The Bible tells us that we need to be led by the Holy Spirit (see for example Romans 8:12-14 and Galatians 5:16-25). Therefore, it must be possible for every one of us to discern the promptings and guidance of the Holy Spirit within us!
You can hear the voice of God, and this article will teach you how.
It is not the purpose of this article to go into all of the different ways in which God speaks to us, such as dreams, visions, tongues and interpretation, prophecies, and so on, but this article will give you practical guidance in how to discern God's usual "voice" which He often uses to speak to us.
The Four Voices We Hear
There are actually four types of "voices" which we hear speaking to us, and it is important that we learn to distinguish each one so that we are able to discern the true voice of God:
The voice that is perhaps the most obvious is our own voice. In addition to our speaking voice, we also talk to ourselves inside our heads, we see images and pictures inside our heads, we have emotions and feelings and desires, and so on. Our minds tell us what we think, our wills tell us what we want, and our emotions tell us how we feel. The Bible refers to our minds, wills, and emotions as our "flesh nature," and this article will give you a better understanding of the "voice" of the flesh.
Another type of voice which clamors for our attention is the "voice" of other people. Sometimes people say things which are true, noble, and good, and sometimes people say things which are just the opposite. This article will provide some guidance to help you discern what you are hearing from the "voice" of other people.
The third type of voice is the "voice" of the devil. The devil has crafty ways of speaking to us which he has perfected over the millennia. He does not appear before us in a red, cloven-hoofed suit and speak out loud to us, he is much more subtle than that. What he does is to throw thoughts into our minds like flaming arrows, and he speaks to us through the worldly ideas and viewpoints that he has injected into other people. By the time you finish this article you will have a better understanding of how to "extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Ephesians 6:16).
The fourth and final type of voice is the most important, but it is also the most subtle. It is the voice of God. God does not speak to us in our minds, He speaks to us in our spirits because that is where the Holy Spirit lives. Unfortunately, we tend to spend most of our thought life in our heads, in other words in "the mind of the flesh" (Romans 8:7, AMP), focused on the sensory world around us where our physical senses and our thoughts, feelings, desires, and emotions are constantly being bombarded and stimulated in worldly, carnal, fleshly ways. We tend to live on the shallow surface, so to speak, rarely venturing deeper where the Spirit of God lives within us. The result is that many of us do not know where our spirits are nor how to hear and be led by our spirits. Because of this we leave ourselves wide open to fall for the many deceptions of the devil. This article will help you to begin recognizing the leadings and promptings that are coming from your spirit, and how to be more Spirit-led. These are the four types of voices that we hear, and in the next several sections we will examine each of these more closely. Hearing from God is not a science, so I have tried to offer plenty of examples from my own experience to help describe some of the ways that God speaks to us. Please don't let this mislead you, however. In order to "teach by example," it is obviously important to offer examples of the times when I believe that I have heard from God. However, the danger in doing so is that it might give the impression that I am some kind of "spiritual giant" who always hears from God clearly and accurately and never makes any mistakes. Believe me, that's definitely not the case! How I wish I could hear God speaking out loud every day, telling me exactly how I can be obedient to Him and serve Him and honor Him! But that's not how He does things, and I'll elaborate more on this throughout the article. Like everything else in the Christian walk, hearing from God is a journey, and we are all at different places along the way. The journey never ends and no-one ever "arrives," and just like everyone else I still have a long way to go in this area of hearing God's voice. All I have to offer are some things I have learned so far on my journey, which may help you on your journey. I hope that my experiences and examples are helpful in describing some of the ways that God speaks to us, and I am trusting God that soon you will have plenty of your own examples to help someone else who feels frustrated in his or her journey of trying to hear and obey God's voice.
"The Mind of the Flesh"
Our greatest enemy
Here's an interesting question for you: Who is our greatest enemy? If you said it's the devil, you're wrong! Our greatest enemy is our minds, our wills, and our emotions, which the Bible sometimes refers to as our "sin nature" or our "flesh." Consider that if we did not have a sinful flesh nature then the devil would have no hold on us. For example, Jesus had a body made of flesh and blood but He did not have a sinful flesh nature as we do, and therefore the devil had no hold on Him (John 14:30).
1 Thessalonians 5:23 says that we are made up of "spirit, soul and body." Your body is aware of the physical world around you, your spirit is aware of God within you, and everything else is your soul, which is aware of "self." Your soul is made up of your mind (what you think), your will (what you want), and your emotions (what you feel). Our spirits were "regenerated" (made alive) the moment we were saved (see for example John 3:3-8), and our bodies will be made immortal when Jesus returns for us (1 Corinthians 15:51-53), but we must wage a daily battle against our "flesh nature." For example, how often do we say or hear things like, "I know I shouldn't say this, BUT" or "I know I shouldn't do this, BUT" or "I know I probably shouldn't eat this, but I'm going to eat it anyway"? Our "flesh nature" pushes us to do what it wants to do, and we often obey our "flesh" even when we know better!
Our flesh is unGodly
You see, the problem is that our "flesh" is unGodly, it is our sin nature, and that's why the Bible tells us to "crucify" our flesh (as we'll see in the next section).
For example, try telling Jesus every day, "Jesus, You are my Lord and I am desperately in love with You. I will do anything and everything You say, without questions or hesitations or reservations. I will say what You want me to say, I will go where You want me to go, I will do what You want me to do. I am all Yours, Lord, live Your life through me and receive great glory and honor by my devoted, loving, and unswerving obedience." Isn't this the attitude that He wants us to have? Then why do we find it so difficult to say this and to live this way? It's because we are afraid of what He might call us to do! For instance, you might have a great job and make lots of money and have an affluent lifestyle, but God might call you to leave all of that and to go spend the rest of your life ministering in remote African villages. He has done this before! You might be a shy, self-conscious stutterer, but God might call you to hold large healing and/or evangelism crusades all around the world where you will be speaking in front of thousands and thousands of people. He has done this before! You might be a comfortable, middle-class person successfully climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying the "status" of being a member of the "right" clubs or social circles, but God might call you to turn your back on all of that and to begin spending your evenings or weekends in the "slum" areas of town ministering to the homeless or ministering among youth gangs. He has done this before! You might be a small-town housewife with a high school education, but God might call you to go on the road most of the year preaching several times a week in churches, universities, conferences, and so on. He has done this before! God has done every one of these things in certain people's lives, and there is always the possibility that He might do it in our lives as well. Now, be honest, some of these things just scare the daylights out of us, don't they? We are afraid to completely give ourselves over to God's plan for our lives because we are afraid that we might be called on to do things which might embarrass us or stretch us out of our comfort zones. Our flesh doesn't like the idea of having to go through these sorts of things, even though God will only call us to do things which are best for us. God always has our best interests at heart, but our flesh wants to cast its vote and make its wishes and desires known, and we tend to follow what our flesh wants rather than what God wants. Isn't it fairly clear that our "flesh nature" tends not to want to obey God?
What does the Bible say about our "flesh"? Now let's take a close look at what the Bible has to say about our minds, our wills, and our emotions:
"And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also]." (Luke 9:23, AMP)
The Amplified Bible is often a useful study tool because it provides various shades of meaning to help us more fully understand what the original Greek words mean. According to these shades of meaning in the original Greek, Jesus was saying that we must follow His example by denying ourselves and our own agendas, by disowning ourselves, by forgetting ourselves and our own agendas, by losing sight of ourselves and our own agendas, by refusing ourselves and our own agendas, and by giving up ourselves and our own agendas! This is what it means to "take up [our] cross daily." This is because our natural interests are contrary to the will of God, our natural feelings are contrary to the will of God, and our natural reasonings are contrary to the will of God. The cross is a place of death, which means that we should daily lose sight of ourselves (as in the verse above) in order to hear and obey God.
"the mind of the flesh [with its carnal thoughts and purposes] is hostile to God, for it cannot submit itself to God's Law; indeed it cannot. So then those who are living the life of the flesh [catering to the appetites and impulses of their carnal nature] cannot please or satisfy God, or be acceptable to Him." (Romans 8:7-8, AMP)
The apostle Paul said that the mind of the flesh has carnal (worldly, sinful) thoughts and purposes, and that it is hostile to God and cannot submit to God! Paul went on to say that if we are living according to our "flesh nature" then we cannot please God.
"The Lord knows the thoughts and reasonings of the [humanly] wise and recognizes how futile they are." (1 Corinthians 3:20, AMP)
God says that our human thoughts and reasonings are futile!
"walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh [of human nature without God]. For the desires of the flesh are opposed to the [Holy] Spirit, and the [desires of the] Spirit are opposed to the flesh (godless human nature); for these are antagonistic to each other [continually withstanding and in conflict with each other]" (Galatians 5:16-17, AMP)
The apostle Paul tells us that our "flesh" is our Godless human nature, and that our natural desires are opposed to the things of the Spirit and are continually in conflict with the Spirit. The solution, Paul says, is to walk and live habitually in the Spirit, always being responsive to and controlled by and guided by the Spirit within us. When we are busy analyzing things in our minds and trying to figure out the solutions to our problems and so on, it hinders us from hearing the Lord clearly. Now, obviously we need to use our minds and reasoning abilities throughout the day in order to do many of the things that we need to do, but the problem is that we tend to use our reasoning abilities almost exclusively and never bother to consult God on any of the decisions that we make.
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)
Paul said that his "flesh nature" had been crucified and that he no longer lived for himself. Instead, he allowed Christ to live His life through Paul, and this is the attitude that all of us should have.
"those who belong to Christ Jesus, the Messiah, have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires." (Galatians 5:24, AMP) "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:24, NIV)
Once again Paul said that our "flesh" (which is made up of our minds, wills, and emotions) is our Godless human nature and our sin nature, which must be crucified with Christ.
"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. ... But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." (Colossians 3:5-10)
Here Paul said that it is up to us to put to death whatever belongs to our "flesh" (our earthly nature).
