sound more like human reasoning or spiritual direction?
- Is it consistent with the nature of God?
- Does this thought strengthen me spiritually?
- Does this thought prevent me from pursuing God’s ways?
Sometimes, though, that “distracting voice” is God trying to tell you what to do. It’s His whisper. But we must be sensitive to recognize it. Jesus said in John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Here are four ways that you can begin to tune your ear to hear God’s voice so you recognize it, follow it and don’t miss what He’s trying to say to you:
1. Cut Out the Noise
Michael W. Smith recorded a song back in the 1980s about how we live in a “world that’s wired for sound.” Yet how much more background noise is around us today – from house-hold appliances, to blaring traffic, car alarms, cell phone ring tones and the noises that get embedded in our heads. We even walk around with iPod cords hanging out of our ears! I know people who don’t like it when the house is too quiet and actually keep their televisions on for background noise or can’t imagine driving without the radio playing.
Try shutting off the television, switching off the radio, taking out the iPod and cutting out the noise. There may be some ringing in your ears for a few minutes, but that’s the sound of silence. And it’s the first step to getting ready to listen. We can’t expect to hear God if we’re crowding Him out with other voices and sounds.
2. Confess What’s in Your Heart
By confessing sin, you are eliminating the barriers in your heart and mind that may be preventing you from hearing God’s voice. We can lose the ability to hear God’s voice when we develop hearts that harden and then become calloused with sin. Sin builds a deafening ear to the voice of God, just as sin in our life deafens us to God’s ear, as well (Psalm 66:18). Confess not only your actions, but your attitudes and anxieties as well. When your heart and mind are cleared of any offenses against Him, you will be prepared to hear Him.
3. Come Before Him Quietly
Do you expect to hear God on the fly? Are you thinking He’ll interrupt the busyness of your life to speak? I’ve found in my own life that God tends to speak when I get quiet enough to listen. To come before Him quietly doesn’t necessarily mean silently. It implies stillness as well. David prayed in Psalm 62:5 “My soul, wait in silence for God only.” We don’t know how long David had to wait, only that he waited. I imagine his waiting wasn’t just done quietly, however. David had to not only be silent, but be still. Silence is external. Stillness is internal. Being quiet in the inner recesses of our heart means not worrying, not thinking of things to do, cutting out the noise in our heads as well.
Sometimes we can be refreshed by God’s presence simply by being still. No words, no specific direction or command – only stillness. That is His comforting presence on our heart, His smile at our stillness, His pleasure at our rest.
4. Consider the Lilies
Sometimes a few moments alone can cause us to look around and “smell the flowers.” It was times like this, when the songwriter, Asaph, was waiting for God to reveal Himself, that he saw Him in the clouds, rain, and wind (Psalm 77:17-18). Times of silence and reflection give God an open channel to your heart. Maybe the only thing He wants to tell you is to take notice of what He has made. Why? Because He loves you. Because He’s a great God. Trust your ability to perceive and recognize beauty and draw conclusions therein. It’s one of the ways that God can communicate with you.
No matter where you are in life, God wants to communicate with you. If you aren’t in the habit of listening for His voice, He wants to show you how. If you’ve been confused about direction for your life, He wants to clarify things for you. If you simply want to know Him more, He wants to teach you all you need to know in a relationship with Him. He also longs to encourage you in your need, comfort you with His promises, and affirm to You His love. But it’s up to you to cultivate a heart that listens so that you can receive what He has to say.
For more on cultivating a heart to hear God’s voice, see Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs.