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Hearing God's Voice

By David Sheldon

"If only I knew what God was trying to tell me." "I need to hear God's voice." "God spoke to me personally." Any of these lines sound familiar? This subject area - hearing the voice of God - is extremely popular, flooding the visible church for a number of years now and growing stronger as time marches on. Unfortunately, most of the teachings surrounding it are a false paradigm of the correct way to hear God.

One of the first things we need to understand regarding this subject of hearing God's voice is that some of its teachings appear to include commands that are not actually in Scripture, all the while ignoring the promises that are in Scripture. Some of these teachers would include Henry Blackaby, Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, along with a host of others. These teachers constantly reassure of the role of God's Word in hearing God's voice. However, it is nothing more than a confidence builder and only acts as a spring-board to what is supposedly really important and something we are "missing". That is, to have a sensitivity to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. These inner promptings, they say, is the personal voice of God to each of us, in order to be led by Him. Key words can be "personal", "impressions", or "promptings". For example, Priscilla Shirer says on p. 96 of Discerning the Voice of God, "So when you receive a personal word from His Spirit, embrace it." So, does the Biblical doctrine teach that we need God's Holy written Word plus an inner personal voice/word/impression/prompting? Let's go to book, chapter, and verse. Oh, wait.

It was George Muller, a Christian man of great faith who said, "Faith has nothing to do with feelings or impressions, with improbabilities or outward experiences. If we desire to couple such things with faith, then we are no longer resting on the Word of God, because faith needs nothing of the kind. Faith rests on the naked Word of God. When we take Him at His Word, the heart is at peace" (The Life of George Muller, William Henry Harding, Westwood, New Jersey: Barbour, 1985, p. 372). (This quote of George Muller is found in the copy of Led by the Spirit by Jim Elliff. If you have never read it, you should get it. It is Elliff's personal testimony of how he used to embrace 'hearing God's voice' and how he realized the error of his thinking! Click here)

The actual work of the Spirit is to illumine our minds/hearts to the clear teachings in the Word. True faith, true spirituality is a real knowledge within the human heart of the actual God revealed to the mind through the Word of God. Romans 12:1-2 says, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." God gets to our hearts by the Word of Truth to our minds. False teachers of this subject will usually, somewhere along the line, set up a false dichotomy between head knowledge and heart knowledge. As we noted from Shirer earlier, they indicate that God directly "speaks" something personal directly to our spirit by His Spirit. This is the real, special, and personal communication that comes from Him. Thus, the command to "listen" to the inner voice becomes the means by which God acts. But take note of the following verses.

Philippians 2:13 "...for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."
Romans 8:14 "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God."
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass."

Careful observation shows these are all statements about what God does. They are not commands "to listen". Obviously, obeying God is His work in us. But the confidence is in Him and His promises, not in some "inner prompting."

Of course, the false teachings of the inner voice purveyors would not deny certain statements in God's Word such as:
Colossians 3:16 "Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you…"
John 17:17 "Set them apart in truth. Thy Word is truth."
Romans 10:17 "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."
2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."


But at the same time they affirm these texts, they ultimately deny the sufficiency of the Word with their very doctrines that go beyond the teachings of Scripture. No personal words in the above texts. Are we ignoring truth to receive some inner voice that is supposedly more important?

Now God does "act" upon our hearts and can direct us toward a goal. But it is not his speech – it is His sovereign actions which we may or may not realize at the time. Proverbs 21:1 says, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes." God can and will sovereignly direct our lives according to His own will. We may know at times when this is happening, based on our knowledge of His revealed truth, but it's possible we may not fully know or understand.

The reason anyone attempts to listen for an inner prompting is really because they are in need of something, they lack some answer, they are searching for some direction. Ultimately, seeking to hear a personal voice replaces what one should be doing. That is, simply ask God for wisdom. James 1:2-8 says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

We can have God's wisdom going through life, in things we do not understand or the directions we should or should not go. But God's wisdom is for those who ask and believe. The text does not say how it will be given and what exactly it will look like. But it will come. We are to have unrelinquishing confidence that it will, and we must not doubt. Again, this is a promise to be believed.

It finally should be noted that God has already given us a full supply of all we need for the Christian life. 2 Peter 1:1-8 says, "Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

MacArthur, in his MacArthur NASB study bible on verse two, states the following about knowledge: "This is a strengthened form of "knowledge" implying a larger, more thorough, more intimate knowledge. The Christian's precious faith is built on knowing the truth about God (cf. vs 3.) Christianity is not a mystical religion, but is based in objective, historical, revealed, rational truth from God and intended to be understood and believed. The deeper and wider that knowledge of the Lord, the more "grace and peace" are multiplied." This knowledge has already been granted to us by His divine power in the gospel. It grows as we study, believe and obey God's truth. Peter then lists the character qualities that are to be growing in the believer as a result of this knowledge. Buildling on these provides usefulness and fruitfulness in the true knowledge of Jesus Christ.

So how does hearing the "voice" of God teaching fit into this text? Does your supplying the character qualities of these verses only happen when we have "personal" words to help motivate us to believe what God said. Do we need some sort of "special" encouragement for us to do what God already said? Do we lack something we do not already possess in the promises of Scripture? Or should God be taken at His Word because He is worthy of such!

Those who teach listening for God's inner voice are also those who think we are not actually experiencing God until their doctrine is received. The Biblical knowing of God is God revealing Himself to us in His way and by His means - the Spirit of God through the truth of God's Word. In believing and obeying Him, we "experience" Him by the knowledge of the truth.

Graciously, God can overlook our faulty understandings of how it is that He is leading us and/or speaking to us and still do the job. But it would be helpful if we lined up with the Biblical pattern. It would provide more confidence as we believe and obey Him. Unfortunately, inner voices may easily lead astray.

Copyright © 4 Truth Ministry 2017, all rights reserved.
By David Sheldon. Edited by Kerri Sheldon
Can be copied in its entirety for personal use or to be distributed, but not for profit.

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