When I had little ones at home, buried in toys and laundry (me, not my little ones), I’d meet my husband at the door at dinnertime, and for the next couple hours, I’d talk.
I’d talk about nothing and about everything. I scarcely took a breath; I was desperate for intelligent, adult conversation. After answering toddler questions and reading rhyming storybooks all day, I had a surplus of adult words I needed to use by the end of the night. I’d tell Jon, “I just need to process.”
God is not like that. (Neither is my husband, by the way.) God’s not just speaking for the heck of it. He’s not bored. He doesn’t need to “process.” God’s words are always deliberate and specific. He always has a purpose when He speaks.
His written word, the Bible, is not only one giant testimony to the fact that He speaks to people—clearly, deliberately, and undeniably; but also, why He speaks to his people and how He speaks to His people.
Literally, the very first action we see in Scripture is God speaking:
Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said…”
And all the way at the end of the Bible, in the final book, we see Jesus offering this invitation to hear His voice:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20
You know on this blog and at The Balanced MomCast, you can learn all sorts of tips, tricks, and hacks to achieve balance. Scroll through old blog posts and podcast episodes and you’ll learn everything from establishing routines to getting kids off screens to eating well and exercising. I love all that stuff and all that is important.
But the most beneficial thing I can teach you to help you achieve and maintain balance now and for the rest of your life is how to hear the voice of God. He alone can tell you what you should be focusing on and what you can lay down for a season…or forever. God alone can give you the peace you are seeking.
But first a giant disclaimer:
I know that certain blog post titles are more “clickable” and will show up better in search engines. I also know that, as blog post and podcast consumer, you want some quick takeaways and simple action steps. I get it—I love that too. That’s precisely why this title is both simple and clickable.
But we are about to talk about Almighty God. The Infinite, Unchanging, Holy, Loving, Self-Sufficient, All-knowing God. We are talking about that God and His Holy word and His relationship with us. I don’t take that lightly. As much as I love lists (and you KNOW I do), I cannot and I will not attempt to reduce this subject, or worse yet your relationship with God, down to a checklist. That’s not how this works.
That said, I just spent an entire year studying the Holy Scriptures to learn how God spoke to people in the Bible and what that means for us. I wrote a book filling 276 pages. And even at that length, I’m absolutely certain I’ve barely scratched the surface on the topic. So unless I break it down and organize it into little bite-sized pieces, this post will be—I don’t know—276 pages long.
So, just to be clear, hearing God’s voice is not to be reduced to “6 Simple Ways” or “5 Easy Steps” or “3 Time-Saving Hacks.”
Now, before we learn HOW God speaks, it’s vital to understand WHY God speaks. Again, God speaks deliberately and specifically. If you were to read all the way through the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation with an eye to understand WHY God spoke to people, you would see God’s purposes fall into one or more of these eight categories, (understanding much overlap exists in these purposes and God probably has more that I have yet to identify):
- God wants you to know the truth about who He is.
- God wants you to know the truth about who you are.
- God wants you to know the truth about others and who they are.
- God wants you to know what to do to further His kingdom.
- God wants to tell you how and why to avoid sin (and whether or not you’re in sin).
- God wants to tell you what He is doing.
- God wants your heart to be transformed into His image.
- God wants you to glorify His name.
Understanding God’s motives is integral to understanding His voice. We may hear Him on occasion, but sometimes cannot correctly interpret and apply what we hear. Knowing why God speaks to His people not only helps us discern the voices to determine if it’s God speaking, but it also helps us correctly apply what we know to be a word from the Lord.
For example, if God reveals something to you about someone else’s poor choices, I can guarantee you that it is NOT to gossip about her or to defame her character. But it may be to help you avoid sin or protect your family in some way. It may be so that you share the Gospel with her and further the Kingdom of God.
If you think you hear something from God, run it through those eight filters and see if it makes sense. If it doesn’t fit, it’s probably not God speaking.
In addition to having motives or reasons to speak, God also has methods by which He speaks. Some of the methods God used repeatedly in Scripture—we’re going to look at the main ones below. Others we only see once in Scripture. For example, God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush. He only did that once. And as far as I know, He hasn’t done that since.
