From time to time, I’ve had conversations with folks who insist that the Lord speaks directly to them. Some borrow language from an encounter Elijah had with God in 1 Kings 19:12 (“a still small voice”). One described the Lord’s voice as being loud and authoritative. Another said that she hears multiple voices, and must discern which of them is God speaking to her.
Those familiar with the Bible realize there are several occasions recorded where God spoke audibly to individuals. Adam and Eve, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Isaiah, Peter, James; we could amass an extensive list of people. And yet what many do not realize or consider is this: if we compare the number of people of whom it is said they heard God’s voice with the number of people who are not so designated, those who had such an experience are an enormous minority. God speaking audibly to an individual is not commonplace. It is the exception, not the rule.
There are a few questions that cross my mind when I hear someone claim that the Lord speaks to them.
- What makes you so special? All of God’s people are special (1 Peter 2:9-10), but when someone claims to receive something that is rare among God’s people, what is it that has set them apart from the rest? As we look in the Bible, those whom God spoke to audibly did huge things. Noah built an ark by the direction of God for the saving of his family from an impending judgment (Genesis 6-8). Moses was called to lead the Hebrews out of Egyptian captivity (Exodus 3-4). Joshua led the people on a military campaign into the land of Canaan (Joshua 5-19).
- How often does the Lord speak to you? Some seem to believe that God speaks in an audible fashion to them on a daily basis. However, as we look at those who heard the voice of the Lord in the Bible, it was far from a daily experience. In fact, we often find time stamps in the text (the age of the hearer, a date, etc.), which reveal how seldom these events occurred.
- What message did God give you? We do not find God speaking to anyone directly about frivolous things. He spoke of national concerns, provided supernatural promises, and revealed spiritual direction. He does not tell people about open parking spots or sales at a grocery store!
- How do you know it was God? One woman told me that she hears the voice of the Lord often. She went on to tell me that she also hears Satan’s voice, and a few other voices. She acknowledged that hearing voices is often associated with some form of mental illness, but claimed certainty that it was God and other spiritual beings who spoke to her. How can she be sure? A young man I know has a video on the web intended to help people know the voice of God. Basically he says to carefully think on what is said, and if you believe it is consistent with your perspective of God, then it is the voice of God. Such a subjective approach makes any message on the hearer’s mind a message from God.
Does the Lord speak to His people today? Absolutely (Hebrews 1:1-3). What we must determine is how. The Bible reveals that God has given His will and it has been written down (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21; John 17:17; Romans 15:4). The Lord spoke to a small number of people, but in them, He revealed His will for all. Paul did not tell the church at Ephesus that Jesus would speak directly to them. If they wanted to know His will, they would have to read what he wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:3-4; 5:17). Again, Paul didn’t tell Timothy that the Lord would speak to him. He told him to give attention to reading (1 Timothy 4:13) and to be a diligent student of the word (2 Timothy 2:15). We must do the same if we are to hear God’s word.