Hearing the Voice of God

January 20, 2010 | 38 comments

“My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.”

— John 10:27

“As for me, the silence and the emptiness
is so great that I look and do not see,
listen and do not hear.”
— Mother Teresa in a letter
to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet,
September 1979

Dear Laura,*

We stood in a circle of souls linked by hands and hearts. And when we bowed our heads to pray, I heard what you said.

I was on the far side of a circle of thirty-some souls, but I heard you.

I really heard you. For I’ve felt those words in my marrow.

You courageously cried out to God, and to us.

Voice shaking, you asked the question: “What does it really mean to hear God’s voice? Because I don’t hear Him speaking to me.”

And in the unspoken places of your voice, I heard this question as well: How come everyone else hears God’s voice, and I hear only painful silence?

We Christians make it seem so easy, don’t we? We toss around words like: “God spoke to me the other day,” or “I heard God tell me to ….”

And surely, people do hear the voice of God. But when the deafening silence consumes, we wonder privately: What have I done wrong, that He doesn’t speak to me?

I found one Christian website today that inferred that if we aren’t hearing God’s voice, then we must not be listening.

The author wrote: “Hearing the voice of God is as natural as hearing your best friend talk to you.”

And then I remember Mother Teresa, who poured out her life as an offering for God. Even Mother Teresa was acquainted with the pain of God’s silence. She once wrote: “I listen and do not hear.”

And then I think of the silence I’ve felt in my own groping to hear the Voice of Truth. I’ve never heard Him speak audibly.

But I have heard Him speak in other ways, Laura.

He says that His sheep know His voice, and this stumbling, bumbling sheep finds His voice in these places, speaking softly in the soul. I’m learning still to hear Him speak like this:

IN HIS WORD: This is how I tune into God’s voice, by daily reading His Word. I’ve taken to memorizing passages so that I can hide His Word — the very Voice of God — in my heart. When we know Scripture, we can hear His Truth — His very Voice — without holding the Book in our hands and without hearing the audible Voice.

HEARING HIM IN SONG: I tune into God by tuning into music. Each day, before my time of prayer and study, I open Grandma Taylor’s Cokesbury Worship Hymnal to sing His truths. And, if I listen in my spirit, I know He sings with and over me.

OTHER PEOPLE: Just yesterday, I was lamenting in the Psalms, and pouring out my heart to God. Then the phone rang. The friend said: “I called to pray with you today. I know you’re having a tough week.” And that’s what she did, right there on the phone. Tears flowed down these cheeks. Yes! God speaks through other people who seem to call at just the right time. This, I believe, is neither chance nor coincidence, but a “God-incidence.”

QUIET IMPRESSIONS IN THE SPIRIT: I have no doubt that some people hear God speak audibly. But for many of us, we only hear the Voice in the heart. This is the Spirit voice that can’t be heard audibly but booms within the soul. Some skeptics might says it’s my own subconscious — myself talking to myself — but I’ve come to know this inner voice as coming from the One whom I can trust.

Oh Laura …

I felt the pain of your words in that prayer circle. Some Christians might tell us it’s natural to hear God’s voice, that it’s as easy as hearing the voice of a friend. But
Laura, at times, I have found it neither natural nor easy to hear His voice. And indeed, I have had times of hearing only this: Silence.

But even when He’s silent, this does not mean He’s absent. (Nor does it necessarily mean that you’re a poor listener!)

God will speak when He speaks. He is a wild and unpredictable and mysterious God who cannot be tamed by my attempts to box Him into four simple bullet points (above).

And this long-time agnostic-turned-believer has learned to trust Him in the silence. For a long time, I tried to accept or reject God on the basis of the tangible things. I wanted a God I could see with my flesh eyes. I demanded a God I could hear with my flesh ears.

But so much of our faith is based on this upside-down Kingdom of intangibles. We trust the things we cannot see or hear.

If there were no mystery — if there were only tangibles — what would be the point of Faith? How would we be any different than the rest of the world that demands proof in flesh, a world that rejects the idea of Faith in the unseen?

For in faith,
we know that He speaks,
even when we do not hear Him.
In faith,
we know that He is,
even when we cannot see.

“Then Jesus told them …
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
— John 20:29

Friends, would you offer your thoughts in the comment box on “hearing God” for my friend? I will be sharing our thoughts with “Laura*” this week.

