The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Learning to Recognize God’s Voice: Seven Principles

Learning to Recognize God's Voice

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It is not God’s desire for you to go through life depending on other people to tell you what He wants to say to you. God wants you to learn how to communicate with Him directly, and this is something that He will teach you to do if you are willing to learn. Let’s get one thing straight right from the beginning: God is always talking to you. Yes, you. If you don’t believe this, it’s only because you haven’t learned how to recognize His Voice yet. So while it’s true that God gives some souls extra measures of insight and revelation, there is no soul who He simply ignores. And just as God teaches other souls amazing things about who He is, He can teach you as well. You are not some lesser Christian who God simply doesn’t find interesting enough to spend energy on. You are His very dear creation who He made for the purpose of having a dynamic relationship with.

Your relationship with God is extremely personal. He doesn’t communicate with you like a man who gets up and addresses a huge stadium full of people. That is a very impersonal way of communicating. The way that God talks to you is very private and intimate, as if the two of you are talking alone together in some deserted place. The way that God handles you is extremely personal. You are not just some meaningless cog in the vast machine He calls Creation and God is not like a man who presses down on the accelerator of his car with no thought of all the parts that he is setting into motion underneath the hood. Instead, God is like a protective bodyguard who goes with you everywhere, constantly anticipating your moves, and guiding you safely through a dangerous environment.

Learning how to recognize God’s Voice is an ongoing process. It’s like going to school—there are elementary levels and there are advanced levels. To keep graduating on to the next level of insight requires two simple steps: learning new principles from the Holy Spirit and having Him help you put them into practice in daily life. This is not something you do on your own, it’s something you do with God, and He is the One leading every step of the process.

In this post, we will teach you some of the elementary principles of learning how to recognize God’s Voice. These principles will steer you in the right direction, and just being introduced to these things will put you miles ahead of most Christians and get you on your way to some very exciting things. But you must be patient, for it takes time for these principles to really sink in.

1. God is always talking to you.

This is our first key principle. Before you can start hearing God’s Voice, you must first believe that He is actually communicating with you. This is a very difficult leap for many souls to make, especially if they’ve grown up believing that God only talks to His “favorites.” But the truth is that God is talking to all of us in very personal ways all of the time. Each and every day of your life, God is talking to you. Once you realize this is happening, you can start aggressively looking for evidence of it. And once you start looking for evidence of it, you will start finding it.

To a man who is born blind, the world is a colorless place. He doesn’t see shades of color because his eyes are not functioning properly. But the colors are still there. The man’s physical limitations do not change the reality around him, they only limit his experience of that reality. Should God heal his eyes, suddenly he would be able to see what has always existed. This is what is happening when it comes to you hearing God’s Voice. He is always talking—that is a fact. But you currently have limitations which are blocking you from fully experiencing the reality around you. These limitations come in many different forms, but they all start with your core beliefs. As God works with you to remove the things that are blocking you from seeing Him in your life, your mind will begin to see and understand things which it has been blind to up until now. It’s a very exciting journey.

2. To mature in the faith, you must be willing to let God change your core beliefs.

What you believe defines what you expect, and what you expect determines what you will acknowledge. For example, if you believe that all marriages end in adultery, then you will expect your spouse to cheat on you. You will then instinctively look for evidence to support your belief and you will mentally block out evidence which challenges your belief. We do this all the time in life. If we have low-esteem and believe that we are not lovable, then when a friend says they love us, we mentally deflect the words as meaningless and insincere. We refuse to accept certain messages because we refuse to change our beliefs. This is a very unhealthy pattern to stay stuck in.

A refusal to change your core beliefs is guaranteed to leave you spiritually stunted in life. No matter how advanced you think your understanding of God is now, you’ve only barely begun to scratch the surface. There is a ton more to learn, and if you aren’t willing to let the Holy Spirit reshape your beliefs, you will never grow. One of the keys to advancing as a Christian is to develop a wide open mind with God. With people, you must be extremely guarded, but with God, you must be open to Him teaching you radically new ideas and completely overhauling your perspective of Him and of life. A flexible, fluid theology is essential for learning to recognize God’s Voice.

3. God loves you.

This might sound obvious, but for many of us it is not. If we have trouble loving ourselves, or if we’ve been abused by others, we often have great difficulty accepting that God loves us. Yet to learn to recognize God’s Voice, we must grow in our understanding of God’s love for us. Remember that what you believe determines what you expect, and what you expect determines what you will acknowledge. If you want to hear God saying that He loves you, you must first believe that this is something He would in fact say. It’s like taking earplugs out of your ears so that you can hear what your friend is saying.

