Two of our CRM leaders, Dr. Myra Perrine and Patty Metcalf, had a conversation about how we can learn to hear God’s voice. The recording of that discussion was made into a podcast, which you can listen to here. Or read along to learn the wisdom these two women have to share about developing a conversational (listening) relationship with God. This is Part 1 of 3.
How the Conversation Started
Myra: I committed my life to Jesus in college and I immediately began falling in love with his word. So hearing God, for me, meant reading the Bible and sensing it come alive for me. That was pretty much my pattern for the first 10 years of knowing Jesus. And then I began to notice that God was giving me strong impressions—even thoughts—that would break in during my prayer times. These surprised me, but I started to recognize that they were really God. And I noticed that these words were kinder, and more faith-filled and loving, than anything I would say to myself. Over time the content of these thoughts, the tone, the wisdom, even the tenderness, began to be recognizable to me. “Yes, this is indeed God speaking to me!” It’s as if the truth of Psalm 27 became a pattern for me. Psalm 27 says, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house (the presence) of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” So I noticed that when I inquired of the Lord, he would answer me.
Patty: The concept of hearing God’s word in my heart and mind was a new one to me in 1985. We went through a paradigm shift in our prayer lives. I grew up as a Christian thinking God only spoke through the Bible and I had no idea he would actually speak to my heart and mind. Learning to live in this receptive way has been an ongoing process for me, and it’s really funny now that God uses me to help others, when I was in such a quandary about it for so many years. So he is in the business of changing us, that’s for sure.
Key Question #1: How can we hear from God? What are the ways he speaks?
Myra: We know that God reveals himself through his word, and all through the word we see the patterns and the habits of God speaking to his people. We see that God does that in different ways. He can do it, of course, through his word. He can do it through images or impressions, or dreams or visions. Sometimes what other people say to us. God can speak to us through music, or nature, or circumstances. I actually believe God speaks to us differently based on who we are, and several years ago I wrote a book about that called, What’s Your God Language.
Patty: What’s helped me most to recognize God’s voice is that it often comes as a spontaneous thought that just drops into my mind. It’s not something I’ve analyzed and thought up. It’s just there. And like Myra said, people do hear differently. Some see pictures and images. I have that sometimes. Others hear his voice in thoughts. And others just know or sense that something is from him. You know when you get this feeling of peace or settledness or hope that just rises up within you. That’s a knowing that’s kind of different from regular life. And God often speaks to me by bringing scriptures to my mind. Usually that scripture has something unique about it. It’s kind of an “Aha!” moment. I may have been talking to him about something for a number of days or just one period of time, and then a scripture drops into my mind, and it’s like, “Oh, yes!” God sometimes speaks audibly, but that’s usually not the way most of us hear from him.
Myra: I know sometimes God will awaken me in the morning with a worship song that’s just running through my mind. And eventually I begin to realize, “This is the Lord!” He’s setting me on track with a topic or theme for the day. That happened recently with the song, “Your love is extravagant.” It was playing through my mind about 20 times, and eventually I realized this was probably a God-whisper—that he was saying something to me about his extravagant heart and how I could focus on it that day.
I think there are qualities that distinguish God’s voice—characteristics that we can recognize that make God’s voice unique and different. One of them is the content and tone of the messages we get, and also the fruit they produce in our lives. Of course these thoughts are going to be in alignment with scripture, but also with the character of God. We know the Holy Spirit is the comforter, the teacher, the counselor; Jesus is the good shepherd, the healer, the life-giver. So these thoughts are going to be comforting, life-giving, freeing. They might bring conviction, but they will still be full of truth. And I think content is one big give-away. And also the fruit they leave in our lives. James 3:17 is a good verse to look up in what I consider the tone of God’s voice. And I think, conversely, when spontaneous thoughts are not life-giving or freeing, and they contain condemnation, or shame, or fear, or anything that lessens our trust in God, then obviously those thoughts aren’t going to be from God. And in fact, they’re probably going to be from the demonic, because they line up with the character of Satan, who’s a liar, a destroyer, the accuser of the brethren. And I think when thoughts agitate us, or rob us of peace and joy, we can assume they’re not from the Lord. And then of course our own thoughts are another source. But to recognize God’s voice, I think we look at the content, the tone, and the fruit.
And here’s another way to recognize the Lord: I sense that when God speaks to me he refers to himself in the first person. He calls himself “I.” So, for example, I said to the Lord one time, “I haven’t heard from you in a while. What’s up?” And immediately I sensed the Lord saying to me, “I live in the present, and you don’t spend much time there.” And I realized that was absolutely true. I tend to be a person who’s always thinking about what’s next. “What have I got to do today? What have I got to do tomorrow?” And I can neglect to just stop, and really be present in the moment, be quiet with God and let him speak to me. So I think, hearing God speak, he will refer to himself as I.
And lastly, I think his content is very specific. It’s specific in that it’s wiser than I would have heard from myself. But it can also reveal deeper motivations in me, in my own heart.
Patty: My own story has been this journey in trying to hear from God and understand his voice. And in this process one morning I was moaning and groaning to God about not hearing him, and asking him to speak more clearly. And I didn’t sense any answer when I was talking to him about that. And my response when I didn’t hear anything was kind of like, “Figures.” So I just quit spending time with the Lord and went about my day. And about an hour later I was sitting at my kitchen table doing something, and the thought that dropped into my head was, “Patty, you don’t need to hear more clearly. You need to believe what you already hear.” Well I nearly fell off the chair, because I knew, “I didn’t think that up; that was really from God.” And by the content and tone of the message and the way it impacted me, I knew it was him. And I was encouraged, 1) because I heard his voice, and 2) I knew that an hour or so earlier he really had been listening to me. And sometimes I think when we don’t sense a connection and we don’t hear a response, we just assume God’s not there, that he’s not listening. So it affirmed me on a number of different levels.
Dr. Myra Perrine and her husband, Dan, live in Redding, CA. With a passion for intimacy with God, Myra holds a Doctor of Ministry in Spiritual Formation. She has worked with Church Resource Ministries (CRM) since 1996 coaching leaders around the world, and is the author of several books: What’s Your God Language? Connecting with God Through Your Unique Spiritual Temperament (Tyndale, 2008), What’s Your God Language? Coaching Guide, A Companion Workbook of Spiritual Exercises for What’s Your God Language? and Becoming One: Nurturing Spiritual Intimacy in Marriage.
Patty Metcalf and her husband, Sam, were one of four families that began CRM in 1980. Sam has served as president of CRM since 1985, and Patty is equally involved in ministry with a particular focus on healing prayer and intercession. They live in Southern California and have two children and four grandchildren.
Date of recording: August 1, 2013