Recognizing God’s Voice Through the Noise
God speaks to His people in many ways, primarily through His Word. It’s important not to miss it.
Speak Lord – Your Servant Listens
“Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the Word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread Revelation… Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the Word of the Lord yet revealed to him. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. So he arose and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, for you did call me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord had called the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for Your servant hears.’ Then the Lord said to Samuel: ‘Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.’” 1 Samuel 3:1-11
Discerning the Voice of God
In order to understand the Will of God, it is essential that we recognise the Voice of God. We cannot do His Will if we cannot discern His Voice from the clamour of peer pressure, the noise of the world and the cacophony of our emotions.
Our Duty to Hear
One of the persistent commands in Scripture is for us to listen to God and to hear His Word:
“Therefore hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the Lord, the God of your fathers has promised you…” Deuteronomy 6:3
“Blessed is the man who listens to Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of My doors.” Proverbs 8:34
“The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise.” Proverbs 15:31
“Walk prudently when you go to the House of God and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.” Ecclesiastes 5:1
“Words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard …” Ecclesiastes 9:17
“O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid. O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!” Habakkuk 3:2
“But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who having heard the Word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” Luke 8:15
“So then, my beloved brethren let every man be swift to hear …” James 1:19
“He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches …” Revelation 2:11
The Sin of Spiritual Deafness
Spiritual deafness is condemned throughout the Scriptures:
“Behold the Word of the Lord is a reproach to them; they have no delight in it.” Jeremiah 6:10
“Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, which has eyes to see but does not see, and ears to hear, but does not hear; for they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 12:2
“But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders and stopped their ears so that they could not hear.” Zechariah 7:11
“And they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Timothy 4:4
When last did God speak to you?
What did He say?
Did you obey?
Do not expect God to speak to you again until you have obeyed what He has told you before.
The Purpose of Hearing God
- To deepen and develop our relationship with God. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:9
- To learn principles in the ways of God. “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” Luke 24:32
- To experience and understand more of the character of God. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19
- To learn to know the Will of God. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2
The Conditions for Hearing God
- A clean heart. Sin is a barrier to hearing from God. “Behold the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear.” Isaiah 59:1-2
“God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the Blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. But if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:5-9
- Faith. “Now Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen … by Faith we understand … but without Faith it is impossible to please God, for He who comes to God must believe … He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:1-6
- Relationship. The more we hear God speak the better we will be able to recognise His voice. “… The sheep hear His voice; and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out … the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” John 10:3-4; “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me.” John 10:27
- Worship and Reverence. When God has your attention in worship you can discern His voice. “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’” Matthew 17:5
- Applying the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life. Jesus is Lord. He has all authority in Heaven and on earth. We are commanded to make disciples and teach obedience to all things that He has commanded. Our attitude needs to be: ‘I will go wherever You send me. I will do whatever You tell me.’ When we are receptive and responsive to the Word of God we can expect to hear from God.
Ways in Which God Speaks
“Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, that you do not know.”
- Audibly. There have been occasions when God has spoken audibly, such as to Moses through the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:4); to Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-14); and to Paul (Acts 9:4-6).
- Visions. There have been occasions when God has communicated through visions, such as to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1-28); to Daniel (Daniel 7;8;10); and to John (Revelation).
- Dreams. There have been occasions when God has communicated to His people through dreams, such as to Jacob (Genesis 28:12-15); to Joseph (Genesis 37:5-9); to Joseph, the husband of Mary (Matthew 1:20-24; 2:13); and to Paul (Acts 23:11).
- Angels. There have been occasions when God has communicated His will through angels, such as to Gideon (Judges 6:13-23); to Abraham (Genesis 18); to Lot (Genesis 19); to Daniel (Daniel 10); to Mary (Luke 1:26-38); and to Peter (Acts 12:7-11).
- The circumstances of God’s design. “Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.” Proverbs 16:3; “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9; “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
- The conviction of our conscience. “My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 9:1; “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which you were also called in one body; and be thankful.” Colossians 3:15; “Having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the Faith have suffered shipwreck.”
1 Timothy 1:19
- The advice and counsel of dedicated and mature Christians. “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel … the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of your father and do not forsake the law of your mother.”
