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Like fingerprints, human voices are unique. Each has distinct acoustic features that allow you to recognize it from a myriad of other voices. Say you walk into a busy cafe to meet a friend. As you open the door, a cacophony of sounds welcomes you: background music, people chatting, and the clattering of cups and saucers. Yet, as soon as someone behind you yells, “Hey, I am here!” you immediately know that it’s your friend. You recognize him, even without seeing his face, because you’re familiar with the sound of his voice.

Christians believe that God speaks to people. But what does God sound like? Learning to recognize the difference between God’s voice and the myriad of other voices in your head takes much patience and practice, but it is possible! Just like human voices, God’s voice has distinct features. I want to share with you three guidelines that I use to familiarize myself with His voice.

1. silence the inner critic

Sadly, many of us have a critical inner voice. The inner critic says horrible things to us, such as “You’re a failure,” or, “It’s too late to change now.” Because part of the Holy Spirit’s work is to convict us of our brokenness and wrongdoing, sometimes we believe this harsh inner voice is God speaking to us. Yet nothing could be further from the truth! In her book Discerning the Voice of God, motivational speaker Priscilla Shirer makes an insightful remark: “If the message you are hearing as you seek to discern His personal will and plan for your life is condemning or rooted in fear and intimidation, . . . then it isn’t the voice of God who loves you. It is the voice of the Enemy, seeking to use your vulnerability to deceive you.”

If the voice you’re hearing makes you feel a sense of utter despair and desolation, you can be sure it’s the voice of dark spiritual forces (John 10:10). God doesn’t use guilt and fear to coerce us. He draws us to Himself with loving-¬≠kindness (Jeremiah 31:3). When the Holy Spirit brings our brokenness to our attention, He does it in the light of the eternal love of the Father. As a result, while we are sad, we do not despair. The love of God awakens hope and a fresh desire for goodness and purity in us. Consider this: one disciple, Judas, betrayed Jesus, while on the same night, another disciple, Peter, denied Him. Both disciples sinned. But Peter listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit and repented. Judas listened to the voice of the enemy, so he gave up.

2. train your ears

Author and speaker Carrie O’Toole says she can attend a concert and clearly distinguish the sound of her daughter playing the French horn above every other instrument. “I can hear every note she plays,” she told me. There are two reasons that Carrie can do that. First, she used to be a music teacher, and she taught ear training, helping students to hear intervals and notice the different “colors” of a note. Second, Carrie knows the sound of her daughter by heart. She has listened to her daughter practicing for so long that she’s intimately familiar with the unique acoustic features of her instrument.

God’s voice has unique features too. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). But it takes some ear training to recognize Him! When the young prophet Samuel heard the voice of God for the first time, he didn’t know who was talking to him (1 Samuel 3). Yet, in time, Samuel became proficient in recognizing God’s voice.

Carrie told me that to train her ears, she kept journals and wrote down whatever she felt God was saying, not with an audible voice but with impressions and thoughts that would pop into her mind. She would then pray and seek confirmation from the Bible and mature believers. She kept doing this until she became deeply tuned to God’s voice. She said, “Now I have years’ worth of journals with everything God has ever said to me.”

You can tune your ears too. Write down what comes to your mind when you’re praying or having a quiet, contemplative moment with God. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Simply write what comes to your mind. Don’t become overly critical or censure yourself either. Allow yourself to make mistakes. This is normal when you’re picking up a new skill. It may be difficult to remain focused at first. Worries and anxieties may pop into your mind. Be persistent. Ask God to confirm any message that comes from Him. He will do this through the Bible and a mature community of believers. God is faithful and will make His will clear to you.

3. do the next thing

As the author and missionary Elisabeth Elliot wisely pointed out, sometimes, you just need to “do the next thing.” Instead of getting stuck, forever waiting for some grand plan to unfold, just do what you have at hand. Obey God in what you already know. There seems to be a “crescendo” when it comes to hearing God’s voice. As we faithfully obey the small promptings, it becomes easier and easier to hear and obey the big ones too (Luke 16:10). In his book Hearing God’s Voice, Henry Blackaby plainly states, “The willingness to obey every word from God is critical to hearing God speak.”

It’s also important to remember that God only shares with us the information that we can handle, what we need to know now. As Priscilla Shirer highlights, often, we “want God to paint the whole picture for us right away,” but He wisely withholds certain truths and information from us until we need it, when we can actually do something with it besides just mess it up. So stay tuned and be faithful in carrying out your daily, mundane tasks. God will make His plans for your life clear, right on time. In the meantime, just do the next thing.

 

hearing the Shepherd

Jesus told His disciples that it was better if He left them so they could receive the Holy Spirit to guide them to all truth (John 16:7–15). But as Blackaby points out, “There is a world of difference between knowing something to be true in your head and experiencing the reality in your life.” Your life will be changed only if you actually hear His voice.

If you are willing to listen, God will use any opportunity to speak, like when my friend Belinda gave me a beautiful scarf. I wrapped it around my neck and got that boost of confidence that comes with wearing new clothing. But when I got back home, I looked at it again and thought, This scarf is clearly my sister’s style. I immediately folded it and put it away to give to my sister later. As I did this, God spoke to me, unmistakably, “See how you love your sister, and there’s nothing you wouldn’t give her? Well, that’s exactly how I feel about you.” Tears filled my eyes as God reminded me of His love for me.

On another occasion I was begging God for help, saying, “You need to help me with this. . . . Please, You really need to help me!” God impressed me with two powerful words, “I AM.” A short answer to my prayer, and a reminder of who He is.

God is ready and eager to talk to you. He wants to share a fresh revelation of Himself. Tune in! Don’t miss the sweet voice of the Shepherd.

The voice of the inner critic versus the voice of Truth

Is That You, God?

by Vanesa Pizzuto
  
From the June 2020 Signs  

Cruel, unkind, imprudent

Kind, honest, insightful

Often yells aggressively

Often speaks softly (1 Kings 19:11–13)

Leads to despair and depression

Leads to repentance and hope (Acts 2:37, 38; Galatians 5:22, 23)

Brings fear and anxiety

Brings courage and peace (John 14:26, 27; 2 Timothy 1:7)

Inhibits growth (“I always fail; I give up”)

Promotes growth (“I can do all things through Christ!” [Philippians 4:13])

Manipulates

Guides

Judgmental, condemning, punitive

Graceful, generous, merciful

Lies (“Nobody loves you”; “You are worthless”)

Tells the truth (“You are deeply loved”; “God gave His own Son to save you”)

Calls you names (“stupid, ugly, lazy”)

Gives you a new, holy name (Isaiah 56:5; Revelation 2:17)

Often focuses in the past or the future, on things beyond your control (filling you with regret or anxiety)

Often focuses in the present, on things you can do (filling you with the presence of God)

Simplistic and generic (“You are an idiot”; “You never get things right”)

Deep and specific (“This was not right; ask John for help . . .”)

The inner critic is a bully that beats us up from the inside. If we believe the horrible things the inner critic says are actually the words of the Holy Spirit, Satan has a double victory. We will believe lies about ourselves and also think God is cruel. So we won’t come to Him and be set free by His Truth. The best defense against this attack is to become familiar with the real voice of God.

Vanesa Pizzuto is a freelance journalist and broadcaster based in London, United Kingdom.

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