How do you know when God is telling you to do something? What does the Spirit’s voice sound like? We aren’t Samuel and aren’t hearing an audible voice from heaven (and honestly? Not many people in the Bible even got to experience this!). The Lord still speaks to us through His Spirit – Jesus says this three times in John 16:13:
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
So what does that look like practically?
God speaks through His Spirit in our inner being. The Spirit was given to believers after Christ’s ascension as our Helper and our Comforter. To know if God is speaking, we must listen for the Spirit’s voice. Following are some important things to know about listening for the voice and leading of God.
The Spirit Declares Truth to Us
John 16:13 is a piece of Jesus’ bigger conversation about the Holy Spirit and His role in our lives. Jesus talked a lot about the coming Holy Spirit, who the disciples do not meet until Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost. Jesus told them that the Spirit would help the disciples by “guiding them into all the truth”. We know the difference between right and wrong because of the Spirit! When you feel conviction – a sense that you have done something that grieves God – this is the Spirit speaking truth to you. When you discern that something doesn’t line up with Scripture, this is the Spirit speaking truth to you. When you need to make a decision and certain passages of Scripture are brought to mind that fit your situation, this is the Spirit speaking truth to you.
Notice, though, that the Spirit “speaks what He hears”. The Spirit speaks from the heart of God (because they are One) and the heart of God will never contradict the Word of God. Which brings us to our next point.
The Spirit NEVER Contradicts the Word
Some Christians are gunshy of the Spirit and His role because there are believers who abuse His name. I’ve seen it happen myself: Someone saying “God told them” to divorce their husband when they had no biblical grounds for divorce. Or someone saying the Spirit led them to say something “boldly” that was really gossip or slander. Or the Spirit leading people to “worship” in a way that is completely out of order and not in line with Scriptural standards for church services.
The Spirit speaks specifically to us, but what He says will NEVER contradict the Word. This is why you need to be in the Word!! Not only does this give passages to the Spirit to use in your own spiritual walk, but it gives you discernment to know when something is the Lord’s prompting.
As you seek God through His Word you will understand Him better and be more in tune to when and how the Spirit speaks. Your heart will be tuned to hear Him, and you will be more discerning for His voice. The Word is essential to understanding and hearing the voice of God. It is His primary way of speaking to us. If nothing else, this should motivate you to spend time in the Word – the Bible itself – daily!
The Spirit Uses People and Circumstances to Remind Us of Truth
God also uses people and circumstances to speak truth to us. I will give you an example.
When I was just out of high school I really liked a guy who didn’t share my beliefs. I knew what the bible said about being unequally yoked, but he believed in God and was a very respectable, moral person, so I wondered if perhaps we could make it work. I prayed about it on a road trip home from college and asked the Lord to make it clear whether there was any hope for the relationship.
I was home for only a short time, but in that span of time, three distinct situations confirmed God’s answer to me. They were completely out of the blue and abnormally specific to my situation. Twice, family friends approached me – people I barely knew – and in context of our casual conversation mentioned how important it is to be equally yoked spiritually with your spouse. They did not know what I was going through. They did not know what I had prayed about. They simply stated the facts.
I was a little shaken by the people who spoke to me, but the third and final answer was clear. I was at a wedding for a friend and there were love quotes taped to the tables. I took the one in front of me and turned it over. “Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together the same direction” it said. I had my answer.
Because I was seeking God’s wisdom for a situation in my life, I was tuned to hear His voice – and the Spirit spoke through two people and a quote card. God uses things like this to speak truth to us when we are seeking Him and listening for His voice. When we have the answer, our next step is to obey.
A Three-Step Process for Determining God’s Leading
I have a process for determining whether God is leading in a specific area of life. Hearing God’s voice is like anything in our walk with Him: It becomes easier as we make it a habit. Listening for Him, studying His Word and learning how He interacts with us, and obeying His voice when we hear it? These things are part of our faith journey. We don’t do them perfectly, but God is gracious and His Spirit helps us. He is, after all, the Helper!
Step One: Ask for wisdom.
The book of James tells us that if we lack wisdom we should ask of God. God gives us wisdom generously and without looking down on us for asking. This is such a gift! If you want to know if you are hearing His voice, ask for wisdom to hear it.
Step Two: Seek Him from stillness.
The facts are, you can’t hear God if you are constantly surrounded by noise: Busyness, music, podcasts, the radio, TV shows, coffee dates – any of these things. While they are fine things to do, they can dull your spiritual sensitivity to God’s voice. If you constantly inundate yourself with them, it’s probably why you’re not hearing God. You’re not still enough to do so!
Jesus constantly took Himself to quiet, secluded places to pray and seek God’s face – and He was one with God!!! We humans need this even more. If you want to hear God’s voice and know He is speaking, make a habit of seeking Him from stillness.
Step Three: Be in the Word.
Oh, how I cannot stress this enough. Dear friends, this is why a devotional is not enough! Devotionals are fine, but they are not the Word of God. They do not teach you what the Spirit looks like and how He speaks. They will teach you many great things, but every devotional’s goal is to get you in the Word itself.
Start somewhere simple – start in John! Get a notebook and write down your thoughts (I like the Well Watered Women Give Me Jesus journal, restocking soon!). Track what you think you are hearing from the Lord and check it against the Word. Have a tough decision to make? Bring it to Him. Look up verses about wisdom and meditate on them (meditation is a biblical principle – filling your mind with truth, not emptying it like in Eastern meditation).
Hearing God’s voice truly is simple. It starts with your heart! Are you ready to hear Him? Do you WANT to hear Him? That’s what He’s looking for.