It sounds pretty wild to talk about hearing from God. Someone might say "Only wacko's talk about hearing from God. How can anyone hear God? If God exists at all, He's in heaven, right? How's He suppose to talk to us? I think anybody that talks about hearing from God is nuts!"
The whole idea of God speaking to anyone is generally an out of the ordinary experience, even among Christians. After reading this article I think what you will realize, even if you are a Christian, that maybe you have been "hearing" from God all along and didn't even know it. That was my experience. If you are not a Christian I invite you to be apart of God's kingdom and receive Him as Lord and Savior of your life (see last section). Jesus is not a thought or an ideology, He is a Person. People have relationships, and relationships presuppose communication. God does not always use words to communicate, although He can and does. There are seven methods of communication described in this article which God uses to communicate to us. There is no specific order intended in their listing. No one is more "spiritual" by hearing from God by one method over another.
If all this is new and unfamiliar to you, I encourage you to be a "Berean" and search the Scriptures to see if what is said is so. The apostle Paul encountered some folks from a town called Berea who did just that. He thought it was a noble thing for them to have done (Acts 17:11). I do too. I encourage you to ask God and seek the Scriptures for the truth in these matters.
Seven Ways God "Speaks"
Hearing God through Scripture is the most common method God has chosen to speak to us. When I say "speak" I do not mean out loud. I mean the Scripture rather "leaps off the page" at you and takes on a meaning that you hadn't noticed a moment earlier. This is called "rhema" in the original Greek language of the New Testament. It means spoken word. This is opposed to the Greek word "logos", or written word. The Bible itself is logos. Jesus is called The Logos (John 1:14). He is the personification of Scripture (Revelation 19:13). When one reads Scripture one is literally reading into the heart of God Himself (1 John 5:7).
Rhema is a supernatural event the occurs as the result of desire (Matthew 5:6) and by exposure (Romans 10:17) on the readers part to Scripture. Having an attitude of hunger for truth is a strong prerequisite. One might read the same Scripture over and over again, and then one day it "speaks". There is passage of time between the initial reading of logos before it becomes rhema (Habakkuk 2:3, Hebrew 6:12). It is impossible to say how long this time period will last. It is somewhat contingent upon the reader. For example, if one is very ill, reading Scriptures relating to divine healing are more likely to become rhema because one is motivated to hear them.
God is not capricious about speaking to us in this, or in any other manner. He does not play favorites, loving one person more than another by speaking to them (Acts 10:34). Indeed, it says it is God's good pleasure to give us all that He has (Luke 12:32). What hinders communication with God is often our own attitudes and preconceptions. God's ways are indeed higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9; 1Corinthians 2:9), but this does not mean that God is inscrutable or unknowable in any practical sense (1Corinthians 2:10). No, it means we must do things the way He has prescribed things to be done, not how the way we think they should be done (2Timothy 2:5).
The manner of God speaking to us through Scripture has much to do with what we are personally dealing with at the time. For instance, if you are depressed, the book of Psalms is a great place to receive solace. David, the inspired writer of many of the psalms, experienced many trials and hardships and the Lord delivered him out of them all. One might receive a word from God by reading his accounts. Another way that this phenomena of rhema can occur is by looking up the meaning of words in a bible dictionary or concordance. Because the Bible was originally written in other languages than English, looking up the meaning of a word in their original language often gives clearer insight into God's intended meaning. God "speaks" to us with words that we can understand.
The Scripture says no rhema is void of power (Luke 1:37, Amp.; Hebrews 1:3). The purpose of God speaking to us through Scripture is to dynamically remove us from the natural mind set or negative emotional situation that we might find ourselves in, so as to a place closer to Him. In the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy (Psalms 16:11). But we must do something for this change to occur. We must act on the Word we have received (James 2:22). Sometimes this acting is nothing more than a slight attitude adjustment. Sometimes it is more dramatic, like asking someone to forgive you of something you did to them years prior. The point is rhema not acted on will do you no good. God's power is activated when we act on the rhema received.
