HEARING GOD’S VOICE
Peter S. C. Pothan
Sadhu Sundar Singh relates the story of his conversion as follows. “Three days after burning the Bible, finding that Hinduism gave me no comfort, I decided to commit suicide because to live in such misery was impossible. Very early in the morning (at 3 o’clock) I arose and, after taking a cold bath, began to pray, ‘If there is a God, let Him show me the way of salvation; if not, then I will commit suicide by placing myself on the railway line.’ Up to 4.30 no answer came. Presently there was a light in my room. In the light, the beloved and glorious face of Christ appeared and, showing His wounded hands in which the nail prints clearly showed, He said, ‘Why do you persecute Me? Behold I gave My life for you.’ His words struck like lightning into my heart. I immediately became filled with joy and I was changed for all eternity.”
He adds, “This was not imagination. If Buddha or Krishna had shown himself, it would have been imagination, for I worshipped them. But for Christ to show Himself, He whom I hated, is a miracle and clear proof that He is a living Christ. Neither was it a dream, for no one can see a dream after taking a cold bath, and a dream cannot completely change a life. This is a great reality.”
The two things that changed his life to make him one of the most influential Indian preachers was the vision of Christ and hearing Him saying, “Why do you persecute Me? Behold I gave My life for you.” It is reminiscent of the conversion of Paul on the Damascus road. In both cases these enemies of Christ saw a vision and heard a voice speaking to them. This is the theme of my article – Hearing God’s Voice.
If we want to live a Spirit-filled Christian life, we need to be sure that we are guided by Jesus Christ every step of the way. Discovering God’s will is the most important, and sometimes the most difficult, thing in life.
There are several means through which we can know God’s will for us:
- Our daily devotion, what some people call the Quiet Time. As we read God’s word, He will often speak directly to us.
- Speakers and sermons in the church, the college chapel, and so on. If we listen with open hearts and minds, God will speak to us.
- Christian books or perhaps even through study books.
- The ‘still small voice of God’.
When the Prophet Elijah was running away from Queen Jezebel, God fed him and cared for him and only then spoke to him (1Kgs.19:11-12). Have you heard this ‘gentle whisper’ or the ‘still small voice’ of God?
I am often surprised how few evangelicals actually hear this voice. I thought hearing God’s voice was basic to being ‘Spirit filled’!
Receiving guidance from God’s holy word is as important as praying for spiritual insight and direction from God. Your Bible reading should direct your prayers and you should listen to God speaking to you from it.
While I have heard God speaking to me from the Bible, from preachers and from books, I want to focus on how to receive God’s guidance through His ‘still small voice’. A danger here is that you could mistake your voice for God’s. Therefore we need to check and clarify by asking God in prayer whether it is really His voice that we have heard. Even after we learn to recognise His voice, we need to be cautious, because often God tells us to do something we really do not want to do and are not prepared for!
Attitudes To Hearing God’s Voice
There are basically three views among believers regarding hearing God’s audible voice.
1. God spoke audibly in Biblical times, but today He speaks through His written word.
2. God speaks only very occasionally and only when major decisions are to be made. I think you should go to God for all decisions. I used to tell college students in the EU, “If you want to know what dress to wear in the morning, ask God.” I do. Perhaps you may think that mine is a very simplistic faith. But God has blessed me with it for 42 years.
3. God can and does speak to us today.
The Bible is full of stories of people who heard God in an audible voice, from Adam onwards. God spoke to Noah, to Abraham and to Moses. He spoke to all the OT prophets, who wrote, “Thus saith the Lord.” In the New Testament we see Him speaking to Peter in the vision of the sheet, to Ananias and to Paul on several occasions. There are many instances in church history of God speaking to His people, right down to our age.
The Bible gives us several indicators to show that God desires to speak to His people:
- “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isa.30:21).
- “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him” (Deut.30:19-20).
- “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psa.95:7-8).
- Jesus says of the Good Shepherd, “The sheep listen to His voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn.10:3).
- Jesus also says, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me” (Rev.3:20).
Are you listening to God’s voice?
I will now show you some important areas in which God can guide with an audible voice. To illustrate this, I will give you some of my own experiences. (I am not setting myself up as someone special but would like to share from my heart on how God works.)
1. Guidance into ministry. In December 1971, as I sat in UESI’s first Missionary Conference in Madras, God spoke to me in an audible voice for the first time. I was attending the Literature Seminar, trying to find out how I could use my gift of writing for the Lord. It was in a session on publishing (wherein the speaker said he had prayed for several years for someone to come into this ministry) that God spoke to me and called me into this ministry.
2. Guidance on the way. On 5th September 2002, World Vision asked me to speak at their Family Conference at a hotel on St. Mark’s Road, Bangalore. I asked the Lord which way to go. And He told me “Go via Shivajinagar.” Now that day was the start of St Mary’s Feast, and I thought Shivajinagar would be packed. So I asked the Lord, “Shivajinagar? Are You sure?” And the voice said “Go Shivajinagar,” so I said, “OK, Lord, You know best,” and went that route. When I reached St Mary’s Basilica at 10.30 am, the place was empty, and so I reached the hotel well in time. Apparently, the earlier speaker had taken another route and reached half an hour late.
3. Guidance for the future. In 1998 a friend who sold computer programmes to Christian organisations asked me to help him by being his representative in Bangalore. I agreed but when I prayed about it God told me, “No!” so I had to phone my friend and withdraw.
4. Guidance in the family. When we were considering my daughter’s marriage, we got many offers and as I prayed about them, God said, “No!” Then one day I met my daughter as she was talking to an old schoolmate of hers and God told me this was the boy for her. When I told my daughter, she was furious and said, “We are only friends.” So I said, “I’ll pray about it.” It took two years, but God finally worked it out and they are happily married for three years now.
These are just a few of several experiences I have had of listening to God’s still small voice. God can guide you in both big and small issues.
May God help you to hear His voice and be guided by Him! As Isaiah said, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”