Do You Hear Jesus’ Voice?

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” – John 10:27

My friend Ben recently told me he fears he may not be saved. When I asked him to share with me the reason for his lack of assurance, I expected him to divulge that he was being mastered by some secret, besetting sin or that he was growing doubtful about the truthfulness of the Scriptures. But that wasn’t the kind of response I received. He said sorrowfully, “I don’t hear from God like I should.”

Ben’s charismatic cousin once told him that God speaks to her everyday. He asked her if she meant that the Spirit guides, influences, and “inspires” her—because he too experiences these things. She said no, insisting that God literally speaks to her—and not in a “he brings bible verses to mind” kind of way. She said he encourages her with personal words of affirmation, gives her ‘words’ to give to other people, and sometimes even informs her of events that lie ahead in the future.

Ben was intrigued by his cousin’s description of how God speaks to her in such a clear and direct way. But he was also discouraged that his relationship with the Lord lacked this kind of super-personal communication. When he told her he doesn’t hear from God like that, she said, “You have not because you ask not, Ben!” So Ben started asking. For two years now he has been pleading with God to speak to him in a more personal way and has been listening intently for his voice. But he has yet to hear a divinely uttered word. The deafening silence in his soul has caused him to question whether or not he is really known and loved by Jesus.

Ben’s trouble reveals how vital it is that we rightly understand what the Bible means when it talks about hearing God’s voice. But before we venture into what it means to hear God, we should first consider how God most commonly speaks. I cannot find any biblical ground to stand on in saying he never speaks to believers in the way Ben’s cousin described. However, I do not believe the Scriptures portray this as God’s normative method for speaking to his people. In the introduction of his epistle, the author of Hebrews described how God usually communicates:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . .” – Hebrews 1:1-2 (emphasis mine)

It has been God’s longstanding practice to speak to the general population of his people through spokespersons or prophets. And as the author of Hebrews wrote, God’s last major spokesperson was his Son. The Father gave Jesus words of eternal life (John 6:68) to speak into the world (John 17:8). He spoke many of these words while dwelling bodily on the Earth, and he spoke the rest of them by the Spirit through his hand-selected messengers (John 16:12-15). The biblical writers supernaturally remembered, received, and recorded Christ’s words so that future generations would have access to God’s final, glorious message to the world: the good news of the gospel.

To this day and until the end of days, God speaks primarily through his Son, Jesus Christ, whose words are preserved for us in the Bible—both those he spoke with his physical mouth (red ink) and those he spoke by his Spirit through the inspired writers (black ink). While the New Testament obviously does not contain every word Jesus ever spoke (John 21:25), it does contain every word the Father gave him to give to us (John 17:8).

So, understanding that God’s normative method for speaking to Christians is by Jesus through the inspired Scriptures, we can now ask the question: what does it mean to hear Jesus’ words?

In chapter 10 of John’s gospel, Christ stated that the distinguishing mark of his sheep is their ability to hear his voice. Ironically though, there were many listening to him who he said were not among his sheep (John 10:26). These people heard with their physical ears the words he spoke—yet he accused them of not hearing him. It’s obvious that the kind of “hearing” Jesus was talking about involves more than merely processing his words with our physical capacities.

He went on to say in the next verse, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Notice what the sheep that truly hear his voice do: they follow him. The only people who follow Jesus are those who believe, embrace, and bank their lives on his words. Many who were under the sound of his voice rejected what he said; therefore they did not truly hear him. But those who believed his words followed him and thereby demonstrated that they truly heard his voice.

Simply put: to believe Jesus is to hear Jesus.

Back to my friend, Ben. I asked him, “Ben, do the words you read in the Bible resonate with you as the truth that is from God?” “They do,” he said. “Do you cherish what you read in the Bible?” I asked. “With all my heart!” he exclaimed. “Does what you read in the Bible convict and challenge you?” I asked. He laughed and said, “Only every day.” “Then you hear God’s voice!” I assured him.

Some of my fellow Baptists may take issue with what I’m about to say, but I do believe God sometimes speaks to people outside of Scripture (though never out of sync with Scripture). I see nothing in the Bible that leads me to conclude he has utterly discontinued communicating in the forms of an audible voice, dreams, and visions (though the content of these forms of suspected communication must be tested against biblical revelation). However, the clearest and most common way God speaks to all his beloved children is by the sacred Scriptures. It is no insignificant thing when we read the Bible and our souls swell with gratitude, awe, comfort, fear, and praise. Our faith-filled response to these inspired words demonstrates that we are legitimate sheep of Christ who truly hear his voice.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:27-30

  • Lyle Nelson

    Ben’s concern plagued me for a very long time. I felt like I was not as close to God and didn’t hear from Him as much as I should. But I wasn’t quite sure what that meant; I knew He very rarely speaks audibly, maybe I was thinking He ought to flash lightning bolts across the sky when He was in agreement with what I asked Him! I think Satan had created a vague uncertainty in my mind.

