If you’ve been around church people for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard them say, “God spoke to me, and told me to….” And maybe you’ve wondered, whatever do they mean by that?
Did He send a text message or leave a voicemail? Did He send an angel to appear at the foot of their bed with instructions written on tablets? Or maybe you thought, Wow, God spoke to them, but He never speaks to me! Are they special...or is there something wrong with me?
As you read through the Bible, you'll regularly come across that little phrase, “And God said…” It’s one of the key phrases used over and over again, beginning with the very first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis.
- Genesis 1:3 And God said…
- Genesis 1:6 And God said…
- Genesis 1:9 And God said…
- Genesis 1:11 And God said…
- Genesis 1:14 And God said…
- Genesis 1:20 And God said…
- Genesis 1:26 And God said…
- Genesis 1:29 And God said…
It's actually quite clear from Scripture that God not only speaks to us, but He speaks pretty often. Therefore, the problem is not that God doesn’t speak to us, the problem is our perception of what that should sound like. But in truth, God speaks to us in many different ways.
“God does speak – sometimes one way and sometimes another – even though people may not understand it” (Job 33:14).
God Speaks to Us through Scripture
“Every Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, [and] for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God's will in thought, purpose, and action)” (2 Timothy 3:16, AMP).
If the Word instructs us, reproves us, convicts us, corrects us and trains us, then guess what... it is speaking to us! So are you spending time in His word everyday? That’s a clear way to hear the voice of God.
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God Speaks to Us through Gifted Teachers
“When we preached to you, you didn’t think of the words as being just our own but you accepted it as the very Word of God – which of course, it was, and it changed your lives” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, LB).
God uses men and women who are yielded to the Holy Spirit to edify, exhort and comfort us on a more personal level. I can’t tell you how humbling it is when people come up after service and say, “Pastor, God spoke to me today through that message. It was just what I needed to hear! It's like you know what I'm going through.” Actually, it's not me, a regular person, but God does speak to His people through anointed preachers and teachers.
God Speaks to Us through Visions and Dreams
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the conversion of the Apostle Paul from a persecutor of the early church, into the most powerful propitiator of the Gospel of his time. One of the ways he came to know Christ was by God speaking through visions.
“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight’" (Acts 9:10-12).
Ananias obeyed what God spoke to him through that vision, and played a significant role in one of the greatest conversions in history. That’s the power of hearing God speak and obeying His instruction.
God Speaks to Us in Many Ways
Not only does God speak to us through His Word, through gifted teachers, through visions and dreams, but in other ways, including:
- Through pain
- Through children
- Through circumstances
- Through wise counsel
- Through music and songs
- Through the creation itself
In fact, the Bible records God speaking through a star in the East, herald angels, a burning bush, and a belligerent donkey!
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The Sound of God's Voice
Although God can and does speak in these various ways, the most common way is referred to in the Bible as the “still, small voice.” It is the “voice” of the Holy Spirit within us which nudges us in one direction or the other. It’s been described as:
- An inner witness (Yes)
- An inner peace (Okay)
- An inner nudging (Get moving)
- An inner check (No... Stop... Warning)
- An inner green light (Go ahead)
- A clear (or bothered) conscience (This is good/not good)
The sound of God's voice is a perception or sense of knowing; it's the leading of the Holy Spirit, and every Christian believer can hear Him.
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).
Elijah and the Still, Small Voice
In the book of 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah had an encounter with God that should encourage every person who has struggled to hear the voice of God. In this account, the man of God had just called down fire from heaven and defeated all the prophets of Baal. Queen Jezebel vowed to kill him, and Elijah fled and hid himself in a cave on the Mountain of Horeb. He began to cry out to God for answers, and this was God's response:
“Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kings 19:11-13).
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever cried out to God like that, prayed for answers or direction, and felt God did not respond? Or could it be that God did indeed respond, but you were expecting Him to show up with a booming voice or an angelic messenger?
When Elijah heard God speak, He was not in the powerful and destructive windstorm. Nor was He in the dramatic, terrifying earthquake. He was also not in the fiery, consuming inferno. But He was in the still, small voice. Not on the outside, but from within. It is the primary way the Holy Spirit communicates to His children – His Spirit to our spirits.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).
Too many people have been looking for answers in the wind, earthquakes and fires of life, instead of listening to hear the voice of God within their spirits. When we do, we will get direction, guidance, wisdom and answers that are sure to bring us through, and catapult us over, and take us to victory and triumph!
Like fine tuning a radio to a favorite station, we can learn to hear His voice by practicing three simple things:
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1. Cultivate an Open Spirit
First and foremost, we must expect God to speak to us. We must open our hearts up to the fact that God wants to talk to us – actually He loves to talk to us. We were created so that He can have fellowship with us! He is a loving Father who encourages us to seek Him.
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
Clearly, God longs to talk with us. Start expecting to hear His voice, and trust Him to speak wisdom and direction into your spirit. Don't let fear or pride get in the way; open your heart to hear.
2. Cultivate a Listening Spirit
In order to hear God speak to our spirit in the still, small voice, we must allocate time to listen. This becoming more difficult for many of us, because it’s countercultural in today's fast-paced society. We are usually on the go and communicate in largely impersonal ways, through texting, social media sites, and emails. Our phones beep, play jingles, flash, and vibrate to grab our attention to incoming communication. They are convenient, fast and hard to miss.
But God doesn’t beep or flash; He doesn’t play a jingle and He’s not always convenient. To hear God’s voice, we need to do something that is extremely countercultural and old fashioned: we need to slow down, step away and intentionally purpose to listen.
“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
In this world of hustle and bustle, overbooked schedules and overcrowded lives, one fact is certain – to hear God we must become still.
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3. Cultivate an Obedient Spirit
Let’s have a moment of truth. Could you honestly say you’ve heard God’s still, small voice before? Could you say, "Yes, I’ve heard Him speak to my spirit and nudge me to break off that relationship, to make peace with that person who hurt me, to serve at church, to honor Him by tithing...but I decided I’m not going to do what He said."
I think we all have! Obedience comes gradually as we spiritually mature and learn to crucify the flesh. But we must understand that there is great danger in willful disobedience. It hardens our hearts, clogs our hearing, and lessens our ability to hear His voice the next time God whispers. King David learned this and prayed:
There is a connection between our obedience and the work of the Holy Spirit within us. When we cultivate an obedient spirit, the Holy Spirit continues to whisper within us. When we disobey, our hearing eventually becomes dull and we can begin to feel far from God.
But if we will yield and obey, He will help us avoid mistakes in relationships, our finances, our careers and ministry. He will protect us by leading us this way and that, to avoid the snares of the enemy. And our obedience allows us to participate in building the Kingdom of God in a significant way, just as it did with Ananias and the Apostle Paul.
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Frank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.