As a church, we’ve been challenged to pray, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” from 1 Samuel 3:10, but the logical question that follows is: how does God speak to us? When we ask God to speak and stop to listen, how should we expect Him to answer? What are we listening for? And how can we be sure what we heard was from Him? Keep reading for five ways scripture seems to teach that God speaks to us:
1. God speaks through His creation.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge. – Psalms 19:1-2 (CSB)
The author of Psalm 19 says the days are pouring out speech and revealing knowledge. Therefore, God is communicating through His creation. Think about how magnificent and beautiful creation can be, how both microscopes and telescopes enhance your ability to see it’s complexity. What is the beauty, complexity, and massiveness of creation saying? “GOD IS GLORIOUS.” The knowledge of God will humble us and bring confidence in the one we are approaching. You are asking the one who created and sustains all things to speak to you. Are you really ready for that?
2. God speaks through His providence.
Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this. – Esther 4:14-15 (CSB)
God has a way of speaking to us through circumstances and situations that we could have never strung together on our own. As they come together and we experience them, we are able to say with a slightly greater degree of certainty, though not perfect certainty, that perhaps God is speaking here. The Old Testament book of Esther is a great example of God’s providence. God’s name is purposefully omitted to highlight His sovereignty at work. Even though the author does not explicitly state that God directly speaks to Esther or Mordecai, when Esther doubts a big, risky step, her uncle Mordecai tells her, “Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14-15). Mordecai looks at everything that has happened in Esther’s life and encourages her that God will accomplish His plan whether she acts or not, but perhaps He has sovereignly brought her to this moment to act in alignment with His will. Note Mordecai’s humility. He’s basically saying it seems like this could be what God is doing. When it comes to God speaking through providence, we too should walk in humility.
3. God speaks through His word.
All scripture is breathed out by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. – 2 Timothy 3:16 (CSB)
Because scripture is breathed out by God Himself, it is the one place we can be sure we hear God’s voice. 2 Peter 1:16-21 says this word is more sure, more reliable than if Peter, James, and John were standing here telling you what happened. In all forms of God speaking, we test them by His infallible word. God speaks through His word to us every time we open it. In Acts 17, the Bereans hear Paul preach and then go home to read scripture for themselves to test the accuracy of Paul’s message. You can’t know God’s will apart from his word. If you want to hear from Him, you must know what His word says. This is why Mercy Church emphasizes Bible reading and scripture memorization. You may want God to speak to you now, but do you know what He has already said? Do you know what His word sounds like?
Pastoral aside: If you go through seasons where you don’t feel close to God, you will still have His word to you. I would trust God’s word over my feelings every single day. For what it’s worth, this is why I insist on our sermons being rooted so deeply in God’s word. He speaks through the preaching of His word! If you’ve ever left church feeling like the preacher was speaking directly to you, that’s God speaking to you through the preaching of His word.
4. God speaks through His Spirit.
He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you. – John 14:17 (CSB)
One of the great promises Jesus gave His followers when He left was that He would send us the Spirit of Truth as a guide or a counselor. Jesus told us this Spirit would be with us and in us. When we read God’s word, it is the Holy Spirit who convicts us, and in our daily lives, it is the Holy Spirit who leads us. This is what the word is talking about when it says, “walk not by the flesh, but by the spirit” (Galatians 5:6). As we go about our day listening for the Spirit, the Lord sometimes impresses on us a burden for someone else or a feeling that we should pray someone them right then and there. This could be the Spirit moving you towards Christlikeness. As we read scripture, there are feelings, emotions, warnings, joys, and delights that the Spirit of God puts on our hearts. He may give us a word from His word to pray, or give us something to tell someone to encourage them. Maybe it’s just a word from God to you for you. Lean into these leadings humbly and allow the Spirit to guide you.
5. God speaks through His people.
And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, 25 not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25 (CSB)
In his kindness, God has given you others who are also able to hear from Him and be guided by His Spirit. These are the people in your local church. Find and connect with people you will listen to when they speak a word from God to you, and take that relationship seriously. I’ve received several words from God through His people that have been huge blessings in my life. Some confirmed my calling, some called me to courageous faith and leadership, and some warning me about a bad path I was unknowingly headed down. I am where I am because I listen when God speaks through His people, and in humility, tested whether their words matched up with scripture. This is why it matters that you are praying for one another in church or community groups. God is faithful to use you in other’s lives, and we all carry that responsibility for one another as members of the same body.
Now that you have explored how to hear from God, how can you be sure what you heard is really from Him? Some ways to test whether or not God is speaking is to evaluate what you heard by using these filters:
Four Questions to Test Whether God is Speaking To You (all must be answered with a YES)
- Does this exalt Christ?
- Does this agree with Scripture?
- Is the Spirit confirming it?
- Do other Christians confirm it?
If the circumstances, the word, the Spirit, and His people all agree, there is a probable mercy that God is speaking. Charles Spurgeon once said, when you pray the prayer, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” it is a probable mercy that God will respond.
Hebrews 1 tells us, “Long ago God spoke to the ancestors by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” – Hebrews 1:1-3 (CSB)
So now that you know how to hear from God, and what to do when you think you’ve heard something from Him, with a humble spirit and an expectant heart, pray, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”