What does it mean to discern the voice of God? How do you know when God speaks to you?
To discern means to understand. But understanding the meat of God's Word and discerning His voice is set aside for those who love the Lord and follow His will.
Before you have a personal relationship with Jesus, the only part of the Bible that you'll understand is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The rest of the Bible will be a “mystery.”
Why? Because until you've accepted Jesus as your Saviour, salvation is the only thing you need to know. The rest of it won't make sense. Too many people try to figure out the “hard parts” of the Bible first. They want to know it all before they open their hearts to the Lord.
But it doesn't work that way. Those “hard parts” require the leadership of the Holy Spirit, which only comes through salvation. You cannot grow your faith without a personal relationship with Jesus. You also cannot discern the voice of God without salvation.
Then, at the point of salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to live within you. This is that conscience that encourages us in ways to do good and convicts us when we're doing wrong.
“We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” John 9:31 ESV
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Important Criteria for Discerning the Voice of God
We've established that salvation is the first step to a relationship with the Lord. The next step is building your faith. Growing closer to the Lord and building your faith involves prayer, Bible study, church membership, and putting the Lord before everything else in your life.
Living in God's will means that you follow in the footsteps of Jesus. You desire what God wants. Start by loving God first and loving everybody else, just as you love yourself.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40
How to Discern the Voice of God
Now that you have a personal relationship with God and have accepted Jesus as your Savior, we can dig into discerning the voice of God. God speaks to us in many different ways.
I know you're wondering about how to know if it's God that is speaking and not your own thoughts or those of the enemy. Remember this, the more we stay within the will of God, the more in tune we are, the more we study our Bibles and pray, the better we can hear and understand.
Hearing and discerning (understanding) starts with humble obedience. Make the decision that you'll obey, that you'll listen to the Lord, that you'll follow His small voice even when He's talking to you in whispers.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” Psalm 32:8
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” Psalm 25:14
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” John 14:21
Ultimately, when we are submissive, we fall directly in the will of God. At that point, He gives us the opportunity to experience what it means to be a child of the Heavenly Father. However, it all starts with surrender. That’s the key.
Discerning the Voice of God through Scripture
The very first way to understand God's voice is through His Word, the Holy Bible. Jesus is the Word of God in flesh and blood. His Word is our rule book for living.
The Bible was written by 40 people, in 66 books over a period of 1500 years. How is it possible that with that many authors over so many centuries that everything harmonizes? Because it was all written by men inspired by God. It is without error and in complete harmony.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” 2 Timothy 3:16
“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21
When I call it our rule book for living, here's what I mean. Do you need help with budgeting? It's in the Bible. Do you need relationship help or help with handling a difficult boss at work? It's in there. Criteria for how to vote? It's in there too. The Bible is a complete work for living a life according to God's will.
So when you wonder what the Lord wants for your life, seek the Scriptures first. Don't just skim over the words in red either. Those words come straight from the mouth of Jesus. There's no better Teacher.
- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1
- “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
Discerning the Voice of God through Prayer
Prayer is talking to God through His Son, Jesus Christ. You see, God cannot look on sin. Through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, His shed blood covers all of our sins. So we can now come boldly before God's throne of grace, in prayer, with Jesus as our advocate.
This relationship allows us to talk openly with our Creator about every single thing in our life. But it's not just sharing our laundry list of wants and needs with our Heavenly Father. We praise, we offer thanks, we confess our sins and then we can make requests on behalf of our needs as well as others.
Never forget, however, that it's a two-way conversation. Discerning the voice of God in prayer means listening. Meditate on what you're talking about. Stop and listen for a reply. With an open heart, you'll find answers from the Lord. In those times where we don't know how to pray or what to say, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27
How will He answer? Sometimes you'll be reminded of Scriptures. Sometimes He'll reveal an answer and sometimes you have to wait for another time. The Lord always answers prayers, although they may not be the answer you're looking for.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
Discerning the Voice of God through Others
Most likely the first person you'll hear God's Word through, is a pastor. These are God's messengers bringing you different opportunities to hear God's Word. God speaks through preachers when they use Scripture as their guide.
How many times have you felt like the pastor's sermon was directed right at you? God lays these messages on their hearts for the good of their congregation. His job is to preach the Word and guide us to live Godly lives.
