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Hearing God’s Voice — Part 3

Listen to the Holy Spirit to know God’s will

Doug Britton, MFT

Page Summary
Summary: How can I hear God or how can I know God’s will? This Bible study on hearing God and learning how the Holy Spirit helps you know God’s will for your life will help you know enjoy a more intimate relationship with Jesus.

Part 3 of a 4-part series on “Hearing God’s Voice”

Part 1      Part 2      Part 4

The Holy Spirit leads us

In the Old Testament, God spoke to people through his Spirit, prophets, angels, and other means. Sometimes these were once-in-a-lifetime events.

Things changed after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. That’s because God established a much closer relationship with us as individuals. He sent his Spirit—known as the Holy Spirit—to earth to live inside every believer.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

The Holy Spirit is not an “it” or a “force.” He is actually God’s Spirit living within us.

Related: God’s Spirit lives in you

The Holy Spirit plays an important role in our lives. He guides us into a closer walk with God. He reminds us of God’s love. At times, he tells us words to say. He convicts us of sin. He gives us power. He also leads us. (Sometimes we aren’t even aware he is leading.)

Related: Depend on God’s power

What do you think?

1. This study says the Holy Spirit is not an “it” or a “force.” What (or who) is the Holy Spirit?

2. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says the Holy Spirit lives in every believer. What does that mean? Why is it important?

Related: You are a temple of the Holy Spirit

Old Testament

Even in the days of the Old Testament, God directed his followers in the way they should go.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (Psalm 32:8)

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)

A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way? (Proverbs 20:24)

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:11)

This is what the LORD says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17)

LORD, I know that a people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps. (Jeremiah 10:23)

Make it personal

3. Review the previous verses, then choose one that speaks to you personally. Why did you chose that verse?

New Testament

In the New Testament, we read several instances of the Holy Spirit telling people God’s will. In the Gospel of Luke, for example, we read that the Holy Spirit “was upon” Simeon, and that the Spirit revealed to him he would see Christ before he died.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required … (Luke 2:25-27)

In Acts, the Holy Spirit gave directions to Philip, Ananias, Barnabas, and others.

The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” (Acts 8:29)

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” (Acts 9:10-12)

The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (Acts 13:4)

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements. (Acts 15:28)

He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. (Acts 10:10-11)

In Galatians, Paul said he acted in response to a revelation.

I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure that I was not running and not been running my race in vain.(Galatians 2:2)

What do you think?

4. Why did the Holy Spirit guide the believers in the preceding verses? What was the goal?

5. What can we learn from this? When do you think the Holy Spirit is most likely to speak to someone?

How does the Holy Spirit speak to us?

The key way God speaks to us is through the Bible.

When you read the Bible, you are doing more than reading history, poetry, commands, or instructions. You are reading and interacting with God’s Word. When you read with an open heart, God can speak to you, and he can actually change you on the inside.

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

God leads us through wisdom. You will read more about this in Part 4 of this Bible study on knowing God’s will.

God leads us through other people’s advice. You will read about this in Part 4 of this Bible study.

God leads us through circumstances. (As I wrote previously, sometimes we aren’t aware of what he is doing.)

God also speaks to us through our heart (our intellect, emotions, and moral consciousness). People rarely hear a literal voice. Rather they usually experience a quiet prompting or a gentle leading. Sometimes they experience a strong sense of knowledge that they should—or should not—say something or do something.

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

There may be times when you suddenly know what to say when you are talking with someone. Or there may be times when you know something that God wants you to do.

However, there may be long periods of time when you never feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit. If that is your experience, don’t worry. You may never feel a “prompting.” God speaks to different people in different ways.

The Holy Spirit sometimes says “no” to our plans. God tells us what not to do as well as what to do. Read about one time the Holy Spirit didn’t allow Paul and his companions to enter Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7).

What do you think?

6. Have you ever thought the Holy Spirit was speaking to you? Describe your experience.

How can I know it’s the Holy Spirit, not my own feelings, desires, or fears?

That is an important question, and it’s one that has tripped up a lot of Christians. Many believers assume that every time they feel an impulse or prompting, it must be God speaking to them. I still remember my first years after becoming a believer, thinking every impulse I had was from God. I had a lot to learn.

Suggested guidelines

These guidelines may help you discern whether your promptings are from God or if they are from your own feelings, desires, or fears:

  • Remember what you read in Parts 1 and 2 of this Bible study. You are much more likely to hear the Holy Spirit the closer you are to Jesus, the more mature your faith is, and the better you know the Bible.
  • If a “prompting” contradicts what the Bible says, don’t do it.
  • If you think you must know God’s will about what shirt to wear or what to eat for breakfast, relax. Pray for wisdom, but don’t expect God to direct everything you do.
  • If you frequently say, “The Lord told me …” or “God showed me,” you may be confusing your thoughts with God’s prompting.
  • If you feel a strained, tense, or compulsive prompting, it’s probably not from God.
  • If your prompting is a gentle whisper, it may be the Holy Spirit.

Be humble, and realize you may have been wrong

Unless you are amazingly close to God, there will be times when you (or you and a group of friends or colleagues) are sure you are doing God’s will when the reality is that you have been carried away by your excitement, fear, desire to see God move, or another emotion.

Many times in my early years as a Christian, I realized that I let my feelings control me, not the Holy Spirit. I made it a project to observe, evaluate, and try to learn when the Holy Spirit was prompting me and when I was simply being guided by my emotions.

Although I am now older (and hopefully wiser), there are still times when I think God is leading me to say or do something, but later realize it was my own emotions, not God, that were directing me.

Make it personal

7. Review the previous points about identifying God’s voice. Are any of them helpful? If so, which ones? How will they help you?

8. Have you ever felt sure God was leading you, only to discover later that you were wrong? If so, what have you learned from these experiences?

Other ways people try to know God’s will

Here are three other ways that people sometimes seek to know God’s will, along with some cautions:

Casting lots

The Old Testament tells us that sometimes people cast lots to determine God’s will. (This apparently was somewhat like flipping a coin.) This was only done once in the New Testament (Acts 1:26), and did not become standard practice, so I don’t suggest flipping a coin and assuming the Holy Spirit is controlling the results.

Likewise, although God may sometimes show you a sign, I don’t recommend asking for one as a regular way to learn God’s will.

Putting a “fleece” before God

In the Old Testament, we read that on three occasions, Gideon didn’t believe God, so he “tested” God each time (Judges 6:36-40). For example:

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” (Judges 6:36-37)

Fortunately for Gideon, God confirmed what he had already said. (God does not always respond the same way to unbelief.)

Some Christians “fleece” God when they don’t know what to do, but this custom was never practiced in the New Testament, I would not recommend it as a way to know God’s will.

Sticking your finger on a page in the Bible without looking

Some people open the Bible and choose a page without looking, then put their finger on a random verse. They assume that the verse they touch is a message from God telling them what to do.

This custom was never practiced in the Bible. I would not assume the verse is a message from God. Instead, if you are wondering about a topic, read the Bible, pray, and talk with mature believers.

Memory verse

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (Psalm 32:8)

Personal application

1. The Bible says you are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). What does this mean?

2. Who or what is the Holy Spirit?

3. Is it important to listen to the Holy Spirit? Why or why not?

“Hearing God’s Voice” . . . Continued

Click here to read Part 4 of “Hearing God’s Voice—Make decisions guided by wisdom and understanding.”

Click here to print this Bible study

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About Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)

Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.

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