Someone recently asked me how I hear God

We were talking about meeting a potential spouse and how we decide if they’re the right person. How did I decide? he asked me. Well, it was easy, I said, I just asked God and he said yes.That’s when the question came up: how do I hear God?

The short answer is: it varies. God isn’t like some kind of machine – punch the right buttons, turn the knob to the correct position, and you will get what you want. There isn’t some sort of magic word, there isn’t a particular position you have to be in (kneel/clasp your hands/stand up/sit down/wave your arms in the air/etc etc) – but oh, how we humans would love it if there was, wouldn’t we! How much more comfortable we would feel if we could know that if only we did XYZ and did them correctly, God would do what we ask.

But I digress…

I’ve been learning to hear God over the past nearly 20 years, learning to recognise his voice, his ways of speaking. Part of the learning curve involves experimentation: I think I heard God tell me to do X, I do X and see what happens. If the result is a disaster, then I probably didn’t hear right. If the result is one of those “fantastic coincidences” (I don’t know who it was that said: coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous) then it very probably was God telling me to do this.

For example I remember years ago when I lived in London, walking home from somewhere or other and suddenly having this very loud thought in my head: knock on Juliet’s door. Juliet was someone I knew from church, we’d had plenty of friendly chats at coffee time after the service but we hadn’t progressed to visiting each other at home. And it was around 10 in the evening, which is not a time that is very normal in England for knocking on someone’s door uninvited – in fact, knocking on someone’s door uninvited at any time of day is pretty unusual here! But still, that loud thought in my head was loud and persistent, and I didn’t feel I could just carry on walking and ignore it. Juliet’s reaction was wonderful – it was her birthday, she told me (I had no idea), her husband was away (he was part of a rock band and was away on tour), she’d had one friend come to see her but she had felt she would have really liked another person to come.

So God heard her prayer, spoke to me, and Juliet had another visitor to cheer her up on her birthday.

And for me this was another little lesson in hearing God: yes, I did hear right, yes, that voice in my head was his voice.

Another very precious moment along the way was on one of my retreats in North Wales.

There was a lovely little place I used to go to regularly, run by two lovely ladies who became my friends over the years. They would feed their guests very well, but on this one occasion – well, the thing was I was in the habit at that time of giving things up for Lent, and I’d given up anything sweet, so I’d only eaten the main course and not the pudding, and I’d left the table still feeling not quite satisfied. The next day I was sitting in their Quiet Room in the afternoon and praying, when my mind started to wander, and probably because I was getting hungry, my thoughts turned to food. I thought about the previous evening’s supper, which had consisted of chicken, rice and sweetcorn, which I hadn’t found filling enough. And I thought something like: wouldn’t it be nice if there’d be potatoes for supper tonight, potatoes are so much more filling than white rice. And suddenly there was this voice saying: yes, you’ll have potatoes tonight.

I looked up, rather surprised – I’d kind of forgotten God was there… I whispered a thank you and then, emboldened, I said: And fish? The answer came: And fish. Yes, you’ll have fish and potatoes tonight.

And that’s what was on the table when I went in for supper later. I’ve never been able to look at fish and potatoes since then without thinking about God, and about how much he loves me.

There have been many many occasions along the way. Yes, I hear a voice speaking to me – sometimes it feels like it’s inside my head, like a thought; sometimes it feels like an external voice, as happened that time with the fish and potatoes, or as happened once when I was working in the office in London, I was alone in the room and I don’t remember what it was that I’d done but it was something I wasn’t supposed to be doing and I thought to myself: it’s a good job nobody saw me; and a booming voice said: I saw you. (So no, it’s not always nice…)

Last night I heard him, which is what brought all this to my mind now. I asked for wisdom about a decision that I have to make, and the answers came – this time in the form of thoughts in my head, but very clear. I think it’s become clearer over time, a bit like when you’re getting to know someone and the more you get to know them, the better you recognise their voice on the phone when they ring. But it’s not just the voice – it’s the way they talk, the sort of things they say. The more you get to know a person, the better you will recognise a fake, someone who was pretending to be them. When we know someone well, we can say things like, “you don’t sound like your usual self.” The more I’ve been getting to know God – through reading the Bible and through spending time with him – the better I’m able to recognise not just his voice but his way of speaking and what sorts of things he’s likely to say. The Bible tells me a lot about God, about what he’s like and what sorts of things he approves of or disapproves of, so to take a really drastic example, if I heard a voice telling me to kill my next-door neighbour, it should be quite easy for me to tell that that is not God’s voice. The better I get to know him, the more I’m going to be able to say: no, this isn’t the sort of thing God would say!

