It was late, well past midnight, and I was returning homeward on my regular jogging route. Then I felt an internal urge to turn left. I had passed a teenager earlier on the trail, who had been strangely lying on the ground next to his bike. He assured me he was uninjured and just resting, so I had continued my jog. Yet now on my way back, on the same street, I felt like I should go back to him. He was lying on the ground in the middle of the night—surely something was wrong.
The only problem was he was not where I’d last passed him. He could have gone anywhere by now. I prayed and asked God to help me find him, and as I approached the next cross-street, I was impressed to turn left, so I did. I turned and jogged up the unlit sidewalk. After a few minutes, I found the young man wandering down the unlit sidewalk. I asked him what he doing out so late, if he was OK, and we were able to talk together. He listened as I told him that God had a plan for his life. He even allowed me to pray with him.
We often hear stories where God speaks with that internal voice we’ve come to love. But just as often, we struggle to know how to hear His voice ourselves. Of course, the primary way we hear God today is through His Word. Even when He speaks to us in another way, we recognize His voice by filtering it through what we know of Him in His Word.
But what do we do when Scripture does not directly speak to our circumstance? Personal situations are not directly addressed by the Word. For example: Should I move? Is the job opportunity the right one? Should I marry this person? Ultimately, the question is: How do we hear God to guide us in our personal lives?
First, we must recognize that God is still speaking today, and we can still hear Him. God has built us for a covenant relationship with Him and relationship requires communication. In other words, He wants you to hear Him more than you do! In John 10:27, Jesus clearly states, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus made it clear that “He who is of God hears the words of God.” (John 8:47). In the epistle of 1 John, the apostle elaborates on this point by saying, “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie.” God wants to communicate with you directly! That’s exciting!
Elijah details the qualities of His voice in 1 Kings 9:11-13 when he covered himself at the sound of the “still, small voice.” And He still speaks to us today in a quiet, internal voice. We often identify this as our own internal thoughts. “Imagination” isn’t something we often value in Western culture, but it is in this widening of the spiritual imagination that allows us to sense and perceive the Spirit.
Yet it’s important to note that God’s voice isn’t the only one we can hear. We also hear the voices of our own self and the enemy. Discerning the enemy’s voice is relatively simple: It will always contradict Scripture, have a bent towards selfishness, or hold an ulterior motive. The key to hearing God is discerning between His voice and our own, and this familiarity largely comes through practice.
God, in His magnificent grace, speaks to us in the way we are listening. What follows is only one way of many ways to hear God. First, start a conversation with the Lord. Talk to Him and ask Him open-ended questions. Then after you ask the question, still your mind and wait.
When the Lord speaks He always agrees with the Word. He does not contradict Himself. Many times He will speak to you with scriptures, song lyrics, or the counsel of trusted friends. When He does, continue the conversation. You could even write your prayers so you can look back later and see how He’s answered you.
Another way to get started is to ask God to show you something. Take a Bible story and ask Him to show you the story. Open up your sanctified imagination and listen to what He’s trying to say. Habakkuk “watched” to see what the Lord would say to him (Habakkuk 2:1), and we can do the same.
Hearing God’s voice is not a mystical experience for the “super-spiritual.” It’s a natural dynamic of being in relationship. And in this relationship, God is speaking, He hears us, and He wants us to know and follow His voice.