How do you know if God is speaking to you? Are you hearing God’s voice? How do you know that you’re not making it up, mishearing the Holy Spirit, or that it was even from God?
The truth is God speaks in many ways. Moreover, the way he speaks to me (the method he uses, tone of voice, etc…) may be different than the way he communicates with you. This post isn’t going to focus on the many ways God communicates with us, rather how to recognize that it’s His voice. Although God speaks in a multitude of ways, His words (instruction, encouragement, guidance, etc…) will never contradict His Character or His Word (the bible). Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the character of God.
For me, it was also helpful to know the characteristics of our adversary, the devil, and of the flesh. John 10:10 tells us that the enemy comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. Therefore, any influence from him will be in line with those characteristics. If you’re struggling to know whether it’s God who told you to do something, start by recognizing if it aligns with His character.
- Characteristics of God: Patient, compassionate, gentle, gracious, merciful, convicting, loving, just, and humble.
- In contrast, Satan is a liar, condemner, mocker, destroyer, thief, murderer, accuser, proud, and selfish.
- Characteristics of the flesh: Self-gratifying, self-seeking, sinful nature.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. – Galatians 5:19-23
In addition to these characteristics, you can ask yourself the following four questions to discern if what you heard was from God.
1) How did it make you feel?
I had a dream from God a couple of years ago that caught me off guard. In it, I was driving down the road and all of a sudden I went off the road and my car flipped three times. Them an angel picked up the car and placed it right side up. When I woke I didn’t feel fear. I felt warned and protected. Even though something bad happened I didn’t feel abandoned or hopeless.
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. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Like scripture, communication from God will either encourage, edify, rebuke, teach, or counsel. Even when God is pointing out your sin, He’ll do it in a loving way. If the instruction or thought you received makes you feel ashamed, condemned, hopeless, fearful, or anything else in line with characteristics of the enemy, know that it’s not from God.
2) Would the action go against scripture?
A huge red flag is when something goes against (or encourages you to go against) God’s explicit commands and instructions. For instance, a relationship sent by God will not pressure you to have sex outside of marriage. Advice from a Christian friend that advises you to lie or manipulate a situation isn’t coming from the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
The enemy sets traps for us so we must stay alert. Know what God’s word says about the way you are called to live and make up your mind that God’s Word is the final authority, not your feelings or the world’s philosophy.
3) How would the action or outcome affect others?
Would it make others feel loved, forgiven, known, and cared for? Or unimportant, hated, forgotten, or unlovable? Everything Jesus did during his earthly ministry he did out of love. He didn’t come to condemn people, but to reveal God’s love and truth, and reconcile them back to the Father.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. – Philippians 2:3-5
4) Would it make you more or less like Christ?
God is transforming you into the image of Christ. What He calls you to do is for your good and His glory. The word “good” in that verse doesn’t necessarily mean pleasurable, easy, or comfortable. Rather, what is good for your spiritual health and development. It’s good for you to endure tough times if it produces patience and perseverance in you. God’s will won’t feel good to your flesh, but if it brings God glory and makes you more like Christ, it’s likely the will of God. On the contrary, if it makes you less like Christ – selfish, self-seeking, dishonest, trusting your own ability instead of God’s, it is not from God and should not be followed.
Consider All of the Questions Together
As you ponder these questions know that the answer to all of should be “It lines us with God’s character or Word”. For instance, If you have a dream that’s filled with lust and it makes you feel good, that doesn’t mean it’s from God. God’s Word clearly states that we flee from sexual immorality. God would not send you dreams filled with lust or fornication. It’s likely from your flesh or the enemy.
The best way to get better at discerning God’s voice is to practice. Become familiar with God’s character and ways by reading the bible daily. Talk to Him throughout your day. Ask Him questions (even if it’s about simple things like what you should wear that day), and then listen intently for His response. Lastly, pray and ask God to help you hear Him clearer. He is a good Father and he will give you wisdom if you ask for it.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. – James 1:5