A friend shared through a private FB group that her son wanted to hear God answer back when he prayed to him (literally, in spoken dialogue) and was disappointed when he couldn’t hear his voice. When I read that, I thought – yes! I know what you mean, kid! And it’s good to want that. And He will speak to you in his way and his timing. But God communicates with us in such myriad ways it’s impossible to narrow it down to simple dialogue and voices that we can hear.
Let me start by saying the strongest way God speaks to us is through his Word – through the Bible. In fact, that’s really the only way he needs to speak to us, and anything else we might get here or there is just frosting. But I thought it would be good to list some of the other ways he can speak to us.
In 1 Samuel 3 (the whole story is verses 1-21), God called to Samuel in a voice he could hear.
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
In my experience and from what I’ve heard from others, the actual voice of God in our head is rare – and it’s usually short. As in, a word or a sentence. I’ve been woken out of sleep by – what I think was – God calling my name, and I’ve had a few times (very few) where there was a loud voice in my head, telling me to do something. However, I don’t remember these incidents well enough for them to have left a mark.
The best example of this I read in the book Blind Descent, where the author, Brian Dickinson, was temporarily blinded while descending Mount Everest alone, and the extreme conditions left him mentally confused and unable to remember the basics of survival. At least twice, he heard in his head, “Brian. Drink some water.” Being hydrated allowed him to remember what to do next so he was able to survive.
There’s another example in the book, Saved by Angels by Bruce van Natta, that was less of a command and more of a suggestion. The author was driving down the highway with two fingers on the wheel when he was nudged that maybe he should put both hands on the wheel – seconds before the semi-truck next to him blew a tire sending pieces into his trajectory. With both hands on the wheel, he was able to steer to safety.
So I think when God speaks to us this way, with an actual voice in our head, it’s short and sweet and infinitely practical. I wish I could remember the commands and suggestions I’ve heard, but I don’t. It’s not the strongest way God communicates with me. How God speaks to one person is not always how he will speak to the next.
In Genesis 37:5-11, God spoke to Joseph in a dream. He showed him what would happen later.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said …. His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
I had a sort of prophetic dream when I was 17 and before I could say I really knew God. I had never traveled overseas or even thought about going anywhere else, yet I had a dream that I was walking in a dark forest with someone, and we left the forest and entered a bright sunny street where we sat and talked. In my dream I saw that the man was my future husband and he was French.
Years later, my husband and I – not yet married – both came to church on the same day. (It was the equivalent of this weekend, now I come to think of it, because it was end of October and the hour had changed). We both arrived an hour early because we weren’t aware of the time change. We both studied the Bible and were baptised 6 weeks later, 12 hours apart. We married five years after that (yesterday was our wedding anniversary). Through the dream, God spoke to me of what was to come – we would both leave the darkness and enter the light through baptism, and I would marry my Frenchman.
This – and some of the other stories here – are all in my memoir, Stars Upside Down.
In Revelations 1:9-16, the apostle John had a vision that encouraged the disciples who were suffering under persecution. It helped them to see Jesus in a new light.
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
I also had a vision a few years ago that changed how I saw Jesus. When I was 24, I lost my brother to suicide and suffered a great deal as a result. And even when the sharp grief subsided over the years, I continued to struggle, wondering why God didn’t call me to him earlier when I could have possibly done something to help my brother. At the time I was living in Asia, and I wondered why I had to be so far away from my brother, and too far to save him. Underneath my struggle was an under-current of reproach. God – why did you let him die?
One day I had a vision (not a dream – I was awake). It was not mystical, it was simply a scene that unfolded before my eyes. I saw my brother sitting on the bed, blinds half-closed, shotgun in hand, and I saw Jesus sitting next to him. And Jesus was crying. Through the vision, I came to understand that God lets us make our choices for good or for evil, but he is not indifferent, he is not powerless, and – most notably – he is not absent. The vision changed how I saw Jesus and it strengthened me in my faith.
