The day I asked for questions on Facebook was the same day this video went viral on the Interwebs:
It's a testimony video from Joanna Gaines, star of the HGTV show Fixer Upper. In it, she shares God's role in leading her into her current work on TV. Multiple times in the video she says, "God spoke to me" or "I felt like God was telling me." And for some reason that really stood out to a lot of you. Several people asked some version of this question:
What does it mean when people say "God spoke to me"? OR Does God speak to us today and if so, how?
First things first: God definitely speaks to His people. He always has and always will. Most obviously (and most precisely) God speaks to us through His Word. He communicates truth in living letters, reminding His people of the story they're living, calling them into obedient faith and urging them on to courageous love. The Bible is God's primary message to His people and there's nothing lesser about what's communicated in it and through it.
If you only ever heard from God via the Bible, you'd be fully equipped, generously uplifted and well led.
Now what about other ways? Does God speak to us outside the Bible? I think so.
David tells us in the Psalms and Paul says on Mars Hill that God speaks through creation, leading people into faith as they testify to a Creator.
We know God speaks through His people--through Spirit-filled teachers, preachers, and friends. More often than makes any sense I'll receive a note from a reader encouraging me in exactly the way I most needed encouraging or urging me to do something I hadn't yet shared I was already preparing to do. I've had elders stop me and speak life-giving words they couldn't possibly have understood. I've heard preachers reach right into my daily life, correcting my posture or challenging my perceptions. I've seen God speak through my kids, "Mom, I love it when you're happy like this. You should tell more stories." And I've seen God speak through my husband, pushing me forward in the work God made me to do: You're good at this. God made you to do this. All of these words came from God. The people who spoke them were simply channels.
It also seems true that God speaks through what we might call an informed conscience. Having read the Word of God, having listened to the wisdom of Godly people, and having been filled with the Holy Spirit, our inner voice is transformed into the image of Christ. As that voice matures, we can begin to rely on it--so long as we're regularly testing it against God's voice by way of Bible study and prayer.
God also sometimes speaks through opportunities and open (or closed) doors. Does God want you to be a famous singer? If you're not ever getting opportunities to sing in public, probably not.
Similarly, God seems to speak through patterns and personality--meaning, consider the life you've lived and the person you are. In evaluating the journey God's leading you on and the equipment He's provided in terms of temperament and talent, you're able to identify some obvious messages from God about His plans for your future and your role in His kingdom.
All of the above ways of hearing from God require MUCH discretion and wisdom. Not every teacher speaks for God. Not everything your kids tell you comes from God. Not every open door is from God. Not every life journey is authored by God (though every journey can be redeemed).
When you feel like God's urging you to do something, check it against what you read in the Bible, your informed conscience and the collective wisdom of your community of faith. God's voice stands up to holy scrutiny.
Now for the part you really want to hear, does God speak in an audible voice or in visions? Truth? I have no idea. He's never spoken to me that way, and I've never met anyone who feels certain God's spoken to them that way.
Even in the Bible, visions and direct, personalized messages from God are rare--much rarer than we assume.
Should you suspect you've had a vision or direct message from God, I suppose I'd encourage you to test it the same way you'd test anything else. Does it line up with scripture? Do your wise, Godly friends confirm it? What's your inner voice saying? What does praying about it do to your certainty?
I believe with my whole heart God wants to speak to us. I know He will guide us and comfort us, encourage us and challenge us. And I know, if we commit to listening, we'll hear what He wants us to hear.
To close, here's some of the most practical advice I've heard on discerning the voice of God:
One of my good friends says,
If it's exactly what you wanted to hear, it's probably your own voice you're hearing.
But if it's challenging, re-orienting and demanding, it might be God.