How do I listen to the Holy Spirit?

The only way you can be certain is to go straight to the source.

“Is something wrong with me? I can’t seem to hear him!”

This struggle is quite common. It often follows the insistence that if you just try hard enough, you will hear the Spirit’s voice. 

But how?

Some Try Talking

Some try through prayer. The hope is that if they are constantly talking to God, they will hear him. So, they pray fervently and frequently. The Bible says, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), so they do so almost literally.

God encourages us to turn to him in prayer at all times and on all occasions. However, if we are only talking to him, then the conversation is one-sided. It’s like that friendly neighbor who never lets you get a word in edgewise. Prayer alone is not a two-sided dialogue, so you’re still left yearning to hear him.

Others Just Listen

Another approach is not to speak at all. Those who try this approach empty their mind through meditation and listen in the hope that they will hear or feel him. Some may even claim to receive some kind of prompting. But how can they know for sure if it comes from the Lord?

We’re influenced by the voice of the sinful world around us more than we’d like to admit. It is so pervasive that it can be difficult to detect. Any voice could be the result of those influences.

When we empty ourselves to listen, the enemy, Satan, is eager to fill that void. Any inner voice could unsuspectingly be “Satan himself transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He would be the last voice we would want to listen to!

We may be listening to our own hearts. Rather than reliable, Scripture tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). While it is a popular sentiment today, we know from experience that following the voice of the heart can lead us astray.

Simply listening within ourselves is filled with flaws. How, then, can we hear him?

Go Straight to the Source

God encourages us to go straight to the source. The words recorded in the Bible come directly from the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:16), so you can be sure he’s talking. Unlike other sources, when you listen to these words, you can be sure they are true (John 17:17). This allows you to hear him with certainty!

It’s also important to understand the source of the Spirit’s messages. Jesus taught that the Spirit’s messages do not originate from himself, but “he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:14). In other words, the Spirit communicates only what he hears directly from Jesus.

When you go straight to the source in the pages of the Bible, you’ll recognize the Spirit’s message through Jesus’ voice. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).

Pause to consider the significance of this picture. God isn’t saying your life must be perfectly aligned with his will before you can hear him. Sheep are helpless. It’s not uncommon for wandering sheep to climb down the edge of a cliff in search of grass and get into a situation they cannot climb out of. Sheep are completely dependent on their shepherd. It’s no wonder his voice brings such welcome relief!

The True Test

Here is a simple way to “test the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). If it doesn’t agree with what God has already spoken in the Bible, it’s not to be trusted. If the voice you’ve been listening to tells you to look within yourself, follow your feelings, or keeps putting more pressure on you to “try harder” or “do better” in order to gain his favor, you’re not listening to Jesus, nor the Spirit he sends.

Go straight to the source. Listen to voice of your loving Shepherd. When you stumble in sin, he picks you up and forgives you. He gives eternal life and promises to carry you safely home. He never asks you to win his love because, with Jesus as your perfect substitute, you already have it. Listen to Jesus’ words in the Bible, and you will know with certainty that the Spirit is speaking.

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Where do you turn in times of trouble?

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