Proverbs 1: 5-9
- Psalms, Hymns and spiritual songs. “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the Will of the Lord is and do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.” Ephesians 5:15-21
“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Colossians 3:16
- The Gifts of the Spirit. The voice of the Lord can also be discerned through the gifts that He has given: through those with a “word of Wisdom”, a “word of Knowledge”, “Prophecy”, Discernment, Languages and Interpretation (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).
“So we, being many, are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:5-8
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ till we all come to the unity of the Faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure to the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, of the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-15
- God speaks through His Word, the Bible: in our daily quiet time as we study and meditate on His Word. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither, and whatever he does shall prosper.” Psalm 1:1-3
Through memorised Scripture.“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another …” Colossians 3:16
Through the reading of Scripture.“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Romans 10:17
“For the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Let the Earth Hear His Voice
So God has spoken audibly, and through visions and dreams and through angels and these are recorded for us to study in the Bible. Generally we are guided by our daily study of the Scriptures, through memorised Scripture, through careful attention to the reading of God’s Word, and listening attentively to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. We can further see God’s hand in the circumstances wherein God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. The conviction of our conscience and the advice and counsel of dedicated and mature Christians can be used of the Lord to guide us in His will. God has given prophets, teachers, apostles, evangelists and pastors to the church and through their collective wisdom and knowledge we can learn much of the Word of God, the ways of God and the Will of God. Through Psalms, hymns and in spiritual songs, and when we are attentive in worship, we can discern the voice of God.
Beware of Being Deceived
There are many warnings in Scripture against deception. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9
We cannot trust our emotions. We must never confuse voices in our head with the voice of God. God guides us primarily through the principles and commands of Scripture. Our duties and responsibilities in the light of His Great Commission determine His will for us on a daily basis. It is easy to become disorientated and confused. Therefore, we should seek the advice and counsel of dedicated Christians and learn not to trust our own inclinations.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.” Proverbs 3:5-7
Distinguishing Between Subjective and Objective Guidance
We need to discern between subjective and objective guidance. To use a mountaineering analogy: Your compass readings are subjective. It is relative to where you understand your position to be. A map can be objective, as long as you have a correct perspective of where you are on the map. A boundary marker is objective.
It is easy to be lost while climbing on the mountains, particularly in bad weather and with limited visibility in cloud cover. Following your compass reading is similar to following your conscience. This is subjective and cannot be taken as confirmation of anything. Compass readings can be misleading if interfered with, for example by a magnet. The map is like the Word of God, objective reality. However, we can sometimes be completely lost even while having the perspective that we are making good progress according to our understanding of where we are on the map. You can even be on the right path, but going in the wrong direction.
It helps to have a guide who has travelled this way before. Godly counsel from mature and experienced Christians can be a tremendous help. So too are finding boundary markers. When we come across a cairn, a pile of rocks, perhaps cemented in with the name of the location, ravine, beacon, etc. it enables us to orientate ourself and recognise where exactly on the map we are. If the boundary marker does not accord with where we perceived ourselves to be, we need to recognise that our perception is what has been in error.
In the same way, if we are confronted by a boundary marker of an authority in our life, such as our parents, pastor, mission leader or an employer, who informs us that we are off the path and out of bounds, we need to be humble, teachable and re-evaluate our position in the light of God’s Word. The Scripture encourages us to test all things. We should ask for confirmation, and in major matters we should expect major confirmations.
Questions to Ask
- Is it Scriptural? It is always right to do what the Scriptures command: To repent of our sins, to do thorough restitution, to be thankful, to be wholehearted in our duties, to seek sanctification and holiness.
- Does it glorify God? “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31; “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:20
- Is it in accordance with the Laws of God? “The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” Psalm 19:7
- What do the authorities in my life say? “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right … Bondservants be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eye service, as men pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart with goodwill doing service as unto the Lord, and not to men.” Ephesians 6:1-7
- Does your spirit within you bear witness by giving you inner peace about the decision? “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing witness in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 9:1; “And let the peace of Christ rule in your heart to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Colossians 3:15
- How do you know that this is God’s will?
- Whose counsel have you sought?
God never guides His people to disobey His Word. When man listens – God speaks!
“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness; and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls, but be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was, but he who looks into the perfect Law of liberty and continues in it and is not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:21-25