Hearing God


By Kelly Tshibaka

Hearing God

Voice of the Lord

More than 4 years before we opened the doors to our church, the Lord told me that my husband Niki and I would be pastors one day. I had been praying about God’s plan for our lives, and in a way that seemed out-of-the-blue, I got a strong impression—like a thought within a thought—that we would be in ministry one day. The word wasn’t that specific—I didn’t know whether we would pastor a church, or be missionaries, or something in between. I never imagined we would plant a church! In fact, the whole thing took me by surprise—we were Washington, D.C. lawyers on the fast track to money and power. Although we went to church most Sundays, we had no ministry ambitions.

I asked the Lord if it was Him; the impression didn’t leave. Around the same time, we received independent confirmation of this word from three people! I believed the word was from the Lord, so I began preparing to do ministry someday (like 20 years in the future…).

When I walked out of that prayer time, I remember thinking, “WOW! I have heard a word from the Lord! And I have heard from the Lord like three times in my life now! Some people wait their whole lives hoping to hear something from God. How cool is this?!”

Looking back, I laugh. Yes, I heard from the Lord. And yes, I had heard from Him before that. But now I recognize that I had heard from the Lord many more times than just those three. And now I know that if I had known what to listen for and how to listen, I probably would have heard the Lord even more than that!

Why He Speaks

God speaks to us because He wants relationship with us. In fact, the Bible says that’s why God does most of what He does. The Bible is a story—a story of oneness created, oneness destroyed, and oneness restored by a love so compelling that it warranted the ultimate sacrifice: the death of Jesus Christ. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible weaves a divine love story of the lengths to which the Creator went in order to restore relationship with the humanity He created. That’s why He created us. That’s why He died for us. That’s why He speaks to us.[1]

When people put their faith in Jesus as Lord, His Holy Spirit lives in them. The very presence of God takes up residence in their physical bodies.[2] Which means the Wonderful Counselor, the One who leads, guides, comforts, and gives direction, is closer than close can be. Because of His heart towards us, His love for us, and His presence in us, I believe the Lord speaks to us far more than most of us realize. Learning to notice His voice and distinguish it from all the other “noise” in our lives is one of the biggest keys to hearing God.

How He Speaks

When believers “hear” God, they usually don’t hear an audible voice. Instead, it’s more like a thought inside a thought, or a picture with a meaning, or even a feeling. While He doesn’t speak formulaically, His voice is distinct. He is a person, after all, so when He speaks it “feels” the same way, even though He might not be speaking in the same way. As you become better at hearing His voice, it becomes easier to recognize it. It’s like reading an e-mail from a friend—you can “hear” them in the text because you know them so well. In fact, if you received the e-mail anonymously, you probably still could tell who sent it because you know your friend’s voice so well.

God’s language is a language of love. His language is love because His nature is love.[3] His voice also is gentle, often like a whisper. Just as the Lord spoke to Elijah on the mountain in a “gentle whisper” rather than the fire, earthquake, or wind, God speaks to us today in a gentle, peaceful, quiet way.[4] And His voice is normal, not bizarre, off-putting, or unusual.

God also usually speaks with brevity, and He wants us to as well: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”[5] His words are profound because as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [His] thoughts higher than our thoughts.[6]

Words from the Lord are consistent with, flow from, or are accompanied by scripture. His Word (Jesus), is His Word (scripture), is His word (revealed to us today). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.[7] So when believers hear from God, it often has a Bible verse, story, or principle (e.g., you reap what you sow) attached to it.

Also, God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.[8] His words are consistent and they are confirmed. Just as two or three witnesses must confirm any testimony, the Lord’s words will be confirmed.[9] They may be confirmed through scripture, others who are experienced in hearing God, circumstances, repetition, or something else heard like a sermon, song, or a comment from a friend.

In sum, God’s voice is quiet. It’s recognizable. It’s gentle. It’s short. It’s profound. It’s consistent with the Word. It’s repeated. It’s confirmed.

