I want to now tackle one of the most controversial subjects with which Christians grapple with. One of the most common questions Christians ask is, “How can I hear God’s voice?
This question remains a highly contentious issue among Christians up to this day.
With one side saying, “God has closed his book on any new revelation with the book of Revelation, we have the Bible and that’s all we need for God to speak to us!”while the other side says, “God loves you so much he has a specific spoken word only for you – his rhema word – that he wants to keep speaking into your life, and he will keep speaking his specific word that you need to hear until you obey that word and the result is blessing. And then he will have another rhema word for you!”
Actually, those two words, rhema and logos, are the Greek words for our English rendering of “word.”” The former refers to his spoken word while the latter refers to his written word called the Bible. So Logos is also used to explain the Bible or his written word, while his rhema refers to when God speaks.
And so those Chritians who believe there is no new revelation from God outside the Bible say that those times that God does speak his rhema word is when we read portions of the Bible or a word and “it jumps out at us” because God is illuminating his word and making his Logos become rhema.
Therefore, the question of “Can one hear God?” and then the next question, “How can I hear God?” are very pertinent questions for Christians to answer, of which I will try to answer as best I can. In fact, “How can I hear God?” is the one question which, if you went to Bible College, your professors didn’t teach you, although once you learn the art of listening to God’s voice it will prove to be your most deadly of weopon for smashing to smithereens Satan’s walls – as long as you obey what you have heard.
And the reason why you were never taught how to listen to God’s voice is because professors view such practice as residing in the area of subjective enquiry rather than academic objective enquiry; plus, there is a large number of conservative believing Christians frequenting these learning institutions who resist any notion that God still reveals his spoken word to his people; they believe that when God finished his inspired word at the closing of the last book of the Bible, John’s Revelation, he finished with the gift of revelation; they think that the Bible is all we need for guidance, and every Christian must receive his personal word through the Bible – they view anything which teaches personal revelation apart from the Bible as dangerous and self-deceiving; but this kind of thinking is dangerous for the following reasons:
If you remember the incident between Jesus and the Devil, after Jesus had fasted food and drink from Matthew 4; the Devil came to Jesus and quoted the Bible, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” To which Jesus replied, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word (rhema) that comes from the mouth of God.” Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their arms, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
You can see from this exchange between the Devil and Jesus, the Devil was craftily using the Bible very subtly and cleverly; the Devil knows Scripture better than us – he has memorized it all, and he uses it to trick even Christians; and so what is apparent is, us Christians need not only his logos (Bible) but his wisdom how to apply his logos so that we receive not only his written word (his logos) but also his spoken word for today and now (his rhema); that can come when we apply God’s logos to our situation – his Scripture correctly, to counter the Devil’s incorrectly applied logos, or it can come through pure personal witness, which like all things, the Bible tells us we must test.
As you see from the above Scripture from which we read the word, “word” in English, in the ancient Greek language which the New Testament was written, there is a much richer rendering from the Bible writers when they used the word, “logos,” and the word, “rhema” for “word.” When we read in John’s Gospel in the opening words, the word used is “logos”, i.e. “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God.” (John 1:1). John was referring to the word of God which is the personal God which became flesh. And also, logos refers to the Word of God, that is the Bible, and lastly it can refer to a particular thought of God. Therefore, as the Greek language of the New Testament and indeed the Hebrew language of the old Testament are so much richer than our English translations, it is so important to have some basic knowledge of Greek and Hebrew if we are to truly understand the original intention of the Bible writers.
For example, the distinction between logos and rhema of which we derive our rendering of “word” is very important.
Therefore, when we Bible students read the Bible in the Greek, we can find a much better translation which is nearer to the original intent of the Bible writer. The same is also true when we read the Old Testament in Hebrew, as well as in Aramaic, of which some sections of the book of Esther, Daniel and other books of the Babylonian captivity were written in.
For example, when the Bible writer says that Adam “knew” his wife, (in Genesis 4:1) and this word in the Hebrew and Greek means something much deeper than mere head knowledge but actually knowing intimately in our spirits. So when Jesus said, in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” this means know God and Jesus, intimately, in your spirit.
