“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 19:11-13 NIV.
Listening to God isn’t easy. We have our expectations for what we think he should sound like, and when those expectations aren’t met, we may question whether we actually heard God’s voice. With all the voices shouting at us — social media, television, friends, family or even the messages we hear in church — how can we be sure that we are hearing God’s voice rather than our own thoughts or the devil’s lies?
This is a daunting task, but by looking at Elijah’s experience and the experiences of many biblical figures, we can get an idea of what God’s voice sounds like, how to listen for it and how to know when it is, in fact, the Lord’s message that we are hearing.
In This Article:
What Does It Mean to Listen to God’s Whisper?
Many people think that the Lord’s voice only manifests as a loud shout, and for good reason. We see God’s voice described as such throughout the Bible — in books such as Job and Revelation — where God describes his voice as “thundering,” (Job 37:5; 40:9) or the writer of the book describes it as such (Rev. 4). So, does that mean that God’s voice is only a thundering shout?
God does speak like this, but that’s not the only way God talks. Many times, his voice is a whisper into your brain or heart, where you can only hear it if you listen hard enough. Elijah illustrates this for us in 1 Kings 19, where he stood on a mountain and heard God speak to him. Elijah could have been fooled by what many people thought was the Lord’s voice — an incredible show of God’s power, such as a natural disaster or a loud voice raining down from heaven — but he continued to listen, and instead, God’s voice came to him as a whisper. If Elijah wasn’t listening, he may have missed it.
God Speaks in Many Ways
If God’s voice is easy to miss, how can we make sure that we can hear it? The Bible gives us some ways to hear God’s message and ensure that we are, indeed, hearing his words.
A Loud Shout
“After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back. God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’” – Job 37:4-6 NIV
God can — and often does — speak using a loud voice. He often spoke this way in the Bible and continues to speak to us using a loud voice today.
God’s shout isn’t difficult to hear, but the real challenge is to listen to it. When a thought or a feeling stands out, or when you feel that God is trying to get your attention, tune into it. If you hear a shout from the Lord, this is an opportunity to ask questions and discern what God is trying to say to you.
A Quiet Whisper
We know that God speaks to us through a quiet whisper, but what does this sound like? Elijah, for example, only heard the Lord’s whisper by listening closely.
When you pray, try to listen to the Lord. If you’re having trouble sitting still for long enough to listen, it may help to drown out other sounds by listening to gospel or classical music. You can also silence your phone and go to a quiet place, where you won’t be distracted. Then, quiet your thoughts and listen for a voice or thought that isn’t yours. It may help to say, “God, I’m here. Whatever you want to say, I’m listening.” Saying or thinking these words will signal to your mind that it’s time to listen to God.
When you get a response from God, it will align with Scripture (John 1:1-3), bring peace (Psalm 29:11, Psalm 85:8) and challenge you to grow in your faith (Matthew 6:25-34). Don’t underestimate the power of the Lord’s whisper. God speaks in many ways, and he does everything in the best interest of those who follow him (Romans 8:28).
The Holy Spirit
“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 13:11 NIV.
One of the most common ways the Lord speaks to us is through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is powerful, and listening to its guidance can protect you, guide you, lead others to Christ and more.
When trying to listen to the Holy Spirit, pay attention to thoughts and feelings that stand out in your mind. These thoughts and feelings may be promptings from the Holy Spirit, especially if they align with Scripture.
For example, if you’re angry and want to lash out, then the Holy Spirit may gently prompt you to forgive the person who angered you instead. If you slow down and listen to this feeling, the Holy Spirit can guide you in a different direction that you would have taken otherwise. Another example can be the Holy Spirit prompting you to tell someone about Jesus. If you talk with someone and feel a compulsion to ask them about their faith or bring up Jesus, that is the Holy Spirit attempting to use you to lead another person to Christ.
If you obey the Holy Spirit, you may look back after the event has taken place and marvel at where you’re at now. You may have narrowly avoided a disastrous situation, or unwittingly caused a person to go to church. You may have even saved a relationship that was breaking apart. Either way, following the Holy Spirit will cause you to feel joyful and at peace.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing sword and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’” – Hebrews 4:12 NIV
Many of us have heard that the Bible is the primary way that the Lord speaks to us, and this is true. It’s our guide to living according to God’s purpose and plan, but many of us don’t know how to listen to God through the Bible.
To listen to what God is saying through the Bible, it can help to start with prayer. Ask the Lord to open your mind to what he is trying to say to you through the Bible before you begin to read. Then, while you’re reading, pay attention to what sticks out and what you can apply to your own life. You can also try to think about how you can relate to a biblical figure and use the lessons they learned to navigate your life.
If you’re having trouble figuring out how the Bible can relate to your life, a good way to do this is by reading a commentary on the chapter of the Bible that you’re reading. Commentaries are easy to find online and available for many Christian denominations, and they can provide context that you can use to understand biblical passages.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:19-20 NIV
The church is a powerful thing. Throughout the Bible, we see the church meeting again and again and doing incredible things in the name of Jesus. From spreading the Word of God to speaking in tongues and performing miracles in the Lord’s name, we can’t doubt that the church is capable of incredible feats when they gather to worship God together.
Going to church is not just about singing a few worship songs and listening to a pastor talk about the Bible. It’s about gathering as a group of believers and supporting each other through life. Often, attending a church can bring encouragement to those struggling and provide perspectives on biblical passages that you may never have heard before.
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” – Matthew 1:19-21 NIV
This one may sound odd, but it’s true. God often speaks to us through our dreams. These dreams may be prophecies of events to come, such as in the case of Joseph, messages and lessons from God (Daniel 2:19-23), or they may be a combination of all three (Daniel 2:27-45). If you feel that the Lord speaks to you through dreams, it may help to pay attention to the dreams you have. If any dreams don’t fit with your usual dreams or seem to have messages that align with Scripture, then reach out to a pastor, spiritual leader or another person that is strong in their faith. They may help you interpret the dream and the message God has for you within it.
Eager to learn more about listening to God’s messages and interpreting biblical passages? Enrolling in GCU’s College of Theology can help you do just that with its theology and ministry degree programs, which can strengthen your knowledge of the gospel and teach you how to effectively communicate the Word of God to others. Click on the “Request Info” button above to learn more.
Approved by the local outreach coordinator of the Office of Spiritual Life on Feb. 16, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.