THE ONLY PREREQUISITE FOR HEARING GOD SPEAK IS BEING OPEN TO WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN IF HE ACTUALLY DOES.
Even if you're skeptical, bring your skepticism to the table. Tell God (even if you aren't sure that's a thing) that you have doubts, but that you're willing to accept His words if He will only speak.
In my sixteen years as a follower of The Way, I have gradually noticed significance in many things that I might have once overlooked. The daily happenings of the heart and mind, intertwined with the events of life on earth come together to reveal a complex web of messages. All of it is meant to lovingly guide, instruct, encourage and convict. I attribute my ability to actually notice all of this to a habit of taking notes on what God is showing me every single day since I heard God speak for the first time. I would encourage you to do the same!
Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. God can speak at any time to anyone in whatever way He chooses. He's spoken to me in many other ways, but these are the most frequently noted in my own day-to-day life. As we make our way through 5 common ways God speaks, I'll walk you through a hypothetic day in the life of a Jesus follower so we can see this play out.
Like any habit or skill, the ability to hear God communicating with you in your everyday life develops over time. The easiest and most imperative way to improve your recognition of God’s voice is to read your Bible. That giant beast of a book is packed with stories about God speaking to people directly. In fact, pretty much every story is about God’s interactions with His people as their stories unfold to reveal His perfect sovereignty, love, and overwhelming Glory. It’s a lot to take in, though. It takes commitment. It takes time. It takes digging around a bit to get to the heart of some of it. This might seem like an arduous task at first, but once you begin uncovering God’s secrets, it will become a labor of love. If I had it my way, there would be days when I could just study and research all day long. I love looking into the meaning of words in their original language, historical context, commentaries from scholars, and other pieces of the puzzle. Getting into all of that might be what it takes to feel like you're really hearing from God when you read His Word. Don't get me wrong-- it's perfect at face value. But when you go poking around, following trails as one thing leads to the next, you'll find more than you can imagine. And I promise, if you're praying for His guidance as you dig, you'll find EXACTLY what He wants you to discover.
Get to know God's story. The Bible is God’s epic composition. It’s a collection of tales from throughout history that miraculously all link together to put God’s faithfulness, love, good will for all men, and great glory on display. You will be able to test and know His voice more and more easily as you grow in your understanding of who He is and what He's about. God gave us actual words to live by. His words were recorded over the course of thousands of years so that willing students like us could go hunting for connections and uncover the mysteries of who God is and how He works, one by one. And the work will never be done. We’ll never graduate with an exhaustive understanding of God’s Word. It's too vast and too dynamic for our human minds to comprehend. Hebrews 4:12 says it’s ALIVE. The Word is our tangible access to Jesus, who walked the Earth as the Word in human form.
If you want to hear from God or if you want to see if God is real, study the Bible. He’ll show up if you show up.
A DAY IN THE LIFE: You wake up and see the verse of the day on your Bible app. It's Psalm 28:7- The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. You meditate on the verse. You think on each phrase of each sentence. What really sinks in for you is that you are made strong by trusting Him because He is your shield and He helps you. You gain strength from His protection. The word STRENGTH really sticks out to you. You don't have time to dig deeper, but the concept of God as your STRENGTH stays with you as you brew your coffee and prepare to go workout.
#2: The Earth
There is plentiful evidence in God's Word of His intentions for us know of Him through His creation. The earth is fraught with symbolism, metaphor and Divine messages of God's design and sovereignty. For many, particularly those who may not know God, all of this is easily missed.
We all experience moments of feeling overwhelmed by the beauty and magnitude of an expansive view; perhaps a mountain vista or the sea disappearing over the horizon. We all know that feeling that comes when we're gazing at the massive open sky. Sometimes we look at the microscopic function of plants or animals and become astounded by the way things work and how ingeniously engineered the world is. In moments of fascination with expansiveness or intricacies of the natural world, remember to look for God's story, character or teaching. Let yourself abound in praise of our Creator.
If you ever feel as though you can't tap into a heart of praise, go and sit quietly in the outdoors. Ask and wait for God to show you His creative genius in the earth. He will reveal Himself to you when you seek Him. Sometimes all it takes is the warmth of the sun and a gentle breeze for me to know He’s there.