This tells us that
- God can speak however He wants, to whomever He wants, however He wants.
- It’s not wise to look at single example in scripture and create a doctrine or even an expectation that God will speak to me that way. For example, God spoke to Balaam through the mouth of his own donkey. It’s a hilarious story by the way…you can read it in Numbers 22. But that does not mean that God will speak to us through our donkeys. Can He? Yeah…He’s God. He can do whatever He wants. Will He? Probably not.
Instead, We can confidently look to certain methods as the primary or most common ways God speaks since they are used multiple (sometimes hundreds!) of times in Scripture.
Here is an overview of the primary methods God uses to speak in the Bible and to us.
This is just an overview. If you want go in-depth on this, we do this in my book Is The Voice in My Head God or Just Me, available now.
1. God Speaks Through Scripture
This is the primary way God will speak to us and also the standard against which we measure everything else we hear. The Bible is literally God’s word—His voice in written form. In the Old Testament alone, the writers explicitly state over 3,800 times that they are conveying God’s words.
Again, God can speak to whomever He chooses, but as a general rule, you will have a very difficult time hearing God’s voice if you don’t familiarize yourself with His language—the Bible. The more you read, hear, speak, write, memorize, study, seek to understand, teach, and sing God’s word, the more you will discern His voice when He speaks to you.
In my personal experience, God uses His word to speak to me nearly every time He speaks, either directly through a passage I am reading, or by bringing a passage to my memory that I had previously read or heard.
If you are new to Christianity or if you question the authority of Scripture in any way, I would start here. Meaning, I would take some time to establish where you stand on the authority of Scripture. If you are questioning whether the Bible is actually God’s word, I have two book recommendations for you:
2. God Speaks Through the Inner Voice
After God speaking to you directly through the written word of God, the next most common method is God speaking directly to your heart. We know this because it is the most common method described in Scripture. Of all the methods, it also causes the most confusion. I, for one, have a steady monologue going on in my mind, and it’s sometimes difficult to figure out who’s talking. I don’t think I’m alone here, since the number-one question I get from people on the topic of hearing God is, “Is the voice in my head God or just me?” (Thus, the title of my new book!)
But in a very, very simple way, let me tell you 3 things about the inner voice:
- It will always sound like God’s word.
- It will sound like peace.
- It will sound like love.
3. God Speaks Through Other People
God often uses other people to speak to us, either directly, or through sermons, books, prophecy, songs, etc. As you probably suspect, not all people who claim to hear God on our behalf are actually hearing God on our behalf—and if you don’t suspect this, you should. (Confusion over this method is precisely why I began studying the topic of hearing God’s voice over 20 years ago.)
Just because someone is saying God is speaking through them, doesn’t mean it’s true. But God gave us ways to know. He told us to examine the fruit of people’s lives to determine what kind of tree they are! That means how you live your life—how you conduct yourself, what your relationships look like, how you behave– will be the biggest indicator of whether or not I will believe you when you tell me you are speaking to me on God’s behalf.
So, when I see that you love God with all your heart and you love your family; you’re kind and generous and gentle and even-tempered; and you love me and you want ME to love God and to be full of God’s spirit and grow into maturity—and then you come to me and say, “I feel like God wants me to tell you something.” Guess what! I’m gonna listen to you!
But if I’ve never met you, and you send me a private message on Facebook saying you have “a word” for me from God; and then I pop over to your Facebook profile and see you’re mean and divisive and rude and condescending to people who are a different political affiliation than you…I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna receive that “word,” is what I’m sayin’.
4. God Speaks Through Circumstances/Open and Closed Doors
Christians are all over the map on how to interpret circumstances with regard to God’s will. I’ve heard some people say that if things are going too smoothly you must be doing something wrong. And others say that if things are going too smoothly you’re doing something right. So, which is it?
The short answer: it’s both.
