When facing big decisions, it can be difficult trying to hear and recognize God’s voice. How do you know if God is speaking to you?
If you’re a frequent visitor to the site, you would know I’m a big fan of writing about relationships. Marriage in particular is something I love to explore, and I like to think about the different ways we can relate to each other better and build lasting relationships.
No one who is reading this right now would ever think of a marriage in which a husband and a wife rarely talked to each other. If they constantly went back to the last good conversation they had 8 months ago, their relationship today would be fairly strained, don’t you think?
So why do we expect our relationship with God to be any different?
But this is perhaps exactly why we find relating to God, working out what He wants us to do, and staying in faith so hard.
In the times of the Old Testament, there would be prophets appointed to boldly state “Thus saith the Lord”, and expound to the people exactly what God is saying. Fast forward to present day and we don’t have as many of those types of people around. And even if they are around, our modern skepticism and the amount of crazy people who have claimed to be speaking for God have really blurred this for us.
A lot of us are facing big decisions in our lives. Where to live, who to marry or date, how to go about our day, what career path to take. And a lot of us wish that we could just have God send one of those old skool prophets into our lives to make it easier, to give us a sign, or something.
But God is already speaking.
So here are some thoughts on how to hear and recognize God’s voice.
#1: Deal with the sin problem first
When you’re not in relationship with someone, it can be kind of fruitless trying to hear from them. In order to communicate with God, you really need to get your initial relationship right with Him first.
The Bible talks about how sin (our mistakes and bad, destructive decisions) blocks our relationship with God. And all of us are guilty of it. All of us have intentionally chosen against God’s plan and voice in our lives.
Once you get to that point where you’re tired of doing things your own way, God is waiting with open arms. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, a way has been made for man and God to once again be in regular communication with each other.
If you’re not in relationship with God, this is the first step to getting things right and hearing His voice.
All other points after this largely depend on this first one.
#2: What has God said already?
You know, you can’t really complain that you don’t know what God is saying if you haven’t picked up your Bible in days, weeks, months or years. It’s like complaining that you have a lack of direction when you haven’t opened your Refedex or your GPS application on your phone.
God has already spoken to us about almost every topic we could ever approach in our lives through the Bible. Why not pick yours up today and have a look?
There’s a lot that could be said about reading the Bible effectively, but really, the best way to go about it is to find a character, book, or story that relates to what you’re facing now, and read that.
Need to make a relationship decision? Check out Ephesians, Song of Songs, Proverbs, or 1 Corinthians (to name a few).
Facing a new beginning? Check out Genesis, Joshua or Acts.
Standing at a crossroads in terms of direction? Check out what happened in the lives of Joseph, Daniel, Elijah, Paul, or any other character who every struggled in that way.
Maybe you’re asking God for an answer He has already sent you.
#3: Recognize God speaks in numerous ways
Let’s say I send a friend a text message. He thinks it’d be better to talk to me on the phone about it, so he calls me back. Except I texted him, so I was expecting a text message back, and I don’t pick up the phone. He sends me a Facebook message with a bit more detail to follow up. But I want a text message, cause I texted him, so I don’t read it.
If that were the case, I could not complain that he didn’t want to talk to me. He clearly does. I just only want to hear him in a certain way.
…Do you see where I’m going with this?
Sometimes we miss what God is trying to say because we have set notions of how He has to speak. One of the most common ways we want God to speak is in a “still small voice” like he did with the prophet Elijah. And hey, God does often speak through that gentle inner voice where His Spirit relates with our innermost being. But there are so many other ways He can speak.
The following is not a comprehensive list, but God’s answer also came to people in the Bible in the following ways:
- A still small voice (as above)
- In a whirlwind (like Job)
- Through a burning bush (like Moses)
- By almost blowing up Mount Sinai (with Moses and the people of Israel)
- In visions and dreams (Daniel, Joseph, John etc.)
- Through ministers (like the prophets)
- Through the encouragement of friends (like Elihu, Job’s youngest friend)
- In an unassuming humble package that doesn’t look in your mind like what you were believing for (like Jesus)
I think you get the picture. Sometimes God speaks quietly, but sometimes there really is a giant flashing sign that’s in your face but you’re not hearing it cause you’re not recognizing it.
#4: It takes time to learn His voice
If I meet you for the first time, I will not recognize your voice if you called me on the phone. I would not recognize your voice in an extremely loud room. I would not know the things or the ways you say things.
But if I spent time with you one on one, in a quiet place, I would get to start to know what you sound like. I would also get to know your character and the types of things you say.
After a while, I will be able to recognize your voice even when other voices are screaming around us. I’ll know it’s you on the phone just by hearing you say “Hey it’s me”. When my hearing is bad and I can’t see that well, I will still be able to recognize your presence and gentle touch leading me in the right direction.
Jesus said “My sheep know My voice”. What a beautiful thought. And as you continue to spend time with the Good Shepherd, His voice will become clearer and clearer to you.
#5: Some other questions
These are just some rapid fire questions that are worth considering when seeking God’s direction that I’ve found helpful in working out what God is saying to others and also to me.
What is being repeated in your life? In Isaiah 28, God says that if the people wouldn’t listen to Him, His message would come to them again. What sermons keeps coming up? What words and phrases? What Scriptures? Like in the first Matrix movie, when even a hint of repetition comes up, pay attention.
What has happened after you’ve prayed in your life? Maybe your answer has already come and you are missing it. You prayed for a next step, and a friend comes up to you and makes a suggestion out of the blue. Believing for friendship and you get opportunities to spend time with more people. Balance this with wisdom and continued prayer, but sometimes things are made very plain.
Are you ready for what you’re believing for? Believing for a promotion, but you are the laziest person in your company? Are you praying for a husband or wife, but have a closed or unavailable heart? Wanting to make a difference but not spending any time using what’s already in your hand? Put your action where your faith is.
Are you grateful? God could answer your prayers in full, but if you don’t have a grateful spirit, you could destroy, belittle or ignore the very things you’ve been believing God for. Just ask the wandering Israelites who complained for 40 years til they’d all died off, allowing their children to enter the Promised Land.
Any unforgiveness in your life? Nothing cuts your prayers in half like unforgiveness does. Keep short accounts, and be willing to let the things people have done to you go.
Has He already spoken to you? Perhaps God has sent you a vision, a dream, a word of prophecy, or a strong answer in the past, and you’re ignoring it. Maybe you actually do know what God wants you to do, but you’re ignoring it.
What do you want to do? Perhaps some of those desires in you are actually from heaven, and maybe God has already instilled in you the right way to go.
What has the God-ordained leadership in your life said? Have you spoken to your pastor, your leaders, your parents and/or your godly friends?
#6: God is good
Ah man, God is so faithful. He is not the author of confusion. He doesn’t want you stumbling in the dark.
Sometimes when we pray we get this weird idea in our heads that God is trying to hide things from us and leave us feeling lost. That is not the heart of the Shepherd for His people.
It says in James that if you need wisdom, ask God, and He will gladly tell you. You just have to be willing to listen, and believe He actually wants to speak to you.
In fact, God wants the good things in your life for you more than you want them for you. He wants to see you find contentment in your family. He wants to see you enjoying your career. He wants you to end up with a faithful man or a faithful woman (if the desire to marry is in you).
One of my favourite things about the Old Testament is that the people of God will ask God a short question, and 10 pages later, God will still be answering them. That shows me God wants to speak to me more than I want to ask about.
Don’t forget the goodness of God at your crossroads.
I hope you find the answers your heart is looking for. I’m convinced if you have an open heart and a humble attitude and are willing to listen, you will.