The Voices in Your Head
Some people say they hear messages from God. I am one of those people.
One of the central beliefs of Christianity is that God has direct relationships with His followers. He enters into two-way communication with us: we pray to Him, and He leads us. But how do we tell which feelings and inclinations are from God, and which aren’t?
This morning in the XLM Bible Study, we talked about some practical ways to tell when it’s God talking to you. My notes are below.
Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
One of the things we talk about a lot at Crossroads is listening for God’s leading. We don’t often talk about how to practically do that. I want to talk about that today.
Here’s what we’ll go over:
- Implement what He’s already said
- Find quiet
- “Test the spirits”
When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. 12 He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 13 “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”
-2 Kings 22:11-13
Josiah is a great example to us. He found the Book of the Law while he was having the temple rebuilt. He was doing what he thought God wanted. But when he read what God had said, those words became his new priority. He went on to do everything in his power to implement what he found in the book. God showed Josiah his purpose and calling through the Bible.
If you want to hear from God, start with what He’s already said. Examine the Bible. There may be something there that needs attention.
For one thing, sin affects our communication with God. If we’re breaking God’s commands, we hinder our connection with Him. As we fall deeper into sin, we feel less inclined to go to God, and our harmful desires grow louder. If you want to hear God better, strive to eliminate sin from your life.
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.
For another, God has priorities for our lives. If He’s communicated something to you that matters to Him and it’s left undone, He may not move on until it’s done. This is true of what He tells us in the Bible and through other means.
Suppose you have the sense that you’re supposed to do something for God… and you happen to be right. He won’t just let go of that. You won’t be comfortable until you follow through with what God has told you, no matter how uncomfortable His request is.
But even with the Bible, it can be difficult to tell what God wants from us. Doubly so if it’s just a feeling we get during a time of prayer. So how do we tell which “leadings” are from God and which aren’t?
One discipline that really helps is quiet. Taking a moment of silence in solitude is so precious and so important, Jesus did it. It’s strange to think that God Himself would go off by Himself to pray, but He did. Frequently.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
If Jesus went off by Himself to quiet places to pray, so should we. Here is God showing us how to be human, and He makes time for solitude and quiet.
It’s easy to wedge prayer and meditation into idle moments, usually when we’re doing something else. We don’t give God our full focus. Ever try to have a conversation like that? Having a distracted conversation communicates disinterest: it says you don’t care. And how can you complain that you don’t hear from God if you don’t give him your full attention at any point in the day?
Give God a quiet moment. Set aside everything else. Pray. Then stop talking for a minute. God honors that kind of intentionality.
Silence and solitude help us sort out the various feelings and inclinations we get. They help quiet some of the voices vying for our attention. Because not everything we think might be God actually is. That’s why Paul gives us this warning:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
-1 John 4:1
We can have feelings that lead us in ungodly directions. Some of our “leadings” are our own intense desires.
…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.
So, how to we “test the spirits?” The first way goes back to our first point: Check every leading against the Bible. Our hearing is sometimes faulty, but the Bible is trustworthy. If it’s a controversial or difficult issue to interpret, talk to someone who knows the Bible well. God won’t tell you do do anything immoral. He won’t contradict Himself.
Second, apply this simple test: Find the voice that’s always right. God doesn’t lie. He doesn’t lead you astray. What He says will happen happens. Pay close attention to what your voices say and where your inclinations lead. Keep track of them, and you’ll be able to weed out the false ones over time.
So, what does God’s voice sound like? It varies. God talks so that we will understand Him. When we last discussed this at the XLM Bible Study, we found some common ground.
Here’s how it works for me. An idea will occur to me, and I will get a specific sensation in my brain. It’s kind of like certainty, or resolution. Like something clicking into place. It’s not as much an audible voice as a thought and a feeling. God uses it a lot when I journal. I’ll record my thoughts, and if something I write isn’t quite correct, it won’t feel quite correct. I’ll ask, “is it this? is it like this?” And when I settle on the right wording, the sensation will hit me. Otherwise, it will feel unresolved.
One of the other ways God consistently gets my attention is through my circumstances. When I read about something in the Bible, then hear about it in a sermon or a Bible study, then get asked about it by multiple people, I know I should check in with God about it.
Whatever makes me think God is talking, I apply the same tests: check it against the Bible, pray about it in a quiet moment, and test the leading’s accuracy.