Without meaning to, we have all constructed many walls in our minds which refuse to let certain messages get through. By now God has told you that He loves you countless times in your life. This is reality—are you acknowledging it or denying it? When we never experience God communicating His love for us, it’s often because we’ve already decided that this is something He simply wouldn’t say to us in any personal way. And yet while we cling to the belief that God would never say certain things to us, the reality is that He is saying them quite sincerely.

The miserable torments of shame and condemnation begin with a weak grip on the fact that God loves us. Consider how easy it is to break up a marriage in which one spouse is extremely insecure. So also, it’s very easy for Satan to make you feel isolated from God if you are closed to the idea that He loves you. If this is where you’re stuck right now, how do you get unstuck? By asking the Holy Spirit to help you gain a deeper understanding of His love for you. This is not something you can instantly fix about yourself, it’s something that God has to change over time. But the good news is that every little crumb of progress that you make in this area will have a positive impact on how well you can hear God’s Voice. Your core beliefs affect everything else. You don’t have to be perfect in any area to make enormous progress in the faith—you just need to be moving in the right direction.

4. God’s Voice comes in many forms.

God is not human, and this means you need to expect Him to behave in non-human ways. When you say, “I was talking to my friend yesterday,” you define “talking” as a verbal activity involving resonating vocal chords and audible sound. But God’s definition of talking is much broader. He has countless ways of communicating His thoughts to you. Sometimes He puts thoughts in your mind. Sometimes He speaks to you through other people’s lips. He could be speaking to you right now as you read this article. He also speaks through imagery, circumstances, feelings, timing, instincts, and events. Now let’s be clear: demons use these same methods of communication. So just because you have some good feeling dance up your spine doesn’t mean you’ve received a message from God. You could be receiving a deception from Satan instead. This is where spiritual discernment comes in.

Spiritual discernment is a long phrase that simply means being able to accurately identify the source of a communication. If a friend sends you a letter in the mail, you know it’s from her before you even open the envelope because you recognize her handwriting. But then again, what if it’s a forgery? How can you be sure? You can’t until you read the contents of the letter. If you know your friend very well, you should be able to discern whether the letter is legitimate or not by studying its style, vocabulary, and contents. For example, if you know that your friend is very allergic to eggs and she casually mentions having eggs for breakfast, you would know something is wrong. If you know that she can’t swim and she mentions winning a swim competition, you would be even more suspicious. As you read, you are automatically comparing the things said in the letter with what you know about your friend. If too many conflicts are found, then you begin to suspect that the letter is a forgery.

This same principle applies to recognizing God’s Voice. Before you can test messages to see if they are from God, you need to have a basic understanding of who God is, and what kinds of things He would and wouldn’t say. It is the Holy Spirit who will educate you about these things, and the more you learn about God’s values, His methods, and His view of you, the better you will get at spiritual discernment.

5. God wants to strengthen your bond with Him.

This is God’s top priority for you and everything He says to you will be working towards this goal. Understanding this will really help you identify a lot of counterfeit messages, for any message that makes you feel discouraged, hopeless, and rejected by God is not from Him. Any message that makes you feel like God has turned His back on you or cut you off or that He delights in inflicting misery on you is total garbage. When God speaks, His words will never have a draining, discouraging, or oppressive effect on your soul. God is positive, encouraging, and hopeful. Even when He’s upset with you and convicting you of sin, He communicates those convictions to you in a way that gives you hope in your relationship with Him. God never just harps on what’s wrong with you, He also points you in a better direction. Often that better direction is simply encouraging you to focus on Him instead of yourself.

Maybe you have a problem with drinking. Instead of demanding that you stop cold turkey and saying how much your behavior disgusts Him, God will point out your problem to you and urge you to be honest with Him that you have an addiction. Once you are talking to Him about it, then He might want to teach you lessons about depending on Him instead of instantly curing you. God is not a fan of giving us all instant cures and quick fixes. He brings trials into our lives for positive reasons, and He won’t remove them prematurely. So while Satan will try to impersonate God’s Voice and tell you how disappointed God is with you for being less than perfect, God is going to teach you how to use your struggle to increase your trust and dependency on Him.