Some Challenges Believers Face

One of the challenges believers commonly face in hearing God is that they are listening for something they will never hear. They often are listening for something critical or condemning (“do better!”), or they are listening for something big and loud (the “lightning bolt”). But God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love, and for those who are in Him, there is no condemnation.[10] So He does not speak to believers—those in whom He delights—with condemnation, judgment, or anger. Similarly, He is humble and gentle and therefore is far more often found in something the size of a whisper or a breath than a lightning bolt or roar.[11] Rather than being like a glitzed-out tour guide with a booming voice directing a crowd of tourists through a city, He will be like a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”[12]

Sometimes believers are listening for specific answers, in their terms and on their time. “What job am I to take, this one or that one? I need to know now.” Or they know what they want God to say, or think He should say, so they’re not open to hearing what He has to say. Sometimes believers may be listening for “to do” items, expecting to receive orders from a divine taskmaster. But God is concerned about relationship with us, not in ordering us around. So He is far more likely to talk in terms of love than in terms of tasks. In these cases, too, believers are listening for something they will not hear.

Another challenge believers may face is that they simply don’t listen. Sometimes it could be because they presume that if God is going to speak, He’s going to be loud and flashy—you can’t miss it! Other times it could be because they think that God will rarely speak to them, if ever. So they only seek Him in a crisis or at a critical life juncture. At other times it could be because they don’t take the time to listen. Listening takes time. It takes your full attention. It’s true for human relationships, and it’s true for our relationship with God.

Believers also may not hear God because they have not cultivated understanding hearts, rooted in God’s truth. Every believer faces the threat of our enemy who snatches away words God has sown in them. Every believer faces trouble and persecution intended to scorch our faith in what God has said. Every believer faces worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth which choke out the words God has spoken. Jesus said this in the parable of the sower—a story about what happens whenever God speaks, scattering words out to His children like seeds:

“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. However, since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”[13]

In order to hear God, to receive a word and see the fruit of it, a believer must be rooted in the Lord, undeterred by the concerns of this world, and must “hear the word and understand it.” The more we are immersed in scripture—reading it, loving it, living it[14]—the more faith we have: Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.[15]

Similarly, hearing from God requires that we have acted on what we already have heard, in scripture, in prayer, or otherwise. The Bible says that as we walk in obedience to what God has said, He will increasingly reveal Himself to us.[16] It follows then, that if we do not walk in obedience, we won’t receive increased revelation. Jesus reiterated this in the parable of the house built on sand and the house built on rock:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell–and great was its fall.” [17]

How To Know That It’s Him

There are three “voices” in your head: your voice, God’s voice, and Satan’s voice. The challenge in telling them apart is that they all sound like you because they’re all filtered through your mind.

Anything that God says will always align with the Bible, the revealed Word of God. It will align with verses, tone, and the Story as a whole. The scriptures are inspired by God and make believers “competent, equipped for every good work.”[18]

In order to know His will in our daily lives, we must be transformed into new persons by changing the way we think.[19] Asking God to give you revelation, and rethinking (repenting) so that your mind may be aligned with the mind of Christ, is essential to discerning what God is saying. God, our loving Father, isn’t in the business of imparting information to minions who carry out His orders. He is far more interested in transforming us, perfecting us, freeing us, and healing us with His word.[20] With a renewed mind and an understanding of scripture, believers are far more equipped to discern the voice of God and apply a word from the Lord to their life situations.

Another test is the confirmation of godly counsel—believers with strong relationships with Him who can help confirm whether it’s God and discern what He’s saying. These may be pastors, disciplers, parents, or friends who are believers. This ability to seek confirmation through other believers is a critical reason to be actively involved in Christian community.

A word from God also can be confirmed through circumstances. By remaining alert to life situations, what you are hearing, and seeming “coincidences” (I don’t believe in coincidences), believers can observe God’s word to them being confirmed in and through their life situations.

Another way to know that it’s Him is simply through practice. As you hear God and act on it, you begin to learn what really was God and what was not.

Where to Begin

Learning to hear God’s voice is a process. When I first began practicing listening to God, I was very concerned about getting it wrong. “What if I act in faith, but I’m really following my voice, not God’s?” “What if I’m praying over someone and I say something I think is God but I am wrong?” Oh, the paralysis of fear!