In addition to desire and exposure to the Scripture, giving these revelations away also brings more. There is a spiritual law of giving and receiving. Jesus said give and it will be given back to you (Luke 6:38). How much you give dictates how much you receive back from Him and others. I encourage you to tell someone about the Words you receive from Him in His Word. This ensures, in part, that you will receive more in the future. Jesus prayed a model prayer for us - it is called the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:8-13). One of the sentiments expressed in it is the promise of daily bread. God wants us to have bread on a daily basis. Bread can be thought of as physical food, but also as spiritual food (or rhema). Jesus said He is the bread of life (John 6:35). He said unless we eat of His body we would not receive life (John 6:53). This wasn't a literal eating of His flesh, rather, the consumption of His thoughts as they are penned in Scripture, the imbibing of His Spirit resulting in the new birth. So as we "eat" of His Word daily (Jeremiah 15:16), we can expect, on average, a word a day, a communication from God through His Scripture that is specific to you. This has been my experience. Remember though, you have got to give it away to get more, and you have got to get your head in the Word to get it in the first place. God says to meditate in His Word day and night (Joshua 1:8; 1Timothy 4:15).
So in summary, God speaks through Scripture by "highlighting" a word, a phrase, or a whole verse as your read and meditate on it. There is experienced a sense of new meaning, of life, and of empowerment. This Word is no less real than if Jesus Christ Himself were to speak to you the same sentiment face to face.
2. A "still small voice"
This phrase, still small voice, is from a passage in 1 Kings. To set the picture, the prophet Elijah had just done some miraculous things by the hand of God but then was chased off by an evil queen named Jezebel. He was on the run and a bit discouraged. God was instructing him in another way He speaks to people, which apparently he didn't know about or forgot about. God says, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice." (19:11,12). God can indeed speak violently as it were through storm and fire, but more often, He speaks in a gentle whisper. It can be thought of as the voice of your spirit speaking to your mind.
The Scripture describes human beings as tripartite in make up, that is, having spirit, soul, and body (1Thessalonians 5:23). The body is the material part of us that turns to dust when we die. The soul is our mind, will, emotions, and conscience. The spirit is that part of us that communicates and is cognizant of God. These later two are non-material (2 Corinthians 4:18).
The Scripture says that the Holy Spirit, the third member of the God-head, says nothing but what He hears the Father speak (John 16:13). It also says He communicates these things to us (John 16:14,15). Thus, God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit to our spirits. Our spirit, in turn, communicates to our mind, giving us mental comprehension. What we hear in our mind are words in English (or whatever language you happen to speak). These words are very "still and small" or subtle. You hear from God in this manner only when you are listening, only when you are focused on His Being, only when the things of the world and your circumstance have taken a back seat in priority. The words sound just like "you" because they are you! It's your spirit speaking to your mind. What is not apparent in the experience itself is that your spirit received these words from the Holy Spirit. This fact is gleaned from Scripture (Romans 8:16).
Caveat: any word from God, whether through this "still small voice" or from the other methods described in this article, must always be consistent with Scripture. God does not contradict Himself: He's not going to tell you one thing and in Scripture say something that contradicts. The Scripture is a more sure word than these personal venues of communication here described (2 Peter 1:19). If there is a contradiction, always side with the written Word. For example, someone receives a "word" from God that says to divorce their wife and marry another person. This is not from God because God has already clearly iterated in Scripture that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He wouldn't tell you to do something He hates. One must keep in mind that satan is a spirit also and just loves to whisper sweet "nothings" into our ears. He'll tell you what ever you want to hear (2 Corinthians 11:14). Another false source of "words" is our own soul. It also sounds like you because it is you too! It can be a challenge to discern the false from the true, but it's doable. You can expect to make mistakes at first. God says, "For a just man falls seven times, and rises up again" (Proverbs 24:16), and, "Though (you may) fall, you shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholds you with His hand" (Psalms 37:24). God wants us to succeed. He's on our side (Psalms 118:6). Hearing from God is, in a sense, a developed skill, and like any other skill it takes time and effort to master.
