Connecting with friends and family is easier than ever. On my phone alone there are multiple ways for someone to reach me. Someone can email me, text me, send me a message through one of my social media or messaging apps, or call. Each time someone reaches out, a little text box pops up on my phone letting me know. I don’t have to work hard to notice it.
In fact, as I’m writing this, someone just sent a message via Facebook wanting to grab coffee. I heard a soft chime, felt my desk buzz, and looked down to see the screen on my phone light up. I had three obvious indicators that someone was trying to reach me. Connection with others is so readily available, I actually have to work harder to ignore people than interact with them.
For those trying to grow in their communication with God, it’s not always the case. A pastor once said, “Prayer at its highest is a two-way conversation - and for me, the most important part is listening to God’s replies.”
But this raises the question, what am I listening for?
It would be great if like in the movie Field of Dreams we could hear an audible voice.
“If you build it he will come.”
But in all of my interactions with God, I’ve never heard an audible voice.
So again, what am I listening for?
The Inner Voice
If you’re trying to grow in your ability to hear from God, but you don’t know what to look or listen for, there’s a good chance you’ll grasp for straws. You’ll hope that the lyrics from a song on the radio are a divine message from God. Or that a billboard on the side of the highway is God’s way of breaking into your life.
For the record, God can use any means He wants to speak to someone. After all, He used a talking donkey in the book of Numbers (Num. 22:28). But if regular communication from God is supposed to be a normal part of our Christian experience, there’s got to be a more consistent way.
A pastor friend of mine once said, “When it comes to hearing from God you have to recognize what God can access in an individual. He has access to your thoughts and your feelings.”
That might lead you to wonder, “Why would he limit God’s access to thoughts and feelings? Doesn’t God have access to our whole being?”
Understanding the inner life of an individual will help make sense of what my friend was saying. A person’s soul, or heart (the non-physical part of them), is made up of three things, your mind (thoughts), will (volitional decision-making), and emotions (feelings).
God has created us as free beings. And for us to truly be free, God restricts his access to just our mind and our emotions. He could override our will. He has the power to do it, but He won’t. If He did, then we wouldn’t be free. However, He will try to influence our decision-making through our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, if God has access to them, we should pay close attention.
Dallas Willard in his book Hearing God says, apart from the Scriptures, the primary way that God speaks to us is through the “inner voice.” Which he also describes as our thoughts and feelings.
It Needs to Be Tested
But just because we think or feel something doesn’t mean it’s from God. Sin has affected our entire being. I had a seminary professor who said, “Sin has corrupted every part of me. I’ve never thought without a corrupt mind. I’ve never felt without corrupt emotions. I’ve never made a decision without a corrupt will.” Therefore, part of growing in our ability to hear from God through the “inner voice” is testing it against Scripture.
For example, if someone wrongs you and your immediate reaction is retaliation and revenge, if you were to test that against Scripture, you would quickly realize that God instructs us to love our enemies, to forgive, and pray for those who wrong us. Therefore, you’d know that it wasn’t the Lord who was saying those things to you.
Not only is it important to test your thoughts and feelings against Scripture, but also with other mature followers of Jesus. There are times that you might sense that the Lord is speaking to you about something that isn’t morally right or wrong. For example, changing jobs, moving to a different community, engaging in a specific form of outreach, or even being called to ministry. With these scenarios, it could be hard to receive any clarity from Scripture because the Bible isn’t really a book about your life. Like we said in the first post in this series, the Bible isn’t a Magic 8 Ball. The Bible certainly gives guidance in life but doesn’t make life decisions for you. Therefore, it’s important to have people in your life who can help you discern these things.
All followers of Jesus are united together through His Spirit in us. Romans 8:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:9 speak about how the “same spirit” that was in Jesus is in us. Therefore, if you have the Spirit of Christ in you and I have the Spirit of Christ in me when it comes to discerning what the Lord is saying to me, and I bring it to you, there should be resonance between us.
Don’t Be Discouraged, It Takes Time
It’s important to keep in mind that growing in your ability to discern God’s voice in your own heart takes time. In the same way a musician has to train their ear to recognize specific notes, we have to train ourselves to recognize what is God’s voice and what's our own fallen thoughts and feelings.
We can have confidence that if we are pursuing God with an open heart, He’ll be more concerned with our effort and attempt rather than whether or not we get it right every time.
We can trust that God is good and gracious and will lead and guide as we work to hear and respond to His voice.
So, what’s God saying to you?