I sat, squinting my eyes and wiping my tears. All I could see were the crusty, crumpled up tissues serving as glaring reminders that I was, in fact, not in a dream. The old wooden table and piles of papers with scribbled notes were evidence of the hard work I’d been doing over the course of about five hours. Unexpected was an understatement compared to the reality of what happened on that first Tuesday morning small group. The ladies I’d just met didn’t look back at me with a cold stare, or glance at their watches eager to leave. To my surprise, their faces met my tears with acceptance, and their expressions felt warm and inviting, like a fresh cup of coffee in the morning. It was at this sticky, old farmhouse table where I heard God’s voice for the first time, and it was through these women the Holy Spirit would use to teach me how to listen and hear my Heavenly Father.
God used my deepest wounds to reveal who He truly is and how much He wants to speak with me. I had gone my whole life believing in Him, professing His name, serving His church, but never fully understanding that prayer was a dialogue, not a monologue. My bible transformed from a book full of stories to memorize and apply, into a telephone, where all I had to do was pick up and say, “I’m here and I’m listening.” This table of strangers introduced me to a Holy Spirit who wasn’t scary or creepy or required me to do or say embarrassing things. They showed me how much of a gentleman He is, and how He was the gift God gave all His children to relate to in communicating with Him.
Discerning the voice of God is becoming a lost art in these modern times. It isn’t a process we can preach from dead works or adapt to fit our ever-evolving societal standards. We can’t rush it, control it, or force it, but we sure can stop it. To hear Him, we must understand the five different ways of discerning His voice. When we understand these principles of discerning His voice, we’re less inclined to fall prey to the voice of the enemy.
Here are five different ways of discerning God's voice when He speaks into your life:
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1. A Personal Word
I always thought God spoke through circumstances, people, or even devotionals before He would speak to me, directly. A personal word can be in the form of a vision, scripture, or a dream. God will always speak to you first (James 1:5-8), before speaking through others. One of the first things God showed me at Bonni’s table was a vision of my past. The vision led me to a place God wanted me to repent of, because God will always speak to our hearts before He will speak into our fleshly desires.
1 John 1:6-10 tells us when we deny the reality of sin in our lives, we fool ourselves into participating with it, therefore refusing to live in the truth. The truth is, sin of all kinds breaks fellowship with God. John was attacking the false claim that we as people didn’t have a propensity toward sin and he reiterated the need for us to take it very seriously.
Christ’s blood is used to wash us clean in the process of repentance (Acts 3:19), therefore, properly aligning our lives and our conduct with Him is necessary to discerning His voice. If we desire to be led by the Father, we must desire to walk in the light, as described in John 3:19-21. When we walk in the light, we are required to be humble and honest, admitting our weaknesses, and letting go of the desire to pretend we are strong without Him. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, “all Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”
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2. A Word from Scripture
After hours of repentance, I asked God to “speak” in front of those four women, believing fully that He would (Jeremiah 29:12-13). A whisper broke through the silence of my mind, “Isaiah 61.” At the time, I wasn’t sure if “61’ was even a chapter in the book of Isaiah. When I opened my Bible and turned to the that book and chapter, it took my breath away. It was as if God wrote that passage specifically for me.
Isaiah 61 was the promise God spoke over my life after I gave Him my wounds of betrayal, shame, and rejection from being raped when I was thirteen years old. He waited twenty years for me to be ready to hand them over, and then He gently spoke a promise that transformed my wounds into scars. I was no longer a victim, but a warrior in Him. We, as Christ-followers, cannot put on the full armor of God with a victim mentality. He will heal the brokenhearted so we can become the Ephesians 6 warriors He has always intended for us to be.
The Bible isn’t a collection of fables, myths, bedtime stories, or human ideas that came into existence through man. It is God’s inspired Word, and it is all from Him because it is Him (John 1:1-3). Scripture is trustworthy because it is the standard of truth. It is not just some book; it is living, breathing, and He speaks through it. When we recognize the Bible is a portal God desires us to walk through while holding the Holy Spirit’s hand, we unlock the key to seeing His Word for what He intended: to be in intimate relationship with Him.
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3. A Word from the Holy Spirit
There was a peace about how He spoke to me that day. There was a confidence that the words were for me. The peace and confidence embraced me as the Holy Spirit convicted, rebuked, and called me to repent. I bowed my head one last time and asked Jesus what He would give me in exchange for the sin I laid down at the cross. This was a new concept for me, to recognize God will always give us something in exchange for handing over our sins at the cross, specifically (James 1:17).
As I sat, waiting, the silence broke: “your voice.”
When I spoke what I heard out loud, Bonni asked me, “Do you sing?”
I sat stunned, and a bit fearful, but I answered, “yes; but I haven’t sang in years.”
I bowed my head in prayer, once again, and willingly asked Him if I should sing and if so, what? He said, “yes, ‘You are My Redeemer.”
As I opened my eyes and told the women what I heard, Charlyn gasped. She looked at me and said, “that’s crazy! That’s the exact song I heard as I prayed!”
Standing in front of those four ladies, I closed my eyes, turned my Spotify to Nicole Mullen’s “Redeemer,” and sang. Every passing note built more confidence, peace, and boldness. The lyrics broke through the trenches of my weary, warn heart and the Holy Spirit’s gentle hands embraced me.
Philippians 4:7 and James 1:6-8 both testify to the principle of a witness of the Holy Spirit. God’s peace is different than the world’s peace. His peace isn’t found in positive thinking, the absence of conflict, or in our feelings. It can only come from knowing that God is in control, our citizenship in His kingdom is sure, and our destiny is set. We have victory over sin when we allow God’s peace to guard our hearts against doubt, anxiety, and the worries that come with our jobs, homes, school, and other daily responsibilities.
James gives us the antidote to doubt and our inability to be stable in the midst of the storm. He calls us to “believe and not doubt.” He commands us to put away our critical spirit and expect when we pray God will hear and He will answer.
4. Receiving Godly Counsel
The women surrounding me played two vital roles: to bear witness and to provide Godly counsel. We are called to gather with others in alignment with Christ. Godly people model for us what we need to know about Him, His gospel, and righteous living. Christ is our ultimate leader, but He provides mentorship in biblical authority. Ephesians 2:19-21 is clear in commanding God’s people to gather. The church is not built by modern ideas but on spiritual heritage forged by the early apostles and prophets of the early Christian church. They suffered and walked out their faith in obedience so we could live out our walk in unity with each other and Christ.
People see that God is love and Christ is Lord when we, as a group of Christ-followers, can live in harmony with each other and in accordance with what God says in his Word. We are citizens of God’s kingdom and members of his household. To forego godly mentorship is to go rogue, rebelling against the command to gather in His name and build His body. The task of church leaders is to help people mature in Christ and become independent in hearing His voice. This is how we make disciples and the sole purpose of the church.
Hebrews 13:17 speaks to the confidence we should have in our leaders and the command to submit under their authority. Our leaders help us become and maintain alignment with biblical authority. Their prophetic words are ones we can trust because we have given them the authority to speak into our lives. Their wisdom and maturity are a gift to guide us closer to the Father.
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5. A Witness of Events
Prior to meeting with Bonni and these women, God used events in my life to gently lead me closer to Him. God didn’t heal me in an instant, although He could have. He chose to heal my heart over time. I had often gotten healing and miracles confused. Healing is done over time, requiring a maintenance of faith and perseverance. Miracles are instantaneous. Jesus utilized a witness of events over time to guide me toward Him, like a personalized program formulated specifically for my needs. However, just because God “can” do miraculous things, doesn’t mean He will (Luke 4:11-12). The enemy misinterpreted Psalm 91 in Luke 4:11-12 with the intention to use God’s power for a foolish display. Jesus rejected it because He knew Psalm 91 was to show God’s protection over His people.
Just because God hadn’t healed me instantaneously didn’t mean He didn’t intend it all along (Isaiah 55:8). The timing of God’s voice will align with events in our lives. Circumstances begin to unfold in a way that aligns with His promises. Those same events lead us into the next stage of our walk with Him. Jesus doesn’t require us to be perfect for Him to speak. He requires us to be willing and obedient to His will. When we learn to align ourselves with the truth in the principles of discerning God’s voice, we begin to hear Him speak clearly. His plan will always glorify Him and we will develop a personal testimony that will speak into the lives of others as we share of His goodness. Our stories are some of the most powerful tools God uses to reach the hearts of others. I recognize my healing wasn’t solely for me, but for me to use in expanding the kingdom of God.
Discerning the voice of God begins with Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” The challenge in the journey is to remain humble before the Lord, so He can soften our hearts and focus our eyes on Him and His goodness. Our progress develops us into the Oaks of Righteousness He desires for His children to grow into.
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Originally published Thursday, 17 June 2021.