I remember the first time I heard His "still small voice". It was at a church service where many others were worshiping and praising God. I don't remember now what God said to me, but I do remember my reaction to hearing Him. I thought to myself, "I'll never be able to hear that voice again. That was so subtle!" Well, about a year later I was hearing His voice so often that I was actually telling God (if you can imagine this) to be quite! I didn't want to hear His truth. It was too much for me. Tuning into the voice of the Spirit is kind of like tuning into a radio station. If you don't know the frequency you just hear a lot of static trying to find it. But once you find it, once you recognize His voice, it becomes quite easy to tune into that radio station, or, hear His voice. He doesn't always speak in this manner, and you can't make Him speak. He's God and we're not! He's infinite (Psalms 147:5) and we are and forever will be finite. We can listen and He may speak. It is all we can do to position ourselves to receive from God. The rest is up to Him.
3. Inner witness
Some have described this method of communication as a "red light, green light". Red light means stop, green light means go. It does not involve words like the "still small voice". It is an inner knowing of something that does not involve words. One might feel "knotted up" inside at the prospect of doing something wrong or potentially out of the will of God. This is the Holy Spirit telling you not to do that. You might be considering an adulterous relationship and your insides are turning flip flops: this is a "red light" or inner witness.
In regards to a "green light", the assurance of the new birth is communicated in this fashion, as an example. Romans 10: 9,10 says if we will confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, that He paid the price for our sins, and we believe in our hearts the God raised Him from the dead, we would be saved. Romans 8:16 says, "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God". In other words, the Holy Spirit "speaks" without words the inner reality that, indeed, you are born again, having believed and confessed as per Romans 10:9,10. This is a communication of the heart of God to our hearts. It is an inner knowing that something is so.
Caveat: Jiminy Cricket said our conscience was our guide. This is wrong. Our conscience is not necessarily a sure guide to truth. Paul testified to this in 1 Corinthians 4:4 - "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent" (NIV). Before his conversion experience, Paul violently and ruthlessly brought many Christians to jail to be tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul sincerely believed He was not only doing a good thing, but that God was approving of his actions. Sincerity is no guarantee of the truth, nor is a clear conscience. The Scripture says our conscience can be seared, or burned, as it were, of its ability to discern good and evil (1 Timothy 4:2). The only remedy to this situation is, again, let Scripture be the final authority of truth in our lives. It can happen that, in all honesty, you feel no compunction about having sex with someone out of wedlock, or stealing a pair of socks from the local department store. These activities are clearly demarcated in Scripture as sin in the eyes of God. The Good News is that a seared conscience can be healed by God and restored. Romans 2:15 describes an intact and a seared conscience in action: "Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them".
These are pictures in the mind that God can give in order to communicate something to us or for someone else. Someone once said a picture paints a thousand words. Pictures seem to be more expressive and succinct than words. Also, we seem to remember pictures better than we do concepts. Throughout the Bible God has communicated to His people in this manner (e.g., Genesis 46:2; 2 Chronicles 9:29, 26:5; Ezekiel 1:1; Daniel 1:17; Acts 2:17; 2 Corinthians 12:1). These images are usually on the same order as the "still small voice" in that they are rather subtle. God is a Gentleman. He never imposes Himself on anyone. He treads lightly.
Visions are always for a purpose, never just to give us spiritual "goose bumps" or some sort of badge of spirituality we can wag around to others to show how spiritual we are. They are strategies to get us out of a situation, a new way of looking at something, vital information about discovering something new, etc. Their meaning can at times be difficult to discern; other times the meaning is obvious. Why does God seem to use such off hand indirect methods of communicating? One reason is that He doesn't want the devil to know about it (Ephesians 3:10), thus it is a sort of coded message. Satan is our adversary (1 Peter 5:8). Fortunately, he cannot read our minds and he is spiritually blind.
