God is continually communicating to people. He’s been doing it since the Garden of Eden. He told Noah to build an ark. He spoke to Moses through a burning bush. He spoke to Daniel and Joseph through dreams. The apostle Paul writes that God reveals Himself through creation.
How does God speak to us today? And how do we recognize it when He does?
We are not cookie-cutter kids. God doesn’t speak to each of us the same. But scripture gives us direction on how God speaks and ways to recognize it.
Believe God Wants to Speak to you
This may seem a bit obvious for a Christian. And yet, I’ve found that many believe intellectually that God speaks to His people, but then get hung up on things that distract, disrupt, and prevent us from truly embracing that God is relational and does speak. The result is a disconnect that can cause us to doubt or feel God just doesn’t speak to me. The very fact that the Bible was written shows us that God wants us to know Him. He even sent His son to live amongst people and then died for the sins of people. The life and death of Jesus speak volumes. It proves to us how much God loves us and wants a personal relationship with each of us. You can’t get more “relational” than that.
Those Who Belong to God, learn to recognize His voice
Jesus tells us in John 10:1-5, that His followers will recognize His voice. But in 1 Samuel 3, Samuel hears God’s voice three times and still doesn’t recognize it until Eli, the priest instructs him. These two stories give us valuable information. First, it is possible to be a follower of God and also be immature about recognizing His voice. Secondly, we can learn how to recognize God’s voice.
Learning to recognize the voice of God takes practice. We must regularly exercise our spiritual muscles in order to strengthen our ability to discern when God is speaking.
Think of it this way. Radio and television stations are constantly transmitting, but we only hear them when we “tune in” the receiver. Failure to hear the signal doesn’t mean the station isn’t transmitting. Often times we are busy tuning into other stations, or we’re caught up in “transmission” (pleading with God) when the problem is the “receiver”.
Through the Bible
God’s main way to communicate is through the Bible. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” 2 Timothy 3:16
It is true that the Bible gives us warnings, encouragement, and lessons. However, we must not only look at scripture as merely instructions and rules. If that was all God wanted us to know, that’s all He would have provided. But God tells us story after story about the lives of real people with real problems and real lessons so that we can relate. We can relate to not only the people and their situations, but to the character of God that is demonstrated through the stories themselves. In fact, the Bible is HIS story—written in love to help us know Him.
The more time you spend in the Word, the more you get to know God, and the more you are able to discern when He is speaking to you.
Here’s something to keep in mind when reading the Bible: God will not tell you to do something that is not in line with His Word. As we interpret Scripture by other Scripture, we avoid the false logic and misinterpretations that can sneak into our worlds.
Here’s an example of misinterpretation (and justification to sin). A friend who is married tells you, “God said it’s okay to leave my husband for a co-worker since my husband is not a Christian and I shouldn’t be ‘unequally yoked’”. Yes, the Bible says a Christian is not to be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14), but the Bible also says: Do not commit adultery (Luke 18:20). God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and finally, 1 Corinthians 7:13 says, “And if a believing woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him.” Take a look at verse 16: “Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?”
God speaks to us through other people. He uses our pastors, teachers, friends, and family to convey His truth to us. After all, he used people to write down the text of the Bible. God’s words may come as messages, warnings, or truths. Whether or not we choose to listen the messages are up to us.
Two things to look for when we think God is speaking to us through another person: First, does it line up with scripture? Secondly, will God affirm or confirm the message? Here’s one example.You pastor gives a message about being courageous and refers to Joshua chapter one. A few days later you hear the same scripture on the radio. Next, a friend refers to the very same scripture.
Through the Holy Spirit
Jesus told His disciples that He would send One who would teach and guide all those who believe in Him (Acts 1:5, John 14:26; 16:7). When a person believes in Christ, the Holy Spirit immediately becomes a permanent part of his life (Romans 8:13, 1 Corinthians 12:13).
The Holy Spirit guides us through our own consciences (Romans 9:1) and other quiet, subtle ways.
So, how do we discern His voice from our own?
- What we hear will match up with scripture. Once again, this means we must have a good knowledge of the Word, or we can be confused or lead astray (1 Timothy 3:16, Ephesians 6:17, John 14:26, John 16:12-14).
- We should be in regular prayer with the Father in order to keep our hearts and minds open to the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
- Our lives will show signs of fruit if we are following the Spirit’s leading (Galatians 5:22)
If we walk in the Spirit, we will continue to see these qualities grow and mature in us, and they will become evident to others as well.
God will never speak to us through our circumstances in a way that contradicts His written Word. Acts 17:26-27 tells us that God orchestrates His plans through the events, life decisions, and all the people and places we encounter so that mankind will call out to Him.
“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9
Dreams and visions
I had my first “God dream” when I was a teen. In the dream, God warned me that the activities I was engaging in were harmful to my relationship with Him. The trouble was, I didn’t recognize the dream was from the Lord. All I knew was that the dream disturbed me. Years later, once I became more familiar with God’s Word, I realized the dream was from God.
The Bible indicates that God revealed His will to selected people through dreams or visions in scriptures such as Genesis 37:5-10; 1 Kings 3:5-15; Daniel, chapters 2 and 7; Matthew 1:20; 2:13,19; and Acts 10:9-16; 16:9.
God has given me several dreams throughout my lifetime. He has spoken powerful words of encouragement while I slept, replayed scriptures, worship songs, warned me of enemy activity and has given me revelation for others. Please note, this is not God’s primary way of speaking to me, but only one of them. And every dream coincides with scripture. If a dream does not match up with God’s word and character, it is NOT from Him.
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.” Joel 2:28 (NLT)
“For God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in their beds. He whispers in their ears…” Job 33:14-16a (NLT)
God’s primary desire in communicating to His people is for eternal purposes.
When we fail to remember God is infinite, we limit Him to this finite world, which limits our discernment of hearing His voice. God can speak to us, however, and whenever He chooses.
“For God does speak—now one way, now another— though no one perceives it.” Job 33:14
It is our responsibility to train ourselves and ‘tune in’ to His voice. We must listen intently and carefully through the crowd of noises in the world.
“Be still and know I am God.” Proverbs 46:10
God is speaking. Can you hear Him?
Aren’t you thankful that the God of all creation desires a personal relationship with each of us? As we approach the Thanksgiving season, let’s thank Him by growing in our relationship with Him!