As we can see, God has some pretty strong things to say about our "flesh nature," and none of it is good! In the passages above we are told to deny ourselves and to lose sight of our own agendas. We are told that our minds and thoughts and purposes and impulses and desires are naturally hostile to God! We are told that our reasonings are futile and that our natural desires are antagonistic to and opposed to and constantly at war with the desires of the Spirit. We are told that our "flesh" is our Godless human nature and our sin nature and that it should be crucified and be put to death on a daily basis.
Those are some pretty strong words from the Lord, but the way to begin hearing God better is to quit listening to our flesh so much. That's not an easy thing to do, but in order to hear God it is important to turn off our reasoning and to put our emotions into neutral when we are listening for an answer from God. Our flesh is always going to cast its vote on what it thinks we should do, but we need to ignore all of that voting and listen to our spirits instead. For example, if we are determined to do something no matter what anyone says, then we might not hear God when He is telling us not to do it. If we have weighed the pros and the cons and we have made the choice which seems to be the most rational to our minds, then we might not feel the need to ask God about it (even though He might guide us to an even better decision). If we really, really want to do something, then our emotions can drown out God when He is trying to prevent us from making a mistake. This illustrates how our wills, our minds, and our emotions can hinder us from hearing the voice of God.
Jesus was "dead to self"
Jesus heard from God better than anyone who ever lived, and one of the main reasons is because He chose to deny His own opinions, interests, goals, thoughts, and so on, and He only did what the Father told Him to:
"Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does."" (John 5:19) "By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." (John 5:30)
"So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me."" (John 8:28)
"Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work." (John 14:10)
What it boils down to is that "the mind of the flesh" tends to be unGodly and tends to be directly opposed to the things of God. The reason I have been emphasizing this so strongly is because we are living in a war zone, and to a large degree the battle against the devil takes place in our minds. If we are led by our own reasonings and our own feelings when we make important decisions then it can leave us wide open to be deceived by the devil, and our lives might end up being useless for the
kingdom of God.
The Voice of the World
As I said, we are living in a war zone on planet earth. As Christians, we don't belong to the world, we are aliens and strangers here (John 15:19, 17:15-17, James 4:4, 1 Peter 1:1, 17, 2:11). We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) serving as ambassadors here (2 Corinthians 5:20). The whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19), and we should be very careful not to become ensnared in the world's ways of thinking and the world's ways of doing things.
The devil speaks to us through worldly views In the world we are bombarded by loose morality, by various forms of spiritualism and the occult and New Age philosophies, and by other worldly, unGodly messages. This is why the Bible tells us to guard our hearts and minds from being contaminated by the world (see Acts 20:30-31, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Philippians 4:7, 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:14, 4:14-15, 2 Peter 3:16-17). We live in the world but we are not of the world (1 Corinthians 2:12, 7:31, James 4:4, 1 John 4:4-5), and we should be very careful about what we are hearing in our daily lives. This is why it is important to be well-grounded in the Word of God.
Sometimes it is easy for the devil to deceive us simply because we do half the job for him by not reading our Bibles in a prayerful, honest, thorough, unbiased way, and we help the devil by being complacent in our Christian life. It is my prayer that by the time you finish this article you will be better equipped to listen with discernment to the Spirit of God within you as you study His Word. Even your pastor is not immune to these biases and "filters," which is why it is important for you to develop your own spiritual sensitivity and to study the Bible for yourself, allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate to your spirit whatever He chooses to reveal. We should be careful not to let our feelings or our logical reasonings or other people's opinions be our source of "truth," but instead we should read the Word of God and listen to His Spirit within us. That is why God gave us both of these things!
The devil can speak to us through Christians! It is so natural for us to become caught up in what makes sense to us that we forget that often the things of God are far above our understanding. This makes it easy for the enemy to speak to us even through the voice of well-meaning Christian friends, family, pastors, and so on. For example, when God called me to this Internet teaching ministry, I wasn't sure at first what the call was. I began applying to missionary organizations to see if that was the direction God was leading me, but when I mentioned this to Christians that I knew they sometimes tried to talk me out of it by saying things like, "Why would you want to be a missionary and maybe end up in some remote part of the world?" People mean well, but remember that they are not sensing the same call that you are sensing, so you should be careful sometimes about telling other people, even strong Christian friends, about what God is speaking to your heart.
Here's an example from the apostle Paul's life. In Acts 20:22-24, Paul said that he was being compelled by the Spirit to go to
Jerusalem. However, in Acts 21:10-15 a prophet told Paul that he would suffer in Jerusalem, and Paul's traveling companions pleaded with him not to go there. Paul knew that he was being compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, yet all of the Christians around him kept trying to talk him out of it. If Paul had allowed himself to follow his own reasonings and opinions and to be swayed by what other Christians thought, then he would have disobeyed God.
Another example in the Bible concerns the apostle Peter. In Galatians 2:11-14 the apostle Paul said that Peter was swayed by the opinions of others into separating from Gentile Christians, and in turn Peter swayed other Jewish Christians to do the same. In this case, an apostle was led astray by the "voice" of other Christians, and an apostle led other Christians astray! It is easy for us to be deceived, which is why we need to know how to discern whether or not our spirits are bearing witness with what we are hearing from the "voice" of other people (more on this in a later section). All of us have preconceived biases which act as "filters" when we read the Bible, and therefore even your pastor or my pastor can be deceived and teach us things that are incorrect. If an apostle can be deceived then certainly a pastor can! This is why it is important for each one of us to study the Bible for ourselves every day and to ask God for discernment so that we can recognize the Truth when we see it.
Here's another example. When Jesus told the apostles that He would suffer and die, Peter took Him aside and tried to talk Him out of letting this happen. Do you remember Jesus' reply? He said, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matthew 16:21-23). The devil was speaking through an apostle! Peter was not possessed by the devil, of course, but he was still choosing to follow his own thoughts and reasonings and opinions and emotions, and these are the very things that the devil uses to deceive us. In the very next verse, Jesus then told the disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). Only by choosing not to be slaves to our own reasonings and emotions can we win the battle for our minds and begin hearing the voice of God within us.
God can speak to us through other people In examining the "voice" of the world, we should recognize that God speaks to us through other people as well, but the only way to know that it is God is if we are listening for discernment deep inside ourselves. For example, after the Lord taught me about healing and I had begun writing the articles in my Healing Training Course, I was at a friend's house and as I was leaving I saw that their 10-year-old daughter had a cold. I debated within myself whether I should offer to lay hands on her or not because I didn't know how well the idea would be received, and I missed my opportunity to possibly relieve her of her cold and to give Jesus glory. When I got home, my three-year-old son (Michael) wanted to show me something in his room, but he walked right past the light switch without turning the light on. Normally he is proud that he is now big enough to turn on the light, but that day he began whining that he couldn't do it, even though he had come back and was standing right next to it and could easily have turned it on. There was a flash of discernment within me which caused me to see that as Michael was whining, "I can't do it, I just can't do it, I don't know how to do it," it was God's way of showing me that this was how I was behaving when I debated with myself about laying hands on the 10-year-old girl. I could easily have done it and she might have been healed, but I allowed my mind to talk me out of it. In this case, it seemed that God was speaking to me through my child. On another occasion I was trying to teach Michael something, and I realized that he wasn't quite old enough and mature enough to grasp what I was trying to teach him. Once again I got that flash of discernment within me, as if God was telling me that as I become more mature in the Lord then I will be laying hands on people when the opportunities arise. These are just a couple of examples of the way that God might speak to you through other people (even if they don't realize that God is speaking through them), but it requires being sensitive to your spirit within you in order to recognize that God is speaking to you.
Here's another example. My wife used to work with computers all day long, and when she got home she didn't want to see another computer. However, one day in 1995 she said that perhaps we needed a new computer. Immediately I suspected that God was saying something, and we prayed about it and ended up buying our first laptop computer. I had recently written several articles on evangelism, and I felt that there might be something that I was supposed to do with those articles, but I just had not been able to get any discernment about it. They were too short to be turned into a book, but they didn't seem to be written as magazine articles either. After we bought the laptop, I got a book on how to create a website, and literally the next day I had these articles almost ready to go online. It turned out that they were perfectly suited for a Web ministry, yet I had never even been on the Internet before! Soon "Evangelism 2000!" (the original name of my website) went online and my Internet ministry was born. I was involved with the JESUS Video Project in Houston at that time, and at the very next meeting the directors began discussing about creating a website for the Houston JESUS Video Project. I had my new laptop computer with me and I was able to show them how the Internet works and answer almost all of their questions about creating a website, yet I had just learned all of these things for myself only a week earlier! The point of this story is that when my wife suggested that we look for a new computer, it was so out-of-character that I suspected it might be God speaking through her. Neither of us "felt" anything, but we turned the whole thing over to God and He led us to buy a laptop, and that laptop came in handy for giving birth to two Internet ministries. All of these things (and several other amazing "coincidences") that just "fell into place" at that time were God's leading and confirmation that I was to put the evangelism articles online and create a Web ministry. Ever since then, when I have tried to take part in other ministry activities that are not Internet-related, they have often been very "dry" and have not worked out very well. However, when I come back to this Web ministry and work on the articles that the Lord has put on my heart, I just can't seem to type fast enough to get the words out that are burning in my heart! It's because this is where my calling is for the moment. Anyway, this all started when God spoke through my wife that day, even though she didn't "feel" anything inside of her to indicate that God was speaking through her (except for the fact that she couldn't believe she was actually suggesting that we buy a new computer!). Who knows what would have happened if we had not had the discernment to recognize that God might be telling us something, and if we had not submitted it to God, and if we had rationalized away all of the confirmations which God was giving us, and so on? This Web ministry might never have come into existence, and I might never have been in line with God's plans for me in this area.
Other people might say that they have a message for you from God There may be times when people tell you that they believe they have a word from the Lord for you. This is a perfectly valid thing and is perfectly Scriptural (Acts 9:10-17, 21:10-15). God does give people words of knowledge or words of wisdom or words of prophecy for someone else, but you should be careful here. No matter who gives you the word from the Lord, no matter how accurate their track record might be, you should make sure that you have heard the same thing from the Holy Spirit within you before you act on what they told you. If someone gives you a word from the Lord for your life, thank them but set it aside until God specifically tells you the same thing. Don't run your life based on what someone else says that God says you should do, because you can easily get yourself into big trouble that way! A word from the Lord that is delivered by someone else should always confirm what God has already spoken to you (or what He will speak to you sometime in the future). It tends to be a confirmation from the Lord, not a command.
