There once came a moment for me when, just like everybody, I desired to do something intensely but felt nervous and uncertain about the outcome. Like any sorry Christian, I turned to God and asked him to rubberstamp what I wanted, just to know it was okay to go for it. From reading the Bible I intimated that he was telling me no, but I continued to pray and struggle and press harder against his response, convinced that I was letting my nerves fool me into missing his true reply.
Then, while I was studying a passage from Charles Stanley’s daily readings in his magazine InTouch, the answer smacked me. It was as simple as a word. No. Immediately I felt the heaviness of my stubborn attitude. God had pointed out how my desires were blinding me to applying what I knew in my head—that his purposes were right and his truth ultimate. The fear I felt at having come so close to a foolish decision was matched only by the relief of knowing God had protected me from that choice and was even willing to shout at us if it meant our good.
Mulling this experience, I realized not just that God had responded, but that he had spoken. This answer was the voice of God, and I had heard it. In the popular imagination, hearing the voice of God is a phenomenon usually relegated to criminal schizophrenics on Law & Order. But though this voice was real and present, I knew I hadn’t hallucinated it because it didn’t manifest as an audible sound, or really anything that touched my senses. Rather, it was the force of God’s personality leaning on my own spirit—the sense of his truth combating and overwhelming my own version of reality. It was “Discretion will preserve you” (Proverbs 2:11 NKJV) vs. “You can have it all, just as you want it, right now.” It was words, not of my own devising, that appeared in my mind while praying halfheartedly for an expected answer.
From this treasured occurrence, I drew out three characteristics associated with hearing God’s voice that can help us discern when we can be sure he is speaking. I believe all of these traits are scriptural and that they are borne out both in the Bible’s narratives and in firsthand Christian experience.
While I firmly believe these truths to be the touchstones of listening to God, I would welcome any additional guidance or wisdom that God has revealed to you through your experience in prayer and seeking to hear his voice.
Anthony Otten has published stories in The Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Wind. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. Still: The Journal has published an excerpt from his novel. He lives in Kentucky.
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