What I’m going to say in this essay is not really new. There are at least a couple of groups/churches I’m aware of which teach similar things, and there may be more out there that I’m not aware of. That’s because the methods for hearing from God outlined here are not unique to some sort of “private revelation” (2 Peter 1:20), but are all based on Scriptures found in the Bible. Maybe all that’s ‘unique’ in what I will share here has to do with the focus and emphasis given to different ways to hear from God, and further exploration of the pros and cons of different approaches. So without further ado, let’s get started!
So for starters, let’s establish this: God DOES still speak to people today, like He did with the prophets of old in times past. We may not all hear audible voices from heaven, or get the unique opportunity to speak face to face with God like Moses (Exodus 33:11); but it doesn’t negate the fact that He still speaks. The question is, are we listening?
1)Speaking Through Jesus
The first and clearest way by which God speaks to people today is through Jesus, His Son. When Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain and was transfigured, God appeared in a cloud and enveloped them, saying: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)
Did you catch that? “Hear Him!” That’s significant. If we want to follow God and want to hear from Him, then He’s already spoken loud and clear about how to do that: listen to Jesus! Simple, eh? 🙂
So the things Jesus said – His words – His teachings – are the first place to start as Christians if we want to hear from God. If we feel God is telling us to go against something Jesus said, then we need to seriously question what we’re hearing. Similarly, if we feel ‘led’ to do something, and it is in line with the teachings of Jesus – the “Cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20) – then we can move ahead in faith, knowing our actions are in line with the will of God.
2) Speaking Through Our Conscience
Conscience is a term talked about a lot both implicitly and explicitly within the Bible. For example, Isaiah 30:21 says: “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” This seems to be implicitly talking about conscience, or a voice within us confirming the ‘right’ way as we take our steps.
It’s important for us to listen to our conscience if we want to do the right thing, though it’s also important for us to realize that our conscience can be trained. And things are not always “black and white” when it comes to conscience issues.
For example, the apostle Paul wrote this in the 14thchapter of his letter to the Romans:
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth; for God hath received him. (Romans 14:1-3)
Again, this is implicitly talking about conscience, and in particular, conscience differences among believers. It talks about one Christian who believes in their conscience it’s wrong to eat meat, while another Christian believes in their conscience it’s fine to eat all things. Paul advises that, despite their conscience differences in how they see the issue, they shouldn’t despise or judge each other. And Paul makes it clear that God ‘receives’ them both, despite them having consciences which are opposed to each other on that issue at least.
Jesus never mentions the term ‘conscience’ explicitly, which is noteworthy. Because our conscience can be ‘trained’, it is important that we develop our conscience, or our inner compass of right and wrong, upon the correct foundation. It can be quite easy to be guided by a conscience which is not actually based on the teachings of Jesus, but rather is based on human traditions, or public opinion, etc.
For example, when I was young I felt in my conscience that it was wrong to use cuss words (e.g. four-letter swear words). So it wasn’t until I was 16 years old, and after having read something challenging the basis for such a perspective, that I finally used my first four-letter word (‘damn’). I came to realize that it wasn’t so much the word itself that was right or wrong, but rather the ‘spirit’ behind it which we needed to question.
In truth, I do think most four-letter swear words have an angry, hateful spirit behind them, for which reason they are best mainly avoided. But there are also some four-letter words which, depending upon their use and the context, do not carry an angry or hateful undertone. It then becomes simply religious tradition or social conditioning which tells our ‘conscience’ that it’s wrong to use such a term, even though the words may not necessarily go against the spirit of love in Christ in all contexts and situations.
So what am I saying with all of that? What I am trying to show is that (a) God can use our conscience to guide us, though (b) it’s also important that we build our conscience upon the right foundation. The cornerstone of that foundation needs to be the teachings of Jesus, supported by the apostles and prophets, etc. (Ephesians 2:20)
Take care of others who may want to shape your conscience, or mandate for you what is right and what is wrong. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5) While it’s fine to listen to people sharing their opinions about what they believe is right or wrong, and their reasons for their opinions, we must take care not to let others dictate to us what is right or wrong, or push their personal conscience position upon us. Even if it means apparent ‘disunity’ within the church (e.g. some who eat only vegetables, while others eat meat), it’s still better than fallible humans trying to take on the role of the Holy Spirit to guide and convict people in their spiritual journey.
There is actually a lot more I could say about this topic of following our conscience in order to follow God, though I don’t want this article to be too long. So with that in mind, I’d like us to consider a third way by which God speaks to people today.
