God speaks in varied ways to each individual. He knows how we will respond and will use whatever methods are necessary to get through to us. The three most common ways God communicates are through prayer, the Bible, and leadings of the Holy Spirit. Also, God can use a godly mentor to provide wise counsel (Proverbs 12:15). If God wants to speak to us, nothing can stop Him. He may use one, all, or a combination of methods to make Himself known, but one thing remains the same: our duty is to listen and obey.
When we are listening for God's voice, how can we know that He is the one speaking? First of all, we have something that Gideon and Samuel did not. We have the complete Bible, the inspired Word of God, to read, study, and meditate on. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). When we have a question about a certain topic or decision in our lives, we should see what the Bible has to say about it. God will never lead us or direct us contrary to what He has taught or promised in His Word (Titus 1:2).
We can rest assured of God’s promise: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). As we pray, study Scripture, and seek to live holily before the Lord, He will reveal His plan for us in His perfect time and in a way we can understand.
When we question God’s timing, it is often because we are looking for guidance or deliverance from a difficult situation. We can rest assured, however, that our heavenly Father knows exactly where we are in our lives at every moment. He either put us there or is allowing us to be there, all for His own perfect purpose. In fact, God often uses trials to strengthen our patience, allowing our Christian faith to mature and become complete (James 1:3-4). And we know that all things – including these difficult trials – work out for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). God does indeed hear the cries of His children and will answer those cries according to His perfect will and timing. “A righteous man may have many troubles; the LORD delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:19). The plans God has for His children are good plans – to help us, not hurt us (Jeremiah 29:11).
Often when we are going through a difficult or confusing time, we are unaware of how God is guiding us. Years later it becomes very clear why God brought us through that experience the way He did. Looking back, the hand of God can be clearly seen moving, guiding, protecting, etc. A time of trial is rarely enjoyable. At the same time, there are many instances where a trial or struggle is looked upon as the most meaningful spiritual time in a person’s life. This is why James exhorts us to “consider it pure joy” (James 1:2) when we encounter various trials, because they are immensely valuable to our spiritual lives.
If Scripture commands something of us, there’s no need to hesitate and wonder if it’s really God’s will for us. He cares so much about us that He already gave a plain and clear guidebook to life – the Bible. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). “The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word” (Psalm 119:9). Likewise, God never contradicts Himself, so He’ll never ask you to something contradictory to Scripture. He will never ask you to sin. He will never ask you to do something Jesus Christ wouldn’t do. We need to immerse ourselves in the Bible, so we will know which actions meet God’s standards. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth: meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8).
We should be so familiar with God’s Word that when God does speak to us or lead us, it is clear that it is God. God speaks to us so that we may understand truth. While God can speak audibly to people, He speaks primarily through His Word, and sometimes through the Holy Spirit to our consciences, through circumstances, and through other people. By applying what we hear to the truth of Scripture, we can learn to recognize His voice
God does not want us to fail. The more we listen to God, the better able we will be at distinguishing His voice from the other noises in our heads. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gives His promise: “He goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). Others may speak, “but the sheep [do] not listen to them” (verse 8). The better we know our Shepherd, the less we have to worry about heeding the wrong voice.
It is less important how God speaks to us than what we do with what He says. God speaks most clearly to us in this day through His Word. The more we learn it, the more ready we will be to recognize His voice when He speaks, and the more likely we are to obey what we hear.
Finally, we must always keep in mind that God’s ultimate goal for His children is not our comfort, but the transformation of our minds into the attitude of godliness. He wants us to grow spiritually, to become like Christ. This doesn’t mean losing our personalities or becoming mindless clones. Christlikeness is all about transforming our minds. Again, Paul tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).