God promises, “Call unto Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”1 But His promise comes with one obvious, unspoken condition: You need to learn to hear and recognize His answers when He gives them. He can speak to you in several ways:
1. The written Word
Reading and reflecting on the Bible, God’s already-recorded Word, is one way that God’s children can hear from Him. The answers to most of the questions you will have in life have already been answered there. All you have to do is search them out! (If you are a new Christian or just beginning to read the Bible, read the four Gospels first, starting with the gospel of John.)
You may think, “How could the Bible talk about the problems I face today? That Book is thousands of years old!” Well, if you will study God’s Word with an open mind and an attitude of faith, you will find that it will speak directly to you. There are many passages in the Bible that contain answers and counsel to problems you may face today. Though the details of our modern living may not be found in the Bible, the courage, hope, strength, guidance, and truth that we need to overcome each hurdle in life most certainly are. The Bible tells us that the things written therein were written for our benefit. “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”2
The Bible is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and knowledge. King David wrote: “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts.”3 The Lord also promises, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.”4
If you pray, the Lord will lead you to the passages that contain His instruction for you—sometimes instruction you don’t even realize you need.
2. The voice of the Word
As you read the Word and become acquainted with it, there will be times when you will be thinking or praying about something, and you will be reminded of a verse from the Bible that fits the situation perfectly and provides the insight or answer you need. This is what is known as the voice of His Word.
Near the end of His ministry on earth, Jesus told His disciples that after He was gone, God would send them the Holy Spirit to teach and guide them.5 If you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, that promise is for you too. Perhaps He’s already been speaking to you that way, and you just haven’t realized it. (Everyone who receives Jesus as their Savior receives a measure of the Holy Spirit, but being filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit—what the Bible calls the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit—is usually a separate experience. If you haven’t been filled with the Holy Spirit, you can be. You do it the same way you received salvation, by praying for it. “If you … know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”)6,7
3. Prophecy and other types of direct revelation
Most people think of prophecy as the ability to predict the future, or as some mysterious power that only a few people down through the ages have possessed. But it’s more than predicting the future, it’s really not all that mysterious, and it’s available to all Spirit-filled Christians—including you!8 It’s the ability to receive messages directly from the Lord—spoken through your own mouth, or recorded by your own hand—and it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit, which you can specifically pray for.
If you would like the gift of prophecy but haven’t received it or aren’t sure if you’ve received it, why not stop now and pray for it? It’s yours for the asking. “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”9
Once you have the gift of prophecy, the Lord can give you words of love, reassurance, guidance, instruction, revelation, or whatever else you may need. He will give you tailor-made counsel and instruction for your personal situation.10
Whether or not you have the gift of prophecy, the Lord is also able to put thoughts in your mind or give you an impression that answers a question you may have, or sheds light on a situation you’re involved in. He can also speak to you through dreams or give you visions. These are all forms of direct revelation.
God can whisper His thoughts to you or give you impressions at any time, but of course it’s easiest for Him to do so when you’re reading and reflecting on His Word or praying. When you get quiet and put other thoughts and the business of the day out of your mind, when you focus your thoughts on Jesus, you open a channel to receive His thoughts.
In one passage, the Bible refers to this as hearing the “still, small voice” of the Lord.11 In another verse the Lord promises, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.”12
Receiving a message from the Lord doesn’t need to take a long time. You don’t have to be praying for an hour or two before He will speak to you. Even if you’re in the middle of a project or activity, if you stop for a moment and direct your attention heavenward, you may hear Him whisper to you in your heart or mind.
Visions are pictures, either still or moving, seen in your mind’s eye while you are awake (usually when your eyes are shut, but not always). Some people have had visions that seemed so real, so tangible, that they felt they actually saw them with their natural eyes.
Revelatory dreams from the Lord are usually vivid, and one awakes from them with a strong sense that the dream was significant and meaningful, unlike most dreams which seem to be nonsensical or of little importance. Since the meaning of a dream is often less clear than messages received from the Lord other ways, it’s best to ask the Lord to confirm what you believe to be a revelatory dream, perhaps by giving you a prophecy or a Bible verse.
1. Jeremiah 33:3