Lesson 4 - Ways We Can Hear God's Voice: - Part 1:

How did God speak in the Bible?

God used an amazing variety of ways to get his message across to his people in the Bible. These included the forces of nature, such as storms, earthquakes, floods and fire; animals, birds, fish, insects; invading armies; foreign messengers who did not even worship him; prophets, priests and kings; ordinary men and women; supernatural occurrences such as moving stars, writing on walls, burning bushes, water turning to blood, sticks turning to snakes, stopping the motion of the sun; and many others.

Then he sent his Son!

Why can we hear God's voice today?

When Jesus was walking the earth God had a man who was perfectly in tune with his will and ways, and was able to live in complete obedience, even to death. As well as establishing for us the possibility of salvation, Jesus was also the first born of a new people, who would all be able to be filled with the Holy Spirit as he was - in a permanent way which the Old Testament prophets and heroes did not all enjoy. Jesus was called the Word of God. He was Father God's complete revelation of himself to humankind. John said about Jesus:

"No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." (John 1:18)

And Jesus himself said:

"Everyone who listens to the father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father." (John 6:45b,46)

But Jesus was the firstborn of many.

"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Romans 8:29)

This means that Father God could reveal himself in and to those that follow. We can hear God's voice, and we can obey what we hear, and we can do the greater works that Jesus said we would do. Any barriers to this are of our making, not God's.

Special ways of hearing God's voice

God has provided some special gifts that enable people to hear his voice. Some are mentioned in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11; and Ephesians 4: 11-13.

Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 list some of the spiritual gifts available to Christians, including listening and speaking gifts such as prophecy, discernment of spirits, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. These gifts are all available to all Christians as they are needed, but in addition, he has set aside some people to use these gifts in special ways. Ephesians 4 speaks of offices, among which is the prophet. Although not listed as such in the Bible, there appear to be other 'offices', such as the intercessor and the burden-bearer. I call them offices because although any Christian may intercede or bear burdens, some are particularly called to function in these gifts. In particular, as we will see in a further course, many are burden-bearers from birth, and it often causes them special problems. Intercessors and prophets are very closely related offices. Perhaps some intercessors are just particular types of prophets, such as Agnes Sanford who functioned as a prophet of nature in recent years. But most intercessors are not prophets.

What is prophecy?

"The gift of prophecy is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to receive and communicate an immediate message of God to His people through a divinely appointed utterance." (C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 2005, p 228)

I like Wagner's definition, except that the gift of prophecy is clearly available to all Christians who want it:

"Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy." (Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:1, NIV)

Wagner may have been avoiding the need to explain, without rocking the boat, why so many Christians do not prophecy. He continues with this approach for the other gifts.

The Hebrew word nabiy ('to prophesy') carries with it the idea of 'flowing forth' or 'bubbling up like a fountain', to let drop, to lift up, to tumble or spring forth. The Greek word propheteia ('to prophesy') means 'to speak for another', in our case God. Immediately it can be seen that the two, though very similar, are not identical, in that New Testament (and therefore present day) prophesy seems to be more under the control of the speaker than that in the Old Testament - less 'ecstatic'.

What is discernment of spirits?

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4: 1)

"But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:14)

"The gift of discernment of spirits is the special ability God gives to some members of the Body of Christ which enables them to know with assurance whether certain behaviour purported to be of God is in reality divine, human or satanic." (Wagner, Your spiritual gifts can help your church grow, p 102)

This gift is the means by which we can best know what sort of spirit we may be dealing with at any time. It is particularly useful in healing and deliverance ministry, and in intercession, but applies also in our daily dealings with people. We can see it used in Acts 5:1-10 and Acts 8:23. What is the word of knowledge or word of wisdom?

The message or word of wisdom helps keep us from making wrong judgments, taking hasty decisions or actions, and causing misunderstanding or hurt. It enables us to see things as God sees them. It may be for ourselves or others.

A word of knowledge is similar, but is more likely to be shared with another. Bob Gordon says, "This is the truth of Hebrews 4:12 in action, where the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword and divides right into the very heart of a person and lays their thoughts and attitudes bare before God." (Explaining the Holy Spirit (The Explaining Series), p 50).

It takes the gift of wisdom to know how to use the gift of knowledge well. Knowledge is about discovering truth. Wisdom applies that truth to life.

What are the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues?

"The gift of tongues is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ (A) to speak to God in a language they have never learned and/or (B) to receive and communicate an immediate message of God to His people through a divinely appointed utterance in a language they have never learned." (Wagner, Your spiritual gifts can help your church grow, p 233)

Variety (A) is often called a prayer language, and is probably what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14:28.

Variety (B) is used along with the gift of interpretation of tongues, which together may be thought of as equivalent to prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:27,28)

"The gift of interpretation is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to make known in the vernacular the message of one who speaks in tongues." (Wagner, Your spiritual gifts can help your church grow, p 235)

Contrary to what Wagner implies above, and to what many conservative evangelicals teach, the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues are available to all Christians. Most who do not use them, do not do so because they do not understand their nature and purpose, or are afraid of them, because of wrong teaching or presuppositions about them. This was my case, until Jesus overcame my misunderstanding!

We have discovered ways in which God uses the gift of tongues in prayer ministry which, although not explicitly listed in the Bible, fit in with the character of how Jesus ministered. They often take a lot of hard work out of reaching the goal in a prayer session, which is the reason God gave this gift to the church. If God needs to speak into the spirit of a person who is either spiritually unaware, or who has a strong mind which is in the way, tongues is useful. The Holy Spirit can speak to the person's spirit directly with minimal interference from either the one praying or the one being prayed for. We will see more of this in a later course.

Though these are speaking gifts, not hearing gifts, they are relevant to being able to hear God's voice in two ways:

  • The use of tongues as a prayer language frees one's spirit to receive more easily from the Holy Spirit what God is saying.
  • The exercise of tongues and interpretation of tongues together are a form of prophecy, though two different people may be involved. The interpretation is a word from the Lord for those who hear. In fact the 'interpretation' is sometimes not an interpretation at all, but a prophecy which was 'released' by the prior exercise of tongues.