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How to Know God’s Voice

By Pastor William R. Cunningham
for October 9, 2005

Introduction

I was reading the book of Genesis and came across the following scripture.

Genesis 15:1 (NKJV) -- {1}After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

What follows is the description of the dream that Abram had pertaining to having a son.  I wondered why Abram (soon to be Abraham) believed in that dream.  The Bible says in Genesis 15:6 that Abram believed God.  How did Abram know that it was God speaking to him?

Haven’t you heard someone say that the Lord told me this or that the Lord told me that?  How did they know that it was God speaking to them?  How can we know when we hear from God? How can we know when God is talking to us as opposed to some other voice? We are going to discuss the answer to these very questions.  We are going to discuss how to know the voice of God.

What Others Say

Let me take a moment to list some of the answers that others have given to this question.  We will use some of these during our discussion.

  1. You just know it
  2. “I feel a heaviness on my heart”
  3. I hear God’s voice through dreams
  4. God talks to us through His Word
  5. We can hear God through messages that are preached
  6. We can hear God’s voice through prayer
  7. We can hear God’s voice by the Holy Spirit.  He impresses the will of God on our heart.
  8. We can hear God’s voice through other people
  9. We can hear God speaking through circumstances.  God uses our circumstances to speak to us.  I believe that the results of circumstances can give us insight into what God was saying before the circumstances began.
  10. God can speak to us through our instincts.  This is a culmination of the morals and WAY of God that is in us and that guides us.
  11. God’s voice is not audible
  12. What God says to you will not contradict the written Word (the Bible)
  13. God can speak to us through signs
  14. God can speak to us through our experiences
  15. God speaks from within and Satan speaks from without through temptation or by the lusts of our own minds.

Many non-religious people and atheists have a difficult time with this question and especially with the answers that some Christians give.  For example, atheists have a problem with the situation where God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  Why would God tell Abraham to kill his own son?  They believe that it was Satan that told him to do it and not God.  It was God that came along and stopped him from killing his son.  There is another belief that the whole situation was a test of Abraham, which he failed.  He didn’t use the moral judgment that he had and common sense to reason that God would not tell him to kill his son.  This belief presupposes that either God was testing Abraham or that Satan told him to do it and not God.

One atheist asked the question, “Isn’t it possible that Satan is such a convincing liar that he could fool even those who claim to “know?”

So many people have asked the question of how to know God’s voice.  There are many answers to this question, which vary from the ridiculous to the most inspiring.  However, how can we know when God is talking to us in our own everyday lives?

Considerations

I have found that there are no formulas for knowing God’s voice.  There is no magic scripture that can be given that would show you the five or whatever steps needed to know for sure when God is talking to you.  So how can we know?  There must be a way that we can have confidence that God is talking to us else we could conclude that we could never know.  Let me first list some considerations.  Consider these points as a starting point to the path of knowing God’s voice.

  1. Are you saved (born again)?  It makes no sense to expect to hear God guiding you when you are separated from him. 
  2. How do you know anyone else’s voice?
  3. Do you know the voice of your parents or spouse?  Do you think that you could be fooled into thinking that your mother or father is talking to you when in fact it is just an imposter?
  4. What is your relation with God like?
  5. Do you know the Word of God?
  6. Consider human reasoning and common sense

Why do you know your mother’s or your father’s voice even when they are not around.  Consider how you can hear the voice of your parents when you are about to do something that they told you not to do.  Why is that?

Consider the relationship that you have with your parents and how that affects your discernment of their “voice” so to speak.
I believe that we sometimes convince ourselves that God is talking to us or is not talking to us based on our own fears and our own will.

The Voices That We Hear

There are at least three voices that we hear during the course of our lives.

  1. God’s voice
  2. Satan’s voice (the voice of the world)
  3. Our own “voice”

How can we distinguish between these three?  The key here is in the act of distinguishing or discernment.  Consider the following scripture.

1 John 4:1 (NKJV) -- Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

We are instructed to test the spirits to see whether they are from God.  This applies also to the voices that we hear.  We should test those voices to know their origin.  How can we test them though?  Before we answer that question I think it is important to see that the first part to knowing whether a voice is God or not is in knowing how to distinguish or discern the voice.

This implies that we must know God’s voice.  How can we know God’s voice though?  This appears to take us right back to the beginning.  However, consider the following scriptures.

  • John 10:14 (NKJV) -- {14}I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.
  • John 10:27-28 (NKJV) -- {27}My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. {28}And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
    Jesus basically tells us that we know his voice.  Those who belong to the family of Christ know the voice of Christ because they know Christ.  To “know” implies an intimate relationship and not just head knowledge.
    So we see here that having an intimate relationship is most important to knowing the voice of God.  This is the same phenomenon that occurs when a child knows the voice of his parents. There is an intimate relationship that is developed since the child was an infant.  The child knows his parents voice, smell, and many other things.  It is only after other influences enter in through reason that the voice of the parents is superseded by other voices and therefore causes other activities.

We can know to discern God’s voice as we mature in our relationship with Him.

