Every sincere Christian has endured seasons where they desperately needed to hear God or know his will. Loren Cunningham’s book Is That Really You God? (Hearing the Voice of God) delves into this topic headfirst. It’s an older book with timeless information. I found it helpful and insightful. Loren digs beyond platitudes and easy answers, burrowing down into the meat of the question. Incredibly fascinating are her thoughts on learning to differentiate God’s voice from our internal voices and the world’s external voices. She walks us through the transition of young Samuel mistaking the voice of Eli for the voice of God. She further illustrates Samuel’s maturation process and spiritual development, noting that as Samuel matured, he quickly recognized the voice of God, and others heard the voice of God prophetically through him. We’ll delve into that later in this article. Loren’s book inspires many thoughts in this article.
Learning to Listen
If you’ve never read the book The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, do yourself a favor and get a copy. It’s an outstanding book on prayer. Arguably, however, Batterson’s lesser-known book, Whisper (How to Hear the Voice of God), is even better. In it, Batterson makes the compelling case that God speaks to us far more than we realize, but we are too distracted to hear His voice. Like Elijah’s infamous “still small voice” encounter, we risk not hearing because there’s so much noise in our lives. An old Jars of Clay song called Headphones captures our culture perfectly:
I don’t have to hear it
If I don’t want to
I can drown this out
Pull the curtains down on you
It’s a heavy world
It’s too much for me to care
If I close my eyes
It’s not there
With my headphones on
We’re all so uncomfortable with silence, yet the noises, distractions, hectic schedules, and conversations might just be drowning out the still small voice of God. Recently, Taylor (my wife) and I were in a fast-food drive-thru window. I asked the smiling guy at the window several questions while he bobbed his head pleasantly. Oddly, he didn’t respond to a single request. Then suddenly, I noticed the little white oblong circles resting in his ears. He was absorbed in music only he could hear, happily oblivious to my increasingly frustrated requests for napkins. I think we’re all guilty to some degree of being like that McDonald’s earbud guy with God. We get so caught up in the rhythm of earthly things we don’t even know how to unplug and listen to heavenly things (For more on that subject, read 6 Reasons We Think God is Silent When He is Speaking).
Don’t Stress Out
I think we overcomplicate seeking the voice of God. To be fair, intensely spiritual people mystify the process and unwittingly represent hearing God’s voice as something for the elite among us. This isn’t so at all. It’s really not complicated. As long as you want to please and obey God, He will reward you for diligently seeking His voice (Hebrews 11:6). Submit to His Lordship (2 Corinthians 10:5, Proverbs 3:5-6). Resist the enemy and silence satanic distractions (James 4:7, Ephesians 6:10-20). And expect God to answer (John 10:27, Psalm 69:13, Exodus 33:11). Destress, demystify, ask, listen, and God will speak in His time.
Let God Speak in the Way He Chooses
God always answers, but it isn’t always with an audible voice. Rarely does His voice thunder down from Sinai or explode from a burning bush. So allow God to speak to you in the way He chooses. For example, God may talk to you in one of the following ways: Through His Word (Psalm 119:105), dreams (Matthew 2:12), visions (Isaiah 6:1), quiet inner voice (Isaiah 30:21), other people (Proverbs 24:6), the Church (Hebrews 13:7), prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:7-11), angels (Hebrews 1:14), or signs (Judges 6:36-40).
Make Sure Your Heart Is Clean
The psalmist said, “If I regard sin and baseness in my heart (that is, if I know it is there and do nothing about it), the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). If the Lord won’t listen, He certainly isn’t going to answer. I’m reminded of a beautiful, albeit, underappreciated older song called Welcome Home by Shaun Groves:
Welcome to this heart of mine
Buried under prideful vines
Grown to hide the mess I’ve made
Inside of me come decorate, Lord
And open up the creaking door
And walk upon the dusty floor
Scrape away the guilty stains
Until no sin or shame remain
Spread Your love upon the walls
And occupy the empty halls
Until the man I am has faded
No more doors are barricaded
Come inside this heart of mine
It’s not my own
Make it home
The Axehead Principle
2 Kings 6:1-6 describes a fascinating miracle in the ministry of the prophet Elisha. One day a group of prophets, evidently Elisha’s students, asked to build a larger meeting place. So they asked Elisha to come with them to the Jordan River to cut down trees, and he did. Later, while one of them cut down a tree, his axehead fell off into the river. “Oh, sir!” He cried. “It was a borrowed axe!” “Where did it fall?” the man of God asked. When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the ax head floated to the surface. “Grab it,” Elisha said. And the man reached out and grabbed it.
