How can I know if I am hearing God, hearing Satan, or just myself?
In the still and quiet, you hear a voice. No, it's not Jiminy Cricket. It could be your own voice, talking to yourself. Or is it Satan tempting you with desires? Or is God calling, waiting for you to pick up the phone? There are three possibilities, but who does that voice belong to? How do we "take every thought captive" (2 Corinthians 10:5) when we aren't positive who's trying to speak?
God will try literally anything to get you attention, but He usually has three techniques to get to us: prayer, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit. God is unstoppable. This means that when He wants to speak to us, He will do it. He may use one, all, or different combinations to get through to us. However, no matter what technique God uses, our job is the same: listen and obey.
Prayer can be a magical thing. It's a two way conversation between you and the Creator of the universe. They key to making the magic happen is to believe. Have faith in God. When we pray, we "must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6). When the faith is gone, prayer turns into just a bunch of jumbled words with no meaning. Just like when we don't work, we don't get money. With no faith we "should not expect to receive anything from the Lord" (James 1:7).
Something to keep in mind with prayer is that God's timing is perfect. You may find that you've prayed and are eagerly waiting for His response, but then you feel like you hear nothing. Sometimes God doesn't answer right away. Sometimes He outright says, "No." Sometimes He says, "Not now." Sometimes the answer isn't exactly what we are looking for. But God knows what we need most. Leave those decisions up to Him.
Study the Word
What better way is there to learn about God and His actions than from reading His love letter to us? Second Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." Well, there is your proof right there. When we pray, God will reply through the Bible. Just another one of God's awesome techniques!
Have you ever wondered why Jesus is called our "Shepherd"? Sheep are actually kind of smart. Over time, they will learn their shepherd's voice so that when he calls out, they will follow him and obey his commands. If an unfamiliar shepherd calls out, the sheep won't go to him because it is not their own shepherd's voice.
We are like the sheep, and Jesus is our Shepherd. The more we study the Bible, the more familiar God's voice becomes, and the more we recognize when He calls. Remember to take some time to pay attention and listen for God's voice as you read. Really absorb what God is saying. Don't just look at the words.
Listen to the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is not only a divine Person with a mind, emotions, and will, He is also God. He is always with us, even though we can't see Him or touch Him. Have you ever been talking to someone and found godly words of wisdom flowing out of your mouth as if someone was speaking for you? Have you ever started praying without know what to pray for, and suddenly you're praying like you never thought you could? Well, that's the Holy Spirit!
When we need help, "the Spirit helps us in our weakness" (Romans 8:26-17). I find it quite amazing how God can take the words out of someone's mouth and replace them with His own. The Holy Spirit's voice is the comfort we need to hear sometimes. Jesus said, "the Father will give you another Helper [the Holy Spirit], to be with you FOREVER" (John 14:16). I don't know about you, but I if I had to go on forever without someone to help me, I'd get pretty lost.
When we feel that we have received personal instruction from God, it is crucial to remain wise (Proverbs 4:7). There are so many distractions in this world. You might be in the "zone" spiritually, but before you know it—oh, look! Squirrel!
Okay, you probably don't get that distracted, but you get the point. ;-) At every turn, there will be a battle—a spiritual battle here on Earth. The enemy will try anything to take your eyes off of God (1 Peter 5:8). Make sure that what you have heard is truly from God Himself.
God actually does want to show you the right path to take when life comes to a fork in the road. He's not trying to make things confusing. Isaiah 30:21 says, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" God is not the type to hide the treasure map. He is more than happy to share.
Of course, that doesn't mean everything will be crystal clear all the time. After all, sometimes God wants us to make the decision between the choices as a test of faith and trust or sometimes it really is just our thoughts or sometimes the Enemy is trying to throw things off. That brings us back to the same question we started with. How do I know where this message is coming from?
Here's another good test...
If you feel that you have heard a specific message or answer about a question you have prayed about, examine that answer with these questions:
- Is what I'm hearing confusing and vague or right to the point? God doesn't like to put us through confusion. "For God is not a God of confusion but of peace" (1 Corinthians 14:33). He won't send mixed messages.
- Does this answer go against God's Word? If so, it's not God. God will NOT contradict Himself.
- Would acting out the answer lead you to sin? Those who live by the Spirit will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16).
Know when to ask others for help.
Along with prayer, studying God's Word, and listening to the Holy Spirit, you may also want to seek counsel from a Christian friend, family member or pastor to see what they think (Proverbs 15:22).
God's doesn't want us to fail. Like I said before, the more we pray, study His word, and listen, the more we'll be able to recognize His voice. Our Good Shepherd gives His promise in John 10:4: "He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow him because they know his voice." The better we know our Shepherd, the less we have to worry about when figuring out who is calling to us.
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