We really need to be honest with ourselves to know what is from within our own mind and what comes from God.  Everything that we do comes down to our own decision.  Who will we listen to?  What have we justified instead of accepting the truth?

Examples

Let’s look at some examples of people in the Bible who heard God’s voice and responded.

Samuel

First read 1 Samuel 3:1-10 and 19-21 for a narrative on the start of Samuel's experience with God.  Look at the first five verses of 1 Samuel 3.

1 Samuel 3:1-5 (NKJV) Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the Lord called Samuel. And he answered, "Here I am!" So he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." And he said, "I did not call; lie down again." And he went and lay down.

There are a few things that I would like to take note of here.

  • Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli.  The word minister here is the Hebrew word shaòrath, which means to attend as a menial or worshipper.  It means to serve.  Therefore, Samuel was doing a service in the Temple where Eli was the priest.
  • The word of the LORD was rare in those days.  There was not much prophetic activity at this time.
  • God called Samuel while he was lying down.  Some commentaries say that Samuel was dreaming; however the text does not indicate that.  It appears that Samuel heard someone call him audibly or seemingly audibly and he responded.

Now Samuel was a youth at this point and he had no direct experience with the LORD, especially since prophetic activity was rare at this time.  So Samuel had no idea that God was calling him and therefore assumed that it was Eli. This happened two more times until finally Eli realized what might be happening.  He instructed Samuel to answer the LORD.

Also note that in verses 10 and 11 that God did not begin to talk to Samuel until Samuel acknowledged him.  This is interesting because one would wonder why God didn’t just tell Samuel who he was when he was calling Samuel.  This seems to indicate that we must be in a state of reception with God in order for him to talk to us or perhaps better yet for us to hear Him.  That is, we should be ready and willing to hear in order for God to talk to us.

Now let's look at verses 19-21.

1 Samuel 3:19-21 (NKJV) So Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the Lord. Then the Lord appeared again in Shiloh. For the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord.

Samuel was one of the greatest prophets and judges to the Israelite people.  Here we see that God revealed himself to Samuel, as he grew older.  So Samuel developed a relationship with God and therefore knew when God was talking to him.

I believe that it is important to realize that Samuel didn't know the Lord personally until his encounter in the Temple.  He knew of God because he was serving in the temple.  However, he did not have a relationship with God, which God initiated by the way.  So we can say for example that merely going to church every Sunday does not qualify as a relationship with God.  God even taught me several years ago that hours and hours of Bible study over many years do not constitute a relationship (fellowship) with God.  A clue presented to us by Samuel's life is that a relationship with God is necessary to know what God says and confidently act on it.

I should also point out that it was by the instruction of someone else that had a mature relationship with God that Samuel was able to know what to do.  Samuel could not discern God’s voice because he had no clue of God’s voice.  However, he was able to respond appropriately because of someone else’s insight.  We should therefore be willing to listen to those who are more mature in the faith.  We could learn a lot from their experiences.

Gideon

Read Judges 6:17-22 and 33-40.  Another very interesting encounter was that of Gideon with God.  Gideon's encounter with God was similar to that of Samuel in that he knew of God but had no personal relationship or experience with God.  Consider Gideon's first encounter with God.

Judges 6:14-18 (NKJV) Then the Lord turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?" So he said to Him, "O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." And the Lord said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man." Then he said to Him, "If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who talk with me. Do not depart from here, I pray, until I come to You and bring out my offering and set it before You." And He said, "I will wait until you come back."

Now you should note that from verse 11 that the angel of the LORD (actually the LORD God) appeared to Gideon and called him a great man of valor and told him that the Lord was with Him.  Gideon's response was to question why God's wonders were not evident.  He even said that the LORD had forsaken Israel.

When the LORD told him to go and deliver Israel from the Mideanites, then Gideon resisted because he considered his own self and not what God previously told him.  God told him again that he would be with Gideon.  At this, Gideon asked for a sign, which was before the infamous fleece sign.  God did give him a sign by consuming the offering by fire from a rock (See verse 21).

Now Gideon did not have a personal relationship with God, especially when you consider that his father was a Baal worshipper.  It also appears from Gideon's initial response that he had a degree of contempt for God.  In any case, since he had no experience with God and was called to do a task "now" then a sign seems to be required.  In other words, Gideon needed to know that God was indeed calling him to deliver the Israelites from the Mideanites.  It also appears that Gideon knew of God as well and that he had faith that God could indeed do what he said even though he had no prior experience with God.  So a level of faith in God was present, though there was no certainty as to whether he was indeed hearing God call him to deliver Israelite.

The need for a sign for Gideon didn't end at the rock with the burnt offering.  In verse 33 we see that Gideon wanted God to confirm that God was indeed calling him to lead his people to liberty.  He asked God to first make the fleece wet with dew and the ground dry.  God obliged him.  He then asked for the fleece to be dry and the ground wet with dew.  God obliged him again.  At this it appears that Gideon was confident that it was indeed God calling him to deliver Israel.