3) Godly Counsel
Besides God speaking through the teachings of His Son Jesus, and guiding and convicting us through the Holy Spirit via our conscience, God can also speak to us through other people. And at the top of this list of other people through whom God speaks are the Apostles, and prophets. (Ephesians 2:20)
Not everyone who calls themselves a Christian can be trusted for wise counsel. There is a big difference between the mere opinion of someone who is trying to follow Christ, and the actual voice of God in any given situation. While the two may at times line up and say the same thing, at other times they will contradict each other. And if we develop the habit of putting too much stock and dependency on the counsel of other people – even other Christians – then we may miss out on what God is really saying to each of us today.
I, for example, have met Christians who thoroughly challenge the writings of the apostle Paul, and the various counsel that he gave to different churches. But then I have seen such Christians go on to push quite strongly for people to follow their counsel, or their interpretations of various prophecies, etc. And I don’t share that because I feel God no longer speaks through people today; I believe He can, and does! But when modern Christians begin to throw away the counsel of the first Apostles (e.g. the New Testament epistles), while at the same time desiring their own counsel and opinions to be trusted, the foundation for such a practice becomes questionable.
On the flip side, there are also a lot of professing Christians who, rather than depending on the counsel or advice of other believers to make decisions, rely almost entirely on their own opinions for discerning the will of God. This too is a problem, and will lead to error.
The Bible says for us to lean not on our own understanding, but rather in all our ways to acknowledge God; and He will direct our paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6) No matter how smart, rational or wise we may consider ourselves, our wisdom is literally laughable when it comes to the much greater wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:25)
In the Old Testament, the wise king Solomon is credited for saying: “Where no counsel is, the people fail: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14) And I believe that is true: the more minds you have counselling together before making decisions, the better and wiser the decisions are likely to be.
To illustrate that point, I’ll use a little chess analogy. Gary Kasparov is considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time. And while that may be debatable, there’s no doubt that he was a formidable chess player in competition. Still, as great as Kasparov was, if you put together Bobby Fischer, Magnus Carlsen, and Anatoly Karpov, and allowed them to work and counsel together about moves in a game against Gary Kasparov, it’s almost certain that they would win. Three great minds working and counselling together beats one great independent mind any day, all else being equal.
And so that illustration supports the idea of listening to and considering the counsel of other Christians before making decisions, to be sure that they are wrought in the wisdom of God. The only point I want to highlight is the need for us to guard against esteeming the counsel of the Christians closest to us as greater than the godly counsel we can get from the apostles, prophets, and the Scriptures as a whole.
The Apostle Paul said that he should be accursed if he came preaching a different gospel, and I agree with that (Galatians 1:8); and the same must apply to anyone else who comes preaching a different ‘gospel’ than the true one. That includes your pastor, or your church leader, or whoever. With all respect, are you willing to stand up to any of them, out of greater respect for your Leader, Master and Teacher? (Matthew 23:8,10) (There is also the problem that comes from relying on ‘counsel’ from people whom we already know share our biases about an issue being discussed. But that’s probably another discussion in itself, to be explored at another time.)
Wow, this article is getting really long! I guess I talk too much. Lol. But seriously, there are a few other ways to hear from God which I wanted to explore, but I think I’ll do that in a “part 2” article at a later time. For now, I’d just like to summarize the three ways to hear from God outlined above, and conclude this essay.
To recap, the first and most significant way to hear from God is through the teachings of His Son, Jesus. Jesus is quite literally the Word of God (Revelation 19:13); so what better place to turn if you’re trying to hear a word from God? (Romans 10:17)
Next up is our conscience. It’s that “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13) of God’s spirit speaking to each of us, convicting us of sin (John 16:8), and confirming the right way as we go about our day. Take care to listen to this small internal voice, lest you get what the Bible calls a ‘seared’ conscience. (1 Timothy 4:1-2) And don’t let other people enforce theirconscience upon you, no matter how much faith you may have in them as individuals, and even if you appear ‘disunited’ because of your differences in certain areas. (Romans 14:1-3)
Finally, don’t neglect the counsel of other people as you seek to hear from God. At the top of that list, after Jesus, needs to be the apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 2:20) You can find a great deal of godly counsel from them in the New Testament epistles, as well as other scriptures found in the Bible.
You can also get counsel from other Christians living today. As long as you weigh what they are saying up against some of the other ways to hear from God mentioned, and keep their counsel in the right perspective, it should only help you in your desire to hear from God. And guard against allowing your own mind to be the only source for your decision making, remembering the counsel from the wise king Solomon to “lean not” upon our own understanding.
Hopefully this article has been of some help to those of you wanting to hear from God. (God-willing I will post a follow-up article outlining a few other ways to hear from God within the next week or two.)
All the best, and tune in to what God wants to say to you today!