How Do I Recognize God’s Voice?

How do I recognize God’s voice? In 1 Samuel 3:1-14 we read the account of young Samuel’s first exposure to the voice of God. The Lord called to him and twice Samuel mistook God’s voice for that of Eli the priest. The text comments, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” (Vs. 7)
We hear many “voices” out there besides God’s. We often find ourselves lured by the voice of world—its philosophy, thought patterns and priorities. Others with whom we spend time influence us profoundly by their language, cajoling and opinions. The evil one rails on us by accusing, discouraging and casting doubt. Our own fleshly desires call to us to self-preoccupation, self-gratification and self-importance. Sometimes a foreign thought simply appears in our mind and we wonder, “Where did that come from?”

Have you ever marveled over the concept of voice recognition? Isn’t it amazing that we can hear a recording of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby or Danny Kaye and know it’s their voice we’re hearing? Any one of us could probably recognize scores if not hundreds of voices of celebrities. Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice and follow me” (John 10). But we recognize Jesus’ voice in a different way than we would recognize George Clooney’s or Harrison Ford’s.

How do we discern whether we are hearing from God or from someone or something else? As in the case with young Samuel, our ability to distinguish God’s voice from others’ voices comes largely through experience. We gain experience in our relationship with God over time in all of life. As we become more acquainted with God and his character through his Word and works in our lives and the lives of others we learn to recognize his voice and his activity in our lives.

A few years ago I was encouraging a man in his faith as a new follower of Christ. He and I were hiking when he confided in me that he often heard thoughts in his head that spoke things like, “You’re not worthy to be a child of God. I can’t believe you blew it again, you’re such a loser! God is not pleased with you!” I stopped in my tracks and looked back squarely into my friends eyes and said, “Those comments are NOT from God, but from the evil one! Don’t listen to them for a moment!”
How could I say that with conviction and honesty? Because I know what God has stated in his Word about his love relationship toward us. Through his Word and years of walking with him I also know his character. I know that God does not say things like that to his children. So I reminded and encouraged my friend from Scripture of the truth about how God really feels about us. My friend found great comfort from these words and grew in his recognition of God’s voice and character.

God never ever contradicts himself. If he has stated something clearly in his Word, he won’t speak to us in some other way and contradict himself. When someone claims that God told them to do something that clearly disagrees with God’s Word, we know they have not heard from God in that instance. Usually matters of this nature are obvious. For instance, when I was in the Army a group of so-called Christians refused to get their hair cut according to Army regulations. They claimed that God had told them not to. And when they received disciplinary action for their rebellion, they boasted how they were suffering for Jesus! Were these young men hearing from God or clearly rebelling against God’s Word?

What does the Scripture say? “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2) These young men were not hearing from God on the issue of disobeying their military leaders.

However, there are times when either Scripture is not clear, or we do not perceive it as clear. In such cases, we must reflect on the character of God. A few years ago I was counseling a couple who was on the verge of divorce. He had been a controlling, verbally abusive husband. His wife decided she had had enough and wanted out of their 30-year marriage. Both professed knowing Christ.

Initially the husband wouldn’t own up to his failures, but eventually he came around and genuinely began letting Christ change him. But his wife would not forgive him. At first she attempted to justify her desire for divorce by hiding behind the confusion that we have imposed on Scripture around the issue of divorce. She claimed she felt great peace from God about her decision.

Finally, I appealed to her based on the character of God. I asked her, “Knowing what you know of God and his character—that he is loving, forgiving and merciful—what do you think he would have you do in this situation with your husband?” She responded, “I don’t care! I’m going to divorce him anyway.” I tell this story because perhaps all of us at one time or another either have or will use the Scriptures dishonestly for our own purposes. We are not listening to the voice of God when we do that.

Remember what Jesus said to the teachers of the Law in John 5? He acknowledged that they diligently studied the Scriptures (God’s Word). And yet he said of them, “You have never heard his voice” (John 5:37-39). It is almost as though we play a childish game with God’s Word sometimes, trying to “catch” God in his words and hold him to something that he doesn’t say in order to satisfy our own desires.
Another common situation in which the Scripture may not offer a clear word is in personal situations and about unique topics. The Bible is truly a remarkable book and true about everything it claims. However, the Bible does not speak about all issues. For example, the Word of God provides us with general guidelines about the character of the spouse we should choose, but it does not tell us whom to marry. So we must follow God’s Word (God’s Word “is a lamp to our feet”—Psalm 119:105) as far as it will take us and rely on his Spirit to guide us in the particulars.

© Rob Fischer 2008


1 Katrice { 05.24.10 at 5:47 pm }

I think this was wonderfully done. The word does not lie, and I was always taught to come strait from the bible, not my own opinions, and this explains the concept of knowing God’s voice very very well.

2 Pastor Rita Cleaver { 01.06.12 at 4:54 pm }

I truly enjoyed your article. God’s is love, but to say that every Word, instruction, or situation that comes from the Lord will be positive is misleading. Hekekiah was told by a Prophet sent by God to put his house in order, for you shall die. This instruction came directly from God and it was not good. I am just plainly stating to relay to people the whole counsel of the Word. To touch on different aspects to obtain a balance…Just my thoughts…God Bless

3 Rob { 01.06.12 at 5:14 pm }

Thank you for your kind comment. I agree that if someone were to say that every word from God is positive would be misleading. But it is not misleading to say that every word of God will be consistent with His character. Sometimes His words to us can be harsh and disciplinary, but they are never cruel. Hebrews 12:7-11
In Christ,