The Voice of the Devil
We have now looked at the "voice" of the flesh and the "voice" of the world. In examining those, we saw that the "voice" of the devil is often indistinguishable from our own internal thoughts and feelings and from the "voice" of other people. The battlefield where the devil wages his warfare is in our minds. This is why it is crucial for us to know the Word of God (by reading it every day) and to be able to hear the voice of God within us so that we can recognize when the enemy is planting thoughts and feelings in us. By knowing God through His written Word and His spoken Word (which I will describe in the next section), we can recognize the schemes of the enemy so that the devil is less likely to outwit us (2 Corinthians 2:11). Our struggle and warfare is not against flesh and blood, our struggle is "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:10-18). We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) living in the "dark world" (Ephesians 6:12), and there are various levels of demon powers and principalities who are assigned to attack and oppress us in our minds and in our bodies. This is why Jesus' earthly ministry included healing all who were under attack by the devil (Acts 10:38, Luke 4:18, 7:17-23, for example).
Resist the devil, don't fear him Many Christians seem to be afraid of the devil, but notice what James 4:7 says: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." When your life is lived in daily submission to God then you have power over the devil. However, submitting to God means that you have to give up your "self," because the more that you are dead to "self" the less there is in you for the devil to grab hold of. Try repeating Scripture out of your mouth several times a day, such as these, for example:
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." (Galatians 5:22-25)
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you." (James 4:7-8)
Try repeating these Scriptures (or whichever ones you choose) out loud several times a day so that they get through all of the "junk" inside you (which we all have) and really sink down deep into your spirit and become a reality in your life. It's not enough to read a verse of Scripture just once, because it doesn't become an integral part of us and change our lives until we repeat it enough for it to "catch hold," so to speak. Now, God can hear you even when you just repeat these passages in your mind, but it's important to say them out loud when possible so that the devil hears them and so that you hear them. You see, the devil can't read your mind, so you have to let him know in words and in actions that you are submitting yourself to God and resisting the devil. The Bible says that it is your job to make the wisdom of God known to the evil rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 3:10). The other reason for repeating Scripture out loud is that faith comes by hearing the message through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). So speak the Word of God out loud until it sinks down deep into your spirit and changes your life. God said that His Word will not return to Him empty, without accomplishing its purpose (Isaiah 55:11), so return His Word back to Him out of your mouth and believe that it will accomplish what He sent it to accomplish.
Remember, you have authority over the devil when you know who you are in Christ and when you are walking in submission to God. Greater is He who is in you (Jesus) than he that is in the world (the devil) (1 John 4:4). It is very important that we learn some things about the enemy so that we don't fall into his traps and so that we know how to cast demons out of our lives and out of other people's lives, because this is part of the Great Commission that Christ turned over to us (see my Healing Training Course). Don't be afraid of the devil, but learn enough about him so that you can walk in authority over him and his fallen angels. I have several articles which may help you in your study of spiritual warfare and which will show you how to cast demons out of your life and out of other people:
An Introduction to Spiritual Warfare (describes what the Bible says concerning the demonic realm) How to Cast Afflicting Spirits Out of Your Life (contains a powerful self-deliverance procedure for casting demons out of your life and breaking generational curses and so on) Healing Training Course (explains exactly how to bind the devil and cast afflicting spirits out of people in order to heal them)
How to Recognize God's Voice
In order to hear God's voice and to discern His leading for your daily life, there is one key point that you need to be aware of. If you can grab hold of this one key point then you'll be hearing from God in no time! Here it is:
Don't expect God to speak to you in a sensational, spectacular, supernatural way! You see, we have a natural tendency to want God to speak out loud to us in some obvious way so that we know that it was Him and so that we know what we are supposed to do. God occasionally does speak to people in "the audible voice of God" or in some other sensational way, but those are not His usual ways of speaking to us. Why? Because God is into faith, and without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). The thing about faith is that it requires that we don't have all of our questions answered! If God were to speak out loud to us all the time so that we know it is God speaking to us, then we wouldn't need faith to hear Him. On the other hand, if God speaks so softly to us that we need to get into the habit of listening closely to our spirits and drawing closer to God in order to hear Him better, then there is a lot of faith involved, and it requires cultivating a deeper, more personal, more intimate relationship with the Lord. This is exactly what God is after!
The still, small voice of God
The plain and simple fact is that God usually speaks to us in such a quiet, non-spectacular way that we are almost never going to be 100% certain that we heard Him speaking to us, and we just need to get used to that. Once we get past the "hang up" of needing to hear from God in spectacular, loud, supernatural ways, then we will find ourselves beginning to recognize the still, small voice which He usually uses.
For example, have you ever done something that bothered your conscience? Deep down inside you knew that it was wrong, but how did you know? It was because there is something way down inside of us that knows when something is right or wrong. Somehow our "knower" knows these things, and it bothers our conscience when we do things that our "knower" knows is not right. This "knower" which we sense way down deep inside of us is where God often tends to speak to us. There is nothing spectacular about it, there is nothing sensational about it. It is the still, small voice of God.
God's voice compared with the devil's voice You see, the Holy Spirit lives in your spirit, which is sometimes called your "heart" (2 Corinthians 1:22) or your "inner man" (Romans 7:22), and that is where you will usually hear Him speaking to you. In a previous section I said that the voice of the devil often sounds like our own internal thoughts or feelings, or like the "voice" of other people. Now, here's where it gets interesting, because the voice of God can also sound like our own internal thoughts or feelings, or like the "voice" of other people. However, there are some major differences in the way that God speaks to us compared with the way that the devil speaks to us. The devil shoots condemning thoughts into our minds, but the Spirit always builds us up. The Holy Spirit will convict us of sin in our lives, but He never brings condemnation, and we need to learn to discern the difference between the two. Conviction makes us aware of our actions that were sinful and that need to be confessed and repented of, but condemnation makes us feel that we are bad or worthless. Self-pity and self-condemnation come from the devil, so always resist these impulses and don't allow yourself to give in to them. The Holy Spirit always speaks in line with the Word of God, and this is why it is so important to get to know the Word of God, which is the will of God. If we don't know what the Bible says then we don't know God's will or His character very well, and then it becomes easy for us to be led astray by false doctrines that make sense to our minds. The apostle John said that the Word was with God and the Word was God, and then the Word became flesh and dwelt with us (John 1:1, 14). God and His Word cannot be separated, so if you do not know the Word of God very well then you do not really know God very well. Think about that for a moment! I don't mean for that to sound harsh or judgmental, but if you will put your mind and your emotions and your pride into neutral and listen to your "knower" within you then you will see the truth of that statement. In fact, some Bible teachers point out that you do not love God more than you love the Word of God, so if you treat the Word of God with disrespect by not reading it and not feeding your spirit with it then you are treating God with disrespect. So, how have you been treating the Word of God lately? Have you been feeding your spirit by feeding on God's Word daily? It's something to think seriously about, but don't get into self-condemnation over it, just resolve to begin getting to know God better, starting right now!
You just know
I hope you're beginning to see that the "voice" of God is not actually a voice at all (at least not usually). It is more of a "knowing" deep down inside of us. Sometimes you will sense a single word or a phrase or a picture inside of you, and it might be accompanied by a momentary "flash" of knowing what that word or phrase or image means. It's sometimes like a camera's flashbulb lighting up momentarily, and you just know what God means because He has illuminated it to your spirit. Your "knower" will know what God means, but it is usually very faint and easy to miss if you are not habitually listening out for God down inside yourself, and it is very easy for your mind and your emotions to make you think that it wasn't really God speaking to you. Your flesh is a whole lot louder than God's voice within you, and He speaks softly and quietly because He wants you to choose to focus on Him rather than on your fleshly desires and reasonings.
I can't emphasize enough how easy it's going to be for you to convince yourself that it couldn't have been God speaking to you. You'll think that it just didn't "feel" supernatural or God-like, and often it won't make any sense to your brain. For example, I recall a story by a prominent intercessor who got the impression one day that God was nudging her to go outside and watch her dog going to the bathroom. If such a thought popped into your head one day, wouldn't you naturally think, "That can't be God speaking to me! Why would He want me to go out and watch my dog going to the bathroom?"? That's our natural reaction, but that is exactly the type of reasoning that we need to guard against! With practice you will sometimes detect that ring of authority in what you are sensing, but again it is very faint and it is experienced in your spirit, not in your brain. Anyway, this intercessor did what she thought God was prompting her to do, and God gave her some special new insights concerning spiritual warfare and the demonic realm as she watched her dog "marking his territory." So when you find yourself thinking, "That can't be God, why would He want me to do that?," try to squelch that reasoning. It's your spirit that's hearing from God, not your brain, so don't use your brain to figure out if that was God speaking to you!
The Holy Spirit illuminates the right Scripture at the right time Sometimes as you read the Bible there will be a certain word or phrase that seems to stand out in some way. You may have read that same passage many times before, but this time you sensed an inner twinge when you got to the word "gossip," for instance. It would be very easy to miss that twinge if you're not paying attention to your "knower" within you, and even if you notice that twinge it is usually very easy to ignore it or to rationalize it away (after all, the flesh doesn't like to be told that something it likes to do is wrong!). However, that twinge is the voice of God reminding you that you have been gossiping lately. Resolve to be brutally honest with yourself and to be aware of the twinges that you get in your spirit, and resolve to act on these twinges (as long as they are in line with the Word of God). The more you begin to obey your spirit in all of the little, daily things of life, the better you will hear from God. Ironically, the better you begin to hear from God, the quieter He might get, because He always wants to draw you into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him. Jesus wants to be our first love (Revelation 2:4), meaning that He wants to be our priority love. We are His bride, and He is our bridegroom (see Matthew 9:14-15, Ephesians 5:25-32, and Revelation 19:7-9, for example), and we are commanded to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27). Lovers do not need to shout to one another, lovers speak in soft words and whispers, and they know each other so well that they can speak volumes with just a single glance or a single eyebrow movement or by their body language or by just a single word. We are supposed to be so in love with Jesus and so in tune with Him in our spirits that we can hear His slightest whisper and His slightest nudgings within us, and we should be so in love with Him and to desire so much to please Him that we will instantly obey His every prompting without the slightest hesitation or the slightest concern for "self."
