How Do You Know if God Is Speaking to You?

Priscilla Shirer
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Creating time, space, and opportunity to hear God is paramount for those of us who desire to sense His Spirit’s conviction, to receive His detailed guidance, and to discern His intimate leading. Before I could even begin to explore further instruction concerning how God speaks—or even why He speaks—I first had to ask myself whether or not I wanted to hear Him enough to stop doing all the talking so that I might listen.

It all starts here: if we want to be able to sense His direction, we must slow down, quiet our hearts, and listen for the way His Spirit communicates. The more I’ve continued to contemplate the implications of this concept, the more I’ve realized that it isn’t just specific to my prayer life. Rather, it provides the basis for hearing from God at all times, whether I’m on my knees in prayer or on my feet hurrying through the nuances of my daily demands.

Listening in All Areas of Life

When reading His Word, it means approaching it with an open mind and heart that’s not already bogged down with my own opinions and ideas of what the text is saying. It means coming with time to meditate and to mull over its personal application.

In the regular rhythms of life, it means being willing to wait and watch, to sense where God is moving before I hurry to make a decision. It means not having all the answers I’d like to have but not becoming frazzled by that, staying quiet and patient as He gives me what I do need to know, understanding that this “empty space”—this listening posture that makes me so jumpy and uncomfortable—is exactly the void He can fill with His divine wisdom and direction. It means being attentive to the undercurrent of His ongoing activity beneath the surface of my everyday happenings.

Make Margin

Creating and allowing margin to hear God is fundamental to discerning His voice. Because in that space, we seek Him, lean into Him, and acknowledge Him in a way we might not otherwise be able to. In doing so, we get the chance to really know who we’re dealing with. If we’re always impatient, filling in the silent margins during prayer, in our decision making, and in every other aspect of life, we leave little space for God’s powerful direction to resonate in our already crowded schedules and hearts.

Have you sincerely taken time to hear, to see, to wait, to watch—to allow for the margins that would give God an opportunity to offer you that which you claim to desire so earnestly? Or have you already filled in every conceivable space with your own opinions, ideas, decisions, and actions— space that God might otherwise fill with His perfectly timed and precisioned and personal insight?

The answer to this one critical question is really where the journey of hearing God begins.

“Take into your heart all My words which I will speak to you and listen closely.”
– Ezekiel 3:10

Listen Up

I suspect you want to get to the bottom of this often hard-to-understand concept of discerning God’s voice—maybe for your general, spiritual growth, but maybe also for specific, personal reasons. You need to know some things from God in relation to an important dilemma or decision in your life, and you want to find out how to hear Him more clearly so you can understand what to do.

Sure, you do have the Bible to consult for guidance, but you know you can’t just open it at random, taking verses out of context simply to affirm your own choices. You genuinely want to hear from God. You want to know whether the recent circumstances you’ve noticed around you are more than mere coincidence, or whether the comments you heard someone make to you might truly be a signal of God’s will and direction. You want to make sure that this conviction you’re feeling is not just of your own creating.

And while there are many reasons why this happens—some because of our own impatience, some because of unconfessed sin in our lives clogging the connection, some because we don’t know what we’re even looking for when it comes to sensing the Spirit’s prompting, and some because of God’s sovereign decision to make us wait a little longer than we’d like (keep reading, we’ll get to all these things)—one of the most common reasons why we don’t hear from God is perhaps the most obvious. And it’s the one I want you to consider right here at the very beginning of our journey together. Could it be that …

We’re not listening?

I believe the most practical way we can begin to discipline ourselves in this area is in our prayer lives. This has been one of the most stunning revelations I’ve had in my journey with God on the matter of discerning His voice. So simple, yet profound. I’ve learned it from folks whose walk with the Lord I greatly admire.

Learn From Others

When I see men and women whose relationship with God is particularly inspiring, I’m not the least bit afraid to walk right up and ask them what they attribute it to. And without fail, each person I ask—no matter who it is—ultimately tells me the same thing: “I deliberately carve out time in my prayer life to be still and listen for God’s voice.”

They spend time with Him in prayer, listening in silence for Him to speak. For while God does speak in other venues of life beside the quiet, secret place of prayer, these people suggest that accurately discerning His voice starts here. Divine conversations begin in this place and then blossom from the richness of its soil throughout the rest of their busy day.

