This subject – Hearing God’s Voice – has become extremely widespread among the evangelical community. We will be sifting through some of the nuances of the subject in this article. We will primarily be referring to a quote from a very popular “hearing God’s voice” teacher.
We have two more articles regarding hearing God: How Does God Speak? and Should Christians Listen For a “Still Small Voice”?
Quote & Introduction
We begin with the quote. Read closely:
“As a believer matures, they should be grateful for but not satisfied with “hand-me-down” revelation from God. Why should we settle for God’s Word that has been revealed to someone else and simply handed on to us? Sure, those who teach and pass along their understanding of God’s Word should be appreciated and even honored but their impartation to us should never quell our own desire to hear God for ourselves. In fact, it should stir it up and incite that passion all the more. We should all crave a message from God’s Spirit that has our name on it and is designed to give us tailor-made, hand-picked, personal direction and guidance.”
The above quote is by teacher and author Priscilla Shirer. We chose to use this particular quote as an example because Shirer frequently teaches on this subject – Hearing God’s Voice. She has spoken at conferences, at churches, on television interviews, written books, and has things on her website dedicated to this subject. You may see it titled Position Yourself to Hear from God or her book titled Discerning the Voice of God. Certainly, she has devoted countless hours to expounding how Christians can hear the voice of God.
So, we must ask ourselves – why? Why do we need to learn how to hear God’s voice? Is it a difficult thing to do? How does God speak? Do we need to be taught how to hear Him? What does Shirer mean when she says “we should all crave a message from God’s Spirit” that is “tailor-made, hand-picked, personal direction and guidance?” Is she saying this message from God comes as fixed truth only from Scripture? Or is she saying it comes as something else – apart from or in addition to Scripture? If God has personal messages for us, should we not make certain we hear and receive that message? Where are we to look for it?
It is extremely important we get a handle on this. The reality is that God has spoken to His children, and we can know what He has told us. It is not a matter of if God speaks to His children. It is a matter of where God has spoken. It is not a matter of if we can hear God. It is a matter of how we hear (know) what God has already said. This article is dedicated to extrapolating those differences.
As we navigate through, keep in mind this one question: Is where we start with hearing God also where we end with hearing God?
God Has Spoken
The wonderful thing we hold in our hands – the Bible – is a precious deposit from God! Why is it so precious? It is God’s Word to us. It gives us the wisdom that leads to salvation in Jesus Christ – a common salvation handed down and revealed in writing for all who believe. Each and every “piece” of it is for all of God’s dear children. We are to study it, learn from it, and adhere to examples of faithfulness to it. It is all for our instruction – no matter what piece we are actually reading at any moment or thinking upon because we have it hidden in our hearts!We see the significance of God’s written Word in Paul’s letter to Timothy:
“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:14-17 NASB (emphasis added)
According to Paul’s testimony, Scripture is sacred writing! God has given it to us as His Word and it is incredible! It is fixed (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21) and sufficient for everything and anything we could possibly need.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105 NASB
God’s written Word is His special revelation to us. It is what gives us guidance and direction in our daily lives. We can be comforted by and rest on that Word!
So, is there a difference between resting on God’s written Word and what Shirer says we are to do? Absolutely. Remember, Shirer did not want “hand-me down” revelation. Evidently God’s written Word was not enough. She wanted something more, something fresh with her name on it. Hmmm.
It should be noted that such teachers will absolutely and totally affirm the objective authority of the written Word of God. You will most likely hear them speak truths from God’s Holy Word! Nevertheless, a shift ensues.
Where they started in their endeavor to hear God – God’s Word – is not where they end up. As with Shirer, she is now at a personal “message from God’s Spirit.” From where does this personal message come?
So, they may say we are hearing God through Scripture, but it’s as though they use that very Scripture as some springboard – to obtain the real message we need to hear for our own personal lives. Consequently, it becomes about listening for something else, something other, something…from within? Undoubtedly, self has become the new reference point!
Whether it be through some inner prompting, inner voice, impression, feeling, they shift the authority from the already written Word of God to one’s own leading. This is quite dangerous for our spiritual life and walk. After all, how would we know if it was God’s voice, our own thoughts, or some other influence?