When you’re testing a message to see if it’s from God, you need to ask, “Am I hearing hope for my relationship with God in this message or am I just being made to feel terrible for failing?” No matter how much of a mess you’re in, there is always hope, there is always some way to move forward with God, and you can count on Him to point it out to you. Why? Because God wants to strengthen His bond with you, not weaken it. Any sermon, article, conversation, experience, image, sound, feeling, or thought that makes you feel hopeless and discouraged in your walk with God is not from God. But anything that makes you feel inspired and hopeful about deepening your bond with Him is likely from Him. This is where we need to start talking about labels.

6. When God speaks to you, give Him the credit.

As long as you go through life saying, “My pastor said this” or “My friend said that,” you aren’t going to grasp how often God is speaking to you. Maybe it’s true that your pastor delivered some sermon that completely inspired your soul and addressed specific concerns that you were struggling with. But if this was the case, you need to recognize that God was speaking to you through your pastor and start giving God the credit in your mind. “God really spoke to me at church this morning.” Wow, now there’s a powerful statement. It sounds so personal—like God showed up at your church specifically to talk to you. Well, that’s exactly what He did, and the sooner you start acknowledging it, the sooner you’ll start to experience the joy of God personally communicating to you.

Did a friend just happen to call when you were down in the dumps and say just what you needed to hear to cheer you up again? Don’t credit your friend, credit God. Did a song come on the radio that uplifted your soul? That was God talking to you. Did an image of Jesus hugging you flash into your mind when you were going through your daily routine? That was God, communicating His love for you. Did some random billboard on the side of the road turn your mind in some encouraging direction? It wasn’t a coincidence, it was God talking to you. God is always talking to you. When you forget to put something on the grocery list and it suddenly pops into your mind before you checkout, that was God helping you. When you stumble across some site on the internet that helps you solve some annoying problem in life, that’s God talking to you. God is not a one subject Fellow. He doesn’t just talk to you about your relationship with Him, He talks to you about absolutely everything because…

7. God is intimately involved in your life.

You’re daydreaming in your car and you snap back to reality just in time to avoid a collision. That wasn’t “a near thing,” it was God saving your neck. You trip on a crack in the sidewalk and think you’re going to fall on your face but somehow manage to keep your balance. That’s God holding you up. And on another day when you do get in that fender-bender and you do trip and fall flat on your face, that’s God, too. We really must break out of this mindset that God is only involved in the pleasant aspects of life. He’s involved in all the nasty parts, too. You swing a hammer at a nail and end up hitting your thumb. It’s not because it’s a fallen world, and it’s not because Satan leaped upon you, it’s because God made you miss. When you rack your brains for what you forgot to put on the grocery list and you can’t remember until you’ve loaded all of the groceries into your car, it’s because God is intentionally messing with your memory banks. God is intimately involved in every aspect of your life. When things work and when things refuse to work—it’s all God.

We talk a lot about God being our Shepherd and leading us through life, but then we act as if He’s really on some distant planet while Satan is following us around and constantly harassing us. But no, this is all wrong. You don’t have to cry out to God to notice the crisis you’re in because He’s the One who created the crisis in the first place. Nothing bad happens to you by accident and God never tosses you over to demons like so much dog meat. God is always protecting you. For every nasty thing that happens to you, there are a billion other nastier things that demons wanted to do to you but God blocked them. The more you grasp the concept of God’s intimate involvement in your life, the less vulnerable you’ll become to feeling abandoned by Him. And yet simply grasping God’s involvement isn’t enough, for we will quickly spin off in negative directions and think that God is some sadist who gets off on hurting us unless we remember the other principles we’ve discussed. God loves you and He wants to strengthen your bond with Him—you can’t see His involvement in the right light unless you remember how positive His motivations are towards you. God is never just sticking it to you. He’s never inflicting meaningless suffering on you, nor is He indifferent to your pain. He loves you dearly and everything He does to you is for the purpose of drawing you closer to Him.

So then, when God causes you some injury or inconvenience in life, as you credit Him for it, also remind yourself what His motivations are. “Well, God, I know Your timing is precise and that You’ve caused this to happen for some good reason. Help me to learn everything You want to teach me through this so I can come out of it closer to You.” This kind of prayer is far more useful than “God, help! Satan’s attacking me!” This second prayer is denying the reality of God’s involvement in your life as well as denying His positive motivations towards you. This second prayer is not going to do anything good for your soul, for it is practicing doubt and fear. But the first prayer is going to increase your confidence in God, for it is embracing critical truths. Focusing on God’s love for you and on the reality that He has an intentional plan unfolding in your life is going to do excellent thing for the health of your soul. Is this always easy to do? Certainly not. Often we will be trying to claim realities that don’t feel real to us yet because we’re still blind to them. But this is what the work of faith is: gripping onto God’s version of reality even if we can’t see it for ourselves.