Because the story is told with no specific spiritual application-supplied countless principles, are attributed to this miracle. However, the one I’ve found most helpful is The Axehead Principle of going back to where you last experienced it. In terms of prayer, go back to where the Lord first spoke to you. Then ask, have I done what God initially told me to do back there? Go back where you lost connection with God and listen for instruction.
The Wise Men Principle
Just as the Wise Men individually followed the star and were led to the same Christ, so God will often use two or more spiritually sensitive people to confirm what He is telling you (2 Corinthians 13:1). We should seek God’s voice or confirmation of God’s voice from two or three (not just one) spiritually sensitive people. This principle helps protect us from emotionalism, naivety, discouragement, and satanic deception.
Learning to Recognize God’s Voice
As previously mentioned, God doesn’t usually speak or sound the way we expect Him to communicate. For example, before becoming the venerable prophet, young Samuel heard God speak in the middle of the night but mistook it for the voice of Eli (1 Samuel 3:1-10). Samuel had never encountered the voice of God, so it was unfamiliar to him. It took three promptings before Samuel realized it was the Lord. And even then, Samuel only understood because Eli had enough wisdom to explain that something supernatural was happening. That event was a defining moment for Samuel. As he grew in anointing, he learned to easily recognize and proclaim the Word of the Lord (1 Samuel 8:7-10, 1 Samuel 12:11-18).
It strikes me that spiritual encounters escape us because we have preconceived expectations of how they will happen. We expect thunder when God is whispering. We expect comfort when God is confronting us. We hardly plan for the supernatural in the mundane moments. Moses only heard God speak because he investigated the burning bush (Exodus 3:3). But he didn’t go into the desert to find God. He was just tending his father-in-law’s flocks. Likewise, young Samuel didn’t go to bed expecting a Divine calling. I wonder how often we miss God’s voice because we’re too ensconced in the ordinary to notice the extraordinary? In my life, there have been many times I sought God with bitter tears with no response, only to have God speak while monotonously driving down the road.
Relationship is the Reason
Moses reached such a place in his relationship with God that he would go inside the Tent of Meeting, and God would speak to him face to face as one would talk to a friend (Exodus 33:1). Ultimately, relationship is the reason God interacts with us. We are His children, and God longs to have a deep intimate relationship with us. I admit that reality is still difficult for me to accept at times. Why does the Maker of the universe love me like that? He does, though. Despite my hard head and thin skin, He loves me, and He loves you too. If you make intimacy with God the goal and not the means to an end, God will respond. In other words, if the desire to hear God’s voice is rooted in selfishness, pride, arrogance, or ambition, God will likely remain silent. Or even worse, speak a terrifying rebuke.
Remember when Joseph told his family about the dreams God gave him (Genesis 37)? They weren’t too thrilled. Be careful publically divulging things God said to you privately. Don’t talk about direction, revelations, or illuminations God gives you until He permits you to do so. There are four pitfalls in speaking about the words God spoke to you: One, we can feel a sense of pride when God speaks to us, and we want to share it for our glory. Two, we can be presumptuous in thinking we completely understand what God said to us. Remember, God often shares things progressively (in stages). Three, if we don’t wait for the green light from God to speak, we might miss His timing and method. Four, others may not be ready to receive what God gave us. Their hearts might need time to prepare before hearing (Luke 9:36, Ecclesiastes 3:7, Mark 5:9).
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