I think that it is important to realize that Gideon did not demonstrate or indicate a lack of faith in the power and ability of God.  The fact that he asked for a sign seems to indicate that he was only concerned about the identity of the one calling him to action.  He seems to have had faith in God's ability to deliver Israel.  However, since he had no personal experience with God then he wasn't sure if God was indeed talking to him, which prompted him to seek verification from God.  Of course this also implies that he must have believed that it was only God that could do the things that he requested.

Experience

I have come to know that nothing beats experience.  Experience is more important than knowledge as knowledge without experience is not sure.  For example, consider a man who has gone through graduate school for carpentry and consider another man who has been building houses, furniture, doing remodeling, etc. for twenty-five years.  Which one would you have more confidence in regards to building your home?  You would have more confidence in the one with more experience.

One common thing that we see in the examples of those who had encounters with God is that experience with God was very important.  The more experience we have with God then the better we will be able to discern what is from him because we would know him just that much more.

How can we experience God?

  1. Pray and listen instead of just talking so much
  2. Meditate on the Word of God that you have learned and listen
  3. Obey God
  4. Read and study the Bible so that you would know the word of God

Discernment

I believe the key to knowing God’s voice is discernment as we alluded to earlier in this study.  You have to be able to know the difference between the voices that you hear.  You have to be able to recognize God’s voice among others.  Consider the following scripture.

Matthew 7:24-27 (NKJV) -- {24}“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: {25}and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. {26}“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: {27}and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

Also consider the following.

James 1:5 (NKJV) -- {5}If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

The word wisdom means to discern.  Consider that everything you do in life is based on a decision.  How can you know which path to take?  How can you know how to decide?  This is where we need to see the importance of God operating in our lives.  We can’t rely on our own logic or reason because those things are within ourselves and that we can not completely confide in.  We need something or someone else that can help us make decisions and therefore discern.

God helps us by talking to us, but perhaps not in the ways that you think.  If you want wisdom then ask God for it.  If you want to be wise than do what God says.

Human Nature

I’d like to talk about one last thing before move on.  Let’s talk briefly about human nature.  Have you ever heard someone tell another person that he or she wasn’t fair?  Have you ever seen anyone proud of the fact that they forsook someone and betrayed them?  Where does the sense of fair come from?  Where does the sense of right and wrong come from?

We all appeal to a higher standard.  This higher standard comes from God.  C.S. Lewis discusses this point very well in his boo, “Mere Christianity.”

We all have a sense of this right and wrong even before we are Christians and know anything about God.  We know it’s wrong to lie.  We know that it is better to be brave (without fear) than to be a coward.  Why?  This human nature comes from God and we all have it.  Sure it may be perverted or even suppressed, but it is always there.

This leads us to effective human reasoning, common sense, the inner voice, inner promptings, and the like.  These are the areas where the Way of God impresses itself on us.  It is through this higher standard than our own that we can hear God.  Of course this shouldn’t be the exclusive way since our “ears” are not pure.

How to Know God’s Voice

We know God’s voice by first knowing God.  This implies an intimate relationship with Him as we stated earlier in this study.  Here are some things that we can do to better know God and increase our experience with Him and therefore be able to discern Him.  First let’s look at a scripture that I think summarizes the whole thing succinctly.

Romans 12:2 (NKJV) -- And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

We have to be transformed from the way of the world to operate according to the way of God.  This transformation is accomplished by the renewal of our minds.  We have to start thinking differently.  However, this means that we have to begin to train our minds since this doesn’t happen overnight.  It is a process.  So how can we implement this process of renewal and therefore transformation?

  1. Read and study the Bible so that you would know the word of God.  God will not tell you anything that contradicts the principles in his revelation to us.  The moment that happens is the moment that the Bible becomes unreliable.  The Bible is the infallible and reliable word of God so it will stand always.  It won’t change for our situation so we can use that as a primary test in discerning the voice that we hear.
  2. Pray regularly so that we gain more experience in interacting with God.  Always spend time listening to see what God impresses on your heart while you pray.  Prayer shouldn’t be a one way conversation from you to God.  You should give God the opportunity to talk to you by giving yourself the opportunity to listen.
  3. Consider what others who are more mature in the faith tell you.  Don’t discount what others have to say even when they want to share their particular experiences.  Their particular experience may not apply to you, but the principle behind their actions in that experience may speak volumes to you.
  4. Do what God says from His word.  Don’t just read the Bible.  Do what it says.
  5. Listen to your conscience.  God develops your conscience as you mature in the faith.  Some might call it their gut, but it is that inner voice that speaks to you.
  6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Discernment is developed through trial and error for the most part since there is no 100% certainty that you have heard the Lord in regards to personal issues.  So in the beginning you will make mistakes.  You will make mistakes your entire life, but as you get more mature you will find that you can more readily tell when it is God talking to you.  Nothing beats experience.
  7. Experience God as much as possible.  This is accomplished by doing what He says and interacting with Him.

So I would say that the key to knowing the voice of God is twofold.

  1. Know God
  2. Experience God

You will note that these are the same principles that we use to know anything else.  We know what our best friend might say in a situation because we know the person intimately and we have experienced many things together.  Just apply this to God and know him that much more and therefore be able to know when it is indeed Him talking to you or not.  Amen.

 

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