One of the practices that one comes across in the church is of hearing God speak to one personally outside of the bible. A friend recently asked me about my thoughts on this topic. So I sat down and wrote out my understanding of it.

The concept and practice of “hearing God’s voice” is vague and hard to pin down exactly. Primarily it involves one believing that they have had direct communication from God. That is the most definite aspect of the belief and practice. Other than that, what means, mode, frequency, clarity, and purpose differ in concept. To most, it seems, hearing God is vaguely descried as hearing the “still small voice of God” while at the same time claiming that they are not hearing an audible voice. This is confusing and problematic on the fact that a voice, by nature of being a voice, is audible. I point this out to make that point that the whole concept is very fuzzy. It basically is defined by the individual or group as to what “hearing the voice of God” actually entails. Thus, you can meet some people that think God’s voice only intervenes when major decisions are to be had while others think that hearing God should be a daily part of one’s life. (I have even heard one person say that if you are not hearing God’s voice daily you should question your salvation). And then for one group, hearing God is actually an audible experience while others believe it comes through a type of impression. What seems to be the most general view of the concept is that one has special communication with God to have a thriving relationship with Him and to get guidance in life.

The reason for this confusion is that the bible never speaks about how Christians are to have this experience. There are no biblical guidelines about how one is to hear and discern how, or even if, God personally communicates with His children. God obviously communicated with the prophets and even leaders in the early church (Acts 8:29). And on top of that God’s voice is most normally described as having a very loud sound (Ps. 18:13, Eze. 1:24, Rev. 1:15). However, these are only descriptive of historical events and give no prescriptions of how, or if, Christians can follow in their footsteps or hear God’s voice. Even the very phrase “God’s still small voice” is not found in the bible. When Elijah was in the mountain the text does not say that God spoke in a still small voice. Instead, the still small voice was part of a vision Elijah was having. And the still small voice was representing God’s unnoticeable activity in preparing for Jezebel’s destruction. The text is just forced to fit what people have experiencesd Thus, with this concept of hearing God, confusion and personal preference reigns because the bible does not speak clearly to this topic.

All that is left is for people to construct what ever grid they can and go with it. The most often, from the conservative sector, grid was pulled from John 10:27, ” My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The basic teaching was that as one grows closer to God they learn to identify the true voice of the Lord speaking to them. The main guardrail was that God would not say anything that was contradicting to the bible. So all in all the grid is one of complete subjectivity.  To say that you learn the voice as you go does no good for the dilemma one is facing at the moment. And there is still no way to distinguish if the voice one is hearing is right or wrong since one has to wait to some point in the future when they grow into the knowing the right and wrong voice.

Now, It has to be added that God does move and work through providential means. One cannot question that people have had experiences labeled “hearing God’s voice” that have produced fruits of righteousness. I have heard stories of some who, upon being promoted inwardly to talk to such and such person, have lead the person to faith in Christ. One cannot dispute with such. People have done good things for the people of God because they had an experience they labeled “hearing God’s voice.” There is something here. So, just because an experience is riddled with problems does not mean that the proper understanding of the experience is not attainable. And the problems do not rule out the the experiences people have had.

What are we to make of all this? Here is my take at this time.

Let me give a definition to what I believe is going on. I believe that people have impressions and urges come up within them which they then describe as “the voice of God.” These impressions are very real and clear. So clear that they are like a voice speaking to one. Thus, people call it “a voice.” A “voice” that brings things to mind and can compel or call the person to do something. And this impression can bring biblical truth or merely a suggestion. It could be a promise from Scripture or framed by scripture or it could suggest to one to cross the street and talk to that random person. That is what I believe is going on.

Let me give some general principles about how to think through this and then some specific principles.

1. God does work through means to accomplish His purpose. God can impress upon someone some truth or some action to take which will glorify Him. God can bring an impression upon me which if I do, will bring glory to Him. We all can relate to having a bible verse or some biblical truth coming to mind at the right time in our minds. One cannot help but believe that this is the Spirit encouraging and sustaining His children through such actions. And, there are times where non-scriptural impressions are given which, if followed through, can lead to good. Thus, we should have no issue with God’s ability to sovereignly work in a person’s mind to work all things to the counsel of His will.

2. However, God and the bible should never be defined by our experiences. Instead our experiences should always be under the defining words of scripture. This is important to remember when having different experiences. Just because we have an experience that makes us feel spiritual and even produces immediate good does not give biblical validity to the experiences. Everything must be tested and judged by Scripture. And then, the experiences that we do have need to be defined and shaped by the bible. For instance, just because I have an impression where it seems as if God is speaking to me, does not give me the right to start reading the bible as if God actually speaks through impressions. I have to put the experience under the judgment of scripture to see if it is right and how to understand the experience.

Now, specifics. What are some things about this particular belief that we must guard against. This is putting the experience under the shaping judgment of the bible. How are we to understand this experience of God’s use of impressions?

1. John Piper nailed this one. In no way are we to make “hearing the voice of God” a more spiritual experience than reading the very pages of Scripture. God is still speaking today each time we pick up the bible. Throughout the bible the people of God are solely directed to the written words of God as their source of life, direction, and revelation. When it comes to resolving issues, growing in the grace and knowledge of God, and findings sustaining truth the place the Christian is to turn are the truths found in scripture. They are not to wait from some impression or think that an impression is a better source of truth. And on top of that, faithfulness is defined by being faithful to what the bible reveals. If it is not in the bible we are not bound to it, plain and simple. We should not construct a will of God for our lives that is outside the revelation of scripture. The bible is sufficient  for the Christian in all matters of life and holiness.

2. I personally do not classify the experience as “hearing the voice of God.” I believe that doing so is problematic in that it can lead to confusion about the authority and place of Scripture. If what I read in the pages of the bible are the words of God, and what I feel impressed upon me is the voice of God are they not of equal value and authority? To avoid this confusion I would simply call it, “being impressed to do, or think something.” Less “spiritual” I know, but I believe more in the pattern of Christ’s command not to cause a little one to stumble.

3. Since the bible never lays this experience out as something the Christians must have neither should we. Hearing the “voice of God” (or being impressed) is not a required experience. Therefore, faithfulness cannot be judged by it. The person claiming that he or she is hearing God’s voice is no more faithful or closer to God than the person who has never experienced it, but is growing in the grace and knowledge of God their savior. If one is constantly being impressed with truth or actions which leads to fruit it is not signifying that the person is in a deeper relationship with God than others. To think so is to make an unbiblical qualification and standard.

4. Understanding and walking in faithfulness to God’s will has nothing to do with getting an impression. Many people, sadly, have been lead astray here. What pleases God is found in the pages of Scripture. It is not found in some hidden counsel that God gives to those really spiritual people that can receive impressions from Him. Does God work things out through impressions? Yes. But God’s secret workings are not for us to know or wait for. Our command when and where to move is in the bible. If we are obedient there, we are faithful.

5. Finally, because the impression is not from scripture it does not have any binding authority upon the believer. If I am impressed to go talk with someone across the street, yet chose not to do so I have not “disobeyed the voice of God.” (This is an example of the confusion created when we call the experience “hearing the voice of God.”) It is not a biblical command, therefore I am not bound to it. To suggest that people are is creating an unscriptural precept.

Those are some thoughts on the subject that have been born from my own experience growing up in the belief and what I have read and understood in scripture. There was a time that I thought that hearing God’s voice was of supreme importance in the Christian life. But after being lead astray by what I thought was the voice of God I reject the concept completely. But I have continued to hear people out and look to the bible to understand what is going on with this concept and practice. This is some of the thoughts developed from the years of working through all this.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts.