Every day we talk and we listen. Spoken conversations are the most common type of communication. We ask questions and we give answers; we turn on the radio to listen to the news and we turn off the TV so we can talk to our kids. This is also the way of God. From the very beginning of time God has been speaking. By learning to listen to what He has been and continues to say we can begin to hear from God.
The natural question is of course, "How do I go about listening so I can hear God and know what He is saying?" If God is indeed all knowing (Isaiah 40:28) and cares about me (Psalm 139; Matthew 10:29–31), of course I want to know what He is saying and if He is saying anything to me personally. God knows we are asking questions and He bends low to listen and to speak to ensure we can hear Him.
We can be confident of two things, (1) that God can be heard and (2) that today He speaks primarily through Jesus. The Bible tells us: "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (Hebrews 1:1–2). This passage tells us that God has spoken through the prophets and the people of Israel heard Him speak. In addition to speaking through prophets there were times when God spoke directly to people. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush (Exodus 3). He spoke to Jacob through dreams (Genesis 28:10–17). He spoke to Ezekiel through visions (Ezekiel 1:1). God spoke to Balaam through a talking donkey (Numbers 22:21–39). And at Jesus' baptism "a voice from heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'" (Matthew 3:17).
When Jesus started His ministry of teaching here on earth, everything changed. God spoke directly to us. The four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—are dedicated to recording who Jesus is and what He said. Again and again the Bible records where God has spoken and the people heard. It is so profound and meaningful, that Jesus lived and spoke, that some Bibles highlight all of what Jesus said by coloring them in red so we can easily recognize the spoken words of Jesus so we can "hear" them. From the beginning, through the Old and New Testaments, and even today, God is speaking. We can hear from God by reading His Word.
When the author of Hebrews says "in these last days," he is referring to this current age of the church, under Jesus' leadership. This is the age in which we presently live, the age of God's church. The Bible was written, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by men who were authorized by God to write the words of God so His people would know, without a doubt, who God is, what He does, what He wants for His people, and what He expects from us (2 Peter 1:21; John 20:31). The best and most trustworthy way to hear from God is to read His words written in the Bible. We do this when we read the Bible ourselves and also when the Bible is preached in sermons, quoted by friends who offer us counsel and wisdom, and when familiar verses from the Bible come to our minds when we pray. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, "the word of God is living and active." Second Timothy 3:16–17 says, "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."
There are many reasons we want to hear from God. Some of the more common motives are because we want to know that He is real, we need to know what we should and should not do, and we are afraid of making decisions because we might make the wrong one. This is the beauty of God's Word, the one way He promises to always speak. The above verse from 2 Timothy tells us that God uses the Bible to help us "be complete" or to be sanctified, being made more and more like Jesus and that the Bible also prepares us to do what God wants, to know what is good, and to know what to do.
The most important part of hearing God is to learn what He has already said and to talk to Him about it. As followers of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit who is our counselor, we can read the Bible and pray to God. We can join God in talking and listening. In doing this we can receive wisdom from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10–13), and we can know the will of the Father because He has made it possible for us to "have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16).
What then should we do with prophets and visions and dreams and talking donkeys? Since God's promise is that He will continue to speak through Jesus (Hebrews 1:1–2), it is wise to scrutinize all claims, thinking, and teaching whose source is outside of the Bible, this includes our own ideas of how God is speaking to us in our prayers. The Bereans, as recorded in Acts 17:11, scrutinized the teaching of Paul when they first heard it. They took this new teaching of a man named Jesus and they compared it to what they knew to be true, the Old Testament Scriptures. Luke writes, "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." This is how we should respond to anything that claims to be the voice of God—test it against the Bible.
When you are praying, or reading a book, or talking to a friend, or watching the news and you learn something that seems to be of God, test it. Ask yourself these questions, (1) does it align with the teachings of Jesus in the Bible, (2) is it compatible with who God is—loving, gracious, righteous, and holy. Also, seek the counsel of Christians who demonstrate faithfulness to God, asking them to help you to know what God is saying.
Hearing God may be mysterious at times, but the Bible makes it clear that He really does speak with the expectation that we will listen.
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