A friend pops into my thoughts out of nowhere several times in one day. Is this a Divine nudge telling me to call her? I hear a homily at Mass that speaks directly to something I’m going through. Is it God speaking to me when I need to hear from Him or just a coincidence?
We see in Scripture that God has consistently spoken with His people.
Sometimes He spoke directly, but He also spoke through circumstances like exiles, plagues and wars. He spoke through angels, dreams, and nature. God has spoken into people’s hearts and minds through songs (Psalms), words of wisdom (Wisdom, Proverbs, or Sirach, for example) and even love poetry (Song of Songs). Today, God still uses circumstances, people, scripture, creation, and events to speak to us. There are no coincidences with God who, in every moment and circumstance, is lovingly trying to communicate with us.
But how do we test whether it’s really God talking to us, and not just our own thoughts? If we are honestly trying to live our lives as God wants, our intentions start to reflect His heart, meaning we can increasingly trust our intuitions on the every-day decisions of life. Should I call my friend? YES! But there are times in our lives when it is important to discern whether or not it is God’s voice we hear. It takes time and practice to recognize God’s voice because He speaks to us in many different ways. How can we test the voice we hear in these big moments of life?
Let’s start with one of my favourite examples in scripture: Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3).
Moses is minding his own business when he hears this voice coming from a burning bush that is not consumed. The voice says He is God (I AM), who has heard the cries of His people, enslaved in Egypt, and He wants Moses to tell Pharaoh to let them go. Moses expresses his doubts: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’” (Exodus 3:11-12)
So God basically tells Moses that the way he will know that it is God who is sending him is that after he has already done it, he and the Israelites will worship on the same mountain where he received his mission.
A little after-the-fact for verifying it’s really God talking, don’t you think?
This requires serious faith and trust on Moses’ part. But this is also a lesson in one way we can discern God’s voice and grow in trusting Him. Looking back, did what you thought you heard God saying actually happen? If it did, then you’re on the right track!
Another way we can discern His voice is by using tools to identify when it is NOT God’s voice. If it goes against Scripture (the Word of God) and/or the Catholic Church’s teachings (the Deposit of Faith), then we can be sure it is not God speaking. This is why it is so important to consistently and prayerfully read and grow in understanding both the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church together. Saint Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”, and the Catechism helps us have a correct interpretation or understanding of what Billy Graham called “God’s love letter to us.”
Another tool in discerning God’s voice is receiving objective counsel from a trusted, wise mentor or spiritual leader. Even Moses relied on others to hear God’s voice! We can read throughout Exodus that Aaron accompanied Moses during his God-given mission, and one of my favourite moments is Exodus 17:8-13 when Moses needs Aaron to physically hold him up in order to be obedient to God.
It is hard to be unbiased about things, especially if it is something that deeply involves or affects us personally. This spiritual companion should be someone who tells us what we NEED to hear, even when we sometimes don’t want to hear it.
The last but absolutely essential tool is prayer—having a conversation with God, who wants to spend quality time with us. Of course, conversation with anyone we love involves not just our talking the whole time, but also listening to the other person talk. God wants to hear what we have to say, but He also wants to share with us what is on His heart. Try different kinds of prayer and find the one that works for you.
So how can we know it’s God’s voice we hear? Be a person of consistent prayer, test what you hear against the Scriptures and the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church, run it by someone who will be unbiased and honest with you, and act on it in faith and see how it turns out. Try putting these into practice, and you’ll probably find God has a lot to say to you.