On Hearing from God: Two Perspectives

August 5, 2011

It is widely believed by Christians (in my view, correctly so) that God still speaks to people.  The question many have is how to discern when this happens.  A good book here is Dallas Willard’s Hearing God.  I would like to add a few reflections to Willard’s excellent treatment.

First, one can learn to discern God’s voice like one learns anyone else’s voice—through practice, trial and error; and in the case of God, with Scripture as one’s guide and as one’s primary way of familiarizing oneself not only with correct propositional boundaries, but also with the tone and texture of God’s speech.

In my own experience, I have paid special attention to times when God seemed to be speaking to or prompting me and, later, something of low probability and special religious significance occurred that was relevant to the divine interaction, e.g., when a prayer was answered.  When this happens, I go back in memory to the texture, tone and other features of the original communication and look for those features the next time I am inclined to think God is speaking to me.  In this way, I use “miraculous, circumstantial” confirmation of the original communication to authenticate it, and this provides prima facie justification for using that communication as a rough template for future times of divine guidance and so on.

Second, I think we should take heart from the fact that, often, God speaks to us and we are unaware that it is happening because God will at times speak to us in our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in a way that “sounds” like our own.

This happened to me two weeks ago.  I went out to lunch with a dear, younger brother while on a ministry trip back East, and he asked me for advice on how to get published.  I am often asked that question, and my answer is always the same.  I encourage the person to get a set of submission guidelines from the publisher, write a chapter, develop a good table of contents, and follow the submission guidelines carefully.  I also suggest that the person try to get someone known in the publishing world to go to bat for the person by calling the publisher ahead of the individual’s submission.  This is my typical answer, but not that day at lunch.  Instead, almost without thinking, I gave my new friend two—and only two—pieces of advice.  I urged him not to worry about not having a Ph.D. or about not having new, original ideas about the content of the book.  I elaborated on these two points (e.g., pointing out that his audience---high school students—didn’t need a Ph.D. author and that he would take content borrowed from other books and arrange/illustrate it in a way unique to him).  After giving these two pieces of advice, I left it at that.  The next day, upon returning home from the trip, I received an email from this brother in which he expressed utter amazement at my advice.  According to him, he had been wrestling with the decision of writing for some time and there were exactly two issues central to his struggle.  You guessed it.  They were precisely the two topics I chose, uncharacteristically, to share with him.  It was clear to me on reflection that God’s Spirit had spoken to me, giving me just the right words for my brother even though I did not know it at the time.

In sum, God does still guide, speak to and prompt his children, and while there are general treatments of this topic of great help (Willard’s book), and while there is a specific practice that can be used to learn to discern God’s voice (using as a template a communication that is followed by some sort of divine fulfillment of the communication), we should take great comfort in the fact that, if we make ourselves available to Him, God will speak to and through us in many ways of which we are not aware.

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About J.P. Moreland

J.P. Moreland is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University.


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6 Responses to 'On Hearing from God: Two Perspectives'

  1. avatar Jonathon Moore says:

    What about those who claim to audibly hear God talking to them? Do you believe that any of these claims are authentic in our day and age?

  2. […] This post was Twitted by Luke10_27 […]

  3. avatar Sam says:

    Well, that’s just one perspective. What’s the other perspective? I’m sure you’ve heard of the “wisdom model” advocated by people like Garry Friessen and Greg Koukl. One of their arguments that strikes me as being persuasive is the fact that there is no precedent in the Bible for people LEARNING to hear the voice of God. When God spoke, people simply heard him. In fact, sometimes when God spoke, it came as a surprise to the person he spoke to. If God were not perfectly clear when he spoke to people, it seems like it would’ve been hard to tell a true prophet from a false prophet. It would be hard for even the prophet to know. But since there were pretty harsh punishments for false prophets, I’m skeptical that God would be ambiguous. And it seems to me that if God wanted to communicate to somebody, he WOULD be clear. What on earth would be the point of God intentionally NOT being clear if he intended the person to know what he was saying?

  4. avatar Brooks says:

    Thanks Dr. Moreland, this was of great help to me. Do you have any thoughts on Kevin DeYoung’s latest on God’s guidance? It seems difficult to strike a biblical balance between faithfulness to God’s voice and encouraging young people to just commit to something. Many thanks, Keith.

  5. avatar Bobby Sparks says:

    I attended a Hearing God retreat this weekend led by Dallas Willard. I’ve been to many prophetic conferences in the past, but I have never heard anything as powerful as his teaching on the subject. I love his emphases on character. Disciples learn to recognize God’s voice, by spending time with Jesus. God speaks in a still small voice, but He is not limited to verbal communication alone. It takes time to understand those non-verbal ways in which God speaks. Thanks for the post, it was probably confirmation that I was suppose to be there. It started the same day you posted this article!

  6. […] God deeply desires intimacy and relationship with his people (cf. Isaiah 58:9-11; Hosea 11:8), and these characteristics obtain among people—human or divine—by regularly speaking to each other.  The Bible is an authoritative revelation to the whole church, but intimacy and relationship require personal communication in addition to this (for more on this, see my earlier post here). […]