God says that He loves us dearly and that He is controlling every aspect of this creation. God says nothing happens down here without His approval and assistance. Nothing God creates can operate independently of Him—we are all dependent on Him for every breath. Do you ever wonder what makes your heart keep beating when it has no battery installed? God is the One keeping you alive on this planet, sustaining your body, and directing your path. Certainly you make plans, but none of them can succeed without His help. Really understanding how intimately God is involved in your life will radically change your view of your own life, other people’s lives, world events, accidents, tragedies, and everything else. You are never alone in this world. You are never a lost sheep who has been forgotten by its shepherd. Your Shepherd is always with you, He is always guiding you, and He is always talking to you.

PUTTING PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE

Now that we’ve talked about some basic principles, the next step is for you to start putting them into practice. You do this by aggressively looking for evidence that God is speaking to you in life, and then fully acknowledging every time that you think you’ve heard some message from Him. Keeping a journal is a great tool here. You don’t have to write long paragraphs, just jot a brief note to remind yourself of the occasion. The key here is to insert God’s Name into all of your notes and phrase them in a way that reminds you of how intentional God’s interactions with you are. Let’s look at some examples.

Event: You remember to stop at a gas station on the way home from work.
Note: “God reminded me to get gas on the way home.”

Event: You wake up in the morning without your alarm going off.
Note: “Forgot to set my alarm—God woke me up in time for work.”

Event: You feel encouraged by a song on the radio.
Note: “Was feeling depressed—God had my favorite song come on the radio.”

Event: You feel inspired by a sermon you hear.
Note: “Online sermon talking about faith—God encouraged me to keep waiting on Him.”

Event: You figure out a great way to rearrange your furniture to make more room in your house.
Note: “God showed me how to rearrange the living room today. He knew exactly what was bothering me and now it works so much better.”

Event: You find a great bargain on an item you’ve been wanting to buy.
Note: “God led me to the store right when He knew what I wanted was on sale.”

Event: Your car breaks down by the side of the road and you realize you forgot your phone.
Note: “God had me forget my phone at home today so He could show me how He’s always taking care of me. He had my friend drive by and see me, and she pulled over to help. Feeling really encouraged that God is always with me.”

Event: You remember an encouraging saying that your dead grandmother used to say.
Note: “God brought grandma’s words to mind today to remind me not to worry about the future.”

Do you see what a difference wording makes? All your notes are describing your life through the eyes of faith—you are acknowledging a reality that you don’t yet see clearly. Learning to hear God speaking to you begins by deciding to step out on that limb and claim that He has spoken to you whether you feel like it or not. When you’re not used to thinking of God caring about your shopping list or being involved in your home projects, it can feel a bit presumptuous at first to sit around telling yourself “God said this” and “God did that.” And of course Satan will do his utmost to make you feel ridiculous for trying to spiritualize everything. And yet the fact remains that God is involved in every aspect of your life, He is leading you every day and He is constantly communicating with you.

Don’t let awkward feelings and panicking demons scare you away from claiming what is rightfully yours: you have a Father who is constantly communicating with you. God is talking to YOU—not just to the special Christians. God thinks that you’re special, too. God cares about all of your problems, He cares about your hobbies and interests. If you like surfing, He’s riding the waves with you and showing you tips about how to stay on top of your board. If you like programming, He’s sitting right beside you, helping you grasp the finer points of the language you’re using. If you like playing an instrument, He’s right there enjoying your music and inspiring you in different directions. If you like reading, He’s with you when you browse for books. If you like watching television, He’s watching with you, and using the plot line to teach you valuable insights. When we reject the notion that God is involved in our lives, we tune out His Voice, ignore His leading, and miss out on a valuable education. But when we expect Him to lead us in life, then we start looking for His guidance in all things, and we are constantly seeking His wisdom in the choices we make. Learning how to recognize God’s Voice will change your whole life. And because it is such a vast topic, there’s always more to learn. God is such a fascinating mystery and you have the perfect Teacher dwelling right inside of you: the magnificent Holy Spirit. Ask Him to help you grow in this area and He will. The Holy Spirit thoroughly enjoys teaching you.

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