Most people want to hear God’s voice when they are facing a decision. If only God would speak to them and tell them which choice to make or which direction to embark upon. Many people will claim to have heard God’s voice, saying, “God led me to do this,” when in fact it was simply their own thoughts and desires that led them in a particular direction.
The primary way that God speaks to us today is through His revealed, written Word. When we want to hear God’s voice, the Bible is where we should look. Most of the will of God for our lives is already fully revealed in its pages, and it is simply a matter of our obedience to it. All of Scripture is the will of God, but there are a few places in Scripture that specifically use the term will of God, which may be especially interesting to a person who wants to hear God’s voice:
• 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
• 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.”
• 1 Peter 2:12–15: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”
Other passages also let us hear God’s voice, even if they don’t use the phrase the will of God. But, just taking the three above passages, we know that a Christian should always give thanks in every circumstance, avoid sexual immorality, and live an exemplary life. If a Christian does not follow these clear dictates given directly by God through inspired Scripture, why should he or she expect to hear more information from God? If you want further direction from God, obey what He has already told you. A heart willing to listen and obey is the key to hearing from God.
The primary way that a Christian hears God’s voice is through reading and studying Scripture and then obeying and applying what the Scripture says. People often rely upon “the leading of the Holy Spirit,” which is spoken of in Romans 8:14. In context, the passage speaks of the Spirit’s leading us away from sinful activity and into a confidence in our relationship with God as Father. The Holy Spirit will never lead contrary to Scripture. If a person is considering having an affair, the Spirit will only lead in one direction—toward marital fidelity. The Spirit might very well bring a verse like 1 Thessalonians 4:3 to mind for the person being tempted. When the Spirit leads, He is not imparting “new” information as much as He is impressing on our hearts the truth God has already revealed in Scripture and applying it to our situation. If a person says, “God told me” or “The Spirit led me to do such and such,” and the action taken is contrary to Scripture, we can be sure the person is mistaken.
We can also hear God’s voice as God speaks through other people. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). Good counselors or advisers can help us see a situation with new eyes. Again, the Bible is key. Biblical preaching and biblically sound Christian material can be put in the “advisers” category. The Word of God is the control. If a bunch of counselors advise a person to do something contrary to Scripture, then they are all wrong, no matter what their credentials; however, if the advisers help an individual understand and apply Scripture, then they can be helpful. Godly advisers can often see areas that an individual is blind to. A group of advisers may discern that the person seeking to hear God’s voice concerning a particular plan is in reality seeking approval of his own personal agenda.
Another way to hear God’s voice is to pray and ask for wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). When a Christian is facing difficult circumstances and needs to hear from God, the Christian should ask for the wisdom that God promises to give. This wisdom will ultimately come from God, but it may come through the word of a friend; through a sermon, article, or book; or from the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit. Once again, the written Word of God is the standard by which all thoughts, actions, ideas, and feelings must be judged.
In this day of self-proclaimed prophets and the promotion of “new revelations” from God, people often mistake the voice of God for their own thoughts or the suggestions of other people. If you are hearing God’s voice, then the message will always be in accord with Scripture. We should all take great care not to misrepresent God. Instead of saying, “God told me this,” a better approach would be to say, “I think God may be saying this—what do you think?”
People often want to hear a specific word from God when He has already spoken in a general sense. For instance, a person may be deliberating the choice of whether to take the family on a short-term mission trip or on a vacation to the beach. Perhaps a specific word from God is unnecessary. What is really called for is wisdom. Which trip will most benefit the family? Which trip will most benefit the kingdom of God? The family will benefit by building the kingdom. The kingdom will benefit from a strong family. Either one could be a good choice. Other factors such as expense and the current state of the family should be considered. (Are the kids selfish and entitled so they need to see how other people live? Has the family been under a lot of stress and needs to get away and relax? Are the costs comparable? If not, which can they afford?) If they go to the beach, they look for opportunities to share their faith and be an encouragement to other believers. If they go on the mission trip, they look for ways to build bonds with each other and enjoy themselves as a family. Both options are good. Neither is inherently sinful. In the end, the husband and wife come to some agreement and throw themselves into it wholeheartedly, trusting that, if the decision is wrong, God will somehow make it clear to them that they should do something different. How will He do this? Probably not through an audible voice but through a combination of circumstances, advice from other people, evaluation of their priorities based on God’s Word, and a lack of inner peace from the Holy Spirit.