By Matt Dabbs and Bobby Harrington
We all need to learn how to hear God’s voice.
In First Samuel, Samuel hears God call out to him but doesn’t understand who it is. He thinks it is Eli. Eli is also confused until he realized that Samuel is hearing the voice of God (1 Samuel 3).
We have never heard an audible voice from the Lord in our entire Christian lives. The closest thing I (Matt) have experienced was a dream containing some very strong and powerful words that were directed at me and I awoke wondering if that was God talking to me. I am still not entirely sure about that.
But what we are certain of is that God is still communicating and that we need to pay attention and listen for His “voice” and His leading. As we grow in listening to God and His Spirit, we believe we will become better attuned to what God is communicating to us.
In John 10 Jesus says He is the good shepherd whose “sheep follow him because they know his voice.” As disciples, we are followers of Jesus. It only makes sense that we must learn to distinguish his voice from the all the noise and competing voices. We can tune into what Jesus is telling us by understanding the various means Jesus uses.
As we disciple people, we guide them to pay attention to some of the basic ways God communicates.
Here are five ways we teach people that God speaks to us.
The first is through the Bible.
The Bible is the Word of God, and it is inspired (1 Timothy 3:16 and Hebrews 4:12). One major part of our listening for God’s guidance is to be in the Bible on a regular basis. Jesus has spoken and continues to speak through the Word, but only if we open it and expect to hear something from Him. When you read the Bible, start with prayer: ask God to lead you to the appropriate scriptures and for an open heart and mind to hear what God is trying to tell you through His Word. This is the most important element in teaching someone to hear the voice of God – it is objective, true and sure.
The second is through people.
Scripture teaches “for lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers” (Proverbs 11:14). God uses insiders as well as outsiders to communicate things. God used insiders like the prophets who God spoke to and had them share those words with the community of faith. God also used outsiders to communicate truth to people like Rahab, the dreams of Pharaoh in Exodus, etc. God can send whomever He wants, whenever He wants to communicate what we need to hear. When we speak with people, are we hearing things aligned with what we are learning from scripture? Sometimes we are in conversation where someone brings up the very verse we read that morning. Maybe that repetition is God trying to get your attention!
Third, God communicates through our circumstances.
Joseph described to his brothers how the difficult circumstances of his life, that they brought on him (by selling him to slavery in Egypt), had been orchestrated by God. As he told them, “you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). God can put us in situations that communicate things to us from God. Maybe you find yourself in a difficult position or around a difficult person who is forcing you to deal with things that would have otherwise been left undone. These things can show us the path forward that God wants us to follow that we might not have ever chosen on our own.
The fourth is general revelation – our experience of truth from the created order.
The Psalmist described how the heavens declared the glory of God. Psalm 19 details both the general revelation of nature and the specific revelation of scripture,
“The heavens tell of the glory of God;
And their expanse declares the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.” Psalm 19:1-3
“The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” – Psalm 19:7-8
The heavens communicate something about God even though they have no ability to generate specific words. On the other hand, the Law of the LORD does communicate specific truths about God. We need to pay attention to both.
The fifth way to hear God’s voice is through Holy Spirit promptings.
In Matthew 10:20 Jesus says the Holy Spirit will tell them what to say in times of persecution. We seek the nudges and guidance within our spirits from God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can put someone on our heart and mind to reach out to them. I (Matt) cannot tell you how many times I have had a strong urging toward a particular person, only to find when I reached out to that person, they couldn’t believe I had reached out because they had me on their mind and they really needed some help. I believe God orchestrates these “divine appointments” through the Spirit. You don’t have to agree–that is where I have landed.
All five of these things work in concert with each other to form a whole picture of what God is trying to communicate to us. If we don’t think God communicates to us then we won’t listen for it. But the more we listen for it the more we will notice it! The more you notice it and tune into how God works the more you will be able to tune in those whom you disciple to God’s leading.
It isn’t enough to just hear God’s communication. We must act on what we hear (James 1:22-25). If God is communicating, then several things need to happen.
How do we help those we are guiding to tune in?
First, we need to teach them to spend more time listening. We will teach them to pray earnestly and stop to listen. It is a vital skill to learn how God will answer in His way and in His time.
Second, we need to encourage those we are discipling to move to obedience.
Whether it is something they read in the Bible or something they sense God is prompting them toward by the Spirit, we will encourage them to move to obedience. A while back I (Matt) had a family strongly on my mind for several days in a row. I resisted and resisted moving on this prompting. That same week someone in that same family made a tragic decision that ended with some big consequences. I couldn’t help but wonder if God was prompting me to prevent that. I believe I was disobedient to God’s prompting over those few days, and it encouraged me to be bolder in reaching out when people are on my mind.
Third, we need to talk about these things openly with those we are discipling. We need to normalize conversations about God’s guidance. It isn’t something spooky or mysterious and it doesn’t make anyone special. God is communicating all the time to those who will listen. The more you listen and act on what you hear, the more clear His voice becomes.
The end result of all of this will be disciples who know the voice of Jesus and follow His voice in obedience!
There is a lot of subjectivity in this process, but that is true in every genuine relationship, and we have to navigate this on a daily basis.
PS – Thank you for reading! I hope you will take a moment to read some of the other great articles on the website. It is a treasure-trove of great disciple-making content like this article!
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