Sometimes the Holy Spirit will bring a Scripture verse up within you, just the right verse to meet your needs at that moment. However, the Holy Spirit won't be able to help you in this way if you rarely read your Bible and you don't have the Scripture verses down inside of you to begin with! The Bible says that "the Word of God is living and active" (Hebrews 4:12), but Scripture needs to be living in you in order for it to be active in your life. Here's an example of how this works. Joyce Meyer tells of a time when she was young in the Lord, and she was sitting at home feeling sorry for herself and speaking self-condemning words out of her mouth ("I'm no good, I just can't do anything right," or words to that effect). She began to feel an evil presence building up in her or around her, and the Holy Spirit brought a verse of Scripture to her mind. Immediately she began saying out loud, "I am the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, I am the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, I am the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, I am the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ." Almost instantly the demon left her, and God explained to her how dangerous it is to speak words out of our mouths that don't line up with the Word of God (which Joyce was doing when she said, "I'm no good, I just can't do anything right"). The Holy Spirit knows exactly which verses of Scripture will help us in our time of need, if we will simply listen to Him (recall that Jesus defeated the devil in the wilderness by speaking the right Scripture passages - see Luke 4:1-13).
Another Bible teacher says that all day long one time he found himself wanting to sing some of the old, old hymns that he had sung as a boy, and by that evening he was quite filled with a special peace as a result of singing these old hymns all day. Then he received the phone call which brought the news that one of his parents (if I remember correctly) had just passed away unexpectedly. He was able to absorb the news with peace and tranquility because he had been flowing all day with what the Spirit had been bringing up within him.
Obviously not everything that comes up from within us is from the Spirit of God, but with practice we can begin to walk in habitual discernment and we will have confidence before God to speak forth the things which come from our spirits, whether they are special hymns, certain passages of Scripture for us to hang on to or to speak forth in times of need, or special messages that the Lord wants us to bring forth for a specific person or for an entire congregation. Many churches do not give their congregations much instruction or training in how to listen to their spirits and how to flow with what the Holy Spirit wants to do, so these congregations are not often able to be edified by the Lord through words of prophecy, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, messages in tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, casting out demons, and so on. However, as you begin to put into practice some of the things in this article then you will begin to grow in discernment of the Spirit within you, and then you will be in a position to begin flowing in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit as He directs you. In other words, as you get better at hearing God in your spirit then you will be able to sense the words of prophecy, words of knowledge, messages in tongues, interpretations of tongues, the names of demons that need to be cast out of people, the specific methods of healing to be used in specific situations, etc., that God might sometimes want to use you for. Perhaps you have never seen or experienced these manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore maybe you don't believe in them. But perhaps now you understand a little better why you have never seen such things, because it is so important to be able to discern and trust what you are hearing in your spirit, which takes practice. Keep at it, and you will grow in the supernatural of God and you will begin flowing more and more in your assigned position as an eye or an ear or a hand in the supernatural body of Christ on the earth! (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-30).
Hearing The Voice Of the Lord
Go with the "Flow"
You might never have looked at it quite this way before, but God's power (grace, anointing, whatever you wish to call it) tends to "flow." For example, God is often described in terms of living, flowing water, and we are supposed to have streams of living water flowing from within us (John 7:38). This flow of God's grace (Romans 5:15) in us is meant to overflow out of our hearts (Matthew 12:24), and we are meant to be overflowing with hope (Romans 15:13), overflowing with comfort (2 Corinthians 1:5), overflowing with thanksgiving (2 Corinthians 4:15, 9:12, Colossians 2:7), overflowing with joy (2 Corinthians 8:2, Philippians 1:26), overflowing with love (1 Thessalonians 3:12), and so on. The healing power of the Holy Spirit flowed from Jesus (Mark 5:30, Luke 5:17, 6:19, 8:46), it flowed through the apostles (Acts 5:15, 19:11-12), and it is meant to flow through us as well (see my Healing Training Course).
However, if we are living worldly, carnal, fleshly, "self"-centered lives instead of Christ-centered lives, we choke off the flow of God's Spirit within us. Many Christians rarely read their Bibles and rarely spend any real, quality time alone in the presence of the Lord each day, and because of this they rarely sense the life that is the Spirit flowing within them and they rarely hear God speaking to their spirits. We are the bride of Christ (see my article called The Rapture of the Church), and we all need to cultivate a personal, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ because this is the only way to get and keep the flow of the Spirit in our lives. Have you been working on your love relationship with your heavenly bridegroom lately? If not, I'll give you some ideas for building up your spirit and building up your love relationship with the Lord in a later section.
Now, if you study the history of the Church you will learn about the various revivals that have broken out at different times and in different places. These are events in which God's grace and power was flowing in special, powerful ways, and there are revivals going on today in various parts of North America and elsewhere in the world. There are times when the Holy Spirit flows in a special joy during church services or other gatherings, and this has been given the name of "Holy Laughter." Other times the Holy Spirit will flow in weeping and repentance during church services or other gatherings. Many times He will flow in powerful healings and deliverances. God is sovereign and can do whatever He pleases, but His power does not usually flow in these ways in churches that are not open to and receptive to such things. This is unfortunate because God wants to edify His body here on earth, regardless of denomination, if only they will allow Him to.
The flow of the Holy Spirit in church services Many churches have worship leaders or music directors, and they need to be sensitive to the flow of the Holy Spirit because only the Spirit knows how He wants to move in that particular service. For example, the worship leader might lead the "early service" congregation in all of the songs that he had planned to do, but in the later service he might sense that these same songs are not in the right "flow." As he remains sensitive to the Spirit he will switch gears and lead the choir and/or the band in other songs which are more in the direction that the Spirit wants to go. For instance, if there happen to be a lot of unsaved people at the later service, the Holy Spirit might prompt the worship leader to lead the congregation in songs about the blood of Jesus, the joy of salvation, etc., in order to begin ministering to the hearts of the unsaved people. At the church which God led my wife and me to join, the praise and worship songs usually last for about 45 minutes at the beginning of the service, and sometimes it's an hour and a half before the pastor even begins his sermon, it all just depends on how the Holy Spirit is flowing in the service that particular day. Then when the pastor gets up and begins preaching, he needs to remain receptive to the Holy Spirit because the Spirit may give him a signal to quit preaching and to give an altar call for sinners to come forward right at that exact moment. Why? Because the Holy Spirit has been preparing their hearts through the music ministry and through the preaching, and He knows when they are ready to receive salvation. If the pastor is not open and receptive to the flow of the Holy Spirit during the service then that moment will pass and those people might leave the service just as lost as when they came in.
Sometimes at our church as the pastor is speaking he will stop and point to a place on his body, maybe the small of his back or his knee, and he will ask all those in the congregation who have pain in those places to stand up. Why? Because the Holy Spirit has given him a word of knowledge concerning some healings that He wants to do. Sometimes the whole rest of the service is taken up with people being healed, and then we have a time of testimonies as people come to the front and give glory to the Lord by describing the healings they have just received. Sometimes there is a real flow of worship during the service, and our pastor will suggest that we all sing in the Spirit for awhile and allow the Holy Spirit to praise God through our mouths. Most of the congregation at our church has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, so we all sing softly in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:14-15) or in English for awhile, giving praise to the Lord as one body, but in individual ways, and it is very beautiful and very holy. At other times someone will come forward with a word of prophecy, and it is the pastor's job to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in order to discern whether or not the message being given is truly from the Lord. One woman in our choir receives a special word from the Lord from time to time, but she sings it forth as it comes to her, and it is very beautiful to hear. Occasionally someone in the congregation will stand and deliver a message in tongues (flowing in the gift of tongues), and the pastor will listen intently to the Spirit to discern whether or not this is truly a message from God, and then someone else will stand and deliver the interpretation of the tongues (flowing in the gift of interpretation), and again the pastor needs to be able to discern whether or not the message is from God. The apostle Paul said that pastors are to prepare God's people for works of service (Ephesians 4:11-12), and he said that when the congregation comes together, "everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church." (1 Corinthians 14:26). Every one of us has the responsibility of being sensitive to the Holy Spirit within us so that we can flow in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in order to minister to one another and strengthen each other and heal each other and build each other up. This is why the Spirit gives different gifts to each one of us, so that we all need each other. Each one of us is an eye, a mouth, a foot, a hand, etc., and together we form one supernatural body, the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-30). Unfortunately, most of us are not functioning properly in our supernatural gifts, and this cripples the effectiveness of Christ's body on earth.
More examples of following the flow of the Holy Spirit Here's another example of how we can sense the "flow" of what the Holy Spirit wants to do. At the moment there are two articles that are on my heart which I believe the Lord wants me to write. I had already gotten a head start on the article called Spiritual Maturity/Spiritual Authority, and this morning I had intended to add more to that article. However, it was a struggle to pick up my train of thought and to find the right words to say. I have learned from experience that when I am not flowing in the Holy Spirit as I write these articles then they become a struggle, so I suspected that perhaps the Lord did not want me to work on that article next. Therefore I asked Him if He wanted me to work on this article instead (on hearing the voice of God), and all of a sudden it was like a dam had broken open and there was such a flow of thoughts and ideas and words that I had a hard time keeping up with it! This is how it is when I write these articles, I just can't type fast enough to get the thoughts down, and this is how I know that I am in the flow of the Holy Spirit as I write these articles. On another occasion there was an article that I knew I was being led to write (I don't recall now which one it was), but I was struggling with how to begin the article. The words and thoughts just weren't coming, so I asked the Lord what was wrong, and almost immediately a new title popped into my head. As soon as I changed the title of the article, it was like the dam burst open and there was a flow of words and thoughts and ideas again. I am not trying to imply that what I am writing is on the level of inspired Scripture, of course, but if a pastor or Bible teacher is not speaking, writing, teaching, or preaching in the flow of the Spirit then something might be wrong, because it probably means that they are operating strictly in the flesh at that moment.