George Mueller, an evangelist in the 19th century, said, “Faith has nothing to do with feelings or impressions, with improbabilities or outward experiences. If we desire to couple such things with faith, then we are no longer resting on the Word of God, because faith needs nothing of the kind. Faith rests on the naked Word of God. When we take Him at His Word, the heart is at peace.”
But we believe that Shirer and other such teachers do not land on Scripture as their final authority. In their wanting some fresh revelation, they have actual begun a mystical journey of hearing God directly. They go beyond the written Word to some direct inner access to God. (In fact, Shirer’s ministry is titled Going Beyond Ministries) Their new found quest becomes laden with the need for fresh revelations and on-going prophecies, as if something of real importance is missing from Scripture. This, no doubt, leaves the door wide open for other questionable teachings.
Read how forthright Charles Spurgeon was about the issue in this excerpt from his March 7, 1886 sermon on John 17:17:
“But what is the truth? There is the point. Is the truth that which I imagine to be revealed to me by some private communication? Am I to fancy that I enjoy some special revelation, and am I to order my life by voices, dreams, and impressions? Brethren, fall not into this common delusion. God’s word to us is in Holy Scripture. All the truth that sanctifies men is in God’s Word. Do not listen to those who cry, “Lo here!” and “Lo there!” I am plucked by the sleeve almost every day by crazy persons and pretenders who have revelations. One man tells me that God has sent a message to me by him; and I reply, “No, sir, the Lord knows where I dwell, and he is so near to me that he would not need to send to me by you.” Another man announces in God’s name a dogma which, on the face of it, is a lie against the Holy Ghost. He says the Spirit of God told him so-and-so; but we know that the Holy Ghost never contradicts himself. If your imaginary revelation is not according to this Word, it has no weight with us; and if it is according to this Word, it is no new thing.
Brethren, this Bible is enough if the Lord does but use it, and quicken it by his Spirit in our hearts. Truth is neither your opinion, nor mine; your message, nor mine. Jesus says, “Thy word is truth.” That which sanctifies men is not only truth, but it is the particular truth which is revealed in God’s Word—”Thy word is truth.” What a blessing it is that all the truth that is necessary to sanctify us is revealed in the Word of God, so that we have not to expend our energies upon discovering truth, but may, to our far greater profit, use revealed truth for its divine ends and purposes! There will be no more revelations; no more are needed. The canon is fixed and complete, and he that adds to it shall have added to him the plagues that are written in this Book. What need of more when here is enough for every practical purpose? ‘Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.’”
Spurgeon was referring to Revelation 22:18 which says, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book.”
God’s Providence & Wisdom
The reason people want to hear personally from God may be because they are in need of something, they are searching for some direction, or they lack wisdom in making some decision.When we need understanding or direction in life, we can have God’s wisdom. But it is for those who ask and believe. James addresses this very matter:
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:2-8
Seeking to hear a personal voice replaces what one should be doing – which is simply asking God for wisdom. That wisdom might come through specific truth from Scripture which we read in a providentially timely fashion. Or it might come to us in the midst of the providential circumstances we find ourselves in. The text does not say how the wisdom will be given and what exactly it will look like. But it will come. We are to have un-relinquishing confidence that it will, and we must not doubt. Again, this is a promise to be believed.
Please note that when God directs us toward a goal or acts upon our hearts, it is through His sovereign actions orchestrating our lives. It is not through His “speech.” The common word we use for it is providence. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.”God can and will sovereignly direct our lives according to His own will and purposes for us. We may or may not fully know when this is happening, but we can take comfort in the fact that God is in control. He is trustworthy and we can rest in that.
To conclude this section, we must not be misled by modern day proponents of “hearing God’s voice.” Their idea of hearing from God may begin by going to the written Word, but they do not end there. They seek something more. They displace commands such as asking God for wisdom with a subjective human-centered journey of “hearing God’s voice.” In so doing, they display a lack of faith in the sufficiency of the final written Word of God and distort the on-going ministry of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but they can leave saints feeling bewildered because of what seems to be contradictory statements and lacking confidence because they don’t seem to have the same “sense” of hearing God’s voice clearly.
But faith knows God’s provisions have already been made for His children. We can be confident in a completely sufficient Word already delivered for us! We hear God’s voice where He has spoken – His written Word is His speech!