“How can I hear God’s voice?”
That is a question we get frequently at every Dunamis Project.
Cooperation with the Holy Spirit depends on our ability to recognize and hear the voice of the Lord speaking into our life.
God Speaks to Guide Us
Scripture give us examples of where God speaks to His followers to give guidance at particular moments in time.
When God speaks this way, this is not the same as revealing doctrine about Himself.
Rather guidance is God inviting us to participate in what He is doing to advance the kingdom.
You see scriptural examples in the book of Acts where different people experienced this type of Guidance
- Acts 8:29-31 – The Spirit told Phillip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
- Acts 9:10-19 – Ananias was led to pray for Saul after the encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
- Acts 10 – Peter was led to the house of Cornelius to preach the Gospel. (This story does contain doctrinal revelation about there no longer being the distinction between clean and unclean foods.)
- Acts 16:1-10 – Paul was led to preach the gospel in various places including in Macedonia.
- Acts 18:9-11 – Paul was led to stay in Corinth despite the threats against him.
As you look in each of these examples, you see different experiences of hearing God’s voice.
Different ways of hearing from God through manifestational gifts
We also believe that God also speaks to us through the word centered manifestional gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12:
- Tongues, with interpretation of tongues
- The word of wisdom
- The word of knowledge
In our contemporary experience, you’ve likely said that “the Lord spoke to you” through a person called to the office of preacher, prophet, or pastor as they make plain the truth of God and apply the word of God to your life.
When we experience these, the proper use of discernment is of utmost importance to weigh carefully what is being heard/received. (Read: The Four Discernment Tests)
The Lord might use us in one of those gifts by speaking to us in order that we might bless someone else.
Indeed, in the ways that follow, many of the personal experiences of those manifestional gifts starts with getting guidance from God by recognizing how God speaks to you.
6 Ways we might experience God’s voice
There are a variety of ways in which we experience the Holy Spirit speaking to us today to give us guidance.
These are general ways that people experience hearing the Holy Spirit or receive guidance from the Holy Spirit in their prayer times, devotional life, or sometimes while out buying groceries.
1. Mental Images
You have most likely already experienced this. Images may just come into your mind when you pray or read God’s word.
You might see it in full color like a still photograph.
Or you might see it like a visual negative – as in when you stare at an object, close your eyes, you see still the monochromatic shape of that object. You still recognize the image, even though your eyes are closed.
This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied.
Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” Amos 7:7-8
The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. The LORD said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”
The word of the LORD came to me again: “What do you see?” “I see a boiling pot, tilting away from the north,” I answered. The LORD said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.” Jeremiah 1:11-14
Amos and Jeremiah both saw something. We might see a mental image like they did. That image provides you guidance or direction on how to pray next.
Some mental images may be just from your imagination, others may truly be from the Holy Spirit. It will be important to learn to distinguish between them.
2. Thoughts and Nudges
The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, this is what the Sovereign LORD says to the land of Israel: The end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land.” Ezekiel 7:1-2
The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”- Acts 8:29
How did the Spirit tell Philip to do this? This could have been a nudge, a thought that came to him, or just an awareness of what he needed to do. The Spirit also could have whispered in his heart, “Go to that chariot and stay near it!”
3. Words of Scripture
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 11:15-16
The Holy Spirit brought to Peter’s mind the word from Jesus that explained what had just happened to Cornelius and those gathered in his home. God will often speak to us today in this way. A verse of scripture or a concept or a word will just “pop into your head” at the right time and place.
Have you ever experienced that?
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:9-10
A vision is a glimpse of reality as seen by God. It may also be a glimpse into what God is doing or intends to do.
A vision is one of the primary ways that we are shown how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. These may be pictures or just a knowing of what God wants to do.
These dreams and visions were the common way that God would speak to the prophets in the Old Testament. In Joel 2:28 we see the expectation that all people would receive guidance through visions and dreams in the last days. Peter clearly understood Pentecost as the beginning of this time (Acts 2:17-28).
The number of times that God leads through visions and dreams in the book of Acts demonstrates that this is a very common way that He has chosen to work (Acts 9:10-12, Acts 10:3, Acts 10:17-19, 11:5, Acts 16:9, 18:9, Acts 26:19).
Notice that in all the cases in Acts the purpose of a vision is to guide people in the working with the Holy Spirit in advancing the gospel.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 1:20
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Matthew 2:12-13
6. Consensus of a Group
“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements…” Acts 15:28
In this case the Holy Spirit seems to have spoken through a group of the Apostles and elders.
In Acts 15:6-27 we find a remarkable glimpse into the dynamic of a group getting guidance so that they could say with confidence, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”.
They are reasoning both from the witness of scripture as well as from their own experience, and observations. There is also a good bit of give and take and discussion.
Guidance that is received from the Holy Spirit by a group involves a process of listening both to God and to one another. Notice this dynamic in the report of a meeting conducted by the leaders of the early church.
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe… No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
“After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages.
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers…
So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul–men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. “
Acts 15:6-7, 11-22, 25-27
This same dynamic may take place for us today as we, in a church board, Session, Consistory, or the Board of Directors of a ministry, seek to be led by the Holy Spirit in decision-making processes.
Notice that it is a complex process involving both human and divine factors, revelation and reason, observation and opinions, a listening to God and to one another. Through all this the Holy Spirit may lead the group to decisions that will be consistent with the will of God for a particular situation.
Not mentioned in the report in Acts, but certainly assumed is that this whole process was upheld in both corporate and individual prayer. Prayer is the primary way that we may receive guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Excerpted from Dunamis Project 2: In the Spirit’s Power
Questions to Reflect
- Have you had the experience of God giving you guidance? What was that like?
- Ask the Lord to show you something about a current situation you face. Take the time to listen, and then discern with others.