(*I changed my friend’s name to protect her identity here. But I may as well have started the letter “Dear Jennifer” for I see myself so clearly in her questions, too.)

holy experience

Each Wednesday, I join Ann Voskamp as we explore spiritual practices that draw us nearer to His heart. Today, we were encouraged to share anything that God laid on our heart. My heart today is filled with compassion for those who feel the heaviness in the silences.

Even when we can’t hear Him, He hears us.
He hears us.

Photo: Grandma’s hymnal, open on my prayer chair.

by | January 20, 2010 | 38 comments


  1. Bina

    I can hear Him audibly…His voice echoes within my soul, my mind taking advantage that it will always be there.

    And so, He uses the moments of silence to speak the loudest to me…to make the most impact. There are seasons in which His still, small voice is replace with a deafening silence hangs like a thick fog. And in those seasons, my eyes are opened so that I, like you, have to actually LOOK for Him…search for Him…long for Him…treat Him as something special to be loved.

    He comes to me then…in the breeze, in the clouds, in a song, in a hug, in a letter written by a child…He always comes to me and those season are when I feel the richest.

    A paraphrase runs thru my mind: "Blessed are you who have believed and yet never seen."

    Blessed…are you!

  2. Anne Lang Bundy

    Jennifer, I so, so, so appreciate you mentioning that God's voice is heard many ways.

    I can honestly say I hear Him speak all the time, His silences have become as comfortable as His words, and I have once heard Him audibly.

    But it has been a long, long journey. If I might offer just one thought on the question "How do you hear from God?" it would be that the more time spent with Him—His Word, His people, His presence in prayer—the better one comes to recognize and distinguish His voice.

  3. mom2six

    The silence of God, I believe we will all walk here at some point on our journey with the Lord. Makes me think of the verse about the testing of our faith…(James 1:2-5).

    Many times for me I hear his voice in nature. His faithfulness through the seasons, his heart crying in the rain, his power in a thunderstorm, his beauty in a sunset or sunrise, his majesty and splendor surrounding through creation.

    Sometimes I even hear him speak through images that pour into my mind. I try to put these images on paper with what little artistic ability I possess.

    Through times I silence I go back through Scripture and my journals to times He spoke clearly to my heart and I remember his promise, "I will never leave you or forsake you." By faith I can say I am learning to trust God in the silence.

    Great post!! So much encouragement here.

  4. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    Wonderful, ladies. Thank you for your words. Truly, God speaks to us in so many ways.

    And Anne, I love how you say: "His silences have become as comfortable as His words."

    I think, so often, we can mistake his silence for absence. When really, He is still there. We have to trust Him in the silences, too.

    And Bina — I love all the ways you "see" and "hear" God speaking. Beautiful.

  5. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    mom2six — Yes! The returning to our own journals, a written testimony of those times when the LORD has spoken clearly. Wonderful idea. Thank you ….

  6. patty

    Not only does his silence not mean His absence, it doesn't mean his disapproval either. To say you're not listening or seeking enough puts way to much emphasis on our actions. I've had times in my life when I've listened exclusively to Christian music, immersed myself in scripture, and surrounded myself with godly influences and God has remained silent. No warm fuzzies. No reassurances. No "signs". Just silence. The bottom line is God is God and we are not. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. I guess that's a comfort to me because His sovereignty doesn't depend on my ability to hear his voice. Hope that makes sense…

  7. Graceful

    As a longtime non-believer, I can absolutely relate to your friend's suffering. I think I was always looking for God in the wind and the thunder, in the big drama, rather than in the quiet undertones of the everyday. He goes silent on me from time to time, still. But then I hear His voice — in my children's voices, in my community, in the voices of friends reaching out — as you did in your comment on my blog this weekend!

    By the way, I wrote a bit about this topic today — my theme was more "seeing" God through the fog…but same principle really.

    At least your friend has good counsel in you. And I believe she will hear the voice of God one day.

  8. Lisa notes...

    You did a beautiful job explaining it. We do have to learn to trust him in the silence, and learn how to hear him in a variety of ways, unexpected ways. Blessings to you as you minister so sweetly and gently to your friend.

  9. alicia

    I do not hear His voice audibly, and yes, thought for awhile it was me doing something wrong.

    But I truly do, when I stop and take the time, feel His voice, in the scriptures especially. But sometimes its just words filling my heart and I know they come from Him.

    We can get too caught up in needing to 'hear' but we do hear with our eyes, heart, touch, smell… He is in all of those.

