When was the last time you heard a word from God? When was the last time He communicated to you in a way that you were absolutely certain it was God communicating to you? Has it ever happened? Can it ever happen?
I believe hearing God's voice can be a regular occurrence in your life. Because the Holy Spirit of God lives within us, we can have conversations with God that are as clear as the ones the disciples had with Jesus. Those conversations may be different, but they can be just as clear.
How is that possible? How do we know when we've heard from God?
The Bible is the primary way that God speaks to us today, although He certainly confirms His Word to us through His Spirit, our prayers, and the fellowship of other believers. But there's one condition for our hearing: we must come to His Word in earnest.
Unconditional Love, Conditional Guidance
If you've ever tried to make conversation with someone who won't respond, you eventually quit speaking. It isn't that you don't care, but why waste your breath? God also expects a response from us. But when we hear His Word in honesty and respond to what He has told us, we will hear Him more and more frequently—and clearly. It's a solid, scriptural principle that if you shun the light He gives you, no more comes. But if you respond to the light you have, He'll give more. God is more than willing to reveal Himself and His will if we have ears to hear Him.
God speaks personally, clearly, and specifically if we have met this one condition. It won't be a subjective voice that causes you to wonder where it came from or what it means. He will speak to you about your life, your relationships, your work, your future, His plan for you, and your dreams—if you come prepared to follow His lead.
But the question remains: how does He speak? Exactly how can you have this honest, actual relationship with an invisible Jesus who will communicate with you and let you know His will?
I believe there are three approaches to the Bible that we need to take: (1) come to it as a love letter; (2) come to it as an instruction manual; and (3) come to it as a road map.
The Love Letter
Years ago, my wife and I were going through a difficult time. We had conversation after conversation, and still weren't quite seeing each other's point of view clearly. One day she wrote me a letter that explained how she really felt about the issues in our relationship. I carried it in my briefcase for years.
Why did I do that? Because that letter conveyed her heart. I didn't just want to read it, I wanted to savor it and drink it in. I wanted to understand the motivations behind the things she said, to be touched by every nuance of every sentiment. So I carried it with me to many cities and continents to read over and over again. Whenever I thought about our relationship, I could pull it out and remind myself of what she felt. That letter was more than just words; it was the heart of the woman I married.
If we want to hear God's voice, we need to read His Word like a love letter—not just study it systematically to get through our daily devotions. There may be times when we read the Bible out of obligation, but if you are really seeking the heart behind the words, the sense of obligation vanishes and the joy of relationship begins. You'll recognize His Word as a note of love from a God who wants to draw you closer.
The Instruction Manual
I have a friend who used to let me borrow his mountain home on occasion. With a large window overlooking a beautiful lake, it was the greatest place in the world to get refreshed. The only problem is that the home was built in stages on three or four different levels, and to turn on the water you practically needed a Ph.D.
There was an instruction sheet on the refrigerator for visitors to turn on the water. I normally don't read directions—I don't even like them—but I had to follow these to the letter. If you don't have water, you can't cook, eat, use the bathroom, do the laundry, and a whole lot of other important things. These instructions were not exciting reading, but they were necessary.
The Bible is an instruction manual on how to live. It isn't always going to give us warm emotions and teary eyes, and there won't always be a special verse jumping out at us. But 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that it is "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." If we want to know what's true and how life works, the Scriptures will teach us. God will show what's right about our life and what needs correcting. He will give us direction and set us on the right path. He will guide us in how to mend that broken relationship or how to make things go right at work. The Bible is the comprehensive equipment for the servant of God, and it equips us fully for all kinds of work.
In order to get the benefit of the instruction manual, we need to read it—to have a plan and be systematic about it. And we should do it over and over, because while the Bible never changes, we do. Different parts of the Word will instruct us over different seasons of our lives. We should read it regularly.
The Road Map
I went to Phoenix to look at a college with one of my sons, and found the city fascinating: All the streets go in one direction and all the avenues in another. It's supposed to be very easy to get around. But my method for getting around is a lot like the way many people approach their Christian life: They go from gas station to gas station asking for directions. Instead of getting the map, they ask one person who happens to be a Christian and then another, until they have all the advice they need to make a decision. The problem is that they are putting their destiny in the hands of other people with different experiences.
There's nothing wrong with good counsel, but it should come in the context of a personal relationship with God and His Word. We need the road map. When I finally bought a road map of Phoenix, everything became clear.
The way to use a map is to study it. We need to come to God's Word and study what He says about forgiveness, about relationships, about work, about parenting or singleness, and about other areas of our lives. When we study the Bible topically, we equip ourselves to understand specific areas in depth.
God will speak to us when we come to Him with open ears and a readiness to follow His will. He will especially speak to us if we approach His Word in these three ways: as a love letter, an instruction manual, and a road map.
If you do this, I am convinced you will look back over the course of your life and see ways that God has specifically led you through difficult circumstances or hard decisions. In your heart, His voice will become real.
Excerpted from InWord, a bi-monthly publication of Walk Thru the Bible; based on the series Holy Ambition. Used with permission.
About the author: Chip Ingram is President of Walk Thru the Bible in Atlanta, GA, and Teaching Pastor of Living on the Edge, a national radio ministry.
Walk Thru the Bible partners with the local church worldwide to teach God's Word in relevant ways for lasting life change. To fulfill this mission, Walk Thru the Bible creates and distributes high quality, award-winning resources in a variety of formats, helping individuals "walk thru" the Bible with greater clarity and understanding. Walk Thru the Bible seminars are taught in over 45 languages by more than 50,000 men and women in over 90 countries; Living on the Edge radio ministry broadcasts on more than 800 radio outlets reaching nearly one million listeners a week; and more than 100 million devotionals have been packaged into daily magazines, books and other publications that reach over five million people each year. Walk Thru the Bible was founded in 1976 and is based in Atlanta, GA.