A DAY IN THE LIFE: You get out the door for the gym and before you head to work. As you're walking to your car, a gust of wind nearly pushes you off-step. It’s a long, strong wind that makes you stop, close your eyes with your face to the sky, and just take in a giant deep breath amidst the morning rush. When you open your eyes and look around you see that it is a gorgeous sunny day. The trees are swaying in the breeze and your heart is full. Reflecting on the moment you’ve just experienced, you are keenly aware of the STRENGTH of force in that wind. It’s clear that the Holy Spirit is showing you something this morning, so your attention is heightened.
#3 THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS
Do you ever get a notion that you just can’t shake— one that is prompting you to act very spontaneously, but you aren’t sure why? Maybe you feel compelled to call someone, or to take a different route home from work, or wait just a few more minutes before giving up on your no-show date or meeting.
Then there are also those moments where something just washes over you or rushes through you. The hair all over your body stands on end and you feel the tingle of adrenaline pumping out to your extremities. Your heart fluters in your chest and you feel like it skipped a beat. This could happen in response to a story someone’s telling you or it could happen as you are speaking to someone else and the words just don’t seem like they’re yours. Maybe it’s the message in a sermon, a song on the radio, or a hug from your child. Whatever the trigger is, you have a physical experience that marks a significant moment.
Or maybe a thought crosses your mind and it sticks out because it's clearly not your own. These thoughts catch my attention when they are off topic or maybe more reflective of God’s perfection and holiness than my deeply flawed humanness. If a thought is challenging, convicting, commanding or even phrased in the first person from God’s perspective, I can usually recognize the thought as the voice of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t always recognize it, I’m sure. I can’t imagine all I’ve missed! As we grow in intimacy with Jesus, those little feelings can evolve in to much clearer communication from God. Nonetheless, hearing God’s voice in the heart and mind might be the most elusive, and perhaps confusing way we interact with His Divine presence.
When I’m not sure if what I’m hearing is the Holy Spirit, I weigh it against God’s character and Truth and then do a little praying. Does God's Word deliver the same message or feeling I'm receiving in my heart and mind? If it’s not super obvious pretty quickly that it was God, I’ll tuck the thought away in case anything happens later to confirm that it was in fact from God. The thing is, when God speaks, His voice points me to His ways which typically contrasts pretty starkly against my flesh, so the distinction is usually pretty clear.
A DAY IN THE LIFE: Once you get to the gym, you don’t want to let the feeling of being connected to God escape you so you throw your earbuds in and put all your Christian albums on shuffle. You are energized by the driving worship tunes that keep coming one after another. But then a slow song comes on. You almost press skip, but the lyrics catch your attention so you let it play. Just as your muscles are starting to really burn the tempo revs, you're hit head on by the line, “Give me STRENGTH to die to myself so love can live to tell the tale.” There it is again! STRENGTH. As you listen intently to hear the line again you take in every word. “Father, let my heart beat after you,” repeats over and over and you find yourself praying those words. You are tearing up a bit right there in the middle of the gym, but you don’t even care. You feel so close to God right now as your heart is literally beating so hard inside your chest and you’re building physical STRENGTH. The verse you read at home earlier comes to mind again. The Lord is your STRENGTH.
In my life, fellow Believers have often offered tremendous wisdom, Godly advice and even an occasional word of knowledge passed from Heaven straight to me through them. Being in real relationships with others who are chasing after Jesus, diving into His Word with them, and being vulnerable enough to admit I don't have it all figured out is the very place where I have cultivated my ability to hear from God. If you aren't meeting with other Believers on a regular basis you are simply missing out on how Jesus intends for us to live.
Not everyone we encounter is going to fit that bill, however. And like it or not, most people we encounter in our daily lives are going to share their thoughts with us at some point. They might comment on what they are seeing in the news, the book they’re reading, or what they’re going through, learning, or hoping for. No matter who the person is, God may have a greater purpose in mind for casual conversations, so be ready to listen! As we converse with others, we may or may not realize when someone is being utilized by the God of the Universe to communicate His Truth to us. You may make the connection between what someone shares with you and what God is showing you instantly, but it could also take some time. That being said, we can't disregard anyone as a potential vehicle for God’s communication with us. Use caution when judgment sneaks in and tells you that the source is not reliable. If anyone brings a message that gives you pause, take it to God and ask for Him for further clarity. Ask Him to confirm whether the person is speaking on His behalf. He will.
