A friend emailed me recently, concerned because she wonders if she heard God wrong. I won’t go into specifics because hers is a very common concern among people learning to listen to God. It’s one I also experienced when I was first starting out in my two-way conversations with God. The dangers of hearing wrong seem huge:
- We could fool ourselves into hearing what we want to hear, which sets us up for disappointment or confusion
- We could hear something that leads us down a wrong path
- We could hurt someone by sharing or acting upon wrong information we supposed was from God
I wanted to reassure my friend that she had heard accurately. But I have no way of knowing that. I’ve been listening to God for quite a few years now, and I don’t have 100 percent confidence yet. Listening to God like any other aspect of the Christian life is, after all, an act of faith. I doubt that I will ever be 100 percent sure that I always hear God right. But there are several things the Bible assures me of that help me.
Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. If we’re His sheep, communicating with Him is our birthright. He wants us to hear Him speak to us. As sheep, we need to hear from Him for our own well-being and protection; The witness of Scripture. The Bible is full of stories of people who engaged in two-way conversation with God. God speaks often, personally, and specifically to people—and all the more so in these post-Pentecost days when His Spirit indwells us.
The alternative stinks. If we do not hear from God, then the best we can do is to “lean on our own understanding,” which the Bible explicitly warns against. I’ve tried that before—and that to me is far scarier than chance of hearing wrong. I figure that Jesus wants me to hear His voice, He takes responsibility for me as my Shepherd, He expects me to listen to Him, so when I intentionally invite Him to speak to me, I can trust Him to safeguard me from horrible mistakes.
Still, there are several things I do to improve my confidence about hearing God accurately.
- I saturate myself in the Scriptures. By doing so, I have developed a good sense of God’s ways and His character. When I hear something, I ask, “Does that sound like God’s character, based on how the Bible reveals Him? Does it sound like the way He does things?” If not, then I hold what I’ve “heard” very lightly.
- I dialogue with God regularly, nearly every day. I do not just jump in for big decisions. I do not use God like a crystal ball so I can know my future. To me, hearing from God is all about the relationship. And as a relationship, I want to engage in conversations about all kinds of things, frequently. Developing an on-going conversational relationship with God safeguards me from mistakes and deception because, over years of regular practice, I know how God speaks to me. I know how His voice sounds when He is talking to me personally.
- I try to follow through on the things God leads me to do or the things He invites me to try. When my goal is friendship with God and bringing joy to Jesus, I have a built-in protection against deception.
- When it sounds like God is giving me a directive or a promise about some specific situation, I usually seek confirmation. Especially when following through on something I’ve heard God say requires action that involves others, I really want to make sure I’ve heard Him correctly. So I ask Him to confirm His message to me. Or I ask someone else who has a lifestyle of hearing from God well to help me discern. I give it time until I am sure I have heard Him right. God is okay with this. He patiently gives us what we need to trust Him.
- I realize that God’s ways are higher than mine, and that He often operates on an entirely different timetable than I do. In my early days of hearing from God I sometimes would hear Him say something, but then when it didn’t seem to come to pass in the time or manner I thought it would, I would decide that I had heard wrong. Eventually, however, I discovered that what I had heard was often accurate—I’d just made assumptions about it that went beyond what God had actually said. These days, I try not to put God on a schedule or to picture in my mind the specifics of how He will do what He has said He would do. I try to just wait and keep the conversation going. Often He gives clarity as we go along.
I’m glad my friend asked her question. It’s an important one. And she reads this blog—so I’d love for others of you to join in the conversation. How do you know you’re hearing from God accurately? Do you have any encouragement to share?