Once I ponder the prayer life of these believers, I realize why my own prayers have so often been weak and powerless. I begin to understand why there’s a disconnect between the power I want in my prayer life and what I’m experiencing. I can finally put my finger on why I don’t always seem to make out what God is saying to me or how he’s directing me in a particular situation.

Simple. I haven’t been listening.

“The enemy wins a victory every time we let our jam-packed schedules invade the sanctuary of our quiet time with God.”

And if the most godly people I know—people who I’m confident hear from Him on a regular, ongoing basis—if these people are the ones who spend the most time listening quietly for His voice, then I want to be that kind of person too. One who listens to God.

How about you?

Then that’s where we begin.

Listening Isn’t a Waste of Time

Deliberately listening for God’s voice seems to be a lost art these days. Well, let’s be honest, listening period is a lost art. We rarely listen to each other, much less the unseen God. Instead we’ve inserted a lot of noise and activity—some of it well-meaning, even religious, but nonetheless fast-paced. In fact, we think God probably wouldn’t be pleased with us unless we were keeping up this level of forward progress. We think all of our bustle and busyness in the pursuit of Christian living somehow makes Him more likely to speak to us once he recognizes how hard we’re willing to work for Him.

From that perspective, stopping to listen to Him in order to make room for His guidance sounds bland and ordinary. Too easy. Uneventful. A waste of time for people who can get as much done as we can.

Yet all this commotion of ours, far from helping us, only keeps us cloudier and more overcommitted, less able to hear from God. By letting a thousand interruptions barge in, demanding to be accommodated, we only succeed in setting ourselves up for compromise and confusion. The enemy wins a victory every time we let our jam-packed schedules invade the sanctuary of our quiet time with God. And when we allow it to happen, we set a precedent that the rest of our lives seem to end up following.

See if this sounds familiar…

The Temptation to Distraction

In the stillness of the morning, I begin my quiet time—to those moments I purposely set aside for Bible reading, prayer, meditation, listening—and I lean my elbows on heaven’s windowsill, eager to commune with the Lord.

But first, to satisfy my curiosity, I check to see if I’ve gotten any new e-mails since last night.

When I finally come back, I’m a little more distracted, a little less focused and clearheaded. Suddenly the phone rings. Caller ID beckons my eyes, and I feel compelled to pick up the phone. The anticipation is too much. I answer it.

Oh, never mind, I’ll just have my quiet time before I go to bed tonight.

Ten p.m. the kids are finally in bed, dinner dishes washed, and the bills finally paid online. I’ve given preference to everything else over my quiet time all day long, one thing after another. Now I’m worn out and exhausted. I plop myself under the covers, my Bible on my lap. Within five minutes I’m asleep. My good intentions go out with my night light.

The enemy smirks.

So the next morning, I’m at it again, intent on not letting another day start without spending time with God. What happened to me yesterday will not happen to me again. I wake up early enough, grab a cup of tea, and get going. I spend thirty whole minutes—fifteen minutes scouring a few chapters of the Bible, and another fifteen going through the list of prayer needs I keep written in my notebook. When the time is over, I can’t believe how fast it’s gone. I pop up and get on with my day. I feel proud not having let the opportunity pass me by again.

But have I really done a better job than the day before? Sure, spending time with him in some way is better than none at all. But neither opportunity allowed margin for God to fill. In one case I was too busy to come to God at all. In the other I was too busy (even while I was with Him) for Him to come to me. In neither instance did I hear from God, sense His presence, or make room for His Spirit’s conviction.

Reading a verse, saying a prayer, or singing a song may help you feel better about checking “quiet time” off your to-do list, but these alone won’t help you get what you’re after—knowing Him more intimately, uniting with His heart, and receiving His direction for your life.

Have we become so addicted to busyness—not merely in our daily lives but while we’re actually immersed in our daily devotions—that we’ve trained ourselves not to hear Him?

Carving out time in prayer to purposefully listen for God’s voice—His voice and nothing else—retrains us so we can hear the Spirit’s whisper and gain the ability to hear Him clearly. Stopping to listen to Him enables us to become familiar with what a sense of God’s presence feels like, while enlarging our understanding of His plans for us, seeing them emerge into the light.

