Learning to Recognize God's Voice


“Amy, when Jesus speaks to you, does he speak to your head or your heart?”

Now, I’m not typically the kind of person who backs away from a question, but when Jody, a CRMer based in Serbia, asked me this six months ago, I wanted to run. No one had ever asked me that question before. To be quite honest with you, I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to give the wrong answer.

If I ever write a book, this question will be referred to as “the question that turned my life upside down.” I’m sure you think I’m being a little dramatic, but when I realized I didn’t have an answer to this question, I began to doubt a lot of the major decisions I had made in my 23 years. The college I attended, mission trips I went on, even a recent decision to move to California without a job, were made because I had “heard” God tell me to do so.

At the heart of my reaction to Jody's question was the realization that I had never really learned to listen to God. I was in the habit of figuring things out for myself and calling it God's will. Jody’s question made me realize I may have never actually heard God, and I was really afraid of that. I had reduced God’s voice to a mere feeling I got when I asked him questions. I felt wounded, confused, and frustrated at this realization, but in the midst of all the fear, I also felt determined. I was going to learn to hear God’s voice.

I began reading books and asking questions about prayer. I spent hours seeking the answers I was looking for. If you can relate to my dilemma, and don’t think you have ever heard God’s voice, keep reading. Because what I discovered is that God’s voice isn’t far away. And it most certainly isn’t hard to find.

The best book I read on listening prayer during this journey was Brad Jersak’s Can You Hear Me? Jersak argues that if you are a believer, you are already hearing God’s voice, even if you aren’t acknowledging it. Jersak points out several ways we hear God’s voice, but I’m going to stick with three: scripture, teaching, and prompting.

1. Scripture

When you are reading the Bible, do you experience scripture “popping out” to you? Do you feel like that one verse you read really applies to your current situation, or maybe even answers that question you’ve been asking? Scripture is one of the most common ways God speaks to us, but it is often the least recognized. 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT) says this:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

When we begin to understand that all scripture is inspired by God, we can begin to acknowledge and hear his voice within it.

2. Teaching

“The pastor sure did step on my toes today,” is a phrase I used to hear all the time growing up in a Southern Baptist church. That phrase is basically about conviction—something said “stepped on” that person’s metaphorical toes. I always thought it was just a funny phrase, but the more I learn about hearing God, the more I realize it’s not actually the pastor bringing conviction in those situations, but the Holy Spirit. God continually uses teachers, pastors, and ministers as vessels to speak into our lives. Scripture is full of people God used to speak to others (i.e. Paul, Esther, Hosea, and Deborah). So maybe next time you feel like the person speaking is only speaking to you, ask God if that is actually him trying to tell you something.

3. Prompting

I was at church just a couple weeks ago when I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to pray with the couple sitting next to me. I was so nervous I couldn’t pay attention to the rest of the sermon, but I couldn’t deny that God was telling me to pray with them. Sometimes God’s voice comes through that type of prompting. You may see someone in a coffee shop, and feel the need to talk with them. Even that little “knock” you feel when Jesus asks you to follow him for the first time is a type of prompting. I’m aware of God speaking to me more and more now that I recognize these prompts as his voice.

I want to leave you with one last thing—trust.

My biggest obstacle in learning to recognize God’s voice was trusting that I could actually hear God. It’s so easy to question if it’s actually God speaking or if it’s your own thinking. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” So, trust that when you ask a question, God will answer. Trust that he created you to be in communication with him, and he will honor that. Trust yourself that as his creation, you can hear from him, if you will listen.

So, how does God speak to you? When he speaks, is it to your head or to your heart? For me it’s both. And while I can’t answer that question for you, I can tell you that I’ve learned the most important thing is not where I hear him, but if I am willing to hear him. And when I’m willing to hear him, I find that he never fails to speak.

Want to go deeper? You can find Brad Jersak’s book, Can You Hear Me?: Tuning In to the God Who Speaks, here.


Amy Benton lives in Fullerton, California. Born and raised on a pig farm in Oklahoma, God called her to the West Coast a year ago, where she now serves on CRM’s Communications team as the administrative assistant. Her passions include laughing, good conversations, and women’s ministry.