But this is also part of why God put other Believers around me to help me work these things out, so if I’m not sure I can go to them and say: look, I think I heard God say X, but what do you think? And if they think I’m going off the rails they will hopefully prod me and say: no, you can’t have heard God telling you to start a new career as a bank robber.

And this brings me to another important point: it’s not always a matter of hearing God’s voice directly, sometimes he uses people to speak – just as he used the prophets in Bible times. Sometimes someone has said something to me and I just felt in my guts that this was a message from God. Like when back in 1999 I felt he was prodding me to go back to using my Hebrew name…

I was on holiday with a friend, staying in a little cottage in Devon and doing all sorts of touristy things. One day we were sitting there in the cottage and chatting and suddenly, out of the blue, Karen says to me: have you ever thought of going back to using your Hebrew name? That feeling in my guts was there, but I chased it away with “sensible” talk: it would be so complicated after all these years, I’d been using a British name for about a decade, everyone was used to it, etc etc etc.

But God often speaks in more than one way when he’s got a message to get across. This time he used a monk at the till at the Buckfast Abbey gift shop, who – in a friendly manner – questioned the name on my credit card when I wanted to pay. That was when the penny dropped and I stopped struggling and accepted that it really was time I stopped using a British-sounding name and went back to my real identity. Since then I have a name that is quite a conversation-starter…

So how do I hear God? There are all sorts of ways he uses – there is his voice which I sometimes hear directly; there are the times he speaks through other people and I have this feeling in my guts which is a kind of recognition; there are times when it’s something I read that leaps at me. The more I get to know him, the better I recognise when it is him speaking to me. From the Bible I learn what sorts of things God is or isn’t likely to say. And when in doubt I can turn to fellow Believers and ask their advice. But I think the bottom line is this: if you love him and seek to live his way, he will speak to you. It’s up to us to have our radio tuned in to the right station, it’s up to God to do the broadcasting.

Oh, and by the way, that stuff about “the still small voice” – well, you know, in my experience, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t so still and small! And in any case I really think it’s a bad translation of the Hebrew. Kol dmama daka is the sound of sheer silence. And in my experience, that is also sometimes the sound of God’s presence. Just tune in.

p.s. A discussion elsewhere has reminded me to add this: I have also managed at times to mis-hear God. There was one particular time in 1999 when I felt God was calling me to a particular role, and looking back I can now see that I was simply not able to hear what he was really saying. This wasn’t a conscious process. It was simply my own very human prejudices come in and disrupting the broadcast. I’m very grateful he has given me a second chance, and spoke to me about it again at a time when I was able to hear.

24 thoughts on “Someone recently asked me how I hear God

  1. p.s. A discussion elsewhere has reminded me to add this: I have also managed at times to mis-hear God. There was one particular time in 1999 when I felt God was calling me to a particular role, and looking back I can now see that I was simply not able to hear what he was really saying. This wasn't a conscious process. It was simply my own very human prejudices come in and disrupting the broadcast.I'm very grateful he has given me a second chance, and spoke to me about it again at a time when I was able to hear.

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  2. I have to re-learn this lesson the hard way – time and time again. I am so grateful God's mercy is so great that He is beyond giving second chances. Don't know where I'd be if I only had two. ;)I've noticed two things about when I "hear" God the clearest. The first thing is that I feel completely compelled to do or say something without understanding why I want to do it. Most times I don't even completely understand what it is about. The other thing I notice is that it always centers around helping someone who is hurting deep inside, someone that I might not even know was hurting so badly. Often the person will ask me how I knew, and all I can honestly say is that I didn't, but Someone who did led me in the right direction. Sometimes I think that being so sensitive to hurt is a curse, but then those precious moments remind me that it can be a blessing to help others.There are other times I hear God but do not get the message because my own thoughts or desires cloud my understanding. Sometimes I need something as subtle as a brick across the head and a swift kick in the butt to get the right message and act upon it.

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  3. Amen!I too sometimes need a non-subtle message, and that's when God gets his megaphone out and shouts at me :-)And yes, people ask "how did you know" and the answer is "I didn't, but God did and he cares enough about you to get me to help".

