Hearing God’s voice

As a charismatic Christian, I’ve always been intrigued about hearing God’s voice. Charismatic Christianity has been a big part of my Christian life since I became a Christian about 13 or so years ago. I’ve attended charismatic churches, been to charismatic conferences and read lots of charismatic books and articles. I’ve seen before my eyes all things charismatic – healings, miracles and words of knowledge (or prophetic words or whatever you call it!) that have come true. And I speak in tongues everyday.

On the other hand, I’ve also immersed myself in a lot of non-charismatic Christianity. I was once (not now) very into Reformed/Calvinistic theology which gave me an excellent foundation in the Word of God. So besides hanging around charismatics, I also had many good non-charismatic friends. And I know how non-charismatics think of charismatics and their practices. And also vice-versa.

Unfortunately, a lot of the criticisms non-charismatics have of charismatics are true. There have been a lot of excesses – especially in healing, prosperity teachings, prophecies and taking the Word of God lightly. On the other hand, I think there have been so many wonderful healings, miracles and true prophetic words that have blessed many lives. I’m a charismatic because I believe in all these. I believe God still works through all these. I have no doubt it’s God because I see lives transformed for His glory. I don’t understand non-charismatics who throw out everything charismatic. Because, anyone who does his research would know that there have been genuine healings, miracles and prophetic words. Now, it’s either that they’re of the devil, or they’re true and for today. There’s no way they can be of the devil for me because the fruits of these miracles and healing and all are that Jesus is glorified. The devil doesn’t do miracles to glorify Jesus. He can perform the miraculous, yes. But definitely not to bring glory to Jesus. Definitely not to make the recipients of these miracles more in love with Jesus! As Jesus said, a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

Anyway, back to hearing God’s voice. Whenever I see Christians calling out a word of knowledge for healing or speaking a word to another person which blessed the other person greatly (I’m talking about a specific word that they could only have gotten from God, not some general encouragement), I do stand in awe. Just as I stand in awe of the miraculous occurring – after all, the purpose of the miraculous is not only to bless the recipient, but also to bring glory to God as we stand in awe of his mighty works. Of course, I do realize that we should not crazily pursue signs and wonders. But there is nothing wrong with a healthy pursuit of these gifts from God, not forgetting that these are to bless people and bring glory to God, not to bring glory to oneself!

About 2-3 years ago, I attended a prophetic workshop at Trinity Christian Centre, a Pentecostal church in Singapore. The pastors talked about how we all can hear God’s voice and we needed to practice it (through trial and error) to improve our discernment of what’s truly of God and what’s not. And we had a whole lot of practice during those workshops! To say the least, it was quite scary for me. We were often grouped into pairs and told to pray for each other specifically. We didn’t know the other person so we had to try to hear what God was asking us to pray for the other person. Of course, a lot of us got a lot of it wrong and were embarrassed naturally! But that was to be expected. The idea was to practice and learn through trial and error.

I wasn’t too comfortable with it all, but I went along with it anyway because I do think it forced us to really start practicing and discerning God’s voice. Since that time, I guess I haven’t really practiced actively hearing God’s voice. Although, everytime I do see pastors accurately speaking a word from God to someone (for healing or whatever) that they could never have known without God speaking to them, it stirs up a desire in me to have a more intimate relationship with God like they have. I think that’s something missing in my walk with God, yet I didn’t know how to start. I guess I had also put off working on this desire because I’ve seen so many abuses. I have often wondered how different charismatics can hear from God, yet have such opposing theologies. For example, the two biggest churches in Singapore have quite opposing theologies regarding the grace of God, yet I know both are great churches blessed mightily by God and having senior pastors who truly love God and have a close relationship with Him. If God really speaks to them, why such different theologies? I still haven’t figured that out yet. But I think it just goes to show that we are still fallible and that we don’t hear God perfectly but are still influenced by our (theological) biases and filter God’s voice through our biases.

On Sunday, I bought a book entitled “Can’t You Talk Louder God? – Secrets to Hearing the Voice of God” by Steve Shultz at the excellent Heidi Baker event I attended. I finally decided to take that step to work on this desire of mine to hear God’s voice by reading up more about it. It was a simple book and I finished it in a few hours. Having finished the book, here are some of my thoughts:

1) God is always speaking to us, but we just don’t recognize it as God’s voice. When we have an impression to do something, this could be God speaking. When we feel peace about something, this could be God telling us something – e.g. this is the right decision. When we read the Bible and are struck by some verses, this could be God speaking to us. Of course, besides the above ways, God can speak audibly and through dreams and so on.

