I don’t remember growing up with a lot of voices in my head. Sure, I had plenty going on up there, but nothing that seemed to come at me from the outside. That’s why I never doubted my experience in high school. I had never encountered such a powerful, foreign intrusion. And even though the message seemed to contradict what I believed, I never doubted that it was from God. Maybe I should have.
I married a person whose mind was a mental chatter house. She was constantly telling me what the Lord was saying in her devotions, or while showering, or driving, or standing in the post office. Sometimes the voice would be confirmed as genuine, but not always. She talked about other voices as well—tempting, laughing, condemning voices. She confessed that her mind seemed to be trapped between two masters, each demanding her attention and allegiance.
You can imagine how our conversations went in that first year. I was not the most sensitive listener, and most of my advice would be trying to convince her that the noise in her head was self induced, just regular thoughts, thoughts that could be managed with a little counseling or spiritual development. What else was I going to do? Hire an exorcist?
Once during that first year Laurie said that God had slapped her in the face during devotions. Without thinking, I told her that God doesn’t slap people in the face. Basically I was telling her that the voice she had always attached to God was not really God. You can imagine how well that conversation went.
A couple years later, while we were attending Bible School, Laurie was brave enough to tell me that God had spoken to her again. He wanted her to believe she was pregnant.
So we went out and got a pregnancy test. The test came back negative. Then we left for a couple weeks on Christmas break, two weeks for Laurie to wonder if she had ever heard from God, to see if she would believe despite the evidence.
After the break we tried again. This time the test came back positive. This was a decisive moment for us, something Laurie could always use to differentiate God’s voice from the others.
Some believers would insist that God no longer speaks to people, not in those ways. He has spoken, and what he said was written down in his Word. The last thing we need is a bunch of people claiming that they are hearing from God, using their “revelations” to justify sinful behavior, lead people astray, or start a cult.
But what if we do hear something? How do we know if it is from God, from the devil, or just a thought like any other thought?
A few years ago I wrote an article on this topic for a youth magazine. In preparing the material, I asked my friends and family to share their experiences of hearing from God.
Four claimed to have heard God’s voice audibly. In two of those cases, God said the same thing. “Trust me.” Most often, God spoke to people in their spirits, sort of like my experience in high school, or through an affirming thought or emotion. Some people mentioned circumstances bending around them, forcing them into important encounters with people or key decisions. In many cases, God spoke in a moment of crisis, intervening at the perfect moment with a check in the mail, a word from a friend, a dream, a vision, or a perfect verse.
As I considered the many examples from Scripture, and thought about the experiences of my friends, I noticed a few consistencies:
God Is Personal
God knows us on a profound level. He understands our personality, culture and relationships. He knows our past. When he approaches us, he will come on a first name basis.
God Is Consistent
God’s voice is distinct to his personality and purpose. When he speaks, it will always be from a heart of love, encouraging growth, promoting truth, and deepening our relationship with him. In times of pain, he often brings comfort. In times of comfort, he often brings a challenge.
God Is Diverse:
God is predictably unpredictable. If you think that a certain kind of prayer will generate a certain kind of answer, you’re not thinking of God as a person. He is not a vending machine. It is impossible to predict what he will say or how he will say it.
God is Clear
On three separate occasions in my own experience God’s voice has been followed by an emotional reaction, and later confirmed by another person. I don’t think he minds if we pull a Gideon from time to time, as long as we are trying to be sure of his voice and willing to obey it.
God is Timely
God acts at the perfect moment. Would a mother make dinner in the morning to help her children feel confident that they won’t miss a meal? No, she would want her kids to trust her character, not some checklist.
God is Costly
Sometimes seeking God requires sacrifice. I have often been encouraged to seek God with extended periods of prayer or multiple days of fasting. Sometimes God won’t answer until I go after him more aggressively.
What are some patterns that you have noticed in your interactions with God? How can you be sure you’re not fooling yourself? What advice would you give to people that are still struggling to discern God’s voice?