Waiting for God to Speak Out Loud? Think Again

I’ve always wanted to hear the audible voice of God. I imagined it booming forth, sending tremors through my body and swallowing me up in a mystical cloud, leaving me with no doubt where it came from. In fact, when I first started learning to hear God’s voice, this is what I expected. But sadly the booming voice never came. Yes, I’ve heard the voice of God many times, but it has never come out loud.

Perhaps you’ve had the same expectation – and perhaps with the same outcome. Part of the reason we expect God to speak out loud is due to the assumptions we bring to the Biblical accounts. We read; “And God said…” and we liken it to a friend talking with us across the table. But a closer look at Scripture reveals this to be a misplaced understanding. Hearing God’s voice should be understood more as a spiritual experience than a physical one.

God Speak Out Loud

A Spiritual Voice

When Jesus preached his sermons, he often closed with the line; “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (eg. Mark 4:9,23, Luke 8:8). The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to differentiate between those who had open hearts and those who didn’t. This should indicate to us that hearing God’s message wasn’t primarily a physical experience – after all, his audiences heard his words, yet many still wandered away. As Jesus said; “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matthew 13:13, see also Ezekiel 12:2). Unlike these, we are exhorted to see with the “eyes of our hearts” (Ephesians 1:18) – the emphasis is on our spiritual eyes and ears, not our natural ones.

This was one of the more surprising discoveries in my early days of hearing God’s voice. One of the first times I heard him speak was while walking through a park near my home. In the middle of a worship song, the words: “Give all your money away” came into my head. Though it came as a thought just like any thought, I knew the thought wasn’t mine (largely because it wasn’t something I would say!) The voice was quiet and gentle yet firm; instinctively I knew it was God. It was also consistent with what God had been doing in my life and later when I heeded it, it brought about incredible miracles (read the full story here).

An ‘Out Loud’ Voice

While I’ve never heard the audible voice of God, a number of interviewees in my recent doctoral research say they have. For most of them, the audible voice came at an urgent moment (like when they were about to walk into the path of an oncoming car) or at some other pivotal time of their lives. Yet even on those occasions, God’s voice was not experienced through the ‘outer ear’. When asked if someone else would have heard it if they’d been standing next to them, the vast majority said no. While the voice had been strikingly loud to the person, it had still been heard from ‘inside’ of themselves.

Though it’s hard to know for sure, the Apostle Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus seems to have been similar (if only we could interview him!) Luke, the writer of Acts, reports the story of how Jesus appeared to Saul and spoke to him in a vision (Acts 9:1-7). While there were others with Paul, Luke says they didn’t share the experience, since; “they heard the sound”, but “they didn’t see anyone”(v.7). Later when Paul recounts the scene for himself, he says his companions “saw the light”, but didn’t “understand the voice” (Acts 22:9). Even a powerful experience such as Paul’s conversion seems to be a largely subjective one, only fully received by the audience for which it was intended.

The Mind as Spiritual Receiver

Theologian Gregory Boyd writes about the nature of God’s voice in his book, Seeing is Believing.1 He suggests that the experience of hearing God takes place primarily in the mind or the imagination, and that this is consistent with the Scriptural experience. For example, when Daniel recounts his visions, he describes them as “revelations that passed through” his mind (Daniel 7:1,15). They are subjective and internal experiences that no-one else can participate in. Hence those who were with Daniel didn’t see his visions (Daniel 10:7). It is also significant that the Hebrew words commonly used for “vision” indicate a unique kind of seeing; something that is distinct from ordinary physical seeing. (Loc. 1293)

It’s important to understand that the experience of hearing God’s voice internally in no way denies its authenticity. Boyd highlights the fact that while modern Western people identify the imagination with make-believe, ancient people and particularly those in biblical times did not (Loc. 1320). In fact, hearing God’s voice in our minds should not be surprising given that while the Holy Spirit cannot be seen in physical form, we know he abides with us wherever we go (Acts 2:16,17).

On a practical level, this understanding of God’s voice is essential. If we are waiting for an external objective voice, we may be missing out on the still small voice of Elijah’s experience (1 Kings 19:9-13). Instead of waiting for an audible voice, we need to be inviting the Spirit to enter our thinking and our imagination, to inspire our hearts and stir our thoughts, so that we can be like the people Jesus exhorted us to be; having ears to hear what the Spirit is saying.

Notes:

1. Boyd, Gregory. Seeing is Believing. US: Baker Books, 2004.

Comments:

Have you ever heard the audible voice of God? How would you describe your experience? Share below:

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  • Pam Keightley

    When my husband and I were separated due to stress after the Christchurch earthquakes and I was VERY alone,without a job and looking after our son,I heard God’s voice at night while in bed clearly saying,”I love you!” It was exactly what I needed at the time. It got me through some VERY tough times and always will!
    Indeed God loves me,because my husband came back after 3 1/2 years and our son is happy. I always knew that God loves me,but now it’s like he’s right next to me ALL the time! Indeed he is as close as when I breathe deeply!

    • Beautiful Pam. It’s amazing how just a few timely words from him can make all the difference. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Graham Blaikie

    A few years ago I had asked for forgiveness in an area where I had fallen and had a real experience of the love of God in response. Later that day I was meditating on this as I was walking out of the supermarket door, so awed that the Lord would keep on forgiving me and I inwardly said “How can you keep on forgiving me?”. Then the Lord spoke to me saying “Because I have paid for your sins in full”, so audibly that I looked around to see if anyone else had heard – no – just me.

    • What an profound experience, thanks for sharing Graham!

    • Jennifer Gorman

      Graham, thank you. I have had the same thing happen. I have, what is of this month, now five autoimmune disease diagnosis, now including MS. Around Christmas I had been very sick in a flare for weeks, and away from my church family and too sick to even connect with friends or them online, and just feeling alone, even though my husband and young adult kids are very loving, and sad and angry, and prayer was very hard. Finally one day though I felt too much not to pray, prayer usually for me is an ongoing all day conversation kind of thing, but I have never heard the voice of Jesus so clearly as that day as when I was pouring my heart out to Him, and I felt Him say, ” I am listening, I love you, I’m right here.” and felt the full strength and comfort of His love holding me for an hour, until my tears could stop.

      • As Jesus said, his words are spirit and they are life. Praying they continue to bring life to your spirit and your body Jennifer!