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  4. Interesting! I can't say I have ever had a definite 'voice' (there is mental illness in my family, so I think if I did hear a voice I would really worry, which is perhaps why G-d doesn't speak to me that way), but I have had 'promptings', 'gut feelings'. In fact, I have been having such a 'gut feeling' about there being something 'not quite right' about a messianic network, but not done anything about it, but having posted something they didn't like and got banned, I've heard serious suggestions that it was actually an anti-missionary site, run by Lubavitchers, specifically designed to draw messianic believers in order to make them feel comfortable and then tear down their beliefs. Yes, perhaps I need to 'tune in' and pay attention.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this Meirav. God does speak in His own way, His own choosing, His style. Certainly is up to us to tune in the right channel as you have said.Now about potatoes being more filling than rice (whatever colour it might be). I can't imagine having potatoes every day. Rice is very very filling. An important ingredient in Asian cooking. Sushi would not be sushi without rice ;)

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  6. you know I've never even eaten sushi. mind you, in Israel we do use rice a lot too. but somehow to me potatoes feel more filling. I think this is something that works differently for different people – for example my husband finds pasta totally non-filling, he can eat pasta and still feel hungry afterwards.what's lovely though is that God loves each of us uniquely as we are, and panders to our personal needs and desires – isn't that mind-blowing!!!

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  7. yes, that kind of feeling. amazing. the one who made this whole world – he cared enough to get me potatoes and to get you a burger.one of the crucial moments for me on my journey with God was when I was working in an office in London and someone I knew told me about a once-a-week lunchtime meeting of Christians who worked in that area. it was called Midweek in Mayfair. I went along and found myself amongst a whole load of men in suits (and some women too) and we sang and prayed and heard a sermon and had fellowship time afterwards – it was wonderful.but the really crucial bit was when I heard in one of these sermons an idea that had never crossed my mind before: God cares about your work. You don't have to struggle on your own with work issues, you can ask for his help in the office too!I had a report to prepare for my boss once a month. There was always a tight deadline, and near that deadline I would be found tearing my hair out because of some figures not adding up. For the first time it dawned on me that I could ask God to help me find the elusive difference. It was around lunchtime and I was tearing my hair out and I thought back to what that guy said, and so I asked God to help me find the difference, and I went out to lunch. And when I came back, I could see it – it was suddenly completely obvious.Yes, he cares about the small stuff of our day to day lives. Amazing, but he does.

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  8. So God told you to knock on your friends door because it was her birthday but couldn’t manage to tell a town full of people in Thailand that a tsunami was coming. Or couldn’t tell a school full of children in Newtown, Connecticut that a lunatic was coming with a gun. Your God has some pretty messed up priorities.

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      • Ah yes, the lovely story of Noah’s ark that was plagiarized from religions thousands of years older than Christianity. A story where a loving god drowns innocent adults, children, babies, and animals because he didn’t like what he was seeing. Not exactly the example of love that I like to model my life after. The old “do as I say, not as I do” approach.

        You seem to know a lot about how god thinks. Tell me why you think he told you about your friends birthday yet didn’t tell a town full of innocent people a tsunami was coming?

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        • Dear Tina. I’m sure you realise you’re not the first person in the world to wrestle with such questions – and they *are* painful questions – but your starting point is wrong, and sinful, and you need to repent because you are judging God and you and I have no right to do that. Do I understand everything about what he does? Of course not. Does he have to give account to me, when he is the one who created me? No, he does not.

          God’s love is shown in this: that he sent his only begotten son to die so that all who believe in him should not perish (even when we physically die) – but we come to him on his terms, not on ours. The clay doesn’t get to dictate terms to the potter.

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          • Your reply is the typical one that I get when I ask questions like this. People like you are quick to give god all of the credit for any good in the world, but when thousands are drown to death through no fault of their own, you say that god works in mysterious ways and we shouldn’t question it. Yet you say he loves us? Can you not see the twisted logic there?

            Five million children under the age of five die every year through no fault of their own. Some of them in horrible ways such as starvation, disease, and out right torture and murder. All while many of their parents are praying to god to save these same children, yet he ignores their pleas. Yet he speaks to you about your friends birthday?

            Perhaps people wrestle with such questions because the logic behind their view is flawed. God loves me, he sent his son to die for me, yet he created a world where millions of children suffer. My guess is that those children and their parents don’t feel so loved. I am not saying there is no god, but your version clearly has some issues.