This brings up an interesting point that pastors may want to seek the Lord's guidance about. If the Holy Spirit desires to do some specific things during a church service (as I described above), then how can He flow during the service if everything is planned out beforehand and the pastor never deviates from the schedule? Many church services are specifically designed so that everything can be completed in one hour, but consider that the goal of finishing in an hour then becomes the highest priority, rather than the goal of worshiping the Lord as long as it takes until the Holy Spirit releases the pastor to dismiss the congregation. With a rigid schedule there is no freedom during the service for the pastor and the congregation to be responsive to the Holy Spirit so that the lost are saved, the sick are healed, and so on, as the Spirit ministers to them by whatever means He chooses to use during that service. Pastors need to do what they feel the Spirit is leading them to do, of course, but it would seem to be an important point to seek the Lord's guidance about because otherwise the "flow" of the Spirit gets choked off during the service, and wouldn't this tend to grieve the Holy Spirit? (Ephesians 4:30). Some people might argue that a pastor could be led by the Spirit as he plans the church service, and therefore he simply needs to follow his plan during the service. This logical reasoning makes perfect sense to our brains, which is exactly why we should be suspicious of it! When we seek out what God says about this in His Book, we will find that even though the apostle Paul sought out God's will and made plans for his missionary journeys, the Holy Spirit sometimes stopped Paul and changed his plans (see Acts 16:6-10 for several examples). If the Holy Spirit changed the apostle Paul's plans as he was trying to carry them out, then certainly the Holy Spirit could desire to change a pastor's plans as the pastor is carrying them out. It is good to make plans, but we should always be willing and ready to abandon them the moment the Spirit prompts us to do so, just as Paul did ("they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas." - Acts 16:7-8). The New Testament does not describe even a single example of a pre-planned church service like most of us are familiar with. Instead, the apostle Paul described a very fluid form of church services as he taught us how to be orderly when we deliver messages from the Lord:
"When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged." (1 Corinthians 14:26-31) Notice that Paul was describing a very fluid, flowing, dynamic form of church services in which everyone (not just the pastor) was able to minister to the congregation by flowing in their own particular spiritual gifts. It would appear that the Corinthians were over-eager and over-zealous in delivering prophecies and messages in tongues, but it needs to be noted that Paul did not forbid these things. Paul simply tried to restrain their enthusiasm somewhat by telling them to take turns and to be considerate of the next person who had a message to deliver from the Lord. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any description of the kinds of church services that many of us are familiar with today, where the people in the congregation are spectators and the pastor does all of the ministering. Paul said that it is the pastor's job to train the congregation to be able to flow with the Holy Spirit so that they can minister to one another! (Ephesians 4:11-12).
The point of this discussion is that one way to be led by the Spirit is to move in the direction where the "flow" is and to stop and ask the Lord for guidance when you are not sensing the flow of the Spirit. This is particularly important during church services, but it is also true in our everyday lives. For example, I had originally thought that this would be a nice, short article on how to listen to our consciences and the still, small voice of God. It never occurred to me to go into detail about the four voices that we hear, but as I was writing I could sense that that was where the "flow" was, so I went with it and it all just came pouring out of me without any struggling for words or ideas. So once again I have written another lengthy article without intending to. I asked the Lord one time why I can't seem to write a nice, short article, and He told me something that had not occurred to me (I hope you understand by now that He did not tell me this audibly, in words, but rather He illuminated this in my spirit). He basically said that it is easy for people to skim through a short article and then put it down and go on to the next thing, which often means that they weren't involved with the article long enough for anything to really "stick." On the other hand, a person has to focus on a longer article for a much longer period of time, which gives more time for the information to soak in. After He told me that, I never again worried about how long my articles are.
Confirmations and Fleeces
We need to develop our spiritual awareness and sensitivity and obedience to the point that we instantly obey every twinge of conscience and every prompting and nudging that the Spirit gives us deep down inside. However, we also need to stay in balance with these things. Our flesh is much louder and much more insistent than the voice of God within us, and the devil shoots flaming arrows into our minds and into our emotions to push us to do things his way, and the world's voice is constantly bombarding us and pressuring us to follow our fleshly desires and to follow worldly attitudes and behaviors. In other words, not everything that we hear or feel is from God.
Be instantly obedient in the small things So what should we do? Here's a general guideline which might be helpful. There are many small, everyday things which God might prompt you to do or not to do, and as you develop the habit of instantly obeying these things (whether your flesh wants to or not) then you will find that your sensitivity and discernment will begin to increase. For example, in a clothing store you might sense the Holy Spirit prompting you to hang up some clothes that someone else had knocked to the floor. Don't get off into reasoning ("Was that really God? Why would He want me to do that? They have employees who are supposed to put those clothes back.") and don't get off into pride ("Well, I didn't knock those off and I'm certainly not putting them back!"). It's a small thing, so learn to be quickly and cheerfully obedient! (This example actually happened to a prominent Bible teacher one time).
Keep in mind that God always has your best interests at heart, so He will never tell you to do something or to quit doing something unless it is for your benefit and helps you to come up higher in the things of God. For example, God cannot trust you to operate in His supernatural power with any great degree of authority if you are full of yourself and always talking about yourself and boasting or bragging about yourself, or if you are a person who likes to judge and criticize and gossip about other people. The gifts of the Spirit operate by faith, and faith operates by love (love for God and love for others, not love for yourself!) (Galatians 5:6), so we all need to get ourselves off of our minds and start putting others first so that we can walk in greater and greater degrees of power and authority in healing, prophesying, and so forth. Many Christians, perhaps even the majority of Christians, have not been taught how to operate in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit which God has made available to them and they have not been taught how to hear God in their spirits and they have not been adequately taught that they need to constantly crucify their flesh, so is it any wonder that most Christians never see the supernatural of God in their daily lives? The entire New Testament is filled with instructional examples of Christians operating in the supernatural of God, and nowhere does the New Testament tell us not to expect supernatural miracles of God in our daily lives! God wants His Church walking in power and victory, as the entire New Testament shows, but most of us (myself included) are falling down on the job.
Begin obeying the little, subtle signals that the Holy Spirit gives you, and your sensitivity will increase by leaps and bounds. You will be wrong sometimes, but don't be afraid to make mistakes because God often prefers to teach us through the school of life, not through giving us instantaneous supernatural knowledge of all things. Don't hesitate to admit it when you thought you had heard from God but it turned out that you were wrong. Be honest with yourself, be humble and transparent with others, be faithful with God.
Ask for confirmations in the larger issues The other side of the coin is that sometimes we will feel promptings to make major changes in our life, and we should be cautious about jumping into these things too quickly. If you feel that the Spirit is nudging you to bless someone by giving them an inexpensive gift, go ahead and do it. As God told Joyce Meyer one time, "I won't be mad if you give someone that $10, even if you were wrong in believing that I told you to do it!" However, if you feel that the Spirit is prompting you to give away your car, but it is the only car you have and the only way for you to get to your job so that you can feed your family, well, that might be a different story. That would be a situation in which it would be a good idea to ask God for a confirmation.
Before you make any type of major decision (especially if it is something that you thought of all by yourself without any promptings from God), ask the Lord to give you some type of confirmation that this is His will. For example, a couple of years ago my wife and I thought that the Lord might be prompting us to move to a new house (after all, the Lord cares about where we live - see Acts 17:26). We prayed and prayed and sought His guidance and His timing and asked for some kind of confirmation, and pretty soon we had found the "perfect" subdivision, the "perfect" builder (it seemed that we were being led to buy one of the new homes that were going up for a good price at that time), the "perfect" floorplan, the "perfect" lot, and so on. We kept visiting that lot and praying for more guidance, and everything was going great. Finally it came down to the final weekend when we had to make our decision, because the builder's special rates were about to go up. We took one last look at the floorplan and made another visit to a similar house which was under construction, and we discovered that we suddenly hated everything about it! We were very surprised that we had ever liked it at all! At the last minute we called everything off with the realtor, and we never moved.
This story illustrates a very important point when it comes to hearing from God:
God is never late, but He is rarely early! At practically the very last minute in our home-buying decision, the Holy Spirit opened our eyes to some things that we had missed or that we had allowed our flesh to deceive us about, and we called off the deal. God wants us to walk in faith and trust, which means that we need to trust Him to come through for us, even if He waits until the very last minute. If you will trust Him and obey Him then He'll never let you down, but that doesn't mean He won't scare you to death now and then by waiting until the last moment! Our natural temptation is to want to come up with our own plans rather than to trust in God's love and God's provision, but then we are not walking in faith. If God were to give us everything we need, long before we needed it, then we would rarely have to walk by faith. But without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
Another time, we felt a strong leading to leave our church and to find a new church home. We submitted the whole thing to God and asked Him to show us the new church that He had picked out for us, then we began trying out new churches to see where God wanted us to be. Notice that God did not tell us which church to go to, He left it up to us to try different churches while listening to Him for discernment and guidance. God could supernaturally give us all the information we will ever need, but often he prefers for us to learn in the school of life. We asked God to lead us to our new church home, and as we pulled into the parking lot of a church one Sunday, we asked Him to block our path if we were heading in the wrong direction. To me, this church seemed to have a lot going for it. It was in the same denomination that I grew up in and was familiar with, it was close to home, it was fairly small and therefore it might be easier to get to know people and not be "lost in the crowd," some friends of ours attended the same church, and so on. Now, at that time our son was an infant and so he rode in the front seat in one of those rear-facing infant seats, which meant that my wife always had to ride in the back seat. So, there we were at a new church seeking the Lord's guidance, and we asked Him to block our path somehow if we were going in the wrong direction. I got out of the car, but my wife's door wouldn't open! Apparently the door had a child safety lock, but neither one of us had ever seen it nor had we set it to the locked position, and my wife had never had a problem opening that door before this. God had apparently blocked our path in an amusing way (and I was certain down in my "knower" that it was God), and ultimately He led us to a church in a completely different denomination. Can you see how easy it would have been for us to simply say, "That's pretty strange that the child safety lock got set to the locked position," and then to go in and join the wrong church out of our own reasonings and feelings? It would have been very easy for us to come up with logical-sounding reasons why that lock was set and why that couldn't possibly have been from God. It would also have been very easy for us to really like that church and to join it based on our feelings. But remember that discernment comes from our spirits, not from our heads or our feelings. When you ask the Lord for confirmations, be on the lookout for them so you don't miss them, but don't expect to receive three prophetic visions and five angel visitations as your confirmation! Often the confirmation might be fairly subtle, like a series of "coincidences" that just seem to fall into place just right.