2) God speaks in our language and often into our thoughts. It’s not as though God speaks word-for-word and therefore if we don’t hear word-for-word, it’s not Him. I think I kind of always thought this (because of how some pastors portrayed it) and thus never thought that I could have such a word-for-word revelation in my life. But rather, most of the time he speaks into or through our thoughts – i.e we think those thoughts are ours but they are actually God. Of course, this means we need to discern what is of God and what isn’t of God.

A lot of times I hear people say something like:

Yesterday, God spoke to me. He said, “Keep having faith and you will receive what you ask for in the end.”

When I hear this, I think, “Wow, you mean God actually said word-for-word, ‘Keep having faith and you will receive…”. But now I know that it’s not God actually saying that word-for-word but rather it’s the impression and thoughts that came to the person’s mind that are from God. The actual words are words used by them based on the impressions and thoughts they have received from God. So if that same impression came to me, I may have worded it differently. Perhaps like,

Yesterday, God spoke to me. He said, “Continue to have faith. You will get it in the end.”

And a person during the King James English era who heard God speak the same thing would word it differently also. Again, it’s not that God speaks word-for-word, but through impressions and his thoughts put into our minds.

Andrew Wommack writes:

…communication with God is Spirit to spirit, not brain to brain or mouth to ear, the way we communicate in the physical realm. The Lord speaks to our spirits, not in words, but in thoughts and impressions. Then our spirits speak to us in words like, “I think the Lord wants me to do this or that.” The Lord doesn’t typically say “You do this or that,” but He will impress your spirit to do something, and then your spirit says, “I think I should do . . .” Therefore, we often miss the leading of the Lord, thinking it’s our own thoughts.

I kind of knew this already but I guess it was enforced to me once again as I read the book. Knowing that God has always been speaking and it’s not as though he speaks only word-for-word encourages me. Because I think I’ve heard God before. It’s just that I didn’t know it! So it’s time for me to be more discerning of His voice!

3) As mentioned already, most of the time, God speaks through impressions. Steve wrote:

Sometimes, I do mini-seminars on learning to hear the voice of God. I can boil an all-day seminars on learning to hear God’s voice into just three simple words. And here they are: “Follow your impressions!”

Of course he speaks through other ways too. But He probably speaks mostly through impressions to most people. God speaking through an audible voice is rare.

4) It takes a lot of practice and trial and error to improve one’s discernment of God’s voice. Practice makes perfect. From now on, I do hope to be more aware that God speaks through impressions. I think I have to dare to step out in faith too. We will not always be 100% certain that it’s God speaking but unless we step out in faith, we’ll never improve in our discernment. Stepping out in faith may lead to embarrassment. Sometimes, God may ask us to say something to somebody and we’re afraid because we’re not sure it’s God. But I think unless we’re willing to do the ridiculous, the miraculous won’t happen.

The paradoxical thing is that as we focus on hearing God’s voice and not our own, that’s when we have all sorts of thoughts coming into our minds which are from us! It’s also hard to keep quiet and listen to God. During prayer, it’s easy to talk and talk. But I think I need to spend more time just listening to God.

5) We hear God through our own filters. I mentioned this above already. But I think it’s important to state this again. Since we don’t receive words from God word-for-word, we actually interpret it through our own filters or lenses. Such may be theological or whatever. So God may speak to us about something but a Calvinist and Arminian may word it differently and because of their theological systems interpret the word according to their own system.

This is important to note because then we can understand why people of differing and opposing theological systems still claim to hear God’s voice. Surely, if they can discern God’s voice so clearly and easily, they would get their theology right and perfect and Christians who hear God’s voice would be one in all they believe! But God has specific purposes in speaking to us. It may not always be what we want Him to speak to us about. Or if He has spoken to us about our theology, our theological lenses and biases are so strong that it blocks His voice out. I think it just goes to show that we’re imperfect and fallible.

By the way, what I write in this point is my insight and what I think through my many years in both charismatic and non-charismatic churches, not what I learnt from the book.

