“God told me the other day. . .,” a friend said matter-of-factly, and then proceeded to tell me what she felt the Lord had instructed her to do.
The concept of hearing from God sounds like a subject for an alternate reality television show, but in truth, it’s a very biblical concept. From the beginning of creation God has spoken to his people. In the early days, before the canon of Scripture, he spoke to believers in several ways:
through his audible spoken word (Gen. 6:13), through angelic messengers (Luke 1:11), through a Christophany—a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ (Gen. 18:22), and through the prophets (Jer. 1:7).
Today he speaks primarily through his messengers (pastors, teachers, and fellow believers), his Word, and the Holy Spirit’s voice in our hearts.
But the question remains: How do we know we’re hearing God’s voice rather than our own or someone else’s?
Here are some guidelines:
- What we hear must always agree with Scripture. God will never tell to us something contrary to his Word. The abortion clinic bomber who testified that “God told me to blow up this place” may have been hearing voices, but they weren’t the Lord’s.
This is why we must read the Bible daily and become familiar with its truths. It becomes the plumb line for all other input.
- God usually repeats an important message. He knows we’re sometimes spiritually dense, so he gives us more than one opportunity to get it. You may read something that applies to your life in your morning quiet time, read it again during a devotional reading, and hear a preacher or teacher mention it in a sermon or lesson. God’s willingness to repeat himself is blessed confirmation if we think we’re hearing from God but aren’t quite sure.
This is why it’s important to journal during our Bible reading and prayer time and take notes during teaching and preaching times. Sometimes the pattern of God’s messages to us becomes clearer when we write things down.
- An idea may come to me while I’m praying. If it’s something simple, like Send Sally a note of encouragement; she’s been struggling since Dan lost his job, and isn’t contrary to Scripture, I’ll usually act upon it immediately. It’s probably the Holy Spirit prompting me. If it involves a greater commitment, I test the thought by waiting to see if God reinforces it in other ways.
For years the Lord had inspired me to write inspiring articles for homeschooling moms. Friends encouraged me to compile them into a book. When another friend invited me to attend a writers conference, the idea began to take shape. I sought confirmation by speaking to an acquisitions editor at the conference, and he invited me to submit a proposal. When I shared the idea with a Christian businessman, and he offered to help, I knew the idea had been from the Lord.
- If an idea is from the Lord, the desire usually grows stronger with time. I confess—I get some crazy ideas sometimes. Crazy or not, I write down the idea and begin to pray about it. As the days pass, I often find my enthusiasm and desire waning. Other times the desire grows, develops, and blossoms into a full-fledged calling. God confirms it in other ways and reinforces it with appropriate Scripture.
- It usually requires an element of risk and faith. God seldom calls us to do something completely off the normal path of our lives. Instead his call is usually the next step, albeit sometimes a BIG step, on the path we’re already on.
For years our family’s been involved with missions. We’ve financially supported missionaries, prayed and provided resources for them, and hosted them in our homes. When my husband and I began to experience a desire to take a short-term missions trip with our family, we sensed it was from the Lord. We began to pray about it, and the desire grew stronger. We already knew a mission trip was scriptural, so when one of our missionary friends mentioned how they’d love to have a family work with them in Mexico, we knew the Lord was calling us to go.
Although it seems a bit mysterious, God loves to speak to his children. To hear him, we must learn to recognize his voice. This ability comes with patience and practice. Missionary Frank Laubach accurately expresses how every conversation with God involves learning to listen: “The trouble with nearly everybody who prays is that he says, ‘Amen,’ and runs away before God has a chance to reply. Listening to God is far more important than giving him our ideas.”
May God bless you as you learn to listen to his voice.
Lori Hatcher is a Christian Communicators Graduate, Toastmasters International member, and the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine. She speaks nationally and internationally on topics that resonate with women, seeking to empower and equip them to live in the fullness of their relationship with Christ. She’s the author of two devotional books, Joy in the Journey, for homeschooling moms, and Hungry for God … Starving for Time, for busy women. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God . . . Starving for Time.