Whether it's in a sermon, a wedding, burial or a regular conversation, these men are our guides. We should listen to what they say. They also set the example by the lives they lead. No, we're never to idolize any man, but learning how they respond to God's direction in their life is a great way for us to learn.
Our pastor's wife recently went through her second bout of cancer. Their response and experience was a great witness of faith under pressure. Watching them let God lead them was a great lesson in how to discern the voice of God.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Roman's 10:14-15
But pastors aren't the only people who help us to discern the voice of God. As parents, it's our job to teach our children. We are hopefully the first connection to God that our kids will have. Although talking to them is a great way to teach. But they learn as much, if not more, by our actions.
Other people in our lives are great messengers of God's Word as well. Our pastor's wife is a great example. She's great at reminding me when I say or do something I shouldn't. I love her for that. Other believers have that same responsibility. It's our job to encourage, build up, teach and guide, as well as rebuke, remind and redirect.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
- 2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
Discerning the Voice of God through Nature
One of my favorite places to connect with God is out on our back deck. We live on a country road. Our house is set back from the road and we're surrounded by trees and a mountain on the back side of our house. When I'm out there pouring over His Word and talking to Him in prayer it's easy to feel His presence and hear His voice.
Psalm 19:1-2 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”
When our faith waivers, at least for me, it's easy to be reminded of the power of our Creator simply by looking up at the wide-open sky with the clouds rolling by. I love to listen to the sounds of birds, squirrels, and the breeze blowing through the leaves.
Our Heavenly Father created all of it, with just His words. He spoke and our entire universe appeared. So when you doubt if God is able to solve your problems, simply remember. By His breath, mankind became a living, breathing person with all of our muscles, veins, all quadrants of our heart that beats just like it's supposed to.
Why is it Important to Discern God’s Voice
We need to listen and heed the messages God sends us because He is the Pilot of our life. He is the way, the truth and the life. He has a plan for your life here on earth, as well as your eternal destination. If we never listen to His instructions, we'll crash and burn.
We often think God is talking to us by our feelings or thoughts that come into our minds. But try the spirits. What you think is God will never be contrary to what He's recorded for us in His instruction manual, our rule book for living.
Those ideas will also never go against the character of God. So make sure you're getting the right message. Many times we try to twist God's Word to support what we want. It doesn't work that way. It's not up to our own understanding. Also, we can't twist God to our will. But instead yield to His will.
Proverbs 3:5-6 “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.”
1 John 4:1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Hearing the Voice of God Scriptures
Now that we know the concept behind discerning the voice of God, let's take a look at some additional Bible Verses about discerning the voice of God to help guide us in a path of better understanding.
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Putting God first means He's above all other things in your life. He's above your family, your job, and the things you love most of all. Following Him and knowing Him is your number one priority. Seeking rewards in your eternal home should become more important than anything else. When that happens, you will be able to discern the voice of God better. Plus, what a beautiful way to live, in the will of God.
Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Our faith grows by hearing about God and the examples of others in the Bible. People like Abraham, Joseph, David and Daniel set great examples for us through the lives they led. Watching others as well as going through our own struggles, builds our faith. Without faith, we cannot understand the message of God.
John 8:47 “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
In this verse, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. They did not want to hear what Jesus had to say. They purposely shut off the idea that Jesus was Christ.
Why cannot someone discern anything from God? Because they don't have faith enough to believe, to submit and to trust in Him. These are all the proper requirements for understanding God and His Word.
Luke 11:28 “But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
In this verse, Jesus had just responded to a woman who wanted to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus, because she bore and raised Him. But Jesus' reply tells us that those who not only understand the Word, but keep it and follow it are more blessed than the mother of our Savior. This is something to remember for those who want to idolize Mary. The ONLY One we should worship is God.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
To glory means to celebrate and gain happiness from something. God doesn't want us to look for glory in worldly things. Instead, we should get our greatest glory and thrills from God and our true knowledge and understanding of Him.
Bible Verses About Hearing the Holy Spirit
Remember that the Holy Trinity consists of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. They are all different forms of our Creator, but they are all the same. Please understand, until you accept Jesus as your Savior, this may not make sense to you.