6) Always be humble. If we’re imperfect and fallible in discerning God’s voice, we need to be very humble. There’s no place for going around telling people that “God said to me…” or “Thus saitheth the Lord”. Because, we can never be 100% sure. It’s better to say, “I think God’s told me…” or “I feel God telling me…”, etc.

I cringe whenever I hear leaders using the “God told me…” line. However, I also know that it’s a bit inconvenient to always put a qualifier on every word they feel is from God. Perhaps, to them it’s understood that this is what they feel and they’re not claiming 100% certainty. But I would rather them qualify their statements. If not, the result is that they may become too proud and people think that they’re so holy as they always get such clear words from God!

So anyway, I hope to spend 2008 seeking to improve in this area of my spiritual life. If anyone wants to share any of their thoughts, please do!

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16 Comments

  1. Thank you for authoring such a wonderful post on my birthday! Coincidentally, hearing God’s voice is also one of my greatest desires for this year, being a year of crossroads. I’d want to ensure that God is involved actively in the decision making process and lead me to the places where I can be most effective.

    I agree that God speaks to us through impressions. I practise this sometimes: To tell God, early in the morning, that He will plan and direct the day. On some of those days, things can just happen so spontaneously it is totally out of character for me (who likes to have a planned day). Our God is a spontaneous God! And looking back at those days, God did not exactly speak to me, but I will be able to say I had strong promptings to do something. It may be an email encouragement, or even playing monopoly with my nephews. But after the activity if conducted, it feels like I touched life! If an activity is not Spirit led, I do feel empty after that, even if it seems spiritual.

    That is how I practise my “listening to God’s voice”. And I’d usually verify if it were really God by the results after (the results may not be immediate).

    Another area in which I believe can increase our hearing of God’s voice, though cliche, is reading the Word of God. Watchman Nee mentioned that there is the memory of the mind and memory of the spirit. When we are faced with a situation, sometimes the most random verses will come to mind. These times, I believe, is God speaking to us.

  2. Hi Donkey of Christ,

    Thank you for your comments. By the way, do we know each other? :) If not, do share a bit more about yourself if you don’t mind.

    Yes, I didn’t mention the Word of God, but that’s extremely important.

    May we both grow in the discernment of His voice in 2008!

  3. God speaks, and we can get the message wrong?

    If this is true, then on what basis do we believe anything that was written in the Bible, since all of the authors were imperfect, fallible human beings hearing God through their own ‘filters’ of bias and limitation?

    It seems to me that communication originating in God — the omniscient Creator — would be adjusted for reception by imperfect creatures such that the message could not be misunderstood, misinterpreted, or mistaken. Otherwise, God isn’t really communicating.

  4. Hi Leland,

    I think the Bible is on a different level altogether. It’s the ultimate test of all the impressions we get. And I believe by faith that God made it such that what we have now is not in any way imperfect. So I think the way we are led by the Spirit nowadays is always imperfect and not on the same level as the writings by the human authors we read in the bible.

  5. Hi SHF,
    No I do not know you, but I stumbled upon your blog, in the midst of an important decision last year. I read one of your posts in detail, and it helped me in making my decision. That decision, I know, is inspired by God and it has blessed me greatly over the past year, making 2007 the best year of my life!

    My email is colossians3.12@gmail.com. Please drop me an email, I’d converse more there about some other issues. I have many friends who are agnostics, or Christians who stopped going to church because of many reasons, but mainly it is an intellectual roadblock. I have not introduced them to your writings but I intend to.

    Have a blessed week

  6. Hi! Thanks for this great & inspiring post. I think it’s every christian’s struggle to hear God more clearly isn’t it? I’m not sure if that assumption is accurate but for certain, I’m one of them who yearns to hear God louder too.. and with your understanding in mind, i’ll practise hearing God better :)

  7. Hm. But didn’t the same Holy Spirit communicate with the writers of the Bible? And, apparently, that communication was made with a very high degree of reliability, then preserved to this day with its message intact.

    That being the case, how is it that the Holy Spirit’s purported communication to believers today (through alleged personal revelation) is less clear than it was then? If tax frauds, murderers, liars — and even dead people — heard the certain and unmistakable “voice of God,” then how is that sincere followers would be unclear in their hearing?