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          • I do understand how you’re seeing it – I used to think that way too.

            You say: “God loves me, he sent his son to die for me, yet he created a world where millions of children suffer.” God created a world which was perfect. We, humankind, are the ones who messed it up. God made the world and saw that it was good. He made humankind as part of that – and he gave us the freedom to choose if we will live his way, the way that is good, or if we will rebel and mess things up. We chose the latter. The whole of creation is suffering as a result, including us.

            Each of us as an individual has the choice: do we continue in rebellion as our ancestor Adam did, or do we repent and turn back to God.

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          • For the sake of argument, let’s say I go along with your theory. God created a perfect world and us humans screwed things up. Which I would argue means that his creation is not so perfect if he placed something in it that completely screwed it up. But that’s another discussion. Let’s just say I agree with you.

            My original question was related to a tsunami that drowned thousands of innocent people including children and babies. Humans did not cause this tsunami. God’s perfect creation did. Why did god allow this to happen? Could he have stopped it? If so, why not? And why did he talk to you about your friends birthday and not to these people about a pending tsunami that his perfect creation caused?

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          • We seem to be going round in circles.

            You asked about specific cases, like the tsunami, which show clearly that we’re living in a messed up world. You choose to blame God for that, although God made the world perfect and it’s only messed up as a result of our sin.

            And you still seem to think that we have a right to know why God chooses to intervene in particular situations, as though he is accountable to us.

            I’m grateful when he does intervene. I pray for people, knowing that God does sometimes intervene in amazing ways. But when I suffer, I recognise that this is part of life as it currently is and that the reason life currently is like that is because of human sin. All good things come from him. The bad stuff is not from God.

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          • We are not going around in circles. I do not think god is accountable to us. I am seeking to understand why horrific things happen that are not cause by humans. Not a result of human sin. Tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, famine, cancer…take your pick. But why does his creation (Earth) cause so many horrible things that result in so much suffering and death? Who/what is causing these things? And why, in your opinion, does god not stop them if he loves us so much? Especially the children?

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          • here’s why I think we’re going round in circles, because I said this in a previous comment:

            “God created a world which was perfect. We, humankind, are the ones who messed it up. God made the world and saw that it was good. He made humankind as part of that – and he gave us the freedom to choose if we will live his way, the way that is good, or if we will rebel and mess things up. We chose the latter. The whole of creation is suffering as a result, including us.”

            The whole of creation is messed up because of human sin. It’s not about a specific event caused by a specific action – it’s the general condition of the world we live in. God made it perfect, and if it wasn’t for Adam and Eve’s rebellion there wouldn’t have been tsunamis or earthquakes or floods or any of these things.

            Why does he intervene in certain situations and not in others? That is not something I expect to understand, because I’m not God. I’m grateful when he does intervene to help us. But he isn’t accountable to me and doesn’t owe me an explanation. Humanity rebelled against him and humanity in general is still in rebellion against him – he owes us nothing.

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          • So let me see if I’ve got this straight. Because humans have sinned, starting with Adam and Eve, terrible things now happen. One example is that God allows children to suffer and die through drowning, starvation, cancer, violence, etc even if they have parents who are begging God to save these same children. He ignores them for some good reason that we will never understand. But, God thinks it is important for you to visit your friend on your birthday so he speaks to you. And this is how God shows his love for us and this is the love I am supposed to model my life after.

            I will leave you alone now. I appreciate you trying to answer my questions but you have given me the same answer that all Christians give. Basically, if its good, its from God. But if its bad, God works in mysterious ways. I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes, “The actions of one have always accomplished more than the prayers of a million.”

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          • Yes, basically, if it’s good it’s from God. The Bible says all good things come from him, and that the world is messed up as a result of our sin.

            Do you really feel I’ve tried to answer your questions? I feel I’ve been trying to show you what the problem is with your questions, and why I’m not going to try to answer them – because you’re asking from a place of passing judgement on God, evaluating his behaviour according to your own standards, which is the wrong way round.

            If I’m sitting on my own and praying or pondering, or if I’m chatting with a Christian friend, I might indulge in thinking about what might be behind certain things God does, trying to understand him better – but that’s from a place of loving him and seeking to obey him, not from a place of: I know what’s right and I declare God has got it wrong. (Which is where we started this conversation from – you declaring that God has some messed up priorities.)

            That’s part of the problem – that humanity has decided it knows better than God what’s right and what’s wrong.

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