Does God Speak Audibly to People Today Like He is Portrayed Doing in Bible Times?

In this second blog post that's part 2 after a review I did of Bill Hybel's The Power of a Whisper, I clarified some the title. The part 1 blog title was, "Does God Speak?" When I read it again, I thought, of course He does. He speaks anytime He wants, and has throughout time. Foster Bible Pictures 0060-1 Moses Sees a Fire...

The clarified question is, "Does God continue to speak audibly to people today like He is portrayed doing in the Bible?"

First, let's review how God speaks in Bible times:

  1. Through messengers called Angels (to many)
  2. Through donkeys (to Balaam)
  3. Like a friend (to Moses)
  4. Through tablets (10 Commandments)
  5. By burning stuff (burning bush, pillar of fire showing presence, burning up wet sacrifices - Elijah)
  6. Through dreams (Joseph, Daniel, kings, prophets)
  7. Whispers (Elijah)
  8. By tricks or tests of God (Gideon - was his fleece test appropriate as a test of God?)
  9. Direct voice (to Moses, many prophets)
  10. Prophets themselves as messengers
  11. Through incarnate Son Jesus
  12. Through written texts of Law, Prophets, Gospels, Letters, and Apocalypse
  13. Through the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire causing Apostles to speak intelligible languages spoken in first century world
  14. Through blinding light and vision of the Son (to Saul later named Paul)
  15. Through visions called Apocalypses (to Daniel, John)
  16. Apostles thought God speaks by casting lots or drawing straws for decisions

Have I left some examples out? I'm sure I have. Comment and write your examples from Scripture, citing who and the situation.

I said in the first post that I would speak personally.

I have felt the direct leading of the Holy Spirit in words that have entered my mind after meditating, fasting, hiking, reading Scripture. Those words do not seem to me as audible. The Holy Spirit promise from Jesus was that we would be directed by God's own presence in our minds and bodies. This doesn't mean the totality of God lives in us or has to speak audibly or in a un-intelligible tongue to be legitimate. God can speak in many ways still today as He did in times past.

For example, if you take dreams ALONE as a model for how God speaks, you will find dozens and dozens of references to dreams as a mode of communication. Does that mean all dreams are some kind of communication from God? Not necessarily, but it doesn't rule them out as a way our minds interact with God either. The more we tune our lives to God's voice and life, the more the natural flow of God's presence and communication will enter into our lives.

My personal experience is that God continues to speak as we listen, meditate, and act in the world. People who are out in prisons, with addicts on the streets, evangelizing and sharing Jesus and putting their lives on the line receive the assurance of God's presence more than people who do nothing. It least that is what it seems in the Bible and in experience. God seeks the people who are seeking Him. Yes, He can and does act on people who are running away. Lots of examples of that: Jonah and Saul as two classic examples.

So when someone says God only speaks to people attuned to Him, in meditation, in worship, on a mountain, that's not true. God can speak to you at any moment He wants to speak to you. The point is, are you listening? Perhaps over time God has spoken, shown Himself powerful and communicated and you weren't listening, or I did not listen.

I remember one time I was hiking for several days in the mountains and I asked God to show me one thing. Tell me one thing about my life I need to know. Nothing came after several days of hiking. I persisted, asking God, "Just one thing. Please show me one thing."

On the final day, perhaps because I was exhausted, perhaps I was hallucinating from the lack of oxygen, but what I nearly audibly heard or at least perceived in my thoughts was a very clear sentence and directive: "You must suffer." Immediately I wondered if there was not a better word I could have heard. I didn't like this one. But the words were clear and counter to what I wanted to hear, which were two causes for me to believe they were from God. Many times we tend to "hear God's voice" or "discover His will" when it works with what we already want. A test of God's voice is often when it's not something we would choose for ourselves. This doesn't always work of course, but it's one of many tests.

Another test is for us to ask discerning mentors we are accountable to if these words seem to be the voice of God or if they are indigestion or hallucination. This is the most often skipped step of listening to the will or voice of God that I've ever seen in the Christian community overall. I hear people who speak about hearing from God only in terms of what God said to them in a dream, in an audible voice, through a fleece. What about asking our discerning, believing brothers and sisters for confirmation of the words we hear from God? This, I believe, is a very important test of the word of God in our lives.

I've had other times when the voice of God seems to come through what Dr. Evertt Huffard and Robert Clinton call "Word Checks." I remember one time when my wife and I were in college and dating, and we were considering going on a 6-week internship to Kenya, but we also wanted to get married that summer. Could we do both? Was it too much to get married then go on such a trip soon after? We were reading in Luke 9:61 the story of Jesus talking to a man who wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family. Jesus said no one who puts his hand to the plow looks back. Jill and I were convicted of several examples of excuses people gave Jesus for not following what they felt called to do. We were feeling the call to Kenya for six weeks, and so this Word Check caused us to decide to go ten days after we were married. This led to a long-term commitment to Uganda.

One problem that occurs when people have no discerning community to hear God's voice is that it seems God's will often comes at the whims that match their own lives rather than living into God's life. While we lived in Jinja, Uganda, for example, we saw many people come and go who said God had led them there for life. Six months later we'd see them packing up because God "called them back to the United States." This always seems a loose and careless use of God's voice and will. If God called you to Uganda, why would he call you back home after a six-month life commitment?

So I've learned to be careful with the claim of hearing God's voice. When God speaks, terrible and awesome things happen. I think we ought to fear God alone more than anything or anyone in the universe. Fear God, Jesus says, who is the only one who can snuff out your life or save it. When I saw Hybels' way of using "whisper" for this tentative and careful way we listen, it made total sense to me. People in the Bible stories had this variety of experiences as well and they were often so unsure of God's voice that they didn't tell anyone about it, but most of the time they acted upon what they believed.

The question is not only, "Are you listening?" but also "Are you doing anything about what you are hearing God say to you through the Bible, dreams, others, worship times, meditation, your daily walks, nature?" What are you going to do about the news that you hear everyday when one word keeps pounding in your brain: "Injustice!" Will you act on that word, believing it is a word from God?

The best check of all is to take what you hear and check it against the long-standing word of Scripture. I took the word I heard on that hike, "You must suffer," and checked it against the words of Scripture, and Jesus indeed promises that when we follow Him, we will suffer, face persecution, and when we do face all that we ought to rejoice and be glad, for great is our reward in heaven.

What are your experiences of hearing God's voice? And in addition, what checks and balances do you put on that to know whether you are hearing from God or a demon, Satan's or culture's voice in your head?