    In fairness, the question is rhetorical. I believe the ambivalence and uncertainty come knowing that such communication is unusual. The “impressions” that believers claim to receive are usually, IMO, just their own views and desires dressed up in more respectable terminology. That is to say, if I were to express a desire to go to China and minister to the house church movement there, my desire might be dismissed; if, however, I claim that God is telling me to go to China and minister, my stated desire is instantly more compelling in the typical Charismatic church culture.

    I am not claiming that God cannot or would not speak to believers today, whether audibly or through whatever means He chooses. I am simply questioning how a believer who claims to hear from God knows their message is truly from God.

  8. Dear Leland,

    Thanks for your comments. You know, I don’t know everything and I’m still learning :)

    I do know that the Bible was special. Or rather, I take that by faith – as we Christians do take by faith many things. The God-breathed revelation of the Bible was a unique case.

    I understand what you mean by saying that it can be abused – and it has been in many cases, as I stated early in my post.

    Of course, if the person claims that God told them to marry a person already married (happened quite a few times in charismatic Christianity in the past) or to rob a bank, we all know the person is wrong because any personal impression or revelation cannot contradict the eternal Word of God – the Bible being the yardstick to measure all impressions.

    Words are subjective. So if a person claims that God told him to tell you or me this or that, then we don’t have to give it the same level of authority as we do the Word of God. We’re to seek confirmation for ourselves.

    When I talk about God speaking or impressions, it’s definitely not on the same level as the Word. The Word also gives general principles. Sometimes God may guide us more specifically and personally – without contradicting the Bible of course.

    Regarding how we can know it’s truly from God. Firstly, it doesn’t contradict the Bible. Secondly, maybe a lot of times we can’t know it’s of God and not from the devil or ourselves. But then there are wonderful testimonies in charismatic Christianity (no doubt horrible ones too) whereby we know the impression or word received was definitely of God.

    Sure, we may not know ultimately whether it’s of God or not – that’s why I’m hesitant to preface any impression with a “God said to me…”

    I’m no expert, but I think Scripture and experience (of others) have led me to the view that God does speak more specifically than merely through the Word of God. While I know clear evidences of abuse, I also have experienced much in the ministries of charismatics that tells me that God does speak and that words people have gotten are clearly from God and beyond (yet not contradicting) Scripture.

    Cheers! :)

  9. Okay, fair enough. Any of us can only claim partial knowledge and ongoing research :)

    Your reluctance to preface your own claims of hearing from God with “God told me…” is admirable. I’ll take tentative, refutable faith over dogmatic certainty any day, thanks.

    That being said, individualised messages from God appear to be largely self-authenticating and non-verifiable; thus, they have zero truth value for me. Perhaps they are real, perhaps they are not, but as yet I have no means by which to make this determination.

    In order for me to gauge the merits of this belief in messages from God, I need a clear set of criteria by which the purported message can be evaluated. More importantly, I need a means of falsification – a condition which, if met or demonstrated, proves the belief false. [Non-falsifiability is the prime mark of a false belief, in my experience.]

    At this point in my own learning and development, I can only say of this belief, “Interesting, but not reliable.”

  10. Hi Stillhaventfound,

    I found your blog while searching for songs.

    I like to share with you that Holy Spirit do talks to my sister and I. We are just 1+ years Christian.

    I am told by my bible that John 5:29 ‘Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” I got this before I accepted Christ.

    From day 1, I believed all the words Daddy God tells me through the Pastors. I told sister to believe if she wants to receive her blessings.

    HS talked to sis from Day 2, while He talked to me from Months 3, when I rest in the trust in Him, and learning all that He has to say.

    Jesus said Mary did the right thing to sit at his feet and listened to His words. This is what my sis and I did at NCC and we are being blessed wonderfully. You can read my blog about it.

    Stop filtering Gods Words coming from Pastor Prince and the rest of the pastors in NCC. You will get close to Daddy God when you believe in Him.

    My friend was previously from other church, she was in NCC for 4yrs before she brought me there. Previously she has mixed up thoughts, when she sees that we believe and get where we are, she slowly learn to believe too. HS has started talking to her too. In fact, HS told her what to wear and what accessories to go with that dress for Chinese New Year.

    HS is also a great cook, He teaches sis and me to cook yummy food.