Also, in the Apostle Paul’s writing in Romans 10:8, Paul uses the word “rhema” twice when he writes, “But what does it say? ‘The word (rhema) is near you; it is in your heart,’ that is, the word (rhema) of faith we are proclaiming.” Also, Paul writes in Romans 10:16-17, when Paul was discussing about how, without hearing the preachers say God’s Christ’s word, faith cannot arise in peoples’ hearts. Paul writes, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message (rhema), and the message is heard through the word (rhema) of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
According to these two Scriptures, the rhema word of God is as important to us, as hearers of God’s message, as the logos is (meaning God’s thought or idea as in his Logos became Jesus , or his written word, the Bible).
So we see there is a subtle but great distinction between those two words logos and rhema of which our English rendering “word” does not convey.
And this confusion and ignorance can lead Christians to be deceived into thinking that having God’s word – the logos – is all that they need to defeat all the works of the devil. Well, Paul tells us that in order for us to defeat the devil we need both faith which acts as a shield to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one, as well as the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus as well as to us as Christians, “In addition, to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The word in the Greek here is rhema in Ephesians 6:16-17.
Most Christians think Paul is referring to the logos – the Bible – and so this reinforces their view that when we have the logos, that’s all we need to be good Christians. However, Paul was using the word for the specific word which has my name written on it which is the rhema word rather than the logos – his spoken word to you – and in indeed this can include times when we memorize the logos and use it in our situation and it becomes our personal word to us – our rhema; and further, rhema can include the brand new word that God breathes or speaks in our spiritual ear which is for us at a specific time, in some specific cicumstance that we need to hear.
This is very important because there are many Christians who think they know Jesus and can hear his voice, but actually they have never heard or experienced his voice. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for they were constantly hearing but never listening God’s word. We can read about that confrontation in John’s Gospel, Chapter five.
But Jesus said to them, “You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures which testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:37b-40)
Like those religious folks, we also need to heed our Lord’s words in this Scripture when he challenged those who thought that they had everything they needed because they had the Torah and the traditions and teachings of their scribes and their lawyers. There are probably thousands if not millions of Christians today who think that because they have his Bible, they have everything they need. These Christians quote such Scriptures from the book of Hebrews 1:1, “In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2) and they dismiss as deceptive and even heresy that we should place faith on anything else other than just Christ’s Holy Bible. Well, God has spoken and he is continually speaking through his Spirit up to today, and if Christians use this verse in Hebrews chapter one to explain that God does not speak through prophecy, then why did Paul spend three chapters teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and prophecy? But this is exactly what those deceived Pharisees and Saduccees were doing when they believed that having the Torah and their Old Testament of books was enough.
If we truly knew God and Jesus, through practicing the difference between good and evil, and discerning each spirit and message we heard in our spirit and ears as the Bible teaches us, then we would be in a position to recognise God’s own Spirit speaking to us; and thus, our relationship with God would be close enough to discern the Spirit of Christ speaking his rhema over us, and the spirit of the anti-Christ speaking his lies over us. As John makes crystal clear when he says these words, from his first letter, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti-Christ which you have heard is coming and is even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:1-4)
Therefore, as Christians our priority is not only to know God’s Bible – his logos – and know it in such a way that we try to surpass the studies of the Jews and even the devil and commit most of it to memory, we must develop such intimacy with Christ through the tangible work and anointing of his Holy Spirit, that we really know Jesus Christ, in both his written logos, his thoughts, as well as his daily personal messages to us – his rhema; we must develop a sense of intimacy with Christ through his Holy Spirit that we can almost instantly know when something isn’t of God, loudly and clearly in our spirit, to such an extent it would feel like a spiritual alarm clock ringing in both our spirit and the Spirit of God who indwells each of us. Just as you have been long enough with your husband to recognise his voice, you will recognise the always gentle and comforting voice of God.
As long as we are testing each word and holding all personal words up to the test of Holy Spripture, I believe we will not be trapped by self-deception or the devil; this means whenever we believe our personal word to be “my rhema from God,” – if God’s logos contradicts that word, “my rhema,” then we should reject it as ever being from God. There are also times when as Christians we should directly speak to spirits and ask them the question which John tells us to ask in order to test ever spirit, “Do you believe Jesus came in the flesh?” (1 John 4:1-3).