That’s when I realized that God wants me to hear Him. He wants a stronger relationship with me more than I want with Him! He has more invested in me “hearing right” than I do. I also realized that when I’m trying to hear God in good faith and I get it wrong, I have two options before me:    1) step out in faith and obedience and lose some serious face, or 2) dismiss what I heard, don’t do anything about it, and don’t lose face. Given the option, I’d far prefer to risk getting a word wrong than to risk hearing from God and failing to act on it. I choose to be like the man who built the house on a rock than the one who built it on sand. I trust that if my heart is pure and my intent is good, God can fix any mistake I make in trying to hear Him. His grace is sufficient for me for His power is made perfect in my weakness.[21] All things considered, I’d rather err on the side of faith and obedience than on the side of doubt and pride.

If you’re ready to start living a life of hearing God, you can pray something like this (very similar to what I prayed shortly after my “you will be pastors one day” revelation): Lord, I want to live in obedience and faith. I want to receive more and more revelation of You. I want to act on what You’ve said. And I don’t want to get it wrong! I ask in advance for Your grace to cover me. Jesus, I love you so much—I’d rather have my pride hurt than miss something You’re telling me. So if I think it might be You, from now on I’m going to choose to believe it’s You and act on it. And if it isn’t You, Lord, please fix any mistakes I make. Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.


Observing What You Have Learned

  1. Read Romans 8:14-39. What verse or theme jumps off the page at you? To what life circumstance of yours does that speak? How might you live out that verse or theme? Ask God to give you wisdom, understanding, and faith to hear His word accurately and to apply it.
  1. If you have a question for which you would like counsel from the Lord, begin by praising Him, then ask Him your question and ask for His help—that He would speak to you, then sit in silence (I suggest at least 15 minutes so your thoughts can quiet down and you can better hear God, but there is no “rule”). During that time, write down anything that comes to mind—scripture, words, memories, pictures in your mind, something from your grocery list, feelings. Finish by thanking God for His revelation and then go through and read the list.

Things that are consistent with each other, line up with scripture, and don’t seem on-their-face wrong (like the grocery list item), probably are God. After all, Satan doesn’t like to come to meetings like these.

Now begin to seek confirmation. Watch for verses in the Bible that seem to jump off the page that also line up with what you wrote down. Listen for comments made that relate to the words on your page. Be alert for circumstances that underscore what you wrote (e.g., you wrote “remember the poor” and all of a sudden you start encountering a lot more homeless people than usual). Pray and listen again, and see if anything on that page matches anything on your first page.

Once you have confirmation, step out in faith. Live out and apply what He has said. Build your house on the rock. Walk by faith, not by sight. Your adventure with God just got a whole lot more exciting!

  1. Is there something the Lord might have told you previously that you have not yet acted on? Something to believe? Something to do? Something about which you were convicted but didn’t address? Act on what He’s already said, and you will hear Him more.
  1. Begin to take note of anything you think God might be telling you. Any scripture that stands out, profound thought, insight into yourself, experience that taught you a lesson or moved you with compassion, etc. Go back and review your notes periodically to identify consistent words and themes.


[1] Deut. 6:4, 20:3; Ps. 62:8, 81:8, 94:19; Prov. 1:23; Isa. 1:18, 30:21; Jer. 6:16; Matt. 11:15, 13:9, 13:16, 13:43; Jn. 10:27.

[2] 1 Corinthians 3:16.

[3] 1 John 4:8.

[4] 1 Kings 19:12.

[5] Matthew 6:7.

[6] Isaiah 55:9.

[7] Hebrews 13:8.

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:33.

[9] 2 Corinthians 13:1.

[10] Psalm 145:8, Romans 8:1.

[11] 1 Kings 19:12, Job 32:8.

[12] Isaiah 30:21.

[13] Matthew 13:19-23.

[14] Joshua 1:8.

[15] Romans 10:17.

[16] John 14:21,

[17] Matthew 7:24-27.

[18] 2 Timothy 3:17.

[19] Romans 12:2.

[20] John 8:32, 17:17; Ephesians 5:26.

[21] 2 Corinthians 12:9.

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