Learning to Decern God’s Voice

A sea arch at Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon
A sea arch at Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Sometimes I wonder if one of the more precious gifts that God has given us is the ability to hear His voice.  As Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  It’s part of how we have relationship with God; how we overcome the sin of a fallen world through the blood of the Lamb (see Revelation 12:11).

Fall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California
Fall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California

Hearing God’s voice is more than just asking questions about life’s deepest problems.  If all you ever talk about with God is the big problems in your life, you won’t talk with Him very often (we hope!) and therefore you’ll only know Him and His voice as a calmness and a solution in the storm.  He is all of that.  But He’s also so much more.

Reflections in the Erie Canal, Rochester, New York

When I say the voice of God, I’m not necessarily talking about an audible voice in your ear or head.  Some people do hear God like that.  But for most of us, it’s impressions, pictures, sudden knowings, and a host of other ways that goes beyond our physical sense of hearing through our ears.  It’s as unique and diverse as God, Himself.

Views from Murphy Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Views from Murphy Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

When God speaks to us, we often feel His heart and attributes in the words, pictures, etc. that come with it.  We might feel love, peace, joy, resurrection Life, or any other part or parts of God’s character.  These attributes are a portion of how we decern what is God, what is darkness (hint: anything that feels the opposite of what God feels like is likely from the devil), and what is just a regular thought from our own heads.

Ladders up to Alcove House, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
Ladders up to Alcove House, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

The trouble with using God’s attributes alive in His words to determine whether it’s His voice or another is that the time comes in most Christians’ lives when their own emotions mimic these attributes.  I’ll use the example of a young man in love with a girl.  He wants to make sure that this is God’s pick for him, not just someone who happens to give him feels.  So he asks God for direction.  That’s very wise and something every person should do about a decision as important as marriage.  But here’s the problem: The man’s emotions when he thinks about the girl include love, life, joy, peace, and a lot of other qualities that are associated with Christ.  Unless that young man has a very long history of hearing God’s voice – and perhaps even if he does have the history – it could be very difficult to determine if he’s hearing God’s voice or just what his heart in that moment wants to believe.

Canoeists on Canadice Lake, New York
Canoeists on Canadice Lake, New York

This is why we all need to grow closer to God through relationship with Him, which includes hearing His voice, very intentionally and consistently.  The more we learn about God’s heart and character through experiencing Who He is, the more facets of His nature we will know and love.  The more facets of His nature that we know, the more we have to go on when we’re facing a difficult or emotionally-charged problem where we need to hear His voice.  Instead of just knowing God’s voice as “full of love,” we’ll know it as loving and also steady and constant.  Instead of just feeling at peace when He speaks, we’ll also know His voice as casting out darkness.  I could go on with more lists, but I think you get the point.

Sunrise from the Cloud Cap Campground, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon
Sunrise from the Cloud Cap Campground, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

Our history with God will determine how well we can hear and respond to Him when the pressure is on.  It may seem small and insignificant now, but I can assure you that in the future you’ll be thankful for every moment spent with God, learning to know Him and His attributes.