As per usual when I am thinking about a topic and whether I should write about it, God always lets me know when I am on the right one. I know many people struggle with this. They have pulled me aside and whispered to me about it. They tell me that they are amazed at my confidence about knowing when God is speaking to me and when it’s just me. They often feel ashamed about their lack of confidence because Christians often say that God told them something, even when that thing sounds wrong. They have heard from those who claim God told them they needed to buy an airplane or some high-priced thing. I understand their skepticism and have plenty of my own. Why do people choose me to share their secret with? I don’t know exactly, but I chalk it up to being willing to share my struggles with them.
Before we get too far into the topic, let’s agree on a few things about who and what the Holy Spirit is. We know that the Spirit is first mentioned in Genesis 1:1-2. God created the heavens and the earth and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. In the Old Testament, the Spirit is credited with giving prophets their messages, the ability to interpret dreams, and the means to change people’s hearts. In the New Testament, the Spirit comes upon Jesus at his baptism so that he can begin his ministry. In John 16, Jesus tells his followers that one who is greater than he will come after leaves. After Jesus’ resurrection, he returns to his followers to give them the Spirit so they may continue his mission. John 20:22-23 says, “And with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” So, we know the Spirit is powerful. Of course, the biggest spectacle is recorded in Acts 2 when the on the day of Pentecost the Spirit came to rest on each of the disciples. A loud wind from heaven came and tongues of fire came to rest on each person, then they all started speaking different languages so that they could address each person from all over the world and tell them the wonders of God. The Spirit is mentioned so many times in the Bible as our helper and our guide. I, for one, will not argue the power and value of the Spirit with the words of Jesus. I believe that baptism does the same for us as it did for Jesus, when we are baptized the Spirit comes upon each of us and is within each of us.
Now I can move on to the part about me hearing God and being confident in it. I will start by admitting that I am not one of those who actually hear the voice of God speaking aloud. It’s more like a feeling or a push/pull toward something. Sometimes it comes as thoughts that I hear in my own voice. More often it is because I see the same messages in multiple formats like a song or scripture or even a meme or sign. I think it would be cool to hear a whole different voice, but I’ll take what I can get. There are times when these methods can be confusing. I don’t know if I am hearing my own voice if that’s just coming from me. But it doesn’t take too long to figure out if I ask myself the following questions:
Does this feeling go with or against Scripture?
Would what I am hearing be something God would say? Is it in his nature?
Is it being confirmed by other sources, such as Scripture, worship songs, Sunday messages?
Am I hearing it louder in my quiet time when I am silencing my mind and drawing closer to God?
Is this something I would think of or is this something that I am not sure I can or want to do?
Would this be pleasing to God? Not would he mind, but would he be pleased?
We all need to find ways to open a line of communication with God. The most common answer to this is to read your Bible and spend time in prayer and silence. The reason this answer is the most common is that it is the only sure-fire way to hear God. He gave us his Word so that we would get to know him and understand his nature. Prayer is incredibly important to us and God. We need to pray authentically. It doesn’t need to be a long-winded thing or a flowery message. It needs to be what we are really feeling, even if those feelings are anger, anxiousness, or confusion. He wants to hear from us even though he already knows. How many parents know what is going on with their kids, but they are just waiting and hoping that their child will tell them about it? That is how God feels about us and for the same reasons. He wants us to share these things so that he can comfort us, help us, guide us, and celebrate with us. He cannot do that until we come to him. Why do we need to find the silence? So we can hear what he says in response to us. How many of us wish our kids would listen to us when we try to advise or share our love? God desperately wants to do that too. So, when you pray remind yourself that a living being is listening to you and give him space to respond to you.
Reading your Bible is essential. Listening to the Sunday sermon and attending a Bible study are great things, but are not a replacement for your Bible. We know that God can speak through other people to give us a message. Who among us hasn’t been moved by a sermon or gained an understanding of something in a class? This is no replacement for your Bible. Each sentence has something to say and the thing you need to hear may be in the text, but was overlooked by the preacher or teacher. This phenomenon will continue to happen to you no matter how many times you read your Bible. New things will jump out at you and greater understanding will occur as the Spirit shows you a new understanding each time. It’s why the Bible is called the living Word. Even though it is unchanging, we are constantly changing and growing and the Bible is revealed more and differently. I love going back and seeing notes I wrote in my Bible when I was a newer Christian and realizing how I have been changed.
Another thing I do is actually a bit dangerous. I ask my trusted friends about it. I tell them what’s been going on and what I am hearing to get their opinion. Why is it dangerous? Sometimes God asks us to do things that are a bit out there or could be perceived as dangerous. I mean look at what happened to his disciples. Trusted friends are people who love us and want to keep us safe; that’s why they are trusted. That can also cloud their judgment and advice to us. I also use this to determine if what I think I am hearing is from me. If it seems crazy to my friends it probably isn’t something I would normally do, I have to consider that it might be from God. Talking to others is important. As Proverbs 27:17 states, As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Trusted friends can help you see if this is in the nature of God and would please him. I have learned when it is something that is from me, it can be hard to make that determination.
I don’t want to leave this post without saying that this takes time. None of these practices are something that happen quickly. We can all read our Bible quickly, but reading with intentionality takes time. We can all say a prayer for someone or something, but really pouring out your heart to God takes time. Even with trusted friends, it is hard for both of you to truly share your hearts and be open to disagreements. It takes work and time for these things to fall into place. This is true across the generations. I always take heart in Joshua, because God will show us where we are going even though we’ve never been this way before.
Joshua 3:3-4a The Israelites are crossing the Jordan following Joshua’s lead. In verse 3 it says “giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go since you have never been this way before.”