    Most of all, HS leads us close to Lord Jesus and we are serving Him now. Sis in church, while I still doing on the job training.

    Be blessed and come close to Lord, don’t let the filtering discount your closeness to the Lord!

    May the Compassionate Lord reveal His love to you as you walk closer to Him. In the name of Jesus, Amen!

  11. Hi Stephanie, thank you for writing the above. I’ve read your blog and it’s indeed wonderful to read the things you’ve written. Indeed, God does speak to us! May you continue to hear the Spirit’s voice and be blessed in every way! Cheers!

  12. Hi Stillhaventfound,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. May you grow in the Lord and be greatly blessed as this year is the raining of His blessings. :P

    Happy Blessed Chinese New Year!!!

  13. Hey there (: I stumbled upon your blog because you commented on Denise’s wordpress, and started reading your posts on Florida Revival etc.

    I’ve been wondering about the Revival + about things like the Charismatic stuff and getting really confused because of all the contradicting opinions coming from equally credible sources, and ALL based on the same Bible. My church is Charismatic but I’ve been hearing lots of reformed teachings that seem to criticise stuff I’ve been taught/I’ve actually seen, but reading your blog is clearing up the mess a little!

    “For example, the two biggest churches in Singapore have quite opposing theologies regarding the grace of God, yet I know both are great churches blessed mightily by God and having senior pastors who truly love God and have a close relationship with Him. If God really speaks to them, why such different theologies?”

    I still wonder a lot about that though – how two people with great ministries etc can have such different, such CONTRADICTORY opinions about things :\

  14. Hey Hannah,

    Yes, I still wonder about that too! :) You know, ultimately, I think it boils down to the fact that we’re all fallible. Even the most spiritual and godly leaders don’t hear God fully and perfectly (as much as most of them think otherwise!), but rather through their own theological filters. That just shows how imperfect we all are.

    And I think it’s by grace that God still blesses their ministries – not because they’ve got everything together and right!

    I’m no longer very Reformed now. There are a lot of Christians who are Reformed who criticize Charismatic things. As I’ve always believed, I think there are a lot of things to criticize in the Charismatic world. I definitely don’t accept everything Charismatic! But on the other hand, I wouldn’t trust a lot of Reformed criticism of Charismatic practices. They are not the most balanced kinds of criticism.

    It’s all about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Lots of horrible stuff in Charismatic Christianity. Yet lots of good stuff too. Lots of horrible stuff in Reformed Christianity, yet lots of good stuff too. The solution is to be open and realize that neither movement has all the good, biblical stuff. We can learn from all movements I think.

    I read a bit of your blog and the wonderful healings by Michael Reyes and those are wonderful stuff that most Reformed Churches and Christians would not be open to and that’s sad.

    I think there are very few good models of biblical and balanced Christianity and that’s the reason why both sides criticize each other so much and talk past each other. But as I said on my first post on the Florida Revival, I think the people who identify themselves as Reformed Charismatics are generally pretty safe. People like Terry Virgo and Newfrontiers, Adrian Warnock, etc. By being Reformed and Charismatic, they show that they appreciate and understand both sides and I think that makes them more balanced!

    Cheers!

  15. oh this is very interesting. I have always wondered how pastors ‘hear’ God.

    Just want to share with you something.

    Today, at about the time W got a ticket for his overtime parking, I looked at my watch and wanted to ask W if he wanted me to run down to the carpark and tear another coupon just in case we get a ticket. I decided not to ask him because he was engrossed in a discussion and I was lazy. Instead, I went to buy coffee for myself. (Usually, I don’t even think about parking and expired coupons, in fact this was the first time.)

    5 minutes later, I came back and I checked my watch again and knew that we were 15 minutes past the coupon due time. I asked myself if I should ask W. I decided not to because I was enjoying my coffee and being lazy.

    Later on, we saw the ticket, it was given at 15 min past the due time :-(

    I told him about the whole thing later and he said, ‘maybe you should listen to the Holy Spirit next time’. Wonderment.

    I think it’s amusing. I know I’ve always got pretty good intuition but I seldom act on them. How to hear God like that?? If it is just ‘an impression’, then I would end up always questioning whether it’s my intuition or God speaking.

    “Hello God, is that you? Or just a bad line interception?”

    ; )

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