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How Does the LORD Speak?

For some reason, this question has been in my orbit a lot lately. How does the LORD speak to us? Now, I know that I’ve dealt with this question before, but only as kind of a sub-point to a different discussion. But, it’s happened enough that I want to dedicate a whole article to the subject. It’s an important topic because this could mean the difference between a frustratingly boring Christian life and one that’s vibrant and exciting. Plus, there’s a movement of churches that are wrapped up in means and ways to hear the LORD’s voice that go beyond what is written in Scripture.

So, let’s begin with the obvious way to hear the LORD’s voice. Read the Bible; not a shocker, hopefully. The Bible is the Spirit-breathed, inspired Word of God. Reading your Bible every day let’s you hear His voice on a daily basis. I’m not one of those guys who would sarcastically say if you want to hear God’s voice, read the Bible out loud, but I do believe reading God’s Word is one for-sure way to hear Him. Also, I’m listing this one as the first way because it is what I consider the primary way. The Word of God transforms our minds. It renews the way we think about existence and the world around us. It tells us how to live in holy relationships with Him and with others. I’d say unless God’s Word is transforming our hearts and minds, we won’t be able to clearly hear from the LORD any other way.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2 (ESV)

Next is prayer. Again, this shouldn’t be a shock. If you aren’t praying, you have no grounds to claim you clearly hear the LORD’s voice. Prayer is how we communicate with Him. Prayer is when we bring our thanksgiving, praises, and requests to Him. Prayer is also when we take time to listen. Don’t just spend your entire time speaking a monologue. Prayer is a dialogue. You speak, He speaks, so leave time for listening. And don’t limit prayer to special times of the day, but pray as you go. Many times you won’t hear him in a single morning prayer time, but as you pray throughout the day, you’ll pick up on what He’s saying to you.

pray without ceasing, – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)

These two together – reading and praying – constitute the majority of how the LORD will speak. They go together, and one without the other will lead you astray. However, the Word teaches that the LORD speaks in other ways as well. But, I want to say right here, right now, that everything I’m about to list must be subjected to testing. Test it by the Word and test it in prayer. Make sure that whatever you “hear” doesn’t compromise Scripture or the Holy Spirit’s testimony to you (which will also not contradict the written Word). In other words, it cannot violate the Word and the Holy Spirit must testify that it is relevant.

The next method the LORD uses to speak to us is through His church. Within this category, there are three broad means that He employs.

  • Preaching
  • Teaching
  • Prophetic Utterances

The LORD speaks through the preaching of His Word. Preachers don’t just reread the Word to his hearers. Preaching is a prophetic ministry where the Word is read, and application and exhortation are given. It is prophetic in the aspect that preachers (hopefully) seek the LORD for specific applications and exhortations that will acutely apply to his congregation. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy, specifically encouraging and instructing him for his preaching ministry at Ephesus.

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
– 2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)

The LORD speaks through the teaching of His Word. For a long time, I struggled to draw a clear distinction between a teacher and a preacher. But as I ruminated on it, the Holy Spirit gave me some clarity. There is some crossover between them. A good preacher is typically also a good teacher, but not always a great teacher. And likewise, good teachers aren’t always great preachers. The difference is usually that preaching leans more into admonishing us, calling us to holiness and repentance, while teaching gives greater understanding and illuminates our minds. As I said, there is some crossover between these ministries, but they have distinctions that make them different. So, the LORD speaks to us through teachers who rightly divide and teach the Word.

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
– Titus 2:1 (ESV)

The LORD speaks through prophetic utterances. This one is probably the one with the most baggage. Let’s anchor it to the Word. What is a prophetic utterance? First of all, the phrase prophetic utterance doesn’t appear in the New Testament, so don’t go search for it. An utterance is just a saying. When we utter something, it just means we say something out loud. Prophetic utterances are things that we say to one another that, upon examination, turn out to be prophetic. What should we expect prophetic utterances to look like? 1 Corinthians 14:3 give us the guidelines.

On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
– 1 Corinthians 14:3 (ESV)

Upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation are the boundaries, and they are wide lanes with plenty of room. But there needs to be a distinction. What makes upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation prophetic? Generally speaking, all believers should be upbuilding, encouraging, and consoling one another. At what point does an upbuilding word or a word of encouragement or consolation become prophetic? When we engage in these activities, they become prophetic in two ways. First, you can be used in a purely passive manner where you don’t know that you spoke prophetically. For me, this is how it happens the most. I’ve had people tell me after the fact that something I said probed deeply into a situation and caused them to repent of something they were doing. I had no idea, but the LORD did. The other way is more active than passive. You receive an impression from the LORD to say something specific to someone but with no knowledge about what it’s about or the nature of its impact. This way takes more backbone because you have to discern if it’s truly the Holy Spirit giving you a word. The LORD has led me to speak this way a handful of times, and each time it was accurate, timely, and effective.

Now, while it’s true that not everyone receives the same abiding spiritual gifts, the LORD can (and does) empower all believers for anything He wants. There are distinct spiritual gifts of service, mercy, and giving, yet all believers can be used for supernatural acts of service, mercy, and giving. You may not be a teacher, or a preacher, or have a strong track record of prophetic utterances, but the over the span of your life, the LORD will use you in teaching moments. He will use you to admonish and call people to repentance. And He will also speak through you with prophetic utterances for specific occasions, as He wills and empowers. The point is to be ready at all times to be used for anything. Paul had high hopes for what a worship gathering could look like if we all came ready to be used.

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
– 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 (ESV)

Finally, visions and dreams. Honestly, I don’t have much to say about these, mainly because I have little experience with them. But, I’m listing them here because the Word tells us that the LORD will give his people dreams and visions in the last days.

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
– Acts 2:17 (ESV)

Here’s what I do know. Of all the ways that the LORD speaks to us, this one is the most subjective and difficult to discern and interpret. So, in all honesty, I am most cautious about these. And I think I’ll leave it at that because if I speak much more about dreams and visions, I will stray into the unknown and speak wrongly. I cannot deny that the Word of God tells us that dreams and visions will happen among His people. But I cannot say much more than that. I’ll only add the same warning that Paul gave the Colossians about visions and those who go on and on about them.

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,  and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
– Colossians 2:18-19 (ESV)

Let me close this with a recent real-life event. A few months ago, I was wrestling with a few things. They were personal issues, so the struggle was mostly internal. I’ve been fairly open on this blog about some of the changes that the LORD has wrought in my life over the last few years. They’ve been good changes, but the growth that accompanied those changes created some trepidation in my spirit. Struggling through what these changes might mean for me had me in an insecure place. One day after the worship gathering was dismissed, I was picking up my things from the platform when a young girl came up and handed me this card. In case you can’t read it, it is a rendition of Isaiah 43:5: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” She had colored parts of it during children’s church. She approached and just handed it to me, saying nothing.

I cannot tell you how deeply that spoke to me. It didn’t hit me at that moment. But as the day progressed, it became clear to me that the LORD sent her with this little reminder. The LORD used her prophetically with a little card that she colored with half of a verse. She couldn’t possibly know how encouraging it was for me. She was a passive vessel for the Holy Spirit to fill me with courage.

The LORD is speaking. He speaks by the written Word, in prayer by the Spirit, by His church through preachers, teachers, and anyone willing to be used for encouragement, upbuilding, and consolation. Only two questions remain. Are you listening? Are you a willing mouthpiece? If the answer to both of those is yes, then you’re a candidate to hear and see the LORD work in some pretty amazing ways, both in you and through you.

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Last modified: March 6, 2023