    Thanks for a great post!

  10. jasonS

    No audible voices here either, but you do learn to distinguish between your own inner voice and His. Like you said, sometimes there is silence even when I actively try to listen, but He is always there and moments of pressing and pressure to seek Him always bring the most significant breakthrough. Thanks Jennifer!

  11. Steph

    Jennifer, you were writing to me, not Laura, thank you.

  12. elaine @ peace for the journey

    Strong impressions in my spirit… that's when I've "heard" the voice of God most convincingly. At other times, his voice comes to me through music, through the kindness of others words, through good writing, but mainly through his Word. As I am faithful to approach his Word, I understand that long before I ever "came", he was there, planning on my arrival and making sure that the table was set on my behalf prior to my coming. When I approach God's Word this way, I hear him… every time I open up his Word.

    Even when my emotions lag behind… especially then. That's when my faith takes hold at a deeper level, and I choose to believe in the effectual power of his Word, despite my not "feeling" it's warmth.

    Keep to it, sister, and thank God for friends like Jennifer who are being used by God as a tangible demonstration of his hearing heart.

    Love and peace~elaine

  13. Ms. Jenny B Pants

    Thank you for this post and comments…I'm walking through a similar thing, and appreciate the encouragement!

  14. Laura

    Such wisdom here, Jennifer. There have been seasons of my life when God has kept silent. Bless HIm, He still wrapped me in His loving arms even when I wasn't sure what He was trying to say. Those seasons deepened my faith and made me cling tighter. Though the desert was dry, it blessed in the end. If only we could see the end before arriving, no? But this is when we must seek with all our hearts, as you instruct here.

  15. RCUBEs

    Speaking from my own life's journey, looking back to those times when I was hurting the most and felt like He was so far away…now I know, those must be the times that He was working mysteriously for me and in me…Blessings to you sister. Your heartfelt words always inspire. It's cold today after many days of rain. But here I am, all warmed up by His Word that was revealed through you. Thank you. Thank You Lord!

  16. Missy

    Jennifer, your wisdom and the beauty in this post is awesome.

    As a new believer, this is one question I have struggled with and your post has certainly helped me to remember how to hear His voice. But it also helps me remember that sometimes, He speaks to us through silence.

  17. Rockin' Robin

    Thank you for tackling such a widely sought-after subject. You did it so beautifully.

  18. Shirl

    I've often wondered how people 'know' they are hearing God's voice because I don't ever seem to know.

  19. inthistogether

    There's no doubt that the concept of hearing God's voice is a mystery. I've thought about this many times. I think God has spoken through people and experiences – in my life. Now, I don't always listen to what He's trying to say. That's where the trouble comes in.

    No doubt – life is tough sometimes. That's why I can't wait for heaven!

  20. Julie

    Thank you for tackling a subject may believers shy away from or would never admit. For me- I have never heard an audible voice- just a thought that suddenly pops in to my head or a gentle nudging to do something. If I ignore the gentle nudge it unsettles me- then I know for sure.

    More than anything I love "searching" for His voice in the silence….if I am outside ..in His beautiful creation its all the better. Again- its not something heard- its more of something felt….a peace more than anything. That is just my experience…..

    Thank you for again for your beautiful words…

  21. elizabeth

    Words that are both beautiful, wise and flowing with His love. Thanks Jennifer.

  22. Solveig

    I think all of us go through this. Sometimes our life has been one of not listening to God. When we come to Him, we don't know how to listen. At other times God seems to bless new Christians with direction–and then goes silent. Whatever our circumstances have been, we'll never be comfortable with silence unless we've lived with it. It's part of the growth process. When we don't hear Him, we can desperately read His Word in ways we don't when things go well. We tuck away the principles so we can draw from them later.

  23. LisaShaw

    Beautiful. Powerful and filled with truth.


  24. Shaunie Friday @ Up the Sunbeam

    Wonderful insights Jennifer! I can so identify with wondering about the silent times when it feels like God is ignoring me. That is when I have to trust what I know, and not what I feel.

    Like when Jacob wrestled with God through the night, unwilling to let Him go until He had blessed him and changed his name, I have learned to be relentless in my pursuit of God, especially when He gets quiet.

    As maddeningly silent as God can be, His is the silence of Presence, not the silence of absence. Run hard after Him, keep seeking Him! God isn't playing childish and insensitive games with your heart, He just wants to create an insatiable hunger in you. Let yourself discover how desperately you need Him! That realization is powerful stuff that will change you from the inside out.

