Hearing God’s voice clearly
Jesus said that His followers will hear His voice and follow Him. Even though Jesus is not physically with us now, He has gifted us with the Holy Spirit as His representative who will teach us everything. That is an incredible promise, because it means that there is nothing that the Holy Spirit will not teach us. But how can we hear the Spirit speak? What can block our hearing ability?
John 10:27 ESV My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
John 14:25-26 ESV “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
John 16:13-15 NLT When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’
The sound of God’s audible voice
The Old Testament has numerous examples of God speaking audibly so that people heard Him through their ears.
He spoke this way to Adam and Eve, their descendants, and the prophets such as Elijah in the mountain (1 Kings 19:11-12) or the prophet Samuel in the temple (1 Samuel 3:8-9), in this way.
Genesis 17:1-5 ESV When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
1 Samuel 3:8-9 ESV And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’”…
In those instances, God’s voice has been described in various ways, from “powerful and full of majesty” like thunder to sounding like “a low whisper”.
Psalm 29:4 ESV The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
1 Kings 19:11-12 ESV And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks 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 the sound of a low whisper.
The presence of God’s voice in our spirits
Today, it is much more common to hear God speak through an inaudible but perceivable voice in our spirits, rather than through our ears. We can experience this as a conviction inside our hearts or in dreams or visions. For more on visions, please refer to Seeing visions of God.
We have all been given a spirit from God. (Without our spirit, we would not be alive.) When we turn to God, He will join His Spirit with our spirit and communicate with us directly.
Zechariah 12:1 ESV … Thus declares the Lord, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him:
James 2:26 ESV For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Romans 8:16 NLT For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.
The Holy Spirit will only come to live in our hearts if we:
- Repent of our sins and are baptised in the name of Jesus Christ | Acts 2:38 ESV And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Ask God for His indwelling Spirit | Luke 11:13 ESV If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
- Choose to obey God | Acts 5:32 ESV And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Galatians 4:6 ESV And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
The indwelling Holy Spirit will then identify those who:
- Belong to God | Romans 8:9 ESV You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
- Are His sons and daughters | Romans 8:16 NLT For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.
- Have been promised eternal life with God | Ephesians 1:14 NLT The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.
Removing the things that block us from hearing God clearly
We are told that “whoever belongs to God hears what God says”. Therefore, the first step in hearing God speak to us is to repent of our sins, be baptised, and ask to receive the Holy Spirit, so that we are marked as people who belong to God.
John 8:47 NIV Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
As we begin a relationship with the Holy Spirit, it may take a little time to recognise His voice. At times, we hear ideas or thoughts drop into our spirits and may struggle to discern if they are from the Holy Spirit, our own fleshly desires, or evil spirits. Thankfully, the Bible gives us the guidance we need. Please see How to test for the Holy Spirit.
Some people, however, describe having a mental block, fog, confusion, or restlessness that prevents them from listening to the Holy Spirit’s counsel clearly. They may consider themselves mature Christians who have diligently studied God’s Word and served in the church for many years. Yet, they have not experienced the Holy Spirit speaking to them on a regular basis.
In such instances, it is helpful to remember what James 4:8 tells us. If we desire for God to come close to us and speak with us, we first need to:
- ask God for His forgiveness of our sins, repent, and come clean before Him (wash our hands)
- check that our intentions are pure (purify our hearts)
- stay loyal to God, and not be divided between God and the world (not be double-minded).
James 4:8 NIV Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Here are some examples of how we can put James 4:8 into practice.
1. Repent of our unbelief
Unbelief is a sin.
Unbelief does not just refer to the disbelief that Jesus is the Son of God and the one and only Saviour of the world, it also refers to the disbelief in a good God and our relationship with Him. This prevents us from drawing close to God and hearing His voice.
Hebrews 11:6 ESV And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Some examples of unbelief are:
- “God has stopped talking to people.”
- “Prayers don’t work. There is no point trying.”
- “I can’t hear from God. I don’t have the ability.”
- “I am not “spiritual” enough.”
- “I am not worthy enough to hear from God.”
- “Only “special” people can hear God’s voice.”
- “God speaks to others but not to me.”
Most times, we think this way because we have not fully understood our relationship with the Holy Spirit, or the detrimental impact that our iniquity and sins have on our relationship with Him. (Broadly speaking, iniquity is a person’s persistent choice of evil and waywardness over God.)
Isaiah 59:1-2 ESV Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
The Holy Spirit desires to purify us and cleanse us, and prepare us to be united with Jesus when He returns as Judge of the World. Both our sinful attitudes and actions grieve the Holy Spirit. The more we persist in our own ways, the more we quench the Holy Spirit – we can even extinguish His voice completely.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 ESV Do not quench the Spirit.
Alternatively, we may be looking out for signs and wonders where we expect God to speak to us in some dramatic way, not realising that He is that quiet still voice in our spirits.
Moreover, when our hearts are anxious, distracted, or filled with the things of this world, we also make little room for Him to speak to us.
