What am I going to do with the rest of my life? Where should I go to school? Should I take this job, or is there something better on the horizon? Whom should I marry? Life is a never-ending series of choices. How can we know whether we are making the right decisions?
God is our Heavenly Father, and He wants us to be fulfilled, blessed, and successful in the plan that He has established for our lives. This is because He loves us, and so we can be a reflection of His love and blessings to other people in the earth. It is God’s desire to have a relationship with us—to walk with and to communicate with His children. He wants to talk to us. He wants to guide our steps. And He wants us to listen and talk to Him, too.
Here is the good news—we can hear His voice! It might sound crazy to you, but it is true. The Bible, God’s love letter to mankind, makes it clear that we were created to have two-way communication with Him. Jesus tells us in John 10:27 (ESV), “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”
As a child of God, we don’t have to walk blind. We can have confidence that we will hear His voice. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:14 (NKJV), “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Conversely, this Scripture implies that if we are God’s children, if we are born-again, His Spirit will lead us.
We have further assurance of this promise in the Psalms:
“The steps of a good [righteous] person are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand” (37:23-24 NKJV).
God will order our steps, and even when we blow it, if we are truly trying to do His will, He will lift us up and give us another chance.
Learning to Discern
The most difficult part of hearing God is the fact that it takes time to learn to discern His voice—and it takes a humble heart. We see this expressed clearly in the story of the boy Samuel in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 3 NKJV).
Samuel was given by his mother to serve in the Jewish temple under the high priest Eli. One night as he slept, God began speaking to Samuel. Having never heard God’s voice before, Samuel thought Eli was calling to him. The boy ran to Eli and woke him saying, “Here I am, for you called me.” Eli replied, “I did not call, go lie down.” This happened three times and finally Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’”
The Lord called out to the boy one more time, and Samuel responded as he was directed, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
Just as Samuel heard the voice of God, but could not yet discern it from Eli’s, so we, too, learn to hear and discern God’s voice by trial and error.
We hear four internal voices—our own inner voice, the voice of God, the voice of the devil, and the voice of the world—which would include memories of influential people, members of the media, or other important messages we have heard over time. Without training, we might think the things we hear are merely our own inner voice. But once we are aware of these different influences, we can more easily discern among the various voices.
After some trial and error, like the boy Samuel, we can eventually recognize the voice of God and learn how to confirm His leading in our lives.
The prophet Jeremiah declared:
“Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to
you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me
with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13 NKJV).
The writer of Proverbs describes the way our thoughts and intentions line up with God’s will when we submit ourselves fully to the Lord:
“Roll your works upon the Lord [commit and trust them wholly to
Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and]
so shall your plans be established and succeed” (Proverbs 16:3 AMPC).
The Lord manifests Himself to us and through us as we humbly seek Him. The familiar passage in Proverbs 3 makes it clear.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV).
The prophet Isaiah speaks about our ability to hear God’s voice:
“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the
way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left” (Isaiah 30:21 NLT).
God will speak, and you can hear His voice, but you must be careful that you objectively confirm that you are following the Holy Spirit and not another voice. Our own flesh can scream loudly (especially when we are under pressure, or we want something very badly). The world can be very seductive. And the devil is the father of lies—he is the great deceiver.
The Bible Is the Standard
The best way to discern between the voice of God and the voice of the devil is to become thoroughly familiar with God’s Word—the Old and New Testaments.
When the government trains agents to find counterfeit money they don’t use a forgery, they use a real bill. When the agents become familiar with the real currency, they immediately recognize a counterfeit. It is the same with the things of the Spirit. When you know God’s Word and His principles, then it is very easy to detect a lie from the devil.
Every possible leading, every prophetic word, every voice that we hear or sermon from the pulpit must line up with God’s Word. It is the standard for all that we do in life. First and foremost, any guidance that we receive must be tested against the principles of the Bible. Paul writes this admonition to his disciple, Timothy:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV).
God will never go against His Word—this is a great assurance to us as we seek His guidance for our lives.
The Still Small Voice
People in the secular world might scoff and belittle the fact that you can hear from God—but that doesn’t make it any less true. Rest assured, if you are truly seeking almighty God—the God of the Bible—and are humble in your heart, He will direct your steps. Jesus said:
“I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them
also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one
flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16 NASB).
Hearing the voice of our Father is a precious part of our inheritance as His children.
The Peace of God
One of the most important ways to test whether a voice we are hearing is from God or not is through the barometer of peace. Paul writes:
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:15 NASB).
The word “rule” in this passage literally means “to be an umpire.” The peace of God in our life acts as an umpire of our hearts—it tells us whether we are “safe” (in God’s will), or “out” (on our own).
It is often said in church circles, “When God appoints, He anoints. When He calls, He equips. And what He orders, He pays for.” As followers of Christ, we should want to know that it is God appointing, calling, and ordering the steps of your life. Without God’s appointment, there is no anointing. Apart from the call of God, there is no equipping. And finally, if He doesn’t order it, guess who pays for it? One way to avoid being out of His will is by checking our peace-ometer (like an odometer or barometer) when we are considering a decision.
Led Through Godly Counsel
The writer of Proverbs declares:
“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the
multitude of counselors there is safety” (11:14 NKJV).
Thank God for the Body of Christ. Paul writes using this metaphor:
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. …
But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. … The eye cannot say
to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have
no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:7, 20-21 NKJV).
We need each other. No one is able to fully comprehend the leading of God in its totality because we all have our weaknesses or blind spots. We should seek out mature men and women of God who can act as sounding boards for the direction that we believe we’re hearing from the Lord. This may be your spouse, your father or mother, your pastor or your priest, a small group leader, your brother or sister—anyone who is mature in the Lord and has demonstrated a proven track record of hearing God’s voice.
Led Through Confirmation
A Bible principle that is also used in our modern-day courts of law says, “The facts of every case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (2 Corinthians 13:1 NLT).
Confirmation is reassurance we receive from the Lord that, yes, we have heard from God, and we are on the right track in following His guidance. Confirmation can come in a thousand different ways—it’s up to the Lord which way He chooses. It’s wonderful to know that the Lord promises us that He will confirm His word to us. And since He will, then we can—and should—ask Him to do so for us, especially when we are facing major life decisions.
Led Through Circumstances
Some Christians are led entirely by circumstances and completely ignore the other means of God’s guidance. Others completely ignore the circumstances of life and step out in what they might call faith—and what others would call presumption. If we walk in the balance of these two extremes, many times the Lord will confirm His direction to us through three, four, or more of these ways—especially when we are in the process of making an important, life-changing decision.
Now it is important to point out that God will lead our steps, but it won’t always be spectacular. Some are constantly looking for a supernatural display of some kind. They are looking for the Lord to guide through dreams, visions, prophecies, angels, and voices. While these are all ways that God can, and sometimes does, lead His people, most of the guidance from God occurs when we’re not even conscious of it. The Lord will direct the circumstances of our lives to move us here and there as He desires. He will also speak to our heart His desires, and many times we won’t even recognize that He is the one directing us. We may think it is merely our own good ideas.
It is not until we look back over a period of time that we discover how He has ordered our steps! We can be confident that God will, from time to time, intervene in our lives to keep us from messing up His plan—as long as our hearts are right before Him, and we are truly seeking to be obedient to His will.
As we said, all guidance must conform to Scripture. In chapter 10, we will learn how to read the Bible for inspiration and comfort, and we will also learn how to study to grow in our knowledge of God and His ways.