How do you hear God? For much of my Christian life, I felt defective because people would ask what I heard God saying in response to a problem or a prayer need. I didn’t “hear” anything, so assumed God didn’t love me. After all, He wasn’t “talking” to me. Imagine my relief when I finally realized that God communicates with us in a variety of ways. What I learned after too many years is that I usually don’t hear words, but rather, I see. I’ll say more about this method below. But once I learned to honor that approach, I was able to expand my repertoire and now receive communication from God in several ways.
Throughout this post I’ll use the phrase “hearing God” as a nonspecific reference to receiving communication from God. As I will explain below, God communicates with us in a wide variety of ways. For simplicity, I (and most others) call this hearing God, even though it may not always involve our ears or sound.
WHERE/HOW DO WE HEAR GOD?
We can hear God in any aspect of our being. Since we are created in the image of God, we are three-part beings. Each of these parts is separate and capable of hearing from God (or the enemy). Sometimes we may hear God in more than one aspect of our being at the same time. These three parts are:
- Human Spirit: That part of the human person created in the image of God, who is also Spirit. This is the part of the human person God most often communicates with through His Holy Spirit. After all, we are a spirit, housed in a body with a soul.
- Soul: Generally considered the mind, will, and emotions, so “hearing” in this aspect often involves words, thinking, or emotions. Satan has access to this part of you, so be on the alert and test what you’re hearing.
- Body: The body is the skin, bones, and organs that house the spirit and soul. Many people “feel” pain, warmth, cold, or electricity in their bodies, often in conjunction with communication in the spirit or soul.
WAYS TO HEAR GOD
One friend told me, “God is always speaking, always speaking, always speaking. Sometimes He uses words.” And sometimes He doesn’t. Regardless of how you “hear,” it’s critical that you learn to discern when you’re hearing is God, when it’s your own thoughts or preferences, and when it’s the enemy or your wounding. It’s also common for a person to hear via more than one of the following methods at the same time. For example, you might see and hear, or know and feel. Here are several of the most common ways people hear God.
First and foremost, God will speak to you through His Word. The more you read and meditate on His Word, the more He will speak to you. God’s personal word to you will never, never, never violate his written word. If the answer is clear in the Word, don’t even bother to pray for a different answer! You won’t get it from God.
- Before you read, ask God to open your spiritual eyes and ears and show you what He wants you to know.
- Read the whole bible, not just your favorite parts. You’ll be amazed at the treasures hiding in the more obscure books.
- Memorize. Put it into your spirit.
God will frequently use other people to help us hear Him, especially when we’re emotionally invested in a decision. That is one of the roles of the Body of Christ, to be “Jesus with skin on” for one another. Of course, we need to be careful about whose counsel we seek and about accepting another’s recommendation without weighing it, but the words of a trusted wise advisor are life and health (see Prov. 4:20-22). Twice Proverbs tells us that in a multitude of counselors there is safety (see Prov. 11:14; 24:6). So, when in doubt, ask a praying friend. Or two.
I hear very clearly for other people most of the time, but for myself, not so much. When I need an answer, I depend on the wisdom of my trusted advisors to cut through the deceit of my own emotions or preferences.
The Holy Spirit will “witness” to your spirit or soul. This is a form of discernment, but people describe this as a “knowing.” You just “know” the answer you’re seeking and you don’t really know why you know it. This knowing often partners with the spiritual gifts of the word of wisdom and word of knowledge. You may have a witness in general or about specific areas. For example, although I have little medical training, I often “know” medical diagnoses. I can listen to symptoms and just “know” what the diagnosis is and often what treatment to recommend. Other people have this discernment regarding the character of people. They just “know” if a person is good or evil.
A few people hear an audible voice, but this is rare. More likely is a hearing in your soul or spirit (and it’s important to learn to discern which). I often “hear” as I’m writing in my prayer journal. As I listen for God, I “hear” and transcribe. The words often bypass my conscious mind when I’m doing this, and yet I know they are words and often form sentences.
Some people see either words or images. I see both. I often see a banner over the person’s head with a word written on it. Sometimes I’ll see an image or even a movie. Sometimes the meaning is clear; other times you have to ask questions to get further information (which may come in the form of more images or through one of the other means described here). When you lean into this and receive it, God will give you more. If you ignore it, it just floats away.
