Do you have a hard time discerning God’s voice from your own? How do you know if a random thought is from the Spirit or your own mind? It’s something a lot of Christians wonder.
In Sanctuary of the Soul—free this month on Faithlife Ebooks—Richard J. Foster shares three factors from Dallas Willard that can help you discern when God is speaking to you.
We learn to discern the voice of God by experience. Sheep (even our pets) learn to recognize the voice of their owner by means of experience. Babies also quickly recognize the voice of their parents. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, will guide us into all truth. But to receive this guidance and know that it is from the Holy Spirit, we need a certain acquaintanceship, a certain personal relationship with our “inward Teacher.”
We need to explore this matter of acquaintanceship a bit further. Dallas Willard writes, “Certain factors distinguish the voice of God, just as any human voice can be distinguished from another.” He goes on to name those factors: the quality of the voice of God, the spirit of the voice of God and the content of the voice of God.
Regarding the first characteristic he notes, “The quality of God’s voice is more a matter of weight or impact an impression makes on our consciousness. A certain steady and calm force with which communications from God impact our soul, our innermost being, incline us toward assent and even toward compliance.” So a sense of divine authority is characteristic of the voice of the Lord. E. Stanley Jones says, “The inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just speaks and it is self-authenticating.”
The second aspect is the spirit of the voice of God. This spirit, says Dr. Willard, “is a spirit of exalted peacefulness and confidence, of joy, of sweet reasonableness and of goodwill. It is, in short, the spirit of Jesus.” The small epistle of James describes it this way: “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17).
The third aspect is the content of the voice of God. “The content of a word that is truly from God will always conform to and be consistent with the truths about God’s nature and kingdom that are made clear in the Bible.” God will never lead us contrary to what he has said or done in the past.
Of course, the fact that God speaks to us is no guarantee that we will hear correctly. I can tell you by bitter experience that we will get it wrong sometimes. But then this is all part of our training by means of time and experience to distinguish the voice of the true Shepherd.
Pick up your copy of Richard J. Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul—June’s free book from Faithlife Ebooks.