If the vision's meaning is unclear, it is our responsibility to ask the Holy Spirit for its meaning. Often times others may have the meaning while you yourself do not (1 Corinthians 13:9). This happened to Daniel and king Belshazzar (Daniel 5). In this case the "vision" was a written message that God gave the interpretation and meaning of to Daniel for the king. It was quite accurate.
Visions can vary in their intensity. An "open" vision is one where ones eyes are fully open and the vision is supernaturally given such that our natural eyes can see it. Peter had this happen to him (Acts 10). I have personally not had this happen to me but I have known others who have. The Scripture says, "to whom much is given much is required" (Luke 12:48). An open vision is in the "much given" category: the people who receive these are generally close to God and wield considerable influence in the Body of Christ. When praying for others is when one often receives a vision of things pertaining to that person. Spiritual gifts are given for others not ourselves (1Corinthians 14:12). I believe visions are one type of gift that God can give to us. Depending on how we handle the administering of these gifts will greatly influence whether we receive more of them from God in the future. It is a mistake to want spiritual gifting and power for its own sake or to inflate one's ego. God is interested in developing character, not in making a "character" out of you.
Dreams are very similar to visions but they occur, obviously, during slumber.
I like the way Job puts it: "In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while slumbering on their beds, then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction" (33:15,16). Sometimes God can't get through to us because our minds are in the way. God speaks to us in our hearts, not our heads (Romans 8:7). So He will sometimes use this means to "speak" to us. Joseph, Jesus' step-father, was one biblical character whom God chose to speak to in this manner particularly (Matthew 1:20, 2:13,19). It should be noted that he was quick to respond to God's communication. One time he didn't even wait till morning: he got up in the middle of the night and carted his whole family down to Egypt!
God often "speaks" to me when I first wake in the morning, before my mind is fully awake - perhaps within the first five or ten minutes - in His "still small voice". Why at that time? because my mind isn't in the way. The spirit of a man never sleeps (Psalms 121:4; Genesis 1:26). It doesn't need rest. It is immaterial.
There is a developed skill in interpreting dreams and even a gift for it. Joseph, Isaac's son, seemed to possess this gift (Genesis 41:12). If you are unskilled it is better not to over interpret. God will get the meaning over to you. The dreams I have had from the Lord have all been obvious in their meaning and were very encouraging. Visions and dreams often are confirmation of things God has already spoken to you about. Scripture says, "out of the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word (rhema) be established" (2 Corinthians 13:1). This means, we can ask and count on God for verification of communications from Him by repetition of at least two times. Again, none of these methods of communication mentioned in this article should contradict Scripture (2 Peter 1:19). If they do, always go with Scripture.
6. Other people
God has given to the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to help us along our spiritual path (Ephesians 4:11,12). Sometimes God chooses to speak to us through these ministers. This may be in the form of a sermon, a prophetic word (see next section), a reprimand or reproof, a song, some truth, or perhaps conviction about something good or bad. God's communication through others is not restricted to fellow believers in Christ. It may be through your boss at work, a co-worker, your spouse, a relative, a stranger. We need to keep our spiritual "radar" on all the time to hear these communications (Matthew 11:12).
Sometimes God is forced to use this means of communication because we have hardened our hearts to Him and He is no longer able to get through to us by our own spirits. This is one of the many reasons we should not neglect to go to church (Hebrews 10:25). We need one another. God acts through His Body, and we are His Body.
7. Prophecy and tongues with interpretation
This method of communication involves another person speaking to you directly or generally, as in a church service. This person is speaking by inspiration of God, i.e., God communicates the gist of something to that person and that person, in turn, relates it back in their own words. A verbose person will use many words, a terse personality will use few words. God does not control people: our personalities will come out whenever we are used by God. These are three of a total of nine manifestations of the Holy Spirit described in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Prophecy is in the language of the hearers, while tongues and interpretation is initially spoken in a language unknown to the speaker but then is interpreted into the language of the speaker and the hearers. Its purpose is to build up, encourage, strengthen, exhort, admonish, and comfort the hearer. The person giving this word may receive the initial communication from God in any of the above mentioned methods and then "interprets" them using his or her own words. As with the other methods, I cannot emphasize enough the caution of comparing it with Scripture (2 Peter 1:19). In the case of prophecy, an additional safeguard against flaky prophecy has been installed by God: let other prophets in the meeting assay its veracity (1 Corinthians 14:29). This does not guarantee verity but tends to screen against weird people saying weird things. God never imposes Himself on anyone. Any prophet or prophetic utterance that constrains you to do something against your will is not from God, or has injected something of their own sentiment along with God's.