That’s why Paul teaches us in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)
Of course, there are many Christians who reject outright the notion that there are still prophecies in the church today – they believe such things were finished in the Old Testament; well, if this was true then why does the New Testament include teachings on prophecies – here in this Scripture given in 1 Thessalonians and Paul’s extensive teaching on prophecies given within the context of the Church in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Surely you they would not reject all of Apostle Paul’s teaching on the numerous gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14?Paul taught how to conduct those gifts of the Spirit, given by the Spirit to every member so as to build up the body of Christ, as each member does it part? Paul writes, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers,I do not want you to be ignorant…Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:1a + 7)
If personal revelation is not for today, and for the Church of today to test, then why did Paul write, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. ” (1 Corinthians 14:26)
Please, do not not misunderstand me: the Bible is of paromount importance to us, which we need to read and adhere to every day. But also God’s rhema word – his personal message for me today is also of paramount importance; the Bible is great for guiding us, up to a point; it doesn’t guide me to the right partner or tell me which job I should choose, or where God is leading us to conduct a particular mission – for those descisions we need to develop our relationship and faith with God, so that we reach a level of intimacy with God where we can hear him speaking his rhema word to us.
Too many Christians study the Bible alone and think that they they are pleasing God just by reading and believing in the Bible, without coming to the source of the Bible and listening to his voice and seeking his rhema word. We need to spend time cultivating our relationship with God and growing in our discerment of his “still, small voice” or “gentle whisper” (as the Bible describes his voice in 1 Kings 19:11c-12: “After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”).
Otherwise, like those religious leaders in Jesus’ time, we can become very religious and dogmatic, if we just think that we have everything we need when we are holding the Logos (the Bible) without his Holy Spirit to interpret and guide us into all truth; we also need the rhema word of God which is the logos word illuminated to us which as Paul’s teaching makes clear, can come from the Bible, as well as from the gifts of the Holy Spirit, working through individual members of his body, but these always have to be tested within the Church, especially those given in the context of the Church.
As Christians, we need a balance of his Scripture diet – we need both milk and meat from God, so we can grow up.
As Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every (rhema) word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Otherwise, we may easily fall into the trap of being among those believers who Jesus spoke about when he said that in the last days there will be those who claim to be believers yet he will tell them, he never knew them. Let’s listen to these words from Jesus Christ:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”
We must cringe at the very notion of facing Jesus, and him saying to us, “Away with you, I never knew you, you wicked and twisted generation!”
In the Bible, God warns us that we should not be satisfied with mere milk of the teaching of righteous living (righteousness) but progress to his meat. Listen to this from Hebrews 5:12: “In fact, though by this time you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk not solid food. Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)
What the writer of Hebrews is saying is that for us Christians to mature and live by the solid food of the teaching of righteousness (right living), we need to practice constantly discerning his voice. Waiting patiently, straining to hear his voice does not come easily, but comes with constant practice.
The writer of Hebrews is telling us in this final sentence of Chapter Five how we can become mature:
“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
That’s it: if you want to know God more, you need to read God’s logos – his Bible and you need to constantly train yourself to discern the difference between good and evil. Then, in that way, you will not be open to deception.
But how do we practice listening to God’s voice?
1. Believe God is a personal Father God.
First of all, we need to know that God is a loving Father who deals with each of us personally, one to one. In other words, his dealings with us are individual; he speaks to us and ministers to us individually, just as he ministered to each person along the road when he walked the public roads of Galilee. Just as he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, he could tell her intimate details of her life; for example, he told her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” (John 4:17-18)
2. Live by both God’s general Word (his Logos) and his personal word directly spoken into our circumstances (his rhema).
This is very important because there are many Christians who think that we can survive just by reading God’s Logos Word – the Bible – but they need to know that Christians need both the Logos message (the Bible) and the rhema message (God’s personal message for me) of God. Without both, we will be malnourished. It’s like thinking that you can live your life only on bread, without vegetables or meat. That’s why Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4)
To grow up strong and healthy, we need both bread (Logos) and meat (rhema) – otherwise we will be just skin and bone Christians who look and sound so malnourished. On the outside, we look like adults, but on the inside we are babies who are satisfied with drinking mere milk; but it’s time for us to progress onto meat – the real solid food – something more nourishing, although a little more difficult to digest, the somewhat hard teaching of God’s Word for more mature Christians (rhema).