By the same token, there will be times when you are the one speaking to others on God's behalf. You may experience a nudge or feeling of being pushed to share a story, give a piece of your own testimony of faith, or even share hard Truth from the Bible. It will likely seem awkward or difficult, but when this happens, pay attention. Your words might not be your own! Throughout the Bible God used ordinary people to bring His message to His people. He's still doing it today— and not just through pastors in the pulpit. When you are in touch with God's Word, the Holy Spirit's promptings become clearer. You may be able to take part in transforming the lives of others by being obedient to speak when asked to do so. Sometimes you are just speaking and it’s as though the words are flowing from your lips before you ever think them as thoughts. They are so brilliantly wise and on point that they just couldn’t be your own. That’s the Holy Spirit talking. But remember to always be vigilant with your words. It is imperative that we carefully examine our motives to be sure we aren't misconstruing our own messaging as His. This takes intention, self-control in the moment, and patience to wait and pray before speaking something that can’t be taken back.
A DAY IN THE LIFE: At work, your co-worker and friend whom you've been walking through a crisis with asks you to go to lunch. There’s a slight hesitancy deep in your heart because lately, your conversations are all about your friend’s problems and she’s not super fun to be around. But she’s your friend and she’s in a rough spot, so of course you go. As you are catching up she is fighting back tears, weary from struggle. You are suddenly aware that you have been given STRENGTH for moments such as this. It's clear that God was preparing you to draw on His STRENGTH within you so that you can be an encouragement to your friend in her time of need. The verse form earlier comes to mind again. Then you hear God’s instruction in your mind:
READ THE VERSE TO HER.
When the conversation comes to a lull, you tell her you want to share what you read this morning. You open your phone to the verse of the day and read it to her. "Psalm 28:7- The LORD is my STRENGTH and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” As she collects herself and takes a deep breath, she thanks you for reminding her of the Truth and you both return to work affirmed and encouraged.
#5: THEME AND REPETITION
Have you ever noticed a conceptual pattern in your day or week like the one described in our A DAY IN THE LIFE examples? Maybe it's a word, phrase, topic or feeling that comes in waves and is instigated from multiple places in your world. Generally, we are so distracted by daily life that we probably miss many of the connections that God intends for us to make. Most of us might notice something pop up a time or two and brush it off as coincidence. It used to take four and five "coincidences" for me to catch on to the fact that God was trying to show me something. I’m going to suggest that if you perceive even one “coincidence”, maybe you should adjust your antennae and tune in to the frequency of that word, phrase or concept. Make notes about it, pray about it, look up scripture about it. God might be telling you something!
Theme and repetition are what makes this whole life-of-faith thing a relationship. Just like with the people in our lives, intimacy with Jesus develops over time as we engage in ongoing conversations, develop inside jokes and accrue a lifetime of context that outsiders just can't perceive. A beautiful web forms out of the many ways God speaks, including those we haven't mentioned here, like dreams, visions, miracles and other happenings of the supernatural realm. It’s in the spinning of that web that God teaches us and shapes our thinking so that we can become more like Him.
A DAY IN THE LIFE: After a productive afternoon at work, you’re in good sprits as you head home. Your heart is full as you reflect on all the ways God has woven the concept of STRENGTH into the day. As you take a quick inventory of all the little ways God nudged you, you remember the wind and the song and the feeling of getting physically strong. Then you remember letting HIS STRENGTH flow through you as you supported your co-worker. You’re a little bummed about your selfish attitude toward joining your friend for lunch. As you pray, you tell God you’re sorry and ask Him to help you remember that it’s not always going to be about you or fun for you and to be okay with that. That’s when you remember the line from the song at the gym. “Give me STRENGTH to die to myself so love can live to tell the tale.” You find yourself overwhelmed by His gentle instruction. You thank Him for the way He so beautifully orchestrated your ordinary day to be one that was filled with connection to Him and empowered by His STRENGTH. Just as the Psalm said, your heart leaps for joy and with your song you praise Him.
As you look for God's voice in your own life, I pray you'll engage with others who are doing the same. I'd love it if you would do so right here on the blog or on Facebook or Instagram. I'm eager to cultivate a community of people who are chasing after God, so please chime in when you hear from Him! Thanks for joining the conversation.