Hearing God’s Voice and Cultivating Friendship with God
by Sarah Gerber, Igniting Hope Team
As a child, I always wanted the most wonderful best friend. Someone I could play with all the time, who would understand me, and who I could have a lot of fun with! And as someone who loves quality time, I wanted someone there who I could always talk to. The reality is we are all wired and created for deep connection – and God loves to have that with us.
While I was blessed with some beautifully close friends growing up, my dream for a best friend began to be fulfilled in the most satisfying way when I really gave my life to Jesus. He became the “most wonderful best friend” I always dreamed of as a kid. The difficulty along the way though, came with communication. I knew He was drawing me close to Him but I didn’t always know how to relate to or understand what He was communicating to me. How could I really connect with God? How do I know when He is speaking? Are the ideas in my head mine or the Lord talking? These are questions that we’ve all asked at one point or another in our relationship with God. The truth is God loves to communicate; His relationship with us is His number one priority. And the best part? We get to have lots of fun with Him in the process!
My quest for connection with God really exploded when I was introduced to the teachings and writings of Mark Virkler in the late nineties. This new tool called journaling revolutionized my time with God. I practiced tuning in to the “spontaneous flow of thoughts” that came into my mind when I asked God an open ended question, and engaged with my imagination with the eyes of my heart.
For instance, I would envision myself walking on a beach with Jesus – this gave my mind something to focus on as I listened. During this time, I learned about the significance of the sanctified imagination God intended for us to engage with, and while it can be used by the devil, that was never its original intent. The teaching was solid, with the checks and balances of submitting your journaling to spiritual oversight and the guideline that what you received was in line with Biblical truth and the heart of God displayed in His word. Fear was replaced with faith as I journeyed on this new adventure. It was like someone opened the curtains to a window of communion with God that I never knew existed before. My spiritual life took off and I never looked back.
Throughout my journey in communicating with the Lord, I have found four vital ways to connect with Him:
There are two avenues in hearing God; one is from the outside and the other is from the inside. Though I have never heard God audibly with my physical ears, this is a legitimate way that God speaks to people. More commonly though, He speaks through the thoughts of our minds. One of the simplest ways to discern if what you are receiving is from the Lord is when the words are encouraging, affirming, full of love, and delivered with the Spirit and heart of God that is displayed throughout the Bible. Many times you will hear something you know you would never have thought of on your own. What you hear may bring you conviction but it will NEVER bring condemnation (Romans 8:1).
Jesus said, “My sheep HEAR my voice” (John 10:27). For a little fun, try this exercise to help familiarize yourself with what “hearing” could seem like: Sing the “Birthday Song” in your mind without any physical utterance or motion. Easy, right? Just as you can hear your own voice in your mind, you can just as easily hear the voice of the Lord speaking. People often ask, “How do I know it’s the Lord and not my own thoughts?” Great question! We believe that when we are seeking and asking God to speak to us, He will (Jeremiah 29:13-14, Matthew 7:9-11). We believe more in who God is and His desire and ability to speak to us, than we do our own weakness or in the devil deceiving us. As with anything, the more you practice the more you “hear”!
There are seers and there are those that see. Seers have a gift to see the spiritual realm like others see the physical realm. They can see angels, demons, colors and atmospheres. They are very aware of what is unseen and it seems natural to them because they’ve always been that way. Then there are those that see. All of God’s children have eyes to see, and our ability to see increases with trusting and believing, and of course, practice! Everyone can “see” because we all have an imagination given to us by our creator God and we have the Holy Spirit who communicates through the “eyes of our heart” (Ephesians 1:18). With the Holy Spirit, we can see with our spiritual eyes using our sanctified imagination.
Try this exercise with me: Close your eyes and imagine your bedroom at home. See your bed, your closet. Now imagine walking to your bathroom; can you see the shower, the sink, your towels? Now ask Jesus to show you what the Holy Spirit is doing in your room. Write it down. This is a great exercise which allows you to use your imagination and then give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to reveal Himself to you.
When I was a child, I was sensitive to spiritual and emotional atmospheres but I didn’t know it. Being an “atmosphere sponge” was so normal and a part of who I was in my everyday life that I couldn’t discern if what I was feeling was me or the environment around me. Because I was focused more on “hearing” and “seeing” in the beginning of my journey in connecting with the Lord, those are the muscles that have been strengthened in me the most. Intrinsically, I am a feeler which I’ve come to realize was a main connection point to God as a child, although at the time I didn’t realize it. Now, as an adult, I have found connecting to God in this way to be invaluable.
After I learned about spiritual sensitivity and discernment, it provided a grid through which I could process my experiences. Now I can look back on much of my history and realize how significantly the various atmospheres I was in impacted me. Have you ever been in a room where you felt agitated or anxious and you weren’t feeling that way before you entered that room? People who are “feelers” may be easily affected by their environment, but through the Holy Spirit, you don’t have to be victims to them. Instead, you can learn to victoriously shift atmospheres in partnership with the Spirit of God.
People who carry and steward this gift of discernment also often connect with God through sensing His presence and acknowledging whatever it is He is doing in a room, a home, a city, region, or country (1 Kings 8:10-11, Luke 1:41). If you want to grow in this area, next time you are in a church service, pay attention to the spiritual atmosphere in the room before and after worship. Take note of the specific thing the Lord is doing in the room by feeling and sensing what has been accomplished during worship.
4) INNER KNOWING
Ever had that feeling where you just know that you know? My dad has a strong “inner knowing” gift. I’ve seen him many times working on a project where he’ll run into a problem he doesn’t know the solution to when, all of a sudden, he’ll get a strong impression or have an idea in his spirit; before you know it, the problem is resolved and everything comes together beautifully! People who have this inner knowing often know things are going to happen before they do. They can’t explain how they know but they just do. And it happens just as they knew it would.
People who major in “inner knowing” often have a hard time realizing that it’s God’s way of speaking to them and through them because it’s such a normal thing for them that’s always been that way. This connection with God may not always come in a moment of worship or prayer either, but at random times throughout life. This can sometimes make people feel that it is disconnected or unrelated to God, but the truth is that this is a very legitimate spiritual language that one can grow in, steward, and strengthen as your relationship with the Lord continues to develop. Your spirit will bear witness with God’s Spirit in you as He communicates (Romans 8:16).
AN EXAMPLE OF EACH
Here is an example of how all of these ways to perceive God work together: I might be spending time with God and the first thing I see is a picture, which is then accompanied with thoughts that fill my mind as I’m seeking the Lord about what He wants to say to me. As I’m writing these ideas, I may then be filled with the feeling of faith and hope over what He is communicating to me. This then could be coupled with an idea or an inner knowing about what God is going to do with this area in my life. These are common ways that God speaks to us and we can use them all in one moment.
We may find that we are stronger in one of these areas more than another, but the goal is to increase our capacity in each of the four areas so that our language and connection to God is fluent and fluid in our everyday lives.
God loves connecting with you! I bless you to enjoy a deeper and clearer connection with God than you’ve ever had before. May you experience fun, friendship and His deep love as you explore the realms of connecting with your Best Friend – the one who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).