    Because of this disappointment, I was not using the methods Matt outlines as much as I should have, reading the Bible and praying. An increase in that has made a big difference. I was brought up in the Church, so I thought I knew at least the important points (and I think that’s true), but that is not the same as a daily in-depth reading of His Word, stopping to meditate on it, etc. It’s simply not enough.

    To the methods that Matt outlines, I would add Christian community. Although it is not the same as communicating directly with Him, it can create a hunger and thirst to know Him better, models of the differences in the lives of those who truly follow Him as they should be, accountability and encouragement when we are having a hard time in some of these areas, and a place where we can ask someone the kinds of questions that Ben asked Matt, hopefully in an environment where there is no shame and people can be transparent about their concerns. I am blessed to be in such a group, and it makes a difference too!

  • Hearing the voice of God can be a scary thing. He never audibly spoke to me, but the strangest things began occuring when I started calling God Father (this would be in November 2015). My daughter’s friend tried to commit suicide in December 2015. Suddenly I was able to remember my best friend who comitted suicide and was able to cousel her and lead her in prayer; and the girl lived! In January of 2016 a youth at our church asked for prayers because he was gay. I was suddenly compelled to counsel him, and offered my services to the pastor and youth director for homosexuality, as I began dealing with my own failures for the first time.
    On February 3, 2016 (this was a BIG one) I suddenly found a picture of David’s grave on the internet. The date of his death just happened to be the exact date of my stroke twenty-eight years later. I was suddenly urged to go by a quiet voice. I thought I was crazy. I went finally on February 6 (bear this in mind). When I went I finally began the grieving process that I had never allowed myself (only fags cry) when I was fourteen. While I was there, the Holy Spirt or God or whatever you want to call it, spoke to me and told me that David had a brother and that his name was Steve. I thought I was insane. I wrestled with this all weekend. Finally I Googled the name Steve Wells, but all I got was that of a prominant pastor of a church in Houston. I didn’t think that was possible. I finally contacted the church and left a cryptic message that couldn’t be ignored if this Steve was indeed David’s brother. An hour later I got a call from that church, and it was from the Steve Wells of that church and yes, David was his brother. I broke down sobbing.
    I explained who I was and that I was sorry for missing the funeral. He didn’t have to, as he didn’t know me from Adam, but he forgave me. He also gave me a bit of scripture “…God is not god of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32) Since then I have heard Him talking to me through events that I can’t explain, from comforting me with my HIV test (told me the results) to praying for a friend in front of the church.
    I finally started going to grief counseling on February 6, 2017 (there’s that date again!) and I became aware of it on Friday, February 10. I asked God why. I got my answer on Tuesday February 14. My good friend from the Navy called. His wife had died the night before, just dropped dead. I had begun grief counseling so I could cousel someone else in need.
    I didn’t think that God would ever speak to me through these things, because I felt unworthy due to my past. I was wrong. I never know when or if it will happen or what circumstances will bring these things out, BUT I DO NOT BELIEVE IN CIRCUMSTANCE!!! I understand that these instances are extreme and even radical, but I can’t deny them either. God has proven Himself to me time and again, without me asking. I wonder what He would have done if I had stayed in the faith.

  • I agree with you Matt. God the Father speaks to us through His Son Jesus. Does the the Bible not tell us this? Christ is what? The Word of God! Tell your friend about God was not in the wind, etc. but a still small voice. You are right about Him never saying anything that’s contradictory to the Word. There are no new revelations! God is not working something new, remember the passage in Revelation about anyone adding to or taking away from this book (The Bible).

  • Edward Borges-Silva

    As usual, your arguments are extremely well put and thoughtful. And I hope I don’t sound condescending when I say that unusual in a fellow your age.

  • James Owens

    “(though never out of sync with Scripture)”
    If so, then why does God speak again when it is already in the Scriptures?

  • Don

    The Lord taught me something about this through this scripture: 1Sa 3:21 “The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” He taught me that every encounter I have with Him in His Word is Him meeting me ‘face-to-face’, like Moses, and is even greater than the ‘warm fuzzies’ or sensing His Presence that seems to characterize most contemporary, personal encounters.