This method of communication generated the Bible itself many many generations ago (2 Peter 1:20,21). There is a warning given by God in the book of Revelation that condemns anyone adding or taking away from the canon of Scripture (Revelation 22:18,19). This is speaking of doctrine. The form of communication from God in prophecy and tongues and interpretation does not add or take away from the doctrines of the Bible. If they do, they are not of God but are the agenda of some overzealous but misguided Christian. Like the other aforementioned methods, often prophecy and tongues and interpretation will corroborate what God has already been speaking to you about. This can be quite an uplifting and life-giving experience. Some have described it as God "reading your mail", i.e. God knows your heart better than you do and knows what's going on in your life. God never embarrasses you, however. If any communication in this vein is of a confidential natural, the experienced spokesperson should always take you aside and speak it to you privately.
Tongues are to be used both in the public as well as in private setting. At home, in the privacy of your own home, you may ask God to help you interpret the message you have received from Him in tongues into your native language (1Corinthians 14:13). That is, you may speak in tongues, ask God for the interpretation, and then interpret it for the purpose of edifying yourself (1 Corinthians 14:4; Jude 20). This also may corroborate what God has already laid on your heart, or, may be something for others.
No meaningful relationship is successful without communication. God desires to have relationship with you. If you are not born again and would like to be, please read the last section of this article. God loves you and wants a relationship with you. If you are born again but have not experienced the tremendous experience of hearing from Him directly, may I encourage you - it's available! God wants to speak with us. Read and meditate on the Scriptures given in this article. Pray about it. Ask Him to reveal to you His truth in these matters. Go to church! If you are not going to church the Scripture says you are in disobedience (Hebrews 10:25). We need each other! Please ask Him and He will direct you to the one just right for you (1 Corinthians 12:18). Hearing from God presupposes that you will do what He says. If you are unwilling to do what He says you will not enjoy His wonderful benefits (Isaiah 1:19). The alternative is the "god" of self. Are you really worth that kind of homage? God is good, all the time!
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How Can I Be Born Again?
The Bible says, that if you say with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will experience salvation (Romans 10:9,10). Someone might ask, "Maybe God doesn't want me; after all, I've done some pretty horrible things". I have Good News for you! Jesus died for your sins while you were still in your sins, before you even committed them (Romans 5:8)! Despite our sins, God said, whoever would call on Him would be saved (Romans 10:13). Are you a "whoever"? Then you are eligible! God's sacrifice on the cross triumphed over any and all sins you or anyone else has ever committed.
If you desire to be born again, say this prayer out loud: "Father God, I see from the Bible that You love me, that You gave yourself for me, that You provided a way out of sin and death for me. But I also see that I am guilty of sin before You without Jesus; that if I were to die right now, I would go to hell. Father, I now accept Your free gift of righteousness by the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ. I receive Him now into my life as Lord and Savior. I ask You to forgive me of all my sins. Thank you Jesus. Come into my life; be my Lord. Amen."
If you prayed that prayer and meant it in your heart, you are born again! Praise God! The Bible says the angels of God are rejoicing right now because of your decision and act of faith (Luke 15:10). You may not feel any different but you are different. Your feelings and thoughts are part of your mind; the part of you that is born again is your spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). As a child of God (John 1:12) God is also interested in changing your thinking and emotions as well (Romans 12:2). He loves you so much that He accepts you as you are, but is also unwilling to leave you the way you are. He wants to share with you all that He has, and He's got a lot!
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