    Blessings to "Laura" and to her loving friend!

  25. Stacie, A Firefighter's Wife

    This is sooooo good! You hit the nail right on the head. I agree with every word of it.

    I love to "hear" my Savior, but the silence is sometimes deafening. That is when I press in and "listen" for Him in everything that I do. He wants us tuned in, fully, to what He is doing in our lives and what He wants us to say to people to encourage and build them up.

  26. Doug Spurling

    Thanks for listening Jennifer,
    (Please forgive me. My intended quick comment turned blog-ish)

    Laura, you’re not alone…

    Sometimes I think the question “can I hear God” may birth from; “can God hear me?”

    Even Jesus …

    Mark 15:34
    And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

    Even David; a man after God’s own heart…

    Psalm 22:1
    [ For the director of music. To the tune of "The Doe of the Morning." A psalm of David. ] My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

    Psalm 22:2
    O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear;And in the night season, and am not silent.

    Psalm 27:7
    Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice!Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

    Psalm 28:2
    Hear the voice of my supplications When I cry to You, When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.

    They concluded….

    John 11:41
    "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. ~ Jesus

    Psalm 34:17
    The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears,And delivers them out of all their troubles.

    Psalm 40:1
    [ To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. ] I waited patiently for the LORD;And He inclined to me, And heard my cry.

  27. A Simple Country Girl

    Even though we may not audibly hear God's voice, He nudges our hearts, rings our phones with a friend's call, slips a note in our in-box, puts a comment in our little one's mouth, leads us to a scripture, puts a song on the radio, jumps a passage out of a book, or sends a blog our way…

    Jennifer, I believe you already grasp what Laura is looking for. Even though I can't audibly hear your voice, you spoke to me today.

    Perhaps it's not the "hearing" that needs to be magnified, but the "accepting" of all the little ways we hear His voice.


  28. Deborah Ann

    Beautiful, Jennifer. This love letter reminds me of "Yes Virginia, there is a santa claus."

    I think we are hearing God, but He keeps changing the way He speaks so that we will learn to hear him in many ways, and in many places.

    Great post!

  29. ~*Michelle*~

    "But even when He's silent, this does not mean He's absent."

    wow……..just like an arrow, that shot right to my heart.


  30. elizabeth embracing life

    So beautifully written. I have told my children, ever since they could understand how God speaks to us. How we are all His hands, His feet, His voice. Knowing and embracing this is so precious. Thanks for giving hope and understanding.

  31. Jennifer

    "God will speak when He speaks. He is a wild and unpredictable and mysterious God who cannot be tamed"–this phrasing, I love. I didn't know Mother Theresa also had moments when she longed to hear God but found Him silent. That was actually comforting to me. It seems I go through pockets of no voice–and then He speaks so loudly, I cannot help but knowing it is God.

  32. Cherie

    Job searched everywhere for God's voice but He wasn't to be found, yet it's very clear how God felt about Job. This makes me wonder, when we hear Him least, does He love us most? I suppose it's not as simple an equation as that, but it certainly can't be ruled out that God can love us best in His silences if that's what He wants to do. I don't really get that, but I believe it… and I guess I trust it too, because in the end of the day, when God remains silent all I have left is trust. And every single time, trust is enough.

  33. cindy

    So uplifting.

  34. David@Red Letter Believers

    GTWJ – Jen…I am going through a real rough patch, and on my way to work I felt a sudden rush of peace overcome me.

    One minute later a friend sent a text "I'm praying for you."

    No coincidences here!

  35. Rose

    Jennifer, I love the way you show how we hear Him. He echoes in our heads, through HIS word, the words of HIS people and in all creation. HE SPEAKS. Its so strange, to me, because I keep running across people who wonder about hearing God and I keep "hearing" the verse in Daniel 10:12 about God hearing our words when we set our hearts to seek him. God responded to Daniel but it was 21 days….I wonder if Daniel would have heard if he had stopped praying on day 12 or 19 or 20. God speaks in HIS time and I think a lot of the problems, including myself in this, is that we stop too soon. We are such an "instant" society that we forget God says our ways are not His.

  36. IconZ1

    Isaiah 65:24 – Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.

  37. Mark

    Check out my experiences in hearing God at http://www.godandemail.com

    Perhaps they may be of some assistance as you journey down the road of hearing God? It is an amazing journey.


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