Hence, when we don’t hear from God as a result of our own issues, we assume the problem must be with God or our ability to reach Him. God hears every thought in our hearts, we cannot escape His presence. He knows what we will say even before we speak a word.
Psalm 139:3-4 ESV You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
Our unbelief can deceive and lead us into dismissing the Holy Spirit’s voice when He speaks to us.
If we suffer from unbelief like the father who doubted Jesus could help his demon-possessed son, we can cry out to God and pray, “Father in heaven, please help me overcome my unbelief. Show me the lies I have falsely believed and set me free with Your truth.”
Mark 9:23-24 NLT “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
John 8:32 NLT Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
2. Repent of accusing, cursing, or hating God
At times, we can be so overwhelmed by the pain of our sufferings that we accuse and blaspheme God for not being good, for forsaking us, and failing us. We may have even hated Him at some stage. When we attack our Creator, we attack the very Source of our existence and salvation.
God understands our pains and has compassion for us, but He cannot ignore our blasphemy. He will forgive us for such grievous thoughts and blaspheming God the Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, but He will never overlook blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 103:13 ESV As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
Matthew 12:31-32 ESV Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
After we confess and repent of attacking God in Jesus’ name, we will find that we will hear the Holy Spirit’s voice more clearly. Therefore, let us pray, “Father in heaven, please forgive for accusing You for being (please list our accusations here) and for despising / rejecting / hating You / me to forgive me. Please remove this sin from me.
Also, see testimony, Jesus frees counsellor from malevolence.
3. Repent of hardened hearts
A hardened heart is one with strong defence mechanisms built around it, ready to spring into action against anything that feels stressful or uncomfortable.
When the Holy Spirit speaks and counsels us, it can sometimes feel uncomfortable because He will convict us of our sins and touch on the things that we are ashamed of. He does not do this to condemn or shame us, but rather, He wants to restore us along the right path with God and renew us spiritually. However, our defence mechanisms can jump in to resist God’s corrections and warnings, and snuff out His counsel.
John 16:7-8 ESV Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
Proverbs 1:28-31 ESV “When they cry for help, I will not answer. Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, They rejected my advice and paid no attention when I corrected them. Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes.
Sometimes, our defence mechanisms can come as a result of generation patterns within our families of resisting the Holy Spirit, as Acts 7:51 shows. If our forefathers resisted God, we will find that our spirits will also have a tendency to move in the same direction too, until we confess our forefathers’ sins and repent of our own resistance in Jesus’ name.
Romans 12:2 NIV Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Acts 7:51 NLT “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you!
Other times, this can come as a result of bitterness and unforgiveness we have harboured in our hearts. Our defence mechanisms keep us from humbling ourselves and releasing forgiveness to others, as God has forgiven us.
Colossians 3:13 NLT Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
If we want to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice more clearly, we need to calm our hearts down and pray to stop automatically resisting Him, “Father in heaven, please forgive me for resisting the Holy Spirit. I have used my defence mechanisms to protect myself from this world. I no longer need to rely on my own flesh to defend myself, as I turn to You for all my needs. In the past, I held onto my unforgiveness of (list those we still feel embittered by or hold a grudge against) as a way to uphold some form of (imperfect) justice for myself. God, You are the only perfect Judge and I forgive these people and release them into Your hands. I also confess that my family has had a generational pattern of resisting You or even blaspheming You, please have mercy on us and release me from their sins against You. Thank you that You have not given up on me, even when I have resisted You in the past.”
4. Repent of exalting our human logic
Another way we resist the Holy Spirit is by relying on our human logic. This does not necessarily lead to eternal life. This world exalts human wit, intelligence, foresight, and planning because it does not, and will not, turn to God. As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to turn away from such a worldly pattern.
Proverbs 14:12 ESV There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Isaiah 55:7 ESV Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
God can see into the past and the future simultaneously. He knows what is in the hearts of billions of people. He knows His weather plans for this earth and the orbital path for every planet in this universe. He presides over the upturns and downturns of the global economy, as well as the rise and fall of leaders, companies, and nations. Only God is everlasting.
Job 12:13-18 NLT “But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his. What he destroys cannot be rebuilt. When he puts someone in prison, there is no escape. If he holds back the rain, the earth becomes a desert. If he releases the waters, they flood the earth. Yes, strength and wisdom are his; deceivers and deceived are both in his power. He leads counselors away, stripped of good judgment; wise judges become fools. He removes the royal robe of kings. They are led away with ropes around their waist.
No one else is greater than God or able to determine what is good and perfect for us. Even in all His majesty, God will graciously reveal His will if we are willing to follow him.
John 15:14-15 NLT You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.
When the Holy Spirit does reveal God’s will for us, we also need the humility to accept that it may be beyond what we expected or imagined. Our fleshly wisdom cannot compare with or comprehend God’s mind. His thoughts are not like ours.
