Ways to Hear from God

How can we hear from God, and what are the ways God speaks to us?

There are times in all of our lives when we want to hear from God— when we need to hear from God.

During my senior year of high school, I felt called to go to Romania to work with children for the summer. I asked God to tell me for sure if that’s what he wanted. I was excited about the adventure, but nervous about spending so many months in another country away from my family and my girlfriend.

Through Scripture, the advice of mentors, and even a song I heard on the radio, I felt that God confirmed his desire for me to go. Looking back, that summer changed my life in so many ways, and I think it really was God who directed my steps.

I wish I could say that whenever I need to hear from God, it’s this clear— with verses of confirmation, songs on the radio, and mentors who encourage me to say, “yes.” Not so much.

There have been times when I’ve said, “yes” to something without hearing from God, hoping Proverbs 16:9 is true, and that God directs my steps. There have also been times when I thought I heard God saying something, and I ended up being wrong.

There was one moment in particular when I felt one of the deepest convictions I’ve ever felt. I sat down in my packed moving truck to move my family from one side of the country to another, and I felt for sure I was doing the wrong thing.

My wife, my friends, and my mentor all confirmed moving was the right choice, but my deepest convictions nearly brought tears to my eyes as I felt I was dishonoring God by moving. Later, God finally gave me peace about moving, but for months I thought I’d done the wrong thing and disobeyed God. I still feel a twinge of regret in my gut, even now, nearly 10 years later.

So how can we hear from God, and what are the ways God speaks to us? These are two questions I think about a lot, and I think there are some principles we can lean on when we desire to hear from God.

Here are a few things I’ve learned by walking with God through the situations above, studying the Bible in seminary, and leaning on the experience of mentors in the faith.

Ways God Speaks to Us: #1—God speaks through the life and teachings of Jesus.

Hebrews 1:1-3 reads, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word . . .”

The life and teachings of Jesus offer the best insight into who God is and how God works. But as we read about Jesus—what he did and what he taught—we probably won’t find an exact answer to the questions we are facing.

For example, if you need to hear from God about whether or not to date or marry a certain person, Jesus probably never said your name followed by, “I want you to date that guy or gal.” At least that phrase isn’t in my Bible.

But Jesus does talk a lot about what his followers look like, and how they should treat one another. Does the person you’re interested in reflect those qualities (like self-sacrificial love)?

Just because Jesus didn’t say it, doesn’t mean he isn’t saying it.

Ways God Speaks to Us: #2—God speaks through creation.

Romans 1:20 reads, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

All of creation—humans, animals, sunsets, gardens, forests, oceans, rivers—is a megaphone for one of the coolest ways God speaks to us. Most of God’s creation doesn’t use words (except for that one time God used a donkey to get Balaam’s attention), but it’s amazing how rolling ocean waves can remind you of God’s peace.

One time I was waiting for a job offer and happened to also be visiting my in-laws at the beach. As I was standing there, these lyrics began to move through my mind, “Let the waves of God’s peace roll over me, moving me from where I am to where I need to be.”

A sunrise can bring hope of a morning you never thought you’d see. A moving tree can strengthen your faith as it reminds you that just because you can’t see something like wind, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And just because we can’t see God, doesn’t mean he’s not there.

God’s creation may not tell you what to do, but it can encourage, comfort, and inspire you along the way.

Ways God Speaks to Us: #3—God speaks through culture.

Acts 17:27-28 reads, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

In a speech to people in Athens who didn’t know God, Paul quoted a poet from Athens.

Today, when we need to hear from God, he can even use movies, music, art, poetry, books, and other cultural messages and icons to nudge us along toward his direction for our lives. It’s probably not wise to make a big decision based only on cultural messages, but if something we see or hear fits with what God is saying in some of these other areas (i.e. Scripture, prayer, etc…), culture can be a tool God uses to direct us.

In my story about Romania, I mentioned a song that came on the radio. The song was about loving and caring for an orphan who needed to know she was loved. I remember feeling like the artist might as well have sung, “Daniel, go to Romania.”

God can use culture to confirm what we think he may be saying.

Ways God Speaks to Us: #4—God speaks through other people.

Proverbs 15:22 offers this wisdom, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Proverbs is wisdom literature, which is full of principles, not promises. The proverb above is a good example. Are there times when there are many advisers and a plan still fails? Yep! But in general, if we ask advice from advisers—from wise people who know what they’re talking about, who know us, and who are prayerful and want God’s best—we tend to make better decisions.

For me, I have a personal “board of directors” who know me and who have proven to be wise influences. My mentor Robert, my cousin Ken, my mom and dad, my friend Brian, and my wife.

If they all agree—or most of them do—on something, I feel pretty good about it. If they all disagree, well . . . they’re wrong! Just kidding—then I better not do it.

When we need to hear from God, he can use others to guide us.

Ways God Speaks to Us: #5—God speaks through Scripture.

Obvious, I know. But check out 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

To be clear, Paul is not referring to the New Testament here (it didn’t exist yet), but the Old Testament. Specifically, Paul would have been referring to the Old Testament witness that points to Jesus as the Messiah.

I believe we can take the principle of this verse and apply it to the New Testament now that church tradition has confirmed the Old and New Testaments as Scripture. In my Romania story, God used a verse from the New Testament book of James to confirm his call for me to do mission work in Romania.

When you need to hear from God, he can use Scripture in your life, too.

Ways God Speaks to Us: #6—God speaks through his Spirit.

I saved this one for last because I think God’s Spirit is the enabler who gives us ears to hear his voice within the other five ways God speaks to us (mentioned above).

God’s Spirit helps us read the story of Jesus that happened in a different context with a different set of people, and understand how Jesus’s life and teachings impact the way we live today.

God’s Spirit inspires our hearts to resonate with something in creation that speaks to God’s majesty, power, or other divine qualities.

The Holy Spirit can inspire an artist to write a song that has a lyric that challenges our perspective or confirms God’s calling, while also using that same song in the life of another person and the artist herself.

God’s Spirit can fill someone with wisdom, and prompt them to share wisdom with us as we approach a difficult decision.

And without God’s Spirit, it’s impossible to read the Scriptures and understand how these ancient stories, written for ancient people, intersect powerfully in our lives today.

I think all of this is why Jesus said to his followers, “. . . it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The Advocate he was referring to is the Holy Spirit, and Jesus felt it was better for us to have the Spirit than for us to have his very presence.

We need the Spirit’s presence, because even though God speaks to us faithfully in a number of different ways, the truth is, it’s still really easy to mishear God. And that’s what part two of this article is all about.

But just in case you don’t have time, here’s at least one good life hack I use to determine if what I think I’m hearing is actually from God: when multiple ways God speaks to us come together and agree, I’m pretty sure God is nudging me forward. If the opposite happens, and I think I have a great idea that fits with my convictions, but my mentors are like, “Whoa! Hold up. Not sure that’s what I see God doing in your life,” I will pause and ask God to confirm what I’m sensing from him.

Oh, and never be afraid to ask God for more confirmation. That’s not a lack of faith— it actually takes quite a bit of faith to trust that God will confirm where you feel he’s leading. For other tips on how to make sure that what we hear and understand is actually God speaking, check out the second part of this article, “4 Ways You Might Be Mishearing God.