God can and will manipulate circumstances to direct your path. He opens doors. He closes doors. He will use anything and anyone He chooses to accomplish His purpose. He neither requests nor requires permission to move things around to accomplish His will. But here’s the thing: people can also manipulate circumstances! Without some discernment on our part, it’s hard to know the difference.
Jon and I have relocated across the country three times. As with all major decisions, relocating affects countless people, so we have always sought to acquire a large degree of certainty that it was God’s leading before uprooting our family and replanting elsewhere. Every time we moved, God started lining up circumstances to guide us in that direction months ahead of time. We didn’t recognize it as such, especially at the beginning.
Before we left Florida and moved to Kentucky, Jon and I both sensed that something was about to change. We weren’t sure what, but we both had the urge to “move on.” At first we thought maybe it just meant a house-move or a church-move. But as the weeks unfolded, circumstances indicated it was more like a move-move. Jon felt stuck in his job. A babysitting gig I had taken was coming to an end. The Bible study I was teaching was drawing to a close. Rebekah was about to enter into kindergarten, marking a natural transition into the next season of parenting. Everything that tethered us to Florida was lifting at the same time, positioning us to relocate. It wasn’t long before Jon was offered a great job, and all of the circumstances made sense. (Because without all that, moving from Florida to Kentucky makes no sense. At least to me.)
But circumstances alone don’t always indicate God’s will.
In the Bible we see examples of each of the following:
- Sometimes God opens literal and figurative doors that no man can shut.
- Sometimes God opens a door and gives us the freedom to accept or reject the invitation.
- Sometimes people can manipulate circumstances and confuse God’s plans.
- Sometimes a series of open doors will lead people to God’s will.
- Sometimes the door is closed, but God invites people to persist in prayer to open it.
This is why circumstances should never be interpreted independent of God’s word, inner peace, and godly counsel (the three primary methods). If you are unsure about whether God is speaking to you through your circumstances, go back to God’s word first and compare it to what the Bible says. Pay attention to what you are hearing in your spirit. Seek godly counsel. There is no formula to any of this. It requires diligence and time—time to seek clarification, yes. But mostly, time to get to know God.
“The problem with open doors is the emphasis is erroneously placed on the door rather than on God… Looking for open doors can appear easier than developing a relationship with God… If decision-making were based entirely on open doors, people would not need a relationship with God: they could merely become ‘door watchers.’Henry Blackaby
5. God Speaks Through Nature
When I was a new Christian, I thought people who said they felt close to God in nature were New Age freaks. (I can be real with you, right?) I thought “being in nature” was a cop-out for getting in the Bible and dropping to your knees and praying like a REAL Christian (Said in my best Dana Carvey Church Lady voice).
Obviously, I had much to learn about God, His word, and His voice.
Today, God often speaks to me through nature. To me there is nothing more sacred than standing at the shoreline and looking across the ocean, listening to the roar of the waves. That’s why the beach is my favorite place—it reminds me of my smallness and God’s bigness.
6. God Speaks Through Dreams and Visions
Two weeks after my nine-month-old son Noah died, I was in his bedroom holding his blanket, rocking slowly in the rocking chair, and weeping. I know this goes without saying, but losing my son was the worst pain I had ever endured in my entire life, before or since, hands-down. I simply have no words to describe the despair I was in at that moment.
The phone rang and a woman from church called to see how I was doing. I told her I was in Noah’s room rocking and crying, and she said, “You need to get out of there.”
I was like, What? Such an odd and insensitive thing to say, Even as I share this, my heart aches, because I was alone in my house and I missed my baby so, so much… I was just sitting in the place where I felt closest to him.
I know she meant well. I get that now. She was trying to encourage me to get up and do something else that wasn’t so, well, sad. (Note: Everything was sad. I could have done nothing differently to make me less sad.) I thanked her for her concern, but told her I was just going to sit there for now. She argued with me—insisted that I get up and resist my sorrow because I was fighting a spiritual battle or something. I don’t remember exactly the point she was trying to make or how I responded, except I remember regretting that I had answered the phone. The conversation rapidly deteriorated, and at one point she said something ridiculous like, “I think Satan took your baby.”
(Ugh. I know.)
(Who says that?!???!)