1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
It is also our fleshly tendency to want to plan ahead for various scenarios and worry for our own or our family’s future. A fear of failure or pain keeps our minds restless and churning. We can be so busy thinking and planning that we miss out on hearing God’s quiet voice.
1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
Romans 8:6-8 ESV For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Therefore, let us pray, “Father in heaven, please forgive me for all the times I have used my own understanding to determine the direction of my life. I confess my choices were not based on Your will but mine. I had listened to all the voices in this world instead of Your voice only. Today, I choose to renew the spirit of my mind, and welcome the Holy Spirit to lead my thoughts. I submit my human spirit to Your Spirit, my will to Your will.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
5. Repent of idol worship and witchcraft
Idol worship, witchcraft, and all forms of the occult have eternal consequences because they are the work of Satan and demons. Such activities can separate us from God forever, unless we repent of them.
Revelation 9:20-21 ESV The rest of mankind… did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
The challenge for many believers is that we may have unwittingly been part of such activities without realising their spiritual consequences. All forms of magic, sorcery, idol worship, fortune-telling, hypnotism, mysticism, ancestor worship, and so forth are the work of demons. For various examples, please see the Occult section of this website.
Isaiah 8:19 NLT Someone may say to you, “Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead?
1 Corinthians 10:20 ESV No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.
We see from the book of Acts that the first believers readily repented and burnt all their expensive artifacts of magic after they saw the spiritual reality behind such idolatry; that they may be overcome by evil spirits unless they turned fully to Jesus Christ and destroyed all trace of their occult past.
Acts 19:16-19 NLT Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered. The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honored. Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars.
Idol worship and witchcraft give evil spirits footholds to cloud our minds and blind us to God’s truths. To be set free, please refer to the following prayers.
- Repenting of idol worship
- Cleansing our homes
- Renouncing our horoscope
- Cleansing ourselves from pagan worship rituals
2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
6. Put aside our worldly desires
Our desire for the good things of this world – our reputation, possessions, family, and comforts – can “choke the word of God”. We find there is no room for the Holy Spirit to move our hearts because our hearts are already filled with earthly idols. We may sense God calling us to move in one direction but our hearts will resist and pull in the opposite direction. When we allow our idols to come first, God’s voice can get drowned out.
Matthew 13:22 ESV As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
God has given us life on this earth to work out His good and perfect will, not to become enslaved by it. This world, and the things we cling onto, will all fade away. Only those who do God’s will get to live forever. We can’t take anything from this life into eternity with us except our spirits.
1 John 2:15-17 ESV Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 ESV For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
Psalm 146:3-6 ESV Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever;
The more we put away our earthly anxieties, the more we will experience God’s peace and become able to hear what He has to say more clearly, without the noise of distracting emotions and thoughts.
Philippians 4:6-7 NLT Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, if we do want to hear from God more clearly, we need to first lay down our earthly desires and simply pray, “Father in heaven, I put away my anxieties and the cares from this world, and choose to listen to You only. Please quiet down all of other voices in my heart so I can listen to You and You alone.”
7. Start asking God the right type of questions
There is a worldly way of praying, where we put our desires and wishes first. We ask God for blessings, health and protection, instead of asking our Creator for His will and what He created us for. The more we push our own agendas, the more we quench the Holy Spirit’s voice.
If we wish to hear from God more clearly, it helps to ask the right type of questions, such as, “Dearest Father in heaven, what is Your will for me today? Is there any sin that I need to repent of so that I do not continue to grieve the Holy Spirit? I am here, ready to listen and follow You. Please speak.”
1 Samuel 3:10 ESV And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
Acts 9:10 ESV Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
Sometimes, praying like this will require us to wait more than just a few minutes. God may not answer our questions immediately but He will answer in His perfect timing, when our hearts are ready or the circumstances perfect.
Sensing God’s voice through our spirits
As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to keep our hearts open and attentive to the Holy Spirit as we go about our daily lives. We may find that He speaks to us in unexpected times and places, when our minds are still. This could be when we are in the shower, brushing our teeth, cooking a meal, or just sitting quietly without distraction.
God’s words will resonate in our spirits, like a knowing or sensing, and feel like they have been “dropped” into our spirits from somewhere outside of our control. It cannot be generated by our conscious effort or choice of timing.
The tone of God’s voice can vary. It can be calm and peaceful as He teaches us, warm and reassuring as He comforts us, firm as He disciplines us, and urgent as He warns us. It all depends on the situation. And the consequences of following God’s voice will lead to the greater good eternally. Following the Holy Spirit brings life.
John 6:63 ESV It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life
If we ever need to clear any doubts about whether we are sensing the Holy Spirit speak to us or not, we can simply ask, “Holy Spirit, is this Your voice?” God will make it clear if it is indeed His voice.
As we humble ourselves and choose to be led by the Holy Spirit, God will continue to receive us as His children. That is His promise to us.
Romans 8:14 ESV For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For more, please also refer to How God answers prayers.
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