I have met thousands of Christians who tell me that the Bible is all they need. Of course, the Bible is very important for knowing how to discern good from evil, but we also need God’s rhema, by which we use to discern good from evil, to discern God’s will and voice. If you rely solely on the Bible for your relationship then you are nothing better than the Pharisees and Sadducess who Jesus rebuked when he said, in John 5:37: “And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one I sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.” (John 5:37-39) You think that because you have the Logos – the Bible – that’s all you need. Jesus’ words serve as a stark warning to all of us.
Otherwise, we can so easily be deceived, and that’s why Jesus was able to respond when Satan quoted God’s word, by correctly quoting God’s word in the right context.
3. Remember, he lives in our heart by faith.
Just like all of God’s gifts, we must exercise faith in God and believe that he loves us so much he wants us to have a closer walk of faith; listen to this from Ephesians 3:16: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (Ephesians 3:16-17). We need to draw near to God by faith, expectantly, knowing that God will reward our faith, as it says in the book of James, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
4. Seek the Giver, God, not his gift.
We need to seek the Giver not the gift. Our focus needs to be hungering after what God wants rather than merely trying to want what he doesn’t want. Our Christian lives are either defined by a brake attitude or a steering wheel attitude, or both. The Holy Spirit is like a brake for our lives. He gives us the power to overcome sin, to resist temptation, as well as the steering wheel for our lives, the power to be led by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the steering wheel and the brake, not just the brake. Few Christians realize this.
Oswald Chambers, the Christian writer, felt that most of us do not intentionally renounce God’s vision for our lives. We lose sight of our significance in Christ when we begin to live as though it cannot be obtained. Through the Holy Spirit, as both the brake and steering wheel are applied, we can know our significance in Christ.
5. Surrender Everything at the Cross
We need to come to that place where we put down all our desires and sacrifice our will. No one who wishes to hear God’s guidance is ready to listen while they insist that they tell God exactly where they want their lives to go. Just like every relationship, there is a time to speak and a time to listen to God. If we are ever to be great before God, we need to hunger after relationship with Christ. The basis of real praying is longing after relationship. We need to have as our motive, to grow in our relationship with God, not in what we can get out of him. We must always be seeking the Giver, not the gift, first. If we truly want a deep relationship whereby our communion with God is constant, then as Christians, at the depths of prayer lies a hush or silence. There is a silence when we are aching by faith to hear God our Father’s voice. We need to practice hearing and straining to hear God’s voice; it does not come instantly, it must be cultivated. We need to just sit in silence and learn to recognise his voice; his voice is gentle, kind and calm, and above all, full of love, and when you learn to recognise his still, small voice, above the clamouring voices screaming for your attention, his voice will gradually become more aquanted to you. And it never screams but as the Bible describes it, “a still small voice.” It is often one word or a few words (a sentence), a message spoken by God the Holy Spirit, an instruction, an exaltation, or exhortation, but always listen, and most importantly, obey if it is a command; but before you learn to listen and recognise his voice, God will probably take you through a season of waiting and silence, where he is testing our faith and motivation. He wants to see our depth of desperation and longing to hear his voice; he waits until we are in that place where we want nothing else than to hear his personal, spoken word for me; this calls for patiently waiting at the feet of Jesus, cultivating and pressing in; as we sit in silence and faith, to most people it looks like our prayer is passive, but in fact it is active as we are opening our spiritual eyes and ears; we are honing our spirit ears and eyes; at such times, I hear a faint whisper of a word or a sentence, as the Spirit of God sends his wind of the Word of God; It is those times of waiting on God that the Holy Spirit ministers God’s wonderful peace.
It is the kind of prayer like the Psalmist wrote, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2) At another time he wrote, David, “You are my portion, O Lord; I have promised to obey your words. I have sought your face with all my heart. (Psalm 119:57)
Just as the Bible tells us in Proverbs 8:32-36:
“Now then, my sons, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me, finds life and receives favour from the Lord. But whoever fails to find me, harms himself; all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:32-36)
Please let me know your thoughts. Tell me if I have stimulated your thinking at all on this matter, and if you think I am misguided on any point, please let know, thanks.
Have the most wonderful day, always enjoying the sweet presence and peace of our Lord.Until we meet again in prayer or person or on this Blog,
Please keep me in your prayers,