However, the best way to describe this 3-in-one is using water for an example. Water can be found as a liquid, a solid (ice) and a vapor (condensation.) As such God is the Heavenly Father. You cannot see or touch Him. Jesus came to earth as a human baby, born of a virgin, to live a sinless life. He was the answer to eternal salvation of all mankind. The Holy Spirit is indwelled in us at the moment of our salvation. This is the Power of God that works in us to be our Holy Guide.
John 16:13-15 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
The Holy Spirit is here with the saved followers of Jesus every single day. Its job is to bear witness of Jesus by revealing everything about Him. He will lead us in truth and righteousness, but never in opposition to the Scriptures. He will enlighten us, guide us and show us Jesus. How awesome is that?
John 14:26 “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.”
This is why Scripture memorization and understanding of the Bible is important. When you have some go-to Scriptures permanently laid on your heart, the Holy Spirit prompts their recall when you need them. For instance, when I'm afraid or uncertain of something, my favorite verse (below) always pops into my head. How can I not feel comfort when I focus on these?
Proverbs 3:5-6 “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.”
When Jesus was resurrected and was going to leave this earth, He promised a Comforter, the Holy Spirit. He called him the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive this Spirit. Only those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus as their personal Savior can experience Him. When we accept Jesus, we can then know His Comforter.
John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
What a beautiful gift! Not only does He offer us eternal security with Him in Heaven. He gifts us with our personal Guide to lead us in the ways we should go. Why wouldn't you want a personal relationship with Jesus?
Bible Verses About God Speaking to You
We are not going to hear God audibly talking to us, like He did with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But, as we mentioned earlier, we “hear” God's voice through His Word and the convictions and guidance of the Holy Spirit. That could come through prayer or when you're feeling led to do good or feeling led away from sinful actions. The following verses are some reminders of how God speaks to us.
Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Through prayer, we can petition God about every single doubt and fear. But in this verse, He's telling us to let go of all of our worries. Talk to Him about everything. He offers the kind of peace that those who don't have a personal relationship with Him will never understand. What a glorious comfort that is.
Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
We don't read the Bible just to learn stories and Bible history. We do it because the Bible is where God is. He meets us there. He goes deep into inner man to convict and guide every idea and attitude that we have. He aligns your thoughts and actions with His Word.
If you're following Him properly, He'll bless you. If you're not, you'll feel that conviction. The Bible points out every sin. We will be held accountable for every word and action we ever do. God sees it all. So when you read about something in the Bible that you know you shouldn't be doing, it really does cut to the heart.
The Word of God is a living, breathing reminder that our life is forever under the watchful eye of our Heavenly Father. He knows every hair on our head. And He loves us so very much that He was willing to send His Son to die for us. Let's give Him the reference and honor He so deserves.
Rev 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
The previous verse from Hebrews 4:12 seems almost frightening. But when we read this one in Revelation, we're reminded of our loving Heavenly Father, who has his arms wide open, welcoming us to enter them with the best hug we'll ever receive.
Discerning the voice of God means once you accept Jesus as your Savior, you have received, and now understand, the biggest blessing and joy of your life. He will open your heart, mind and soul to the guide that will bring you closer to the Creator of the world than you can ever imagine.
A Prayer to Hear God’s Voice
My most dear, and wonderful Heavenly Father. I praise your Holy name. I humbly come to your throne of grace, begging forgiveness for my many sins and shortcomings. Thank you Lord, for your love, grace and mercy. Thank you for your Word, your Truth, your precious Son and for the salvation of my soul. Lord, please open our hearts and minds to you, to have a better understanding of your Word. Help us to lean not unto our own understanding, but seek your truth and follow your will for our lives.
Help us to hear you Lord, even when you talk to us in whispers. Regardless of the noise and false direction that continually surrounds us, help us to focus on hearing the Only voice that matters. That is Yours. Thank you Lord, for your guidance, light and love. In Jesus' Holy Name, Amen.
Once you understand the gift that you've received, when you accept Jesus as your Savior, your desire to align yourself to His righteousness will grow. Ephesians chapter 1 is a great place to learn of every beautiful blessing He offers His children.
Of course, the enemy is waiting to interfere at every opportunity. But you have the Power of God on your side. Tap into it and allow Him to lead you.
Ephesians 1:3-4 says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love.”
Keep reading Ephesians chapter 1 for the entire list of blessings that come with adoption into the Holy family of God.