Are you hearing God’s voice in your daily life? Do you believe that God still speaks to people today like he did in the Bible times?
The Good Shepherd Talks to His Sheep
Jesus described our relationship with him in John 10 as being like sheep that recognize the shepherd’s voice:
“My sheep listen to my voice. I call each one by name. I lead them out and they follow me because they know my voice… I open and close gates for them; they come in and find safe pasture and they go out with me in the path of righteousness. I give them life – my life, real life from God that is abundant and eternal… I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10:3, 9-10, 14-15, my paraphrase).
The Elephant Neeta
The ability of animals to recognize the voice of their master or mistress is a remarkable fact. And Jesus uses this to encourage us that we can hear his voice.
Have you heard the story of Charlie Frank and his elephant Neeta? Dallas Willard tells this story in Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. It goes back over twenty years. Frank raised her from birth, training her to be a circus performer. When he retired he gave her to the San Diego Zoo. After 15 years of being separated Frank visited Neeta. He was 100 yards away from her and he called to her and immediately she came to him and performed her old routines on his command!
“The Three Lights”: a GPS Navigation System
To hear God’s voice consistently we need to be like the elephant Neeta who developed a relationship with her master, like the sheep who follow their shepherd.
The ancient wisdom of God’s people is that he guides us by using three lights. Together the three lights form a GPS Navigation System. Do you have a GPS in your car? I do and I love it! When I’m driving someplace unfamiliar I easily get lost. What a comfort it is to be to have a GPS that knows where I am and tells me where to go to get to my destination. God has given us a GPS for daily life:
God’s Word (Bible)
Above all we need God’s Word to guide us. The Bible contains the authoritative and inspired words of God. God uses the Bible to speak to us and everything he says to us is consistent with what he’s said in the Bible. As we study the Scripture and let it lead us into prayer God leads us in the path of life.
This is one reason why it is so helpful to memorize Scripture. Then as we’re going about our lives we can call it up for meditation and prayer. And God can bring just the right words from Scripture when we need them.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV84).
A second way that God speaks to us is through his providence. God is the sovereign Lord and he uses circumstances in our lives to open and close doors for us (Proverbs 16:9). The providence of God includes all of our circumstances, even the bad things that he didn’t want for us, but allowed, because of the freedom of choice that others and we have and the fallen world we live in. He works all things for the good of those who love and trust him (Romans 8:28).
Oswald Chambers wrote:
God seldom speaks to us in startling ways, but in ways that are easy to misunderstand, and we say, “I wonder if that is God’s voice?” Isaiah said that the Lord spake to him “with a strong hand,” that is, by the pressure of circumstances. Nothing touches our lives but it is God Himself speaking. Do we discern His hand or only mere occurrence?
Get into the habit of saying, “Speak, Lord,” and life will become a romance. Every time circumstances press, say, “Speak Lord”: make time to listen… As we listen, our ear gets acute, and, like Jesus, we shall hear God all the time. (My Utmost for His Highest, January 30th.)
Spirit impressions (thoughts from God)
The first two aspects of our GPS Navigation system are objective, external realities. Though God’s Word is a spiritual reality, we have it written down in black and white and every word has been authorized by God and preserved for thousands of years. And Providence or circumstances are visible to us and all around us all the time: they are physical reality.
But the third part of our GPS, Spirit impressions, is a subjective, inner reality. The Holy Spirit living, breathing, and speaking to us is real, of course, but we normally don’t see or hear him with our physical eyes and ears like we can our life circumstances and the words of Scripture. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit is our “advocate” and “the Spirit of truth” and says that he speaks to Jesus’ words to us, convicts us of sin, and guides us in God’s way (John 14-16).
When God speaks directly to us it is usually by his Spirit by giving us impressions in our mind and heart. This is the “still, small voice” that Elijah heard and it is the normal way God speaks a personal message to people. Rarely God does not speak to us with a thunderous voice, or miraculous event, or some extraordinary mystical experience (1 Kings 19:11-12).
John calls these Spirit impressions an “anointing” and encourages us to learn to place confidence in the Spirit as our inner teacher (1 John 2:27). Paul urges us to live in the way that he learned from Jesus: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25, NIV84).
Use Common Sense
Our confidence in hearing God’s voice grows as we practice relying on our GPS: God’s Word, Providence, and Spirit impressions together as one indicator. Each of these Three Lights are helpful, but their power is in confirming one another. When they don’t agree they serve to correct one another. Wait for agreement from all three lights.
We also need to check our GPS against common sense as sometimes a GPS leads us on a bad route. Have you ever had that happen? I have! Taking my daughter to Hume Lake Christian Conference Center for a Father Daughter Weekend my GPS led us onto a narrow mountain road with sharp turns that made us dizzy and over an hour late!
Experiment with your GPS for Hearing God’s Voice
To practice using our GPS is to experiment. For instance, Lectio Divina is a disciplined way of meditating on a Bible passage to learn to hear God’s voice — I find it especially helpful to do with friends in a small group. It’s an approach to quietly read and re-read a passage from the Bible and ask God to speak into your life today. It includes praying with the little boy Samuel, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9-10, NIV84). Then wait before the Lord in prayer and keep listening.
When listening to God in Scripture meditation or prayer tune into the possibility that God’s thoughts will enter into your mind. As thoughts come into your mind consider that this might be God’s voice and write them down. For the time of listening you need to turn off your internal editor that says, “Is that really God’s voice?” After you’re done listening to God then ask whether what you’ve written is consistent with Scripture and perhaps solicit feedback from a godly person.
Another way to practice listening to God is to ask him for wisdom about a decision you need to make (James 1:5). It’s helpful if you don’t start with a major, life altering decision, but instead focus on something smaller. Then turn on your GPS and to listen to God — not only in a set aside time of Bible meditation, prayer, and journaling, but also as you go about life in subsequent days. Pay attention to the things you read in the Bible and to the circumstances you encounter in daily life! A God-thought is likely to pop in your mind when you least expect it.
When you sense what God might be saying to you take the hand of Christ and step out in faith. See what happens. Then talk and pray with a godly friend and learn from your experience.
Our Soul Shepherding Article/Class on “Methods for Hearing God’s Voice” explains what it means to hear God’s voice, how to discern that it is actually God that is speaking, and what methods we can practice to learn to hear God’s voice with confidence.