After many years of pastoral ministry, one of the most common questions I hear is, “How can I hear God’s voice?”
I struggled with that issue during my early years. I was raised in the church. I attended church regularly from 4th grade on. Before I could drive, I often walked to church because that’s where my youth group friends were. But attending church is no guarantee you’ll hear God’s voice.
It wasn’t until I seriously, honestly, and purposefully gave my life over to the Lord in High School, “swearing allegiance to Him and His way” as I like to put it, that His voice began to cut through the noise (and the blocking sin garbage) in my life.
Of course, God always speaks. He spoke in the beginning to create all things (Genesis 1:3 and following). God’s voice continues to echo within His creation (Psalm 19). As David wrote in Psalm 29,
The voice of the Lord is above the waters. The God of glory thunders— the Lord, above the vast water, 4 the voice of the Lord in power, the voice of the Lord in splendor. 5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon. 6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion, like a young wild ox. 7 The voice of the Lord flashes flames of fire. 8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 9 The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the woodlands bare. In his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Psalm 29:3-9, Christian Standard Bible)
God’s voice spoke through His prophets (Hebrews 1:1) and continues to speak to us through His recorded words (Hebrews 4:12).
Best of all, God spoke to us through the voice box of His Son, the clearest His voice has ever been heard in a manner that we can most easily understand, “The one who doesn’t love me will not keep my words. The word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me” (John 14:24).
However, many genuine Christians still struggle with hearing God’s voice.
I’ve taught a class on this topic and it’s too big to share in one article. But if you’re wanting to hear God’s voice speaking to you, I’d like to give you some basic help. It’s worked for me and I know it will work for you.
Every born-again Christian.
Why? Because Jesus clearly said, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
You read that right. If you are indeed the Shepherd’s sheep, you will hear His voice. Why is that important to know how to do it? Because it’s linked to following Him. No hearing, no following.
This raises a few questions. “If people aren’t hearing Jesus, are they able to follow Him?” And “If Christians in Jesus’ flock aren’t following Jesus, is it because they’re not hearing Him?”
If you’re not the Good Shepherd’s sheep, then you will have trouble hearing God’s voice and if you do, you likely won’t know it for what it is. And if you don’t recognize it, then you certainly won’t pay heed to it.
But if you are Jesus’ sheep, you’re more likely to hear, know and follow His voice.
So let me teach you briefly about the First Word Principle that has often helped me.
According to Genesis 1-2, when humanity was formed, Adam and Eve, what was the first voice they heard? Right! God’s voice (Genesis 2:16-17, 1:28-30).
And what was the second voice they heard? Satan, the Adversary’s, voice (Genesis 3:1).
The First Voice told the couple about themselves (that they were his delegated authorities over His creation) and what to do (to rule, reproduce, and follow His rules).
What did the Second Voice say? “Did God (the First Voice) really say…?”
Jesus clearly said that His sheep hear His voice. Jesus also promised to send the Holy Spirit, which He did, and who lives in every born-again Christian. After all, that’s the salvation package deal. What is part of the Holy Spirit’s job description?
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears (i.e. from the Father). He will also declare to you what is to come” (John 16:13).
So, the Father speaks to us through His indwelling Spirit. But there is more than one voice in the world, right? There’s also our internal voice, the external voices of others, and the voice of our spiritual enemy.
The closest is the Lord’s voice. He communicates from His mind, through His Spirit, to our spirit, and then to our minds so we can understand. “But anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17) and “Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except his spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).
The next closest to our minds is our internal voice and the way the enemy speaks to us through promptings and inner whisperings (which I totally don’t understand how they do it. However, when I’ve asked the Lord to silence the enemy’ voice and it stops. Cool beans.).
The farthest out are the external communications from the physical world, other people, media, etc.
The First Word Principle is this: If we sincerely ask the Lord to speak to us, He will speak first. However, close behind His voice is either our voice or the enemy’s voice casting doubt on what we’ve just heard.
It’s pretty simple, but the whole asking and listening thing requires trust. Hebrews 11:6 assures us, “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” What’s the reward in this case? Him speaking to us!
So why not try? Here’s how to practice the First Word Principle.
When we want to hear from the Lord, simply ask. Ask an open question like, “How do you see me, Father?” or “How am I doing in my walk right now?” or “Is there anything I need to work on?” or “What encouragement do you have for me right now?” We’re not talking deep theological questions here. Just something you would ask a parent or a close friend.
Then wait quietly. It won’t take long. In fact, the longer you wait, the more doubt creeps in. It may come to you as a thought, an idea, an impression, a scripture verse, a picture, or a feeling. It can come to you in numerous ways. Take note of the first thing that comes to you (aka The First Word) and hold onto it.
Now, I’ll bet you anything that right on the heels of that impression the next thing that comes to you is either your voice or the enemy’s voice interjecting, “Was that me?” or “Was that really from God?” Ignore it! Hold onto what you received. Don’t take it as Gospel, but weigh it with wisdom.
Mull it over. Compare it to the Written Word. Does it echo what God has already spoken (revealed) in the Bible? Does it make sense? Does it line up with the Father’s character and the spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) that Jesus modeled? Does it strengthen, encourage, or comfort you (1 Corinthians 14:3)? All these are indicators that you, my friend, did hear the Lord!
If you’re new at this, don’t make any life changes based on what you just heard! Keep checking it out to make sure it’s from the Lord. Apostle Paul wrote everything that comes to us from the Lord (especially spiritual gifts), comes through a human lens (1 Corinthians 13:12), and is influenced by our spiritual, emotional, and mental condition. Bounce what you’ve received off godly, mature brothers and sisters in Christ. This is why the First Word Principle is best practiced in a small group or discipleship setting rather than alone (at first) or in a congregational setting. Immediate feedback is valuable!
Hearing God’s voice in a growing measure is soooooo important! Not only are we personally edified and encouraged, but we’re positioning ourselves to hear and follow our Shepherd better. Hearing the Lord’s voice is crucial to learning how to exercise spiritual gifts, receiving specific guidance, and building increased sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
Give it a try. You may be really surprised. And remember, don’t go off half-cocked! Yes, hold on to what comes to you via the First Word, but don’t set it in concrete. Too many Christians have wrecked their lives by not evaluating what comes to them. Sound evaluation and solid feedback from others keeps us safe, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14 NKJV).
So, there you are. The First Word Principle. I pray this will encourage and help many of you readers in your walk with our Good Shepherd.
Would you do me a big favor? I would love to hear about your experience with this. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback. I’d like to share your testimony with your permission.
So go forth and hear the Lord’s voice!
Now obeying the Lord’s voice… that’s a different matter!
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts