For some, this might be a silly question. But for others, this question shakes the very foundation of our faith.
If God is who He says He is, why does it feel like He is so far away right now? Can He hear me when I pray? Does He care about me and my problems? Why doesn't He just tell me what to do, or make it a little more obvious which direction to go?
These are all valid questions, both for the young Jesus-follower and for the veteran disciple.
We believe that God is a God of love and justice; who Created everything and mankind in His image; who opened a way for us to be in full relationship with Him after the fall through redemption in Jesus; and who continues to build His kingdom here in us and through us. It would certainly make sense that this Being would necessarily need to speak to each of us to fulfill these things about His character.
Do you feel confidently that He speaks to you?
Sometimes, I do not -- or at least, I have trouble hearing Him.
I have never personally heard an audible, rush-of-water-and-thunder voice from the heavens above. God has not chosen to reveal Himself like that to me. When things get hard, or when I have a difficult decision to make, I find myself longing that He would. This longing for an audible, obvious, neon-glowing-sign of an answer from God often leaves me feeling alone and confused. Does He really love me? Does He really care? Why can't He just tell me what to do? I'll obey!
It could be that I have too limited a definition of the concept "speak."
What does speaking mean to you? Is it just the words we say? Or, is it also the way we say them? Is it just audible sentences? Or, is it also body language? Doesn't art or music also "speak" to us? Do you feel spoken-to when your significant other gives you a warm hug?
Even in our human relationships, "speaking" is a much broader concept than just audible voice. I believe this is also true of God speaking to us.
Jesus tells us in John 14, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you...But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (vs. 15-17, 26).
This means that if we are indeed one with Christ, the Holy Spirit (which is a Who not an "it") literally dwells inside of us and works through us. This would not be possible without some manner of "speaking" on the Spirit's part, right? Surely, He must speak to us moment by moment. Are we hearing Him? Do we even expect to hear Him?
God is infinitely creative, even more than you and I are infinitely unique. He knows us inside and out, backwards and forwards. Though we may sometimes long to hear His audible voice, I believe He knows much better how we personally need to hear from Him. There are innumerable ways in which He can do this, but I have personally only experienced God speaking to me in three identifiable ways.
1) Holy Spirit "Hunches"
This might be a stretch, but do you remember Jiminy Cricket from Disney's Pinnochio? The little critter played the role of the puppet-boy's conscience, constantly helping him to determine right from wrong, and comforting him when things go badly. Sometimes, I feel like the Spirit plays a similar role in my daily life (although, the Spirit of the Living God is much, much more powerful than a cricket, mind you). Once I eliminate the distractions, maybe get out into nature somewhere, and pay more attention to what I am feeling, the Spirit's voice becomes a little bit clearer.
When I feel that conscientious "hunch" before making a decision, or when I am analyzing an emotional situation and feel "led" in one way or another, I believe it is the Spirit graciously guiding me, even speaking to me. Without Him, I would be totally lost. He gives me the right words to speak in the moment, and gently nudges me (sometimes kicks!) in the more righteous direction. How can you know it is actually the Spirit speaking and not just your emotions, you might ask? The best way is to filter and compare your experience through the next two examples of God speaking: Wise Counselors, and His Word.
2) Wise Counselors
My natural inclination when times get tough or confusing is to turn inward. I often intentionally isolate myself from others in order to find the space to process and think. But no man is an island, as they say, and the Lord created us for community. One of the best ways to clearly hear God speaking to us is through the wise counselors He has lovingly placed in our lives. As you may have experienced in your own community, these people are more than willing to talk to us.
Whether it is your mom or dad, a close friend or sibling, an older mentor, a coach or teacher, a pastor or elder -- they are gifts to us from God. Proverbs 15:22 says, "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed." Who are your advisers? God often uses these folks, whether they know it or not, to speak to us in our times of need. Words of encouragement, instruction, and correction from them should not be discredited!
3) His WORD!
This is perhaps the most overlooked method. In many ways, we have forgotten that God already spoke. The Scriptures are full of His words from cover to cover. It's called God's WORD for a reason! It is His voice to the world in written form. And, thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have a constant presence with us to help us understand it when we read it.
When we start complaining that we can't hear God speaking to us, or we start fearing that He no longer cares, it would do us immeasurable good to open up the Bible and read it for awhile. It may have been written hundreds of years ago, but it is still a relevant, transformative book filled with the Holy words of our Loving Father. He spoke, and spoke, and spoke, and spoke -- it's all right there in your Bible for the taking. Don't forget this.
Does God really speak to us? Yes indeed, He does. God speaks to us each in more ways than we can possible fathom, and He continues to speak to us at this moment. I pray that we will listen.
What are some ways you have heard God speaking to you? We'd love to hear your story or opinion in the comments below.
-written by Chase Cotten, Media Director at IDES