Learning to Hear God's Voice: My Journey
I am aware that the posts over the last few weeks have been talking a lot about hearing God’s voice and I wanted to write a post to put my journey in context. I am still learning to hear God’s voice, but I can definitely say that now, 16 years after I started really trying to hear God’s voice, I am much more confident in discerning His voice than I was before. Of course I still make mistakes (you can read all about those if you haven’t already here and here) but I also would say that God’s voice is now much more familiar to me than at the beginning of the journey...
The first talk I ever went to about hearing God's voice around aged 13, the lady running the seminar described hearing God's voice like this:
‘It is like listening to the birds...they are all around us, but you have to tune in to hear them most of the time.’
And so I spent rather a while trying to tune in my physical ears to hearing God’s voice.
And not hearing much at all.
I grew up in a church where hearing God’s voice was normal and prophecy a desired and practiced gift, one which was handled responsibly and wisely under the leadership of the elders, and the words brought openly weighed by the leaders and the church.
But my own journey to hearing God’s voice was not automatic. I remember being a church camp as a child and other children bringing image after image of things they felt God was saying. I remember being skeptical and not knowing how they knew the images were not just things they had made up in their heads. The leaders seemed excited, but I was unconvinced and I certainly didn’t feel God speaking to me.
As a teenager, I increasingly felt ‘hunches’ about things. There were things I just knew I should do. Strong thoughts came into my mind out of nowhere accompanied by a peace I couldn’t explain - I started dating Mark after I felt God clearly speak to me in a strong thought saying: ‘I will use you to heal Mark’s heart and I will use him to heal your heart and together I will use you to heal many hearts’. The very idea of being with Mark seemed logically crazy at the time, living 4 hours apart (on good traffic days), and me not yet out of high school and him 8 years older. But there was a peace that surrounded the relationship which I couldn’t deny.
Also around that time I felt God saying I should go and study in Sheffield, UK. I had never even visited, but I just had a peace that that was where I should be, despite my Mum’s urgings to choose a university nearer to home (before she and the rest of my family felt called to Australia!) Our time in Sheffield was foundational to what we are doing now in Peru and we found spiritual family there. Even now, having not returned to the UK for nearly 4 years, I still feel Sheffield is my spiritual home there.
Real breakthrough came, however, after Mark and I were married and we attended a conference in Toronto, Canada. There we heard Mark Virkler speak on 4 keys to hearing God speak. He had spent a year learning to hear God speak and he shared his clear keys with us. One of the most obvious, yet generally least stated things he said was this: God mainly speaks through spontaneous thoughts that come into your mind.
That made a lot of sense. But now the issue was discerning which ones were Him!
When people tell me that they don’t hear God’s voice, I am not sure I agree. I think most people hear God’s voice, but they don’t know how to discern the difference between the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, their own thoughts, or of those of the enemy.
Another thing that Mark Virkler emphasised which I found very helpful was journalling and writing things down. He talked about asking God to speak to you, and then focusing your mind on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and then writing down the thoughts that came. (Based on Habakuk 2) The reason writing things down is so helpful is because it stops the obstacles of doubt in your mind. If you are trying to hear what God is saying about something but constantly stopping your thoughts with ‘is this God, is this me...?’ you are not going to get very far, but if you just write, then afterwards you can go back and weigh what you have written against the Bible and be accountable with and seek wisdom from others about any things that might be directional words.
Whilst in Toronto we also received many prophetic words that were incredibly accurate. Mark and I sat down in front of two or three School of Ministry students and they prophecied over us for about 10 minutes, sharing pictures and impressions that they had. Many of the the words were confirmations of things we were about to do in the year (travelling as part of my year abroad) and affirmed us both in different areas. One of the words I received was about having dreams, and although I had had dreams since I was a child, I bought a journal and a couple of Christian books on dream and began to write down my dreams so I would remember them. I found that as I began writing one dream down, I would remember several others I had also had. Over the following months I saw God address heart attitudes, reassure me about situations and give me new perspectives on things going on through my dreams as I learned to interpret some of them with His help.
Returning to Sheffield, both Mark and I were part of the first groups Cath Livesey taught on Prophecy and that was a great opportunity to be stretched further in listening to God's voice for others and practice many of the disciplines associated with the prophetic (like journalling). The course was a great mix of wise teaching on the prophetic and practical application and I would really recommend it to anyone who wants to learn to hear God's voice or go deeper.
St. Thomas' Philadelphia, Sheffield also welcomed Ivan & Isabel Allum to speak and the things they had to share about listening to God and especially about not confusing emotions and the guiding of the Spirit I found particularly helpful.
On coming to Peru, for the first two years, we had little prophetic input from others, and although we were around Christians who could hear God's voice to some extend and prophecy was accepted and welcomed, it was not deep in the culture of the church. That meant that Mark and I really had to develop our own personal relationship with God and ask Him for his opinion on different things rather than expecting others to hear for us.
A couple of years ago, a small group of missionary friends and I studied Priscilla Shirer's Discerning the Voice of God study together. That study gives a very wise look at listening to God for specific circumstances. What I remember most clearly was the advice about the yellow light of doubt meaning wait. That has been very helpful to me in times where I am unsure of the next step and keep asking God for an answer but don't know what the right one is! When in doubt, the answer probably hasn't yet been revealed!
So what am I learning now? Well, I am still learning to discern God’s voice especially when emotions are involved and I am keen to grow in hearing God through worship and whilst I am worship leading, now that I have begun to be part of the worship team here.
But what I have realised more than anything, is that God speaks and desires to communicate with us in so many different ways, it is just learning to interpret those ways that is the real key to hearing his voice. But if we trust Him and believe, He is all around us and is always saying something.
Want to know more about journalling? Read this post on Journalling As A Tool For Hearing God’s Voice.