What is the key to hearing God's voice?

John 10:27 says: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." We are able to hear God's voice when we are His through salvation in Jesus Christ (John 1:12). Those who belong to Jesus Christ have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and He helps us recognize God's truth and His direction in our lives. Accurately hearing God's voice is something that we grow in as we mature in the faith. Such hearing of God's voice is not to be confused with claims of new revelation from God, but rather refers to communing with God as we relate to Him through Christ. Also recognize that sometimes people claim to have heard the voice of God tell them to do something when perhaps it was the voice of their own mind speaking.

The main way God speaks to us today is through His written Word. So the Bible is the first place we should look to hear God's voice. Through the Bible, we are able to learn God's character and how He speaks. As the written Word of God, the Bible is living and active and useful for us (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16–17). When we read the Bible with a heart seeking understanding, we are actively listening to God's voice. The majority of God's will for our lives is already revealed in the Bible; our portion is to obey what God has told us in its pages. Everything we think we hear from God must be compatible with what He has already revealed to us. For example, if we feel God prompting us to do something, but it contradicts the Bible, that message is not from God.

God can also speak through other people. This can come in the form of a conversation with a friend or counselor (Proverbs 27:17), a message from a pastor (Romans 10:17), or wisdom from godly advisors (Proverbs 15:22). Hearing the voice of God from another person(s) can help us to interpret the Bible, helping us see things that we were blind to before, including hidden areas of our own pride or self-seeking motivations.

Another way to hear God’s voice is through prayer. This requires us to quiet our hearts so that we may hear what He has to say and also being patient enough to wait for Him. It's common to think that anytime the Lord speaks, it will be a loud or dramatic event, but God rarely shows up in expected ways or places. The Lord visited the prophet Elijah when he was hiding in a cave: "The LORD said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper" (1 Kings 19:11–12, NIV). God was in the whisper (verse 13).

It's important to seek discernment so that you may follow God's commands and be able to distinguish His voice from your own or that of the enemy (Psalm 119:125; see also Philippians 1:9–10). One helpful strategy is to try prayer journaling—write out some of your prayers to God and keep track of what you think God is saying back to you. When you write down the things you think God may be saying to you, you can go back to them later and see how He worked things out and be encouraged afresh in your faith.

Any time God speaks to us, it must always be in agreement with the Word of God. Knowledge of the Word and discernment help us to better learn how to hear and recognize the voice of God. While it can be tempting to think that we need a specific word from God in order to make any decision in our lives, many times we don't need that. In fact, it can become an excuse for some people to remain stagnant or make unwise decisions—"waiting on God" when in fact they are just refusing to obey what God has already commanded or are hesitating out of fear. While we certainly should pray over important decisions and many times do need to wait on God for His direction, there are many other times where we've already been given the direction we need and we simply need to move forward. God has given us many clear instructions in His Word, and these give guidance in many of the decisions we make on a daily basis.

When we practice hearing God's voice, we can ask Him for wisdom in any situation in our lives: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5). God gives us the freedom to make decisions, but He is faithful to guide us in the way we should go. He guides us by His Word, His voice, and His people. We can trust that as we practice listening and spend time in His Word, we will be able to recognize His voice: "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it'" (Isaiah 30:21, NIV).

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