|Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin|
Is It Possible to Hear From God?
On occasion, in my Philosophy of Religion classes at Monroe County Community College, I have told my students that I hear from God; that God speaks to me. I share this in the context of the many God-discussions that take place in this class which revolves around issues of the existence or non-existence of God, and the nature of the God of theism.
I do hear from God. God does speak to me. These claims should shock no one who is a Christian theist. Our Scriptures tell us to expect this. Dallas Willard asks, “Should we expect anything else, given the words of Scripture and the heritage of the Christian Church?” (Willard, Hearing God Through the Year, 12) The ancient Israelites heard the voice of God speaking to them out of the fire (Deut. 4:33). The prophet Isaiah had first-hand experience in hearing from God. Isaiah 58:9, 11 says:
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I…
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
For the past 30 years I have spent several hours each week going to a solitary place and praying and listening. “Prayer” is: talking with God about what we are doing together. Real prayer is a dialogue. This includes listening to God. It seems that my prayer times now contain more listening than me talking. I have over 3000 pages of journal entries containing the voice of God, spoken to me.
I am certain we can hear from God, for these reasons:
1. Scripture tells us we can and should expect to hear from God.
2. Personal experience has verified this for me.
3. The testimonies of many other Jesus-followers throughout history attests to the reality of God speaking to his people, both individually and corporately.
4. “Prayer” defined as “taking with God about what we are doing together” implies that God is our dialogical partner.
This relates to the New Testament spiritual gift of prophecy, since “prophecy” can be defined as “the reception and subsequent transmission of spontaneous divinely originating revelation.” (Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy) The “reception” of revelation from God requires “hearing” God. I assume this is possible. If it’s not, then the gift of prophecy Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 14 is not possible.
“Prophecy” is a word from God that is, precisely, something beyond my own wisdom. Such a prophetic word from God transcends my own thinking. It is an “I would never have thought of that” kind of moment. In this regard it is different from a prepared sermon, although onen hopes that in sermon preparation the preacher hears from God.
Ben Witherington writes:
• A prophecy certainly was not a sermon by 20th-century standards. It was a spontaneous utterance prompted by the Spirit (cf. vv. 29 ff.) and based on a sudden and uncontrived revelation from God (v. 30). It was controllable by the speaker, however, and was unlike pagan ecstatic utterances of the Dionysiac sort. In Christian prophecy both the mind and the spirit are edified.
Note: I’ve read and talked with some who say “In the past people heard directly from God, but since we’ve had the Bible this has stopped.” I have never agreed with that, one reason being the Bible itself tells us we should expect to hear from God.
While it may be hard at times to discern if that voice in your head is from God or not, this difficulty does not eliminate the possibility of hearing from God. The following is not logical:
- I don't hear from God.
- Therefore it is ot possible to hear from God.
I have found that hearing God’s voice has been an acquired ability. My threefold counsel on how to hear God’s voice is as follows.
1. Spend much time with God, in his presence.
2. Saturate yourself in the Christian Scriptures.
3. Hang around people who do #s 1 and 2.
I assume hearing from God is possible, that God is able to communicate to us, and desires to do so. Surely we can expect God to assist us in the listening process.
My Desire to Prophesy
Linda and I talk with many who share their struggles with us. We've done tons of counseling and praying over people. We've recommended scriptures and books to read, and seminars and conferences to attend. We often refer persons to the two excellent Christian counseling clinics in our area. Sometimes we see results. A few times the results have been astounding, even miraculous. Yet there remain many who are stuck in their addictions, bondages, and illnesses. At times we are clueless, having no answers, and sometimes seeing no path to walk on. I attribute this, partly at least, to our human finitude. Our own strength and wisdom is far from enough.
On the other hand, the God we believe in is all-knowing and all-powerful and all-loving. Such a Supreme Being is able to see the Big Picture, the Path to freedom. What if we could resource Him? That, for me, is what the spiritual gifts and God-manifestations are about; viz., God resourcing us with His wisdom, love, and power. Who wouldn't want to access that? Not for some personal show of power that acts like we are the originator of brilliant God-ideas. But if we truly love people and want them to have life abundantly, who wouldn't want the gift of prophecy? Who wouldn't long for such manifestations that would strengthen, comfort, and encourage those we love and care for? That's why I desire to prophesy. Not for my own self and glory, for for the sake of others, with all glory being given to God.
I'm praying that this Pauline desire to prophesy would be the desire of your heart. Dwell deeply in His presence today. Listen for His voice. When He gives you a strengthening, comforting, and encouraging word for another Jesus-follower, risk sharing it with them. When I do this I don't add "Thus saith the Lord." I often say, "I feel God has given me something to share with you. Check it out, between you and God, for yourself.
Books That Can Help You Understand Prophecy
- Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. This is the best scholarly text on prophecy by an excellent New Testament theologian who embraces the spiritual gifts for today. Especially valuable is Grudem's explanation of the distinction between prophecy in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
- Mike Bickle, Growing In the Prophetic. Bickle's Kansas City Fellowship was, at one time, the center of the prophetic movement in America. Mike's book is a wise reflection on those times, with very helpful biblical understandings of prophecy.
- Jack Deere, The Beginner's Guide to the Gift of Prophecy. Jack is an excellent biblical scholar who values the gift of prophecy in the church today. This is a very helpful, clearly written book.
- Jim Goll, The Seer: The Prophetic Power of Visions, Dreams, and Open Heavens. We've used this in our ministry school. I found it to be very wise and practical.
- Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. Outside of the Bible this is one of the books to read on the matter of hearing the voice of God.