Humanity was designed to hear God. It’s in our DNA. So why is his voice so rare? Scripture says, “God speaks in many and diverse ways, but nobody notices (Job 33:14). We miss his voice because he’s not a paint-by-number God. He speaks in ways we don’t expect.
We often hear well-meaning people describe conversations with God in ways that mislead. Their exchanges with God sound like dialogues written by Oscar Wilde:
I asked God: What should I do with my life?
God answered: Are you willing to take a risk?
I replied: Yes, but I don’t know what to do.
God said: Move to Timbuktu.
When people tell these stories, we think, I never hear God so clearly.
Let me tell you a secret: neither do they. At least almost never. Those stories are usually shorthand summaries of hours spent reading Scripture, reflecting, praying, getting Godly nudges, and recognizing God’s voice in circumstances and through friends.
Because God speaks through his infinitely imaginative, artistic mix of methods and moments.
His Many Methods
Let’s not put God in a box. He “speaks” in “many and diverse ways.” If we limit his voice to the scripted dialogue or heavenly visions, we will miss his voice when he paints his words with different brushstrokes. Below are several common methods in which God speaks.
Responsive Resonance: God’s Spirit often resonates in our spirits as a response to external events. Perhaps it’s a burning in our heart or a sense that God has something significant for us in this moment: a Scripture passage leaps out at us in prayer, or we overhear a “chance” comment in the coffee shop. God awakens our hearts to pay attention.
For example, “While waiting in Athens, Paul’s spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was full of idols” (Act 17:16). Now, think with me: idols filled every city Paul visited, but something stirred in him in Athens.
Spontaneous Nudging: Sometimes God nudges our heart out of the blue: to pray for a friend or to act on an issue. It comes more as a sense on the heart than as a dialogue.
I once got a sense to pray for a friend, so I phoned him. He had been let go from his job just hours before. We prayed on the phone and he thanked me for my concern. Only I hadn’t been concerned—I hadn’t even known—it was a concerned God who spontaneously nudged me.
Direct words: Sometimes God speaks direct words—usually just a sentence or two, or perhaps just a phrase. The first time I heard God speak, I had just become a ten-year-old atheist. He simply said, “Sam, I am real and you don’t understand.”
Unbidden Memories: Sometimes God simply brings back a memory. Ten years ago I remembered my twelve-year old self criticizing a neighborhood kid. Weeks after remembering, I bumped into that kid, now grown. I reminded him of the story and repented. He too remembered and wept when I repented. I admit to a tear or two myself. Just don’t tell anyone.
Planted Images: Around 1915, my grandfather received a mental picture in which the letters KWANGSI were spelled in red letters across the sky. In the local library he discovered that the letters spelled a province of China (now spelled GuangXi). He spent the next two decades living in that very province, founding four churches.
God isn’t limited to nudges and words. Sometimes he even paints pictures.
Recalled Passages: Once while talking with a man—and when I had zero wise words to say—a verse popped to mind: We comfort others with the comfort we’ve been given (2 Cor. 1:4). I told him of a comforting word God had recently given me. Nothing wise, just comfort. It answered an unspoken question of his. Since my Bible memorization is abysmal, it simply had to be God.
God often brings forgotten passages to mind at just the right moment.
Visions and Dreams: I’ve never had one, but I know people I respect who get them. Unlike still pictures, visions are more akin to short video sketches, like when Paul was sleeping: “A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Who’s to say God can’t do this today?
God Shaped Thoughts: Perhaps these are the hardest to recognize because our thoughts feel like our own. Yet how many times have you felt utterly empty, no words to pray, and then a brilliant (and obvious) thought streaks through your mind? C. S. Lewis expressed it like this:
Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The listener’s role and through
My dumb lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.
God speaks in many and various ways. Let’s not put his voice in a box.
P. S. This article is an excerpt from Hearing God in Conversation. I wrote it to help us all actually hear him speak, to recognize his voice. Please consider buying it. In it, you’ll learn:
- How to recognize the sound of God’s voice
- How to hear God in His silence
- How to brainstorm with God
- How to hear His voice in Scripture
And many other ways in which God speaks!
Order now! Just click on any of these links or the book cover, and this guide to hearing God’s voice everywhere will be in your hands.
“A remarkable book. . . . It’s filled with humor, insight, practical tips, and sound theology. I can’t recommend a better guide!” —Gary Wilkerson, pastor, author, son of David Wilkerson
If you want to grow in your ability to recognize how God makes himself known to you, read Sam Williamson’s Hearing God in Conversation. —Wayne Jacobson, pastor and author of He Loves Me and Finding Church
To order, click here! Hearing God in Conversation
I’m trying to think of Christian songs–hymns and worship music–OR folk songs or singer-songwriter songs that capture the sense of listening to God. The only one I can think of is the old favorite “In the Garden,” where “He walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am His own.” Do any of us know of any songs or poems that capture the sense of listening to the voice of God?
Thanks for the great article on hearing God’s voice! It was so encouraging to read and reminded me of how God is always with us, guiding our paths and speaking His truth into our hearts. I am thankful that through prayer, meditating on His Word, and seeking wise godly counsel, we can learn to discern His voice above all else. Thanks again!