If we had followed our own natural instincts then we might have selected that church that day, and we would not have been in line with God's plan for our lives and we might never have learned about laying hands on the sick, and so on. You see, God is very interested in where we worship Him because that is where our spirits are being fed. Yet many people choose their church based on their own reasonings and feelings instead of asking God which church He wants them to go to. You might be in a church that teaches against laying hands on the sick, casting out demons, and speaking in tongues, and so on, but are you absolutely certain that the Holy Spirit specifically told you to go to that church, or did you select your church based on your own reasonings and feelings? Perhaps you grew up in that church or denomination, perhaps your friends or family go to that church, perhaps you like the pastor or the way that the church does things, etc. But are these really valid reasons for selecting a church if God wants you to be in a different church or denomination? After all, if God did not specifically tell you to go to your current church then perhaps you are not being taught what He wants you to be taught, simply because you were never meant to be there in the first place! The church that my wife and I were in did not believe in tongues or healing, so God led us into a different denomination long before He began teaching us about the gifts of the Spirit. Ask the Lord to show you which church He wants you to go to!
Be careful with "fleeces"
Now, it is wise to ask the Lord for a confirmation when there is a big decision to be made, but there are some cautions that need to be mentioned. Your flesh is usually going to vote on what it wants to do, just as my wife and I felt our flesh voting on what house to buy in my earlier example. It will often be very easy to miss the confirmations that God is giving you if you are not paying attention and if you are not committed to doing what God wants you to do, even when He tells you to do things that your flesh doesn't want to do. When you are watching for and listening for an answer or a confirmation from God, it is very important to turn your reasoning off and to put your pride and your emotions into neutral.
One thing that people sometimes do is to ask God for a confirmation, but then they tell God exactly what that confirmation must be. For example, you might tell God, "If You want me to be a missionary in China then make such and such happen. If such and such doesn't happen then I will know that you don't want me to go to China as a missionary." This is called "throwing out a fleece" (see the story of Gideon and his fleece in Judges 6:36-40). God does honor fleeces sometimes, usually for new Christians, but at some point He will probably require you to begin listening inwardly for His voice and He will probably stop honoring the fleeces that you throw out. Whether you choose to throw out fleeces or not is up to you, but at least keep this point in mind when you do so.
The "Check" and the "Inner Witness" Another way that the Holy Spirit guides us is by giving us a "check" in our spirits when something is wrong, and by giving us an "inner witness" when something is right. I will try to describe how I experience these things, but please realize that you might not be able to fully relate to my descriptions. When you learn to recognize the "check" and the "inner witness" within yourself, you might describe them in a very different way than I do.
Here's an example of receiving a "check" in my spirit. My wife and I hadn't been out together in awhile, so one day we wanted to take our three-year-old to the babysitter and then go see a movie. The Lord doesn't let us see 'R' rated movies or even most 'PG-13' movies, so I had narrowed down the list of movies to two or three that seemed like possible candidates. I asked the Lord if it was alright for us to see the first movie, and immediately a faint "sick to my stomach" sensation began to rise up within me. I have learned that this is how I experience a "check" in my spirit, so I thanked the Lord for His guidance and said that we would not go to see that movie. Immediately that sensation dissipated. I asked the Lord about another movie, and immediately a "good" sensation, sort of a happy, loving, even "tickly" sensation rose up in the area of my belly, which I have learned is the way that I usually experience the "inner witness." I thanked the Lord, and the sensation immediately dissipated. As you can see from this example, the "check" is like a "no" answer from the Lord, and the "inner witness" is like a "yes" answer from the Lord.
Notice in my example that the sensations rose up within me when I asked the question, and they immediately dissipated when I acknowledged them. I point this out because it would be very easy to mistake the "check" as being a physical feeling of nausea or indigestion, or it might be mistaken as an emotional sensation such as anxiety or fear or emptiness, depending on how you experience a "check" in your spirit. The difference is that indigestion, anxiety, and so on usually linger for a period of time, but the "check" and the "inner witness" will usually seem to suddenly rise up, and then they will quickly dissipate. Often they are quite faint, because the Lord wants to draw you deeper and closer to Him, causing you to be more constantly aware of what you are sensing in your spirit. Please realize that I am trying to give you some general guidelines on recognizing when you have a "check" or an "inner witness" in your spirit, but you will probably not really understand until you begin listening to your insides and begin recognizing these things inside yourself. Since these tend to be sort of a "yes" or "no" from the Lord, you will probably be able to develop the sensitivity to these things by asking the Lord a question and then getting quiet, away from distractions, and turning off your reasoning, putting your emotions into neutral, and just sensing what you feel in the area of your belly (the Holy Spirit flows like streams of living water from our bellies - John 7:38, KJV). If you don't feel anything after a few moments, try another question, even if you already know the answer to it. The Lord wants you to grow and learn and mature (as the New Testament consistently teaches), so don't feel like you are wasting His time. It is more likely that He will be proud of you and pleased that you are seeking Him above all else and seeking to draw closer to Him within yourself!
Sometimes I receive a fairly strong "check" or "inner witness," sometimes it is very faint, and sometimes I don't get anything at all. Just trust that God is in charge and that He knows what's best for you. If you don't get any response, it might mean that God wants you to continue doing what He told you to do the last time you asked Him about that issue, or it might mean that He wants you to act in wisdom and in what you know is right, or it might mean that you should already know the answer since He has told you the answer in His Book! It might even mean that you should simply try again later, when there's not as many distractions, for example. Hearing from God is not a science and you will make mistakes, so you might as well get used to that right from the start. The key issue is your heart, because God weighs the motives of the heart (Proverbs 16:2, 21:2). If you commit to the Lord whatever you do (Proverbs 16:3) and trust in Him rather than leaning on your own limited understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6), then God can make something good come from your honest mistakes. My wife and I recently received almost $500 from unexpected places, and I thanked the Lord and asked Him what He would like us to do with the money. Our church is building a new building and could certainly use an extra $500, and several of the ministries that we support have sent out year-end appeals for financial assistance, so I left it up to the Lord to show us where we should sow this seed. Several days went by without any word from the Lord about this money, and then one morning I made a mental note to call a painter after the Christmas season is over because our house needs some professional painting (I tried to do it myself and it didn't work out so well!). When I made a mental note to call a painter, an image of those checks flashed across my mind for just a moment, even though I wasn't concerned about how to pay for the painting work. This is how subtle God can be sometimes. I asked Him if He had sent us the money to pay for the painting work, and I sensed an "inner witness" within me (in other words I sensed a "yes" response). Isn't He great?! Here's the point, though. I could easily be wrong in thinking that God has told me to use that money to pay for the painting work, but I had submitted that money to Him and was determined not to lean on my own understanding or desires, and I honestly believe that I heard from Him and that I received a valid confirmation from Him. He knows that my heart and my wife's heart are on being obedient to Him, and we trust Him to redeem our honest mistake if we are wrong and to make something good come of it. You see, God has given you the freedom to make mistakes as you honestly seek His guidance (because often we learn best from our mistakes), but He has not given you the liberty to be irresponsible by never trying to hear Him or be obedient to Him. When you do get a sensation in the area of your belly or your heart, bear in mind that it might be last night's pizza causing some indigestion, or it might be your fleshly desires trying to tell you what they want to do. Again, this isn't a science, and the only way you are going to learn is through trial and error and through making mistakes and always keeping your heart on being obedient to God no matter what He asks you to do. Always be humble and willing to admit it when you are wrong in what you thought you heard from the Lord, but keep trying!
God's ways are higher than our ways Also keep in mind that when God speaks to you, it will not always make sense to your brain. One time Jesus told Peter to go out into the deep and let down his nets for a haul. Peter replied, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets" (Luke 5:5). Even though it didn't make sense to Peter's brain, he obeyed the Lord and proceeded to get a miracle. You will only see miracles by obeying God rather than obeying your brain or your feelings. Remember, your mind and your will and your feelings do not get a vote! Christianity is not a democracy, it is a theocracy. For example, there is a certain computer game that I enjoy playing, sort of a newer version of the arcade game Asteroids. One day I felt a check in my spirit as I was playing the game, so I finally (okay, not immediately) obeyed, and ever since then whenever I think of playing that game I get a check in my spirit. I don't think there is anything wrong with the game, and in fact He might not have a problem with you or anyone else playing that game. So why won't He let me play it? I don't know for sure, because I don't get a "check" in my spirit if I play other, similar games. Maybe it is simply obedience training! It is really none of my business because my only job is to be obedient to my Master. The point is, He might tell you to give up golf or coffee or football games on TV or some other thing that you like, but it doesn't have to make any sense to you and it doesn't necessarily mean that you need to go crusade against that thing and tell all Christians to quit doing it. Your job is to be obedient to what God tells you to do, both in His written Word and His spoken Word. God might even tell you to quit the church choir, quit working on the evangelism team, quit working in whatever form of ministry or church work you are involved in, and so on, even though what you are doing is a good and noble and Godly thing. Why? Because being obedient to God also means being obedient to His timing, and He might be finished with your services in that activity. It might take awhile, but eventually He will show you the next activity that He has in mind for you. Or, He might show you the next activity that He has for you, but it might be years before He places you there. For example, four years ago I sensed the Lord telling me that someday I will be involved with Christian recording artist Rebecca St. James and her ministry, and I believe that He has given me many confirmations about this over the years. Nothing outwardly has happened to bring this to pass (that I can see), and it is possible that I am wrong about this. But if I'm right, then I have a trial to go through before that word from the Lord comes to pass, and I am trying to patiently wait on God's timing. We should always wait on His timing as He works everything out in His perfect, individual plan for your life. The only way we can mature in Christ is by developing the fruit of the Spirit, and one of these fruits is patience (Galatians 5:22-23).