Some people feel information in their bodies. This may be a general peace or disquiet. It may be a physical symptom, often for another person: “Someone has a pain in their left leg.” When this is accurate, it usually means God wants to heal that malady. This is often called the spiritual gift of the word of knowledge and often operates in cooperation with the gift of healing.
WORD OF WISDOM
This is often in conjunction with any of the above and usually comes from years of reading and meditating on the Word. Again, it’s more of a knowing than anything firm and may operate in conjunction with words, thoughts, images, or a knowing from God. It all works together.
DREAMS AND VISIONS
In Scripture we frequently see men and women of God receiving information or a call through dreams and visions. There seems to be a resurgence of this form of communication today. In the Muslim world and other closed countries, Jesus is actually appearing to people in the night hours. But even here in the US, our dreams can communicate God’s intentions to us. Learn to pay attention to your dreams. Write them down. Ask for help in interpreting if you aren’t certain of the meaning.
BARRIERS TO HEARING GOD
There are a number of barriers to hearing God. If you have any of these in your life, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to hear God.
Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” And I might add, I won’t hear him. I can’t live sin and expect to hear clearly from God. If you’re having a hard time hearing from God, pray the prayer of David in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Confess your sin to God and perhaps to one another. Seek forgiveness and see if you don’t start hearing better.
In America we live such incredibly busy lives that we have a hard time making time for God. How much time do you spend in the Word? In prayer? Busyness is “the tares of the world” in the parable of the sower (see Matt. 13:22). We spend time at work, with family, with church, and especially with our devices. We don’t take time to get quiet before the Lord, to read the Word, and pray. Is it any wonder we have a hard time hearing God?
If we don’t know the breadth and variety of the way God speaks, we may miss him. Just as I thought “hearing” meant “hearing,” I missed all the other ways God speaks to me. If I focus on one method, I’m sure to miss Him.
If I assume I know God’s will in an area, I may miss His clear direction in that or another area. I may miss his guidance altogether. We see this in Joshua 9 when the Gibeonites tricked Joshua and the Israelites into a covenant. They believed what they saw and heard from the strangers, and after all, offering hospitality was an important value in that society. But by presuming to make a covenant without inquiring of the Lord, Joshua doomed the Israelites to generations of problems with the Gibeonites.
This is another form of presumption. We often take time to listen for God when we aren’t sure of a direction or decision. But when the decision is in an area where we’re strong or skilled, it’s so easy to just rush forward. For example, a strong teacher may not study as diligently as a less confident teacher. Or a person skilled in business may take less time to pray and listen as one who is less confident when seeking wisdom in an organization. But that place of strength may be the very place God wants to refine us. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). That means even in the area of my strength, my talent, my degree, my skill.
Sometimes we know what God wants, but the ask is too big. It’s too expensive, too scary, too vulnerable. When that happens, we stop. We ask for confirmation. We put out a fleece. We ask for more confirmation. Then more. Anything to avoid obeying that big. When we do this, don’t be surprised that God suddenly goes silent. He already told us what He wanted. Chances are He won’t change his mind…
Sometimes we’re so emotionally invested in a need or decision that we can’t hear God. We need to find a way to acknowledge (identify) the emotion, release it to God, and quiet our souls before him. This may be a good time to seek the counsel of a trusted advisor who can help us sort through the emotions and the decision. I find this to be particularly true when I need to make an important decision.
BELIEVING THAT “IF IT’S HARD, IT MUST NOT BE GOD”
Americans seem to want to take the easy way out. I’ve heard people say, “This is hard so it must not be God.” Since when does God not ask His children to do the hard thing? That’s how faith and character are built. If you doubt me, ask Paul (see Rom. 5:3). Or James (see James 1:2). Or even Jesus (see Heb. 12:2).
There are many ways God communicates with us. Over the next week, pay attention and see if you can discover His primary way and secondary ways of communicating with you. Of course you’ll make mistakes, but fortunately, we serve a gracious God who cares more about communicating with you than you care about hearing him! Go ahead. Be bold. Experiment!