Does God really speak to you and me today, more that will be clear, directly, specifically, personally? We all know the stories of how He spoke in the past.
God spoke to Adam about the garden and the consequences of leaving the garden. To Noah he outlined the moment he lived in and instructed about the ark and to Abraham he lifted up his eyes and spoke about a sky full of descendants.
The list continues on to Moses from a bush and a mountain. Then He spoke to Joshua about trumpeting down the defences of Jericho.
Thrillingly he came to Isaiah and spoke about the coming Messiah, to Jeremiah about the coming captivity, to Ezekiel about the future restoration, and to Daniel about the rest of time.
God spoke to John the Baptist about the Saviour being at hand. God spoke to Jesus about His identity, His mission, and the names of His apostles.
And God speaks to you through His Holy Spirit on a regular basis about the ordinary things of your life. I note that some people mark books with highlighters to be reminded on how the words addressed them. If we took the time and could mark with a bright highlighter the messages from God that cross our minds, we’d see the marker changing the colour of our days .
That should come as no surprise, for God told us in Scripture that it would be this way.
I will speak!
On the night He was arrested when most people’s mind would be fully engrossed with the situation that faces them Jesus mind went to tell you and I of his promise, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever.…He lives with you and will be in you” (Jn. 14:16–17).
He did not leave it at that He went on to explain, “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (v. 26).
Specifically, the Spirit will “convict the world,” “guide you into all truth,” “speak only what he hears,” “tell you what is yet to come,” and “take from what is mine and make it known to you” (Jn. 16:7–15).
Think about what Jesus is saying here. When you trust Him the Holy Spirit comes to live in you for the rest of your life, there are two people living in your body—you and the Holy Spirit. He is not mute. He is an involved, life-giving, divine Person with whom the Bible promises “fellowship” (2 Cor. 13:14)—regular, experiential companionship.
Through out the working of the church in the book of Acts we see God repeatedly speaking to His people through the Spirit. Philip was told to approach the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29), Peter to accompany the three men sent from Cornelius (10:19–20). The church at Antioch, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul” (13:2).
Paul’s tells constantly of the speaking of the Holy Spirit “Having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia…they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to…Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Acts16:6–9
“Now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem.…In every city the Holy Spirit warns me.” Acts 20:22–23
The bible is full of the Spirit providing direction for daily living. We are told that we are to be “led by the Spirit” (Ro. 8:14) and “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). We are to “pray in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18), “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). All of these well-known commands assume that the Spirit speaks to us personally in ways we can understand; the present tense of many of these verbs suggests continuous action—that God speaks to us not two or three times in our lifetime but daily!
But how, you may be asking, does God “speak personally” The most common and certain way is through the Bible. All Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). In a very real sense, the Spirit is speaking to you every time you read the Bible. We find the words “the Lord said” associated with visions, dreams, an audible voice, angels, prophetic messages, and physical signs.
We also find the language of God’s personal conversation described in 1 K. 19:12 as “a gentle whisper” (NIV), “a sound of a gentle blowing” (NASB), a “still small voice” (KJV). It may come as a simple thought, one we “sense” more than “think.” As Paul tells us, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit” (Ro. 8:16). It’s Spirit-to-spirit speech.
And we’ve all heard it. Out of the corner of an eye, we’ll notice someone standing alone in a group and sense an inner prompting: “Go over and say hi.” We’ll be about to make a subtly self-promoting remark and hear in our hearts, “Don’t say that.” Our troubled spirits will be reassured by the silent reminder,
How can I be sure it’s Him?
The primary way to discern God’s voice is to saturate our minds with the Scriptures. What God says to us individually will always match the principles He has given to everyone. As Isaiah reminded his contemporaries, “To the law and to the testimony [the Scriptures]! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” Is. 8:20
Yet some thoughts or impressions are neither directly affirmed nor disqualified by specific scripture. In that case, we need to look at the character of what we’re hearing. We need to ask, “Is it God-like, devil-like, or me-like?”
God tells us plainly what He is like (see Ex. 34:6–7; Ps. 51:16–17, 103:11–14; 1 Cor. 13:4–7; Gal. 5:22–23; Heb. 4:15–16; 1 Jn. 4:16). His names tell us even more about Him and the character of His voice.
1. Take your time.
I find that God is faithful over a period of days to distinguish His messages from my thoughts. With time, He will cause the false guilt, false promptings, and alluring permissions to fade. He will cause His messages to persist and become more compelling. So don’t confront your friends, correct your leaders, quit your job, launch a ministry, propose marriage, or act on any uncertain “prompting” on the spot. When it comes to hearing God’s inner voice, take your time. “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21–22).
2. Beware your wounds.
We’ve all been wounded by others. In response, we often become fearful, angry, and suspicious. Be honest about where you have been bruised and have become unhealthy in your responses. Anticipate that some “messages” will come from your wounds.
3. Know your passions.
Perhaps you’ve heard the adage, “Give a man a hammer and the whole world looks like a nail.” This “hammer effect” can distort our ability to hear God—especially when we are ministering to other people. For example, if I believe strongly that wives should submit to their husbands, then it’s easy to hear “submission” as the solution whenever someone tells me of a domestic strain. If I’m an intercessor, “pray more” tends to pop readily to mind when I’m listening for God’s solution to personal struggles. If you find yourself repeatedly “hearing” what’s strong and vibrant in your life, slow down and suspect overflow from your heart rather than messages from God.
How can I become a better listener?
We’ve seen that God speaks to us personally. We’ve noted those characteristics that distinguish God’s voice from other voices. Now, how do we improve our hearing and become more attentive to God’s voice?
Listen as you read. As Daniel read the prophecy of Jeremiah, he “understood from the Scriptures…that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years” (Dan. 9:2). The psalmist wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Ps. 119:105). In both of these places, God reminds us that He speaks very personally to us about our immediate circumstances through His . You’ve experienced this and probably described it this way: “The verse just jumped out at me.” “It was as if this were written just for me.” “I couldn’t get that verse out of my mind.”
Listen as you pray. In teaching us to withstand the enemy’s relentless attacks, Paul urges us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions” (Eph. 6:18). In our typical “get it done” manner, most of us start praying by praying. It makes sense, unless you understand that Paul is saying that the Spirit will show us how He wants us to pray.
Listen as you talk. We all have conversations with friends, family, and coworkers. It’s easy to forget that when two of us are talking there are three in the room, and it’s that third Person’s voice that we most need to hear. We need to keep one ear tuned to God while we listen to the person with the other. Sometimes, we both need to stop talking and listen to God.
Listen as you go through the day. The Bible is full of stories of God breaking into normal days and making them unforgettable. Yet perhaps more important are the recurring passages that remind us that the Spirit speaks continuously with small “nudges” that keep us out of trouble and prod us toward joy.
God speaks. It’s the crown jewel of the New Covenant: “[I] will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (Jn. 14:16–17).
If you belong to God, this Counsellor is “with you and in you.” He is speaking. Are you learning to listen? Are you learning to recognise His voice and the enormous benefits of being led by Him?
Why not stop now and ask the Lord to screen out all other voices but His? Invite Him to say to your heart and mind whatever He wants to say. Now stay quiet for a few minutes and listen. Pay attention to what comes to mind. Where does He take you? What do you sense He is saying?
As things come to mind, don’t try to determine at the moment if it’s you or God “speaking.” Just jot down your thoughts: a verse of Scripture, a word or phrase, a visual picture, an emotion, a physical sensation. Ask the Lord, “What does this mean?” After your listening time, “test” what you think you’ve heard against the words and character of God.
What did you hear?
How will you respond?