This doesn’t mean that during our devotional times we’re not allowed to open our mouths and share our hearts with God in prayer. On the contrary, we’re not only allowed to do this but we’ve been instructed to speak up and let our “requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). If we want to hear Him speak, however, we must also learn to pray without words. To listen for His voice. To seek the simplicity of stillness with Him rather than consuming all the time and space ourselves. We can’t allow what we’re saying to keep us from listening to what He wants to say.

Not if we want to hear the voice of God.

Listening to God Is a Practical Discipline

Over the years I’ve often heard believers say what I’m saying to you now—that we must “listen” for God if we want to hear Him speak to us. But for some reason it never occurred to me that this was a concrete discipline I could apply in any sort of practical, real-world kind of way. I didn’t realize that listening wasn’t just some passive, “spiritual” assignment that was part of my progressive sanctification or something.

Listening to God is a purposeful activity that we are supposed to start doing. It is the investment of time we must make in order to yield the spiritual dividends of wisdom we so desperately need. The Bible tells us to “incline” our ears toward Him (Isaiah 55:3), to “draw near to listen” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). Fifteen times in the new testament, the Lord punctuates His point with these words: “anyone who has ears must listen . . . ” (Revelation 2:29 NLT, is one example).

So expect this discipline to require some work. If you want to become an active listener, you need to learn the art of listening as I myself am seeking to. And if you’re a person like me who enjoys being up and going and doing, this can prove to be a very difficult challenge. Be ready for the fact that it takes discipline and time and probably won’t happen during commercial breaks or while monitoring your friends’ Twitter updates.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m as captivated by modern advances as the next gal. I’m typing right now on my apple computer while checking an incoming message on my iPhone. I’m the first to admit that I’m grateful for these gadgets and am as dazzled by them as all of us tend to be. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, as long as they’re not controlling us.

But each “improvement” can plunge us deeper into the abyss of busyness, squelching God’s voice to a distant echo. Our prayers become mindless and hurried, scattered and incoherent. All talk. All me. All on my own time frame and agenda.

That’s just not how listening happens. Really listening in prayer requires getting yourself on a whole other wavelength. You must control your body’s urge to get up and move around. You must fight to keep your mind from wandering, from letting stray thoughts dictate what you choose to dwell on. You must keep your eyes from scanning the room and noticing things you need to take care of—things you’d like to get busy accomplishing right now while you’re thinking of it!

Listening can be a real endeavor when you actually try doing it. But, oh, once you start to hear Him, you’ll be anxious to do it again and again.

Listening Is Exhilarating

While I’m still growing and fighting my tendency toward busyness, I now look forward to every opportunity to get alone with God, Bible open, pen out, ready to concentrate. When you know He’s going to speak, listening for Him ceases to be a chore and becomes a cherished delight. Exhilarating. Exciting. Hearing the voice of the almighty has changed my humdrum Christian experience from a discipline into a passion. I no longer study the Bible merely as an instructional and theological tool (though it certainly is), but also as God’s love letter to me. I eagerly look into its pages as I sit quietly before Him and listen for His voice. Sure, I don’t hear a clear, direct answer to my most pressing questions every time I’m quiet before Him. There are many times when I leave with nothing more than an awareness of God’s nearness and His care. But that in itself is often the answer I didn’t even know I needed.

I’m in no way implying that it’s impossible to hear God speak amid the regular rhythms of everyday life. On the contrary, we can, and He does. We can listen while we’re exercising, clipping coupons, washing dishes, sitting in traffic, taking a shower, and doing all sorts of mundane tasks. We can be aware of His handiwork moving in natural things, making them supernatural. But until we intentionally discipline ourselves to be still and listen, to acquaint ourselves with His voice and His stirrings in our private, intimate moments with Him, we’ll never hear Him consistently anywhere. We’ll miss most of what He’s saying.

For Further Reading:

Discerning the Voice of God

by Priscilla Shirer

Do you feel that the ability to hear God’s voice is for other people and not for you? Is it only for people who lived in Biblical times?...

book cover for Discerning the Voice of God