How can I recognize the voice of God?
What does the voice of God sound like? Is it audible? How can we be sure that we are hearing from God and not an evil spirit? Could it be that the voice we sometimes hear is simply our own minds or our imaginations? Does God speak to us? These questions have been asked by believers throughout time. When Samuel heard God's voice, he didn't recognize it, but Eli did (1 Samuel 3:1-10). When Gideon received a revelation from God, he was so unsure that it was from God that he resorted to asking for a sign three times (Judges 6:17-22, 36-40). If these men in the Old Testament had trouble recognizing God's voice, how can we know when we are hearing from Him?
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One important factor is that we have something the Old Testament saints didn't – the complete Scriptures, which are the inspired words of God, to read and study and meditate upon. The Apostle Paul tells us that "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, application of God's written Word to our lives is just as effective and comforting to us as hearing His audible voice would be. If we have questions about a spiritual topic or decision we are facing, we can go to the Bible, confident that the words there are just as authoritative and good as God's own voice. He has promised not to lead us contrary to the teachings and promises in the Bible (Titus 1:2).
Another important thing to remember is that only a believer – a person saved by His grace through faith in the Lord Jesus – can recognize God's voice. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). This implies that Jesus' own flock will recognize His voice because they know Him, having learned about Him from the Scriptures. Reading the Bible creates an "imprint" of His voice in their minds, and when He speaks to their hearts, it is obvious to them that He is the one speaking.
The more time believers spend in the Word, listening to God, and speaking in return to Him in prayer, the easier it will be to recognize His voice and His leading in our lives. We should know Him so well, because we know His voice through the Scriptures, that it will be obvious to us when He prompts or leads our conscience by the Holy Spirit, or if He speaks in an audible way. It is important to remember that the lack of an audible voice from God in the life of a believer is not in any way a sign that God does not love that believer, or that He is displeased with him. We should seek to know the Lord through the Word, not through extra-biblical revelation, because as Peter tells us, even though he and the other apostles saw Jesus in His glory and heard the voice of God coming down from Heaven, "we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed" (2 Peter 1:18-19).
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