To give you one more example, when I go back and read an article that I have written or that I am working on, I always ask God to show me anything that is wrong or that needs to be changed or added or deleted. As I read through the article I sometimes get a "check" at certain places, and I have to admit that sometimes it is a little frustrating because it tells me that something is wrong, but it doesn't tell me what is wrong. I ask the Lord to reveal to me what needs to be changed, and often a certain re-worded phrase will pop into my head, or a Scripture reference will come to me which leads to more research in commentaries and Greek dictionaries and so on, until I finally get that part of the article straightened out. Sometimes I can't find anything wrong with what's been written, yet I get a "check" every time I read a particular sentence. A couple of times I tried deleting that particular sentence or paragraph to see what would happen, and then I was able to read that section without any "checks" any more. The Lord doesn't always explain to me why that needed to be deleted, but I don't want anything of me to be in these articles, I only want what He wants to be in these articles. Therefore I do my best to seek His heart and to obey whatever I believe He is telling me to do, and I never upload an article to the Web until I am fairly certain that I have been able to read all the way through it without being prompted to make any changes. The funny thing is, I'll read one of my articles several months later, and then I'll be prompted to make a few changes! Why didn't He prompt me to make those changes the first time around? I don't know, maybe He was trying to and I missed it at the time, or maybe it's because He likes to reveal things progressively rather than all at once, who knows? All I know is that I love Him and I do my best to hear and obey Him, and it's really none of my business why He does things the way He does! As I mentioned a moment ago, sometimes it seems that God will prompt us to do things that don't make any sense to us at all, just for obedience training!
Godly Desires and the "Call"
Another way that the Holy Spirit guides us is by putting strong desires into our hearts. When God wants us to do something, sometimes He gives us the desire to do it, then it is our job to ask Him to bring it to pass and then to wait patiently (sometimes for years) until He places us in that new thing which is the desire of our heart.
When God placed my wife and me into our present church home, we began hearing about people being healed by the laying-on of hands (in modern times!). We had been taught against such things in our previous church background, but these reports sounded quite authentic. This ignited within me a great desire to be able to heal the sick, and as I was on my way to a home Bible study one evening I cried out to God, asking Him to give the Bible study leader some kind of word of confirmation for me. About halfway through the evening, the leader of the Bible study interrupted himself in mid-sentence, turned and pointed his finger straight at me and said, "That desire in your heart was put there by God," then he turned back and resumed his conversation with someone else (he had no idea of my desire nor of my prayer earlier that evening). Talk about a confirmation! But you see, God had placed the desire in my heart, I had asked God for a confirmation, I recognized the confirmation when it came (which wasn't hard in this case!), and then I asked God to bring it to pass in His timing and to teach my wife and me about healing. It wasn't long before God led us to a book called, appropriately enough, "How to Heal the Sick," by Charles and Frances Hunter. The full testimony of how God led us to learn about healing the sick is included in my Bio and Pictures page, and it is an interesting story. Then in 1997 God showed me that I would have an "online healing ministry," but I wasn't exactly sure what that meant. How can people be healed online? However, a year later I had several articles in this online healing ministry which teach people exactly how to lay hands on the sick, and armed with that knowledge any Christian can see miracles of healing, regardless of their denomination.
The thing to be careful about is to make sure that you are following God's desires and not your own desires. This can be tricky sometimes, and it requires putting our own desires and reasonings completely into neutral, wanting God's desires above all else. It is much easier to discern God's desires when we want one thing but we feel that God desires just the opposite. For example, in the past I have thought about getting my own "domain name" on the Internet (i.e. www.layhands.com), but I had never really seriously considered the idea. Recently, however, I felt a strong desire to look into it, but the more I explored the idea the more the fees began to add up. I would either have to upgrade my Internet service for a monthly fee or else I would have to go with a different Internet provider (all of whom have different monthly fees for their services). I decided (in my logical mind) that I couldn't really justify those extra costs for a personal ministry, so I abandoned the idea. However, that desire must have come from somewhere, so I had to consider the possibility that it might have come from the Lord. I asked Him if He wanted me to register the www.layhands.com domain name, even though it would cost me more per month. To my great surprise He said "yes"! Notice that I had given up on the idea based on my logical reasoning, but God told me to do just the opposite of what I had decided. Is it possible that I had mentally given up on the idea but that emotionally I still wanted it, and that this made me think I was hearing from God? Sure, that is certainly possible. However, I know how I experience the "inner witness" and I know that I experienced that sensation, and I also know that I have submitted this ministry to the Lord and that I want His desires above all else. Remember, you're not always going to be 100% certain that you have heard from the Lord. However, I trust that He knows my heart and that I love Him and seek to honor Him above all else, and I trust in His provision and His mercy and grace, even if I have made an honest mistake.
You have probably heard people say that they were "called" to be a pastor or "called" to the mission field. Often what they mean is that they felt a strong desire or burden in that direction and they prayed about it and received several confirmations that this was what the Lord wanted them to do.
Our desires must line up with the Word of God Remember, we are talking about Godly desires, because obviously not every desire in our hearts comes from God. There are an amazing number of people who ask their pastors to pray for them to be able to know God's will, because they believe that God is telling them to divorce their spouse and to marry this other person. There is no point in the pastor praying for God's will in this situation because God has already made it plain in His Word what His will is concerning marriage and divorce. If we are well-grounded in the Word of God and we are crucifying our pride and our flesh as much as possible every day then we will not be as easily deceived by the unGodly desires that the devil causes our flesh to want.
The Bible tells us to live at peace with one another as much as possible (Romans 12:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:13, Hebrews 12:14). However, it also tells us to be at peace within ourselves. One reason is because it is difficult to hear from God if we are full of turmoil within ourselves.
Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that peace is part of the fruit of the Spirit that we are to cultivate and to show forth in our lives. 1 Peter 3:11 tells us to seek peace and to pursue it. We are also told not to worry (Matthew 6:25-34), not to be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6), not to fear anything (1 Peter 3:14), and so on. These are all things that we are to do or not to do, on purpose. It is up to us to remain peaceful within, and by doing so we will be able to hear the voice of God more clearly.
Notice what the apostle Paul said about peace:
"And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from the Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts - deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds - [in that peaceful state] to which [as members of Christ's] one body you were also called [to live]. And be thankful - appreciative, giving praise to God always." (Colossians 3:15, AMP) The Amplified version of the Bible tries to bring out shades of meaning that might otherwise be lost in the translation from Greek to English. Here the apostle Paul tells us that we were called to live in a state of peace, continually giving thanks and praise to God. If you will continually live in this state of peace, joy, love, praise, and thanksgiving, no matter what trials come your way, then you will grow by leaps and bounds in spiritual maturity and in discernment of God's voice within you!
Notice something else which Paul said in the passage above. He told us to let peace act as an umpire in our hearts continually. What did he mean by that? Well, have you ever been watching a TV show, such as a sitcom or a soap opera, and the adult material started making you wonder if maybe you should turn the channel? What happened was that you lost your peace, and that might have been God telling you to stop watching that show.
Be sensitive to when you have peace inside, and be sensitive to when you lose your peace. As Paul said, let peace be your umpire continually. The thing is, sometimes your flesh will want to do something (such as watch an adult-oriented sitcom), but you won't have peace about it in your spirit. Other times you will have peace in your spirit about doing something, even though your flesh is screaming at you not to do it. For example, the Holy Spirit might want you to speak forth a message in tongues in the Biblical manner to your church congregation, but your flesh might be scared to death to get up and do this in front of everyone, especially if you are in a church that teaches against such things! Even though your flesh is screaming at you not to do something, if you have peace in your spirit then obey God and He will bless you for it.
Walk the Narrow Path
Jesus said that "small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:14). We should always walk the narrow path, and as we do so we might find that Jesus is continually calling us to walk a narrower and narrower path. The devil tries to make this sound like a bad thing, as if we are going to be missing out on fun things by walking this narrower and narrower path. However, everything God calls us to do is for our own benefit, if we will simply cooperate with Him and trust Him and obey Him. Unfortunately, Jesus said that only a relative few will choose to walk that narrow path, and everyone else will take the broad path which leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). I don't claim to know all the implications of this "destruction" that Jesus was speaking of, but I have no intention of experiencing it!
Always make the choice to obey your conscience and to walk the narrow path. It is rarely going to be an easy choice, but it is the only way to come up higher in the things of God. Your flesh is not going to like it, but we have already seen that our flesh is unGodly and is opposed to the things of the Spirit, and it needs to be put to death on a daily basis. It is the choices that we make throughout the day that determine how far and how fast we will grow spiritually.
Now it is time for you to be brutally honest with yourself. In all this talk about obeying your conscience, did you feel any twinges inside you? Did it strike a chord somewhere? Did you experience a momentary flash which reminded you of something, perhaps a momentary thought of that person you are having an adulterous affair with, perhaps an image of those items that you "borrowed" from work and never took back, perhaps a momentary thought of that business deal in which you weren't completely honest, was there anything like that which momentarily flashed across your conscience? Be careful here, because your flesh at this point is going to find ways of keeping you from dwelling on that thing, but fight your flesh! It is not in control, you are! Whatever flashed across your conscience, that was possibly the voice of God. I urge you to be brutally honest with yourself, to put your fleshly desires to death, and to obey God. You must choose to do this, but if you put it off and let it pass then you are choosing to take another step away from hearing God, which will lead to yet another step away from hearing and obeying God, and soon you might be way out there off in the distance on that wide path which Jesus spoke of. Swallow your pride and obey God in even the smallest of details, and stay on the narrow path!