(It’s fine. I’m fine. This story has a point, and it’s not “what not to say to a grieving mother”.)
(Though, if I were to advise one on this topic, “Satan took your baby” would be at the top of the list of things NOT to say.)
In an effort to believe the best about this woman, she and my entire church family were trying to make sense of Noah’s death. This particular woman faithfully prayed for Noah and his healing. Without getting off on a tangent about a particular church doctrine right now, she sincerely believed that our faith (hers included) should have been sufficient to heal Noah—that physical healing was and always is God’s will. When Noah died, she was looking for another explanation. Enter: “Satan took your baby.”
As you can probably imagine, I ended the phone call abruptly. I literally fell on the floor sobbing. I screamed out to God in desperation and anger and exhaustion and anguish, “Lord, if Satan is able to take a child like Noah—a child covered in prayer from conception and bathed in the Word every single day of his life, a child prayed for by literally tens of thousands of people around the world… If Satan has that much power to snatch my child, then please, if You have any shred of compassion for me, please, do not give me any more children. I don’t want them if it means You aren’t able to protect them from Satan’s power. Please tell me now, one way or another, if Satan took my son. Because if he did, I’m never having another child again as long as I live.”
At that exact moment, the phone rang again.
(Keep in mind; this was 1998, before caller ID).
I was afraid Satan-took-your-baby lady was calling back for more “words of encouragement.” I had no desire to talk to anyone. But I felt God nudge me to answer it anyway.
I did. It was my sister-in-law (thank God). She asked how I was doing and I proceeded to spew out everything that had just happened—the phone call, the insensitive comments, the prayer I had just prayed, all of it. I’m quite sure I was incoherent, what with all the sobbing and heaving.
And she said, “Well, that explains why God told me to call you just now. Last week I was praying for you, and I was saying to God, ‘This is terrible, Lord. There is nothing good about this.’ And God said, ‘It’s not terrible. You only saw Noah die with your physical eyes, but let Me show you what was happening in the Spirit.’
She said suddenly she saw the hospital room, just as it was when Noah died. All of us were there, the doctors were trying to resuscitate him, nurses were scurrying around, Jon and I were crying—the whole scene. Then suddenly, the room changed. She said, “Sandy, every single place you had prayed that week for an angel to be, it was there. There were angels that looked like guards at his door. There was a line of blood on the floor where you prayed the blood of Jesus to be. There were angels hovering over his bed. They were everywhere.
And Jesus was standing by Noah’s bedside with His hand on Noah’s chest, and Noah was looking into Jesus’ eyes and he was smiling. Noah asked Jesus, ‘Is it time yet?’ and Jesus, said, ‘Not yet’. And then just as the doctors walked out of the room to say, ‘I’m sorry, we’ve done everything we can do’, Jesus picked Noah up, and Noah laid his head on Jesus’ shoulder, and Jesus carried him out of the room.”
She went on to say, “I wanted to call you and tell you about this vision last week, but God said, ‘No’. I was just sitting here and it was like an alarm went off and God said, ‘Call her right now. Call her right now and tell her the vision.’
Then she said, “Sandy, Satan didn’t take your baby. His death was a holy moment to God.”
God gave my sister-in-law the vision before I even uttered (screamed) the prayer. He sent me the exact thing I needed at the exact time. Not only that, but unbeknownst to me at the time, I was already pregnant with my daughter, Rebekah. Because of that vision and my sister-in-law’s obedience to call me at the precise moment I needed it, I would go on to walk in faith throughout that pregnancy, and I’d never again question God’s ability to protect my children from the hand of Satan.
Dreams and visions are not typical for me, but I have clearly benefited from the dreams and visions of others. God told the prophet Joel He would speak to people this way.
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
“All people” means us.
If you are a person (and I’m assuming right now that you are) you can have the spirit of God in you and hear the spirit of God speak to you.
This is truly the best news ever, isn’t it?
Q4U: Has God ever spoken to you through any of these 6 methods? Which one(s)? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
For a full study on this topic, pick up a copy of Is the Voice in My Head God or Just Me?