This is our fifth post in a series of advice column-style blogs entitled “Asking for a Friend.” For more information on the series and to submit your own questions, click here!

“How do I know when it’s God speaking to me and not just myself?”  

To begin answering this question, we have to ask another question: “What is the purpose of hearing God’s voice?”
Centuries ago, churches taught their congregation about the basic tenants of the Christian faith through “catechisms.” These were important in an era where literacy rates were low and access to education and information were very limited. One of these teachings is called the Westminster Shorter Catechism; its teachings are in a question-answer format. One well known one, which will help us answer our secondary question, is this:
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Fascinating answer, isn’t it, especially the latter part? One of our great purposes in life is to enjoy God forever. It makes sense in light of what the shed blood of Jesus did for us — it atoned for our sins so that we could, once again, have relationship with God. And what is the purpose of relationship? Is not the relationship the end in and of itself? The purpose of relationship is to enjoy the person we are in relationship with. But it’s difficult, I know. Often we find ourselves in relationships because it’s obligatory or because it’s useful. Our selfishness has a way of creeping into our relationships tainting them with manipulation instead of simple enjoyment. It is this selfishness that Jesus seeks to destroy in us as we invite him into our hearts and lives as Lord and Savior.
If enjoying God forever requires relationship, relationship requires communication, at minimum. I say at minimum, though, because how many of us talk without feeling heard? How many of us hear what someone else is saying and can’t really listen? Communication is not just thoughts and emotions that’s processed through the mouth and into an ear, objectively, like data coming in and out of computer programs. Communication is fraught with miscommunication because we all have a filter in which we process what is being conveyed to us. Discerning between your voice and God’s voice is a holistic, ongoing process. Your filter for communication with God is rife with barriers: bad experiences, pride, selfishness, stubbornness, fear, etc. And to clean this filter there is no red button that says “easy” that you can push to get the job done. No, relationship doesn’t work that way. In order to really hear what someone is saying you have to get to know that person. Likewise, with God, in order to discern your thoughts from his thoughts, you have to get to know him. The purpose for hearing God’s voice is for relationship.
The best way to get to know God is to read the Bible. If you are someone who wants to hear from God but your Bible reading is random, sporadic, at best, then your hearing will only be random and sporadic at best. Many of us, unfortunately, have trouble distinguishing God’s voice from our own because the only time we want to hear him is when we need to make a big decision. We treat God like an eight-ball: shake it up real good and BAM! There’s an answer in black and white. I have no responsibility for whatever answer I hear. I count on Christianisms like “God works things to my good,” or “If God is for me who can be against me?” in my assumption that if I have an answer from God it has to be for my best. Folks, this is witchcraft. What is witchcraft but a manipulation of things to serve my purposes, my interests? In the book of Jeremiah the Bible teaches us that the heart is deceitful above all things. This is something we need to accept humbly and wholeheartedly if you ever want to learn how to distinguish your voice from God’s. Even in our sincere moments before God there is deception lying hidden in our hearts that is only exposed by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The reading of God’s Word is like a car wash. It has the power to renew our minds, to clean it from our old way of thinking. God’s Word has the power to expose our selfishness, the way we want to use God instead of to know and enjoy Him.
God desires for us to come into relationship with Him. Desire is an understatement. He sent Jesus to die for us so that the possibility of relationship could be available. The purpose of prayer, of hearing God is not so that we can have answers to the grayness, unpredictableness of life. He’s already given us that answer: that’s Jesus himself. The purpose of prayer, of hearing God is to relate with Him so that this invisible God can become someone tangible, real, available, and awesome in your life. The Bible contains the treasures of God’s personality, character, and attributes all throughout for you to discover. As we read and study the Bible we come away with a strong sense of who our God is and this adds to our desire to get to know Him.
One of the best feelings is when a small child can distinguish your voice and can name you before seeing you. I love that a two year old can hear my “Hello!” and can know with great certainty that that voice belongs to me. How does that happen though? It happens because you spend a lot of intentional, consistent time with said small child, talking a lot, babbling even. I say babbling, because it is not the eloquence of our words that endears our voice to a child’s ear, it is consistency and affection. Our cues to relating with God doesn’t come from our adult interactions; there’s too much pretension, guile, insecurity, feather-preening. Rather, our cues for relating with God come from children. When we pray we are to talk with God honestly, shamelessly, as we are. However, this is difficult to do when we do not trust God because we only know about him, we don’t really know Him for ourselves. Reading God’s Word is you putting your foot a step forward, a vulnerable, faith filled step. It’s not you initiating; no God has already done that. It is you declaring that you would like to draw close to God. Don’t be deceived, the Bible says about God, IF you draw near to me THEN I will draw near to you.
God is a kind God. In the process of building relationship he doesn’t leave you without a way to discern His voice from yours. He has given you the gift of the Body of Christ. It is within this Body that you will find people who have a more mature relationship with God than you may have currently. These people are there for you to pray with, to seek an answer together. They help confront your selfishness, your heart’s deceitfulness, to give you an extra set of eyes to see. You also have the confirmation of God’s Word. Does what I think I heard line up with the principles found in the Word of God? Is it consistent with the character of God? Even in our uncertainty with distinguishing God’s voice from our own he gives us the opportunity to invite others into our lives for relationship. Because as we relate with God it is mirrored in our lives how we relate with others. Relationship with God is not this “side” element to our journey with Jesus; it is the heart of our journey with Him. And as we learn to grow in our understanding of him we will grow in this relationship that consists of walking, talking, and listening.
-Debbie Lee