Things You Can Do to Hear God Better Now I want to offer some practical ideas on how you can develop your inner discernment and be able to hear the voice of God more clearly and accurately:
Ask God to help you hear His voice and discern His daily leading in your life. I suspect that this is one prayer that He will be more than happy to answer for you!
In order to hear God better we need to get to know God better. Fortunately, He wrote a Book about Himself! When we think we have heard something from God, we should make sure that what we heard is in line with the Word of God, which means that we need to know what the Word of God says. Here are some thoughts to enhance your daily Bible reading:
Make sure that the Bible version you are using is easy for you to read, otherwise you will become discouraged very quickly. Someone at your local Christian bookstore can show you several versions of the Bible and discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and a pocket New Testament in any translation is usually just a few dollars. If you have been told that the King James Version is the only accurate or "authorized" version of the Bible in English, then I invite you to see my article called Why Do You Use the Bloodless NIV? That article might help dispel any concerns you have about using other translations of the Bible. When you get confident in hearing from the Lord, ask Him whether or not the King James Version is the only "authorized" English version, and let Him settle this issue for you Himself. That's the beauty of knowing how to hear His voice!
Ask God where you should start reading in the Bible, because it's not always the best idea to start with Matthew and then try to read straight through to Revelation. If you don't get any specific leading from God, try reading some of the "epistles" (letters) first, such as Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, James, 1 Peter, and 1 John. These letters are not very long (compared to the Gospels and Acts), but they contain lots of important teachings.
Remember that your goal is quality, not quantity. If you try to set a goal of reading 6 chapters a day, or finishing the New Testament in a month, for example, then most of what you read will go right over your head because you're focused on the wrong goal. Instead, your goal should be to feed on the Word of God, which is "bread" for your spirit, and to allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate the deeper spiritual truths of His Word to you so that you can get to know God better.
Try to never open the Bible without first asking God to illuminate His Word to your spirit. You see, if you are not spiritually discerning what His Book says (1 Corinthians 2:13-14) then you are just reading words on a page which are doing you very little good. "Head knowledge" will not get you very far, what you need is revelation from the Holy Spirit as you read God's Word. Read His Book with the goal of getting to know Him and His character, and to learn what you can do to honor Him with your life.
Realize that the Bible was not just written for people "back then," it was written to you. Therefore, try "personalizing" the Bible as you read it so that you can get the full impact of what God is saying to you. For example, here are a couple of passages from the NIV:
"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, you will obey what I command." (John 14:12-15) "He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."" (Mark 16:15-18)
Since I have faith in and believe in Jesus (as the above passages describe), take a look at how these passages sound when I personalize them. It makes a big difference!
"I tell you the truth, Dave will do what I have been doing. Dave will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever Dave asks in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. Dave may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If Dave loves me, Dave will obey what I command." (John 14:12-15) "He said to Dave, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany Dave: In my name Dave will drive out demons; Dave will speak in new tongues; Dave will pick up snakes with his hands; and when Dave drinks deadly poison, it will not hurt him at all; Dave will place his hands on sick people, and they will get well."" (Mark 16:15-18)
See what a difference it makes when we "personalize" the Bible? It makes it easy to see that Jesus is speaking directly to us through His Word!
These are just a few ideas that might help you as you read and study what God wrote about Himself.
In order to get to know the Lord better we also need to spend time alone with Him. Some pastors and Bible teachers are able to spend several hours a day alone with Him, soaking in His presence and discerning His guidance for their lives and ministries. However, God knows your schedule and He knows how busy you are, so He's probably not going to require that kind of commitment from you. If you are finding it difficult to find time to spend with the Lord, ask Him to show you the best time for you. Consider that if you sacrifice a nightly sitcom or something else you enjoy doing so that you can spend that time alone in His presence, that honors Him greatly. Spending daily time with the Lord needs to be a priority in our lives, not a chore that we grudgingly do if we happen to have some spare time! During your time alone with the Lord, don't expect to feel something special. We are told to live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), not run our lives by our feelings. There are times when a real joy bubbles up in me and I get a kind of "Holy Laughter" or just the "Holy Chuckles," there are times when I weep, there are times when I feel a special closeness to the Lord, etc., but often I don't feel anything at all. I just trust that the Lord knows what's best for me, and if it feels like He's not even in the same room with me then I just trust that He is trying to draw me closer by giving me a "dry time," or He is trying to stretch my faith during the "dry times," and so on. Just trust that He is with you and He hears you, and don't base anything on experiences and feelings. Let me compare it to healing. I laid hands on a guy who had cancer, but he didn't "feel" any different. However, when he went to the doctor they discovered that there was not a trace of cancer left in his body! He was healed of cancer even though he didn't feel anything, and God is at work in you even when you don't feel anything, so just trust Him.
There will be times, especially at first, when you won't know what to say or you'll fall asleep or you'll get bored or you'll get itchy or you'll get restless, and so on. Your spirit wants to be close to God and to fellowship with Him, but your flesh wants to fight you all the way, and the devil really wants to fight you on this! Just keep coming back day after day and spending regular time with the Lord, because you are honoring Him and He is pleased with your faith and your sacrifice, and ultimately He will reward you.
Fall in love with the Lord so much that you always want His will more than you want your own will and more than you want the approval and respect of your friends, family, and authority figures. To help you build up your love relationship with your heavenly Bridegroom, I invite you to read my article called Loving and Praising Jesus: He Is Worthy.
Always be willing to do what God tells you to do, even if your flesh doesn't feel like it. If you are not willing to be submitted to His Lordship over your life and you are not willing to swallow your pride and do what God says, it will be easy for you to convince yourself that you didn't hear from God.
An important part of being able to hear God's voice is expecting Him to speak to you. Prayer can often be a two-way conversation with the Lord (in a sense), if you will simply expect to hear an immediate answer from Him when you ask a question or when you pray for guidance. On the other hand, sometimes you will need to wait for awhile and keep expecting and watching for the answer in whatever manner that God chooses to speak to you. For example, you might pray, "Lord, teach me how to be more patient." But instead of giving you an immediate answer to your prayer, you might find that suddenly you are getting caught in more traffic jams, or perhaps you start getting all the slowest lines at the grocery store, or maybe some aggravating people will begin to come into your life. This is God speaking to you, answering your prayer by giving you opportunities to kill off that impatient flesh of yours! God will sometimes bring frustrating circumstances and people into our lives to act as "sandpaper" against our flesh in order to smooth out the rough spots in us, and our job is to maintain a good attitude and to kill off those things that flare up in our flesh (anger, impatience, pride, and so on). As we cooperate with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and grow in spiritual maturity, we will find ourselves hearing God more clearly and accurately (for more on how to grow by leaps and bounds in spiritual maturity, I invite you to see my article called Spiritual Maturity/Spiritual Authority).
When you believe that you have heard something from God, write down what He said and then date it. Don't reason out what you heard, just let go of your own thoughts and opinions and write down that first impression. Writing down the things that He says is a good way of maintaining that expectation of hearing from Him. Another reason for writing down what you hear from God is because you will be surprised at how quickly you'll forget what He "said," and you will be surprised at how quickly you'll convince yourself that it wasn't really God speaking after all. When you receive a flash of discernment within you, your "knower" knows that it was God. However, the next day you might not be so certain that it was God, so consider writing it down while you still have that "knowing" within you. Also, when you have trained yourself to hear God's voice, you will sometimes hear Him tell you things which will happen in your life in the future. This is why it is a good idea to write down the date when you hear things from God, then you can look back and read those prophecies that are now coming to pass.
The Holy Spirit speaks to us through our spirits and it takes faith to know that we have heard His "voice," so it would be nice if there were some way for us to build up our inner faith and to be more in touch with the Holy Spirit within us. Fortunately, God has provided a way for us to do this. When we pray in tongues, the Holy Spirit is praying to the Father through our mouths (Acts 2:4), which bypasses our minds (1 Corinthians 14:14-15) and builds up and strengthens our inner faith (1 Corinthians 14:4, Jude 1:20), putting us into direct contact with the Holy Spirit within us. For example, the apostle Paul heard from God better than almost anyone who ever lived, and it is no coincidence that he also spoke in tongues more than anyone else (1 Corinthians 14:18). Paul said that we "edify" ourselves when we speak in tongues ("He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself" - 1 Corinthians 14:4), which means that it encourages us, benefits us, strengthens and builds up our inner faith, improves us spiritually, etc. (Webster's Dictionary, Strong's Greek Dictionary, Zodhiates' Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament). The book of Jude also says that we can build ourselves up by praying in the Spirit:
"But you, beloved, build yourselves up [founded] on your most holy faith - make progress, rise like an edifice higher and higher - praying in the Holy Spirit" (Jude 1:20, AMP) Praying in the Spirit is much more important than most of us realize. For more on this, I invite you to see my article called Praying in the Spirit.
Listen to your conscience and your inner peace, and always be quick to obey when you lose your peace or when your conscience begins to trouble you about something. The more you ignore your conscience, the more you risk your conscience becoming "corrupted" (Titus 1:15) and "seared as with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:2), and the less likely it is that you will be able to hear from God. The apostle Paul spoke about our consciences quite frequently. He often said that he kept a good conscience or a clear conscience before God (Acts 23:1, 24:16, 1 Corinthians 4:4, 2 Timothy 1:3, for example), and he said that we should do the same (Romans 13:5, 1 Timothy 1:5, 19, 3:9) so that we don't shipwreck our faith. Notice that Paul could tell that he was hearing from God by listening to his conscience:
"I speak the truth in Christ--I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 9:1) "Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God." (2 Corinthians 1:12)
Paul also said that our consciences "bear witness" to the truth (Romans 2:15), that the truth is "plain to your conscience" (2 Corinthians 5:11), and he said that "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit" (Romans 8:16) to confirm the truth.
Learn to obey every twinge of your conscience, and let peace be your umpire continually.
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