When Elijah was exhausted, filled with a spiritual victory, but persecuted and fearing for his life, God spoke to him through the elements of nature. In 1 Kings 19:7-13 it says,
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. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
God spoke to Elijah through nature, and it’s interesting to note God’s voice here was not in the power, but in the gentle whisper. In my own life – as with others – God often speaks to me through nature. I’ll be staring at the clouds, praising Him, and he’ll make the colours throb with brilliance. Or I’ll be praying and the wind will pick up and sweep around me. (He knows how much I love the wind).
But the most remarkable event was early on in my faith, when I was still searching and unsure, I stood in my little garret apartment looking over the grey rooftops of the Paris skyline on a dismal day, and I asked, “God, do you really see me? Do you love me?” At that instant, the blanket of grey clouds parted, and a strong ray of light shone on my face. It was long enough for me to hear, “YES. I do see you. I do love you.” before the clouds folded back together and the sun was hidden. It was a divine encounter for me.
I don’t have a scripture for this. I mean, I have a couple in mind, but none that are quite like what happened with me. One of my favourite personal stories of my walk with God was when I was a young(ish) Christian. I was a couple years in the faith, and old enough spiritually to be disenchanted. I regretted everything I could no longer have and do.
That day, I exited the NYC subway into a crisp winter day and began grumbling against God. I had enough time to tell him I was through reading the Bible, and through being a goodie-two-shoes. I just wanted to find a bar and a guy somewhere and … That was all I had time for because a piece of ice fell from a sky-scraper and bounced off a sloped roof and hit me in the head. At first, I cried from, what felt like, a divine spanking. But it took only about a day before the tears turned to laughter. God saw me. He saw me. And he wouldn’t let me ruin my own life just because I felt like throwing a temper tantrum.
Encouraging Events, Coincidences, and Miracles
My post is long, so I’m combining these three into one header. You know what I mean, though? Those moments where you’re like – woah! That was God doing that! Stories, like this in Acts 12:5-16 – it’s worth it to put the whole story.
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself,and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.
In my own life, there are too many stories to count. So many “coincidences”. But let me at least mention the time someone invited me to church in Paris (I said no), and a couple months later, her roommate (a stranger at the time) invited me to the same sister church in New York. And I only put two and two together a few weeks after meeting her and realising she had just moved back from France.
There was also that time when I was praying to find a church and this new friend (the roommate of the Paris girl) called me in the middle of the prayer and talked about the Bible when I didn’t know she was a Christian. It was 22 years ago today that I went to church and studied the Bible and have never regretted changing my life. There are so many stories like this. These are ways God speaks to us.
There is a good reason God has designed us to be in fellowship with one another – why we need church families. He definitely uses other people to communicate with us. For instance, he might use someone to rebuke us, as in 2 Samuel 12:5-7
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says…
I’ve been rebuked a few times (it was always in love and usually well-deserved). But he also uses people to exhort us as in Philemon vs 8-21. And to praise and encourage us, as in Romans 16:3 and 7 (sometimes it even happens when we think we’re going to get a rebuke instead).
Hosea 11:4 says, I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. And though we humans are an imperfect representation of God’s love, we can also be a beautiful physical manifestation of it.
Then there’s the Word. I think it’s important to remember that this is what he gave us. We have it always whenever we want to hear from him. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
In the past, all that God’s people had to communicate with him was the word of the prophets. Now we have Jesus. He speaks to us through his death (he took the punishment we deserved), his burial (he took the separation from God and descent into hell we deserved), and his resurrection (not only are we not guilty of our own sins, we’re also not guilty for his death because he is alive)! What he did for us is so profound, God really doesn’t need to communicate with us in any other way. If he does, it’s just a nice extra.
It’s okay to want continual communion with God – to hear his voice. And in heaven we will have it. Uninterrupted communion. But the Word should always be the first place we look to hear God’s voice because this is where he speaks to us. Sometimes we want the burning bush experiences, but our heart is not softened by the Word and we miss out. In Luke 16 vs 27 the rich man asks Abraham for a favour. He asks for God to communicate in an extraordinary way, not just simply through his Word. This is Abraham’s response:
“‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Well someone did come back from the dead and there were many witnesses to it and still people don’t believe. But if we can hear the Good News and content ourselves with that – let God’s Word be the speech that sustains us – what a remarkable faith we will have. It’s all we really need.
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:28-30)