6 Reasons We Think God Is Silent When He Is Speaking

I recently finished a book by Mark Batterson entitled Whisper. Batterson is best known for authoring The Circle Maker, a fabulous book on prayer. Whisper, however, zeros in on the necessity of hearing the gentle voice of God. What good is prayer if we never bother to listen? What good is begging God to speak if we do not know how to hear His response? Whisper is well worth the read. This article is not a regurgitation of that book. Instead, the book caused me to consider how often we long to hear the seemingly silent voice of God. How many times have we desperately longed to know the will of God and coveted the voice of God?

The reality is that God rarely refuses to respond. We are simply incapable of hearing His voice. What if you could hear the voice of God right now? Would you be willing to remove the distractions and the competing voices? What if God is whispering the answer to your prayer right now, but you just don’t know how to listen properly? I believe, in most instances, this is indeed the case. Scripture teaches us that even the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-6). There are over ten references to God speaking in Genesis chapter 1 alone. God literally spoke the world into existence, and He is not mysteriously silent today. With that in mind, below are six reasons we often can’t hear what God is saying to us.

1. We mistake the voice of God for someone or something else (1 Samuel 3:1-11).

When young Samuel heard the voice of God in the middle of the night, he assumed it was Eli, the priest calling. But God spoke to Samuel three times before Eli realized God was trying to talk to Samuel. Thankfully, because Samuel submitted to a man of God, he received instructions to hear God’s voice. Sadly, many people never learn to hear God because they’re not submitted.

2. We run from the flames rather than towards them (Exodus 3:1-12).

When the Lord decided to speak to Moses, He sent a sign in the wilderness. God caused a bush to blaze with fire but not to be consumed. But it was not until Moses walked towards the flame that God spoke. Beyond that, God refused to speak again until Moses had removed his sandals in honor of holy ground.

Many today turn their back on the fires of the Holy Ghost and miss what God desires to speak into their lives. Others walk towards the flames but refuse to surrender themselves to purity and holiness.

3. We are too busy talking to hear the voice of God (Psalm 4:4, Proverbs 10:8).

Many Christians know the importance of talking to God but fail to listen to God. They petition, but they never position themselves to hear his response. They cry out to God, but they complain rather than calmly listen for His reply.

4. We are too busy listening to other voices (Mark 4:9).

Many pray and then run around seeking advice from the closest person they can find. They speak with confidants and friends, looking for a word from God. They trust that God will speak to someone else on their behalf, but not that He will speak to their heart. So they listen to everything and everyone but God.

In modern culture, we are surrounded by constant noises and inundated by media. Our headphones are on, and the volume is turned up to the max. We are addicted to our phones and glued to our devices. The news cycle is twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We listen and listen and listen to every voice and sound but ignore God. The Lord is not silent, but we are too loud.

5. We neglect His Word and the preaching of the Word (Luke 11:28, Psalm 119:11, Psalm 119:105).

God has already spoken unalterably through His Word. God chooses to speak according to His Word through the preaching of His Word. God interacts with us as we interact with the Bible. God speaks to us through the preaching of the Word. God speaks to us through righteous men. When we are submitted to the Word and the preached Word, we are positioned to hear God’s voice.

6. We don’t recognize God’s voice because we are a goat, not a sheep (John 10:27-28, John 8:47).

The Lord’s sheep hear His voice, and they follow him. God is constantly speaking to His people, but they can’t hear or recognize His voice because they have become goats. Only sheep can hearShephaShephard’svoice. Only repentance will allow them to hear Him once again.

Is That Really You God? – How to Hear God’s Voice

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.

Divulge Cautiously

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).