Recently I was given the great privilege of teaching in a school here in Mexico called “EN VIA.” The school is run by YWAM San Diego/Baja for locals who can’t do a DTS. The program is held in the evening, so those attending come after they’re finished work, and some even bring their kids along with them. As I thought about the effort they were making to grow in their faith by attending this school after their busy days, I was completely overwhelmed with the responsibility of teaching this group.
I was asked to teach on the topic of hearing God’s voice, which is a common topic for a DTS, but new ground for me after three years working in SBS. Initially I was excited to share, but after thinking about the topic, I became pretty intimidated. Helen and I had actually been wrestling with hearing God over whether we should go to Chiapas during outreach, so I felt there was a certain level of irony in my teaching on a topic that I was personally struggling with. It shouldn’t be a surprise that God would make the experience real for me by showing me that humility is the first step in teaching anything! In the end, God gave me something to share, and I wanted to share it with you here also. I offer this not as an expert, but as someone always learning.
The first and most important point to make is that we serve a God who wants to speak to us. We see evidence of this in the preservation of His Word – the Bible. Also, the Bible gives many examples of God speaking to His people. This goes against many religious philosophies that would have God at a distance, looking in on the world, but only getting involved when we are in need of a miracle. It can be tempting to see God as a therapeutic vending machine, but our God is a God who speaks to us and desires to be close and to be known. This is most apparent in the incarnation, God taking on flesh and dwelling among us. The closeness the disciples had with Jesus is still available to us today through the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
When we seek to hear God’s voice, it is about more than guidance – it is about relationship. The Bible promises us that if we come to God needing guidance or wisdom, He will speak, but a God who speaks is a God of relationship. We bear the image of God and part of that image-bearing is our desire for relationship. We all know that relationships are built on more than one person coming and asking for things from the other. Relationship requires dialogue on a number of things, and sometimes on nothing at all. Jesus had relationship with people that went beyond simply teaching them all the time – He must have listened to the small talk of the people he ate with, traveled with, and did life with. Now I am not trying to trivialize hearing God’s voice, but I would encourage you that it is first and foremost about knowing God more and drawing closer to him. This means learning to hear God’s voice is about learning to know and trust God more.
If you google the topic “hearing God’s voice,” you’ll find a lot of practical tips out there (they mostly boil down to the same thing), but I would encourage you that God is not going to expect you to change who He has made you to be, in order to hear Him speak. For example, I am a verbal processor. If you have been around me longer than an hour, you can probably figure that out! Often I have said that something I believe is not “real” for me until I say it out loud. This means I often have to process with others what I hear God saying to me before I am certain of what I am hearing. Others might be visual, and God will show them pictures as His way of “speaking” to them. Others may be more intensely visual and kinesthetic, and God will speak to them in visions. The key is to not compare – how God speaks to one person is not necessarily the way He will speak to you.
The book of Hebrews shows us that through Jesus we can have boldness to come to God:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
In Jesus a way has been made for us to return to the relationship that existed in the garden in Genesis. When Adam and Eve sinned, their shame and guilt led to a break in their relationship with God. Now, through Christ, that brokenness has been made whole, and as we wait for the fullness of the Kingdom to come, we can enjoy fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;” we are able to hear and know the voice of God. The difficulty is that there are so many voices begging for our attention. There are our own voices – the desires both of our hearts and remnants of our sin nature. There is the voice of the enemy, which desires to have us believe lies as truth. Then there is the bombardment, both good and bad, of the many voices around us: parents, friends, teachers, social media, etc. Often God’s voice is drowned out by all the noise. This is why it may take spiritual discipline to quiet one’s self enough to hear God through it all. Fortunately, though God can speak in a soft voice at times, He can speak loud enough to be heard over the noise.
If you are looking for a place in Scripture to understand the ways in which God speaks, I would encourage you to look at Acts. When I was struggling to know where to start in my own study for teaching this topic, starting in Acts was suggested to me by a member of our staff in Turner Valley, Jenn Adams (I wanted to make sure credit went where it was due). The book of Acts shows God speaking to people in a myriad of ways, from Scripture, to blinding visions. I would encourage you to make a list of the times God speaks in the book of Acts (this can be started by searching the words “speak” or “spoke” in an online Bible) and then ask the following questions of the passage:
How did God speak?
To whom did God speak?
What did God say to them?
What was their response to hearing God speak?
What part of the character of God is revealed by what was spoken?
How might I apply this to my life?
As we come to hearing God for ourselves, commit to doing what God says. In so many of the cases of God speaking to people in the book of Acts, their response is obedience. Search your heart for anything that might be grieving the Holy Spirit and hindering you from hearing the Spirit speak. Surrender to God not only your own ideas of how He might speak, but also any burdens that you come to Him with. Finally, in faith receive what God says, whether in a word, picture, impression, passage of Scripture, or even a vision. I would encourage you to record what you feel God has spoken (especially if it’s in the area of direction), so you can bring what you heard to a trusted Christian friend to test the word.
You can test what you think you heard God say by seeing if it contradicts the Bible. God will not contradict the ideas He has recorded in Scripture. Jesus will never be denied by a word from God, but glorified. Even if the word challenges your own ideas, it should bring a deeper peace to your soul. Finally, you can test what you’re hearing by seeking the godly counsel of a brother or sister in Christ.
As I write out some of these more practical steps, I am immediately aware of my experience of God, which is that as soon as you try to put Him in a box, His glory will tear that box open. My hope is that as you ask God to speak to you, you will be encouraged in your journey of discipleship, and that you will grow in deeper relationship with God as you hear Him and come to know Him more.