Discerning the Voice of the Holy Spirit
For the born-again believer, it’s not hard to recognize when God is speaking, the difficulty (for me at least) has been in trying to figure out what He actually means by what He says.
“…and his sheep follow him because they know his voice…”
Knowing His voice and knowing what His voice is actually saying are two different things. This is part of the beautiful mystery of following the Good Shepherd. For those who have been awakened by the Spirit of God, recognizing the presence and the voice of God is easy. Understanding Him is not.
Why? Because, quite frankly, He’s weird. What I mean by that is, His ways are far above and beyond the capacity of our intellect to fathom, and He often bypasses the faculty of reason to communicate His message.
“And this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The natural man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
— 1 Cor. 2:13-14
The Spiritual Journey
When we are born again by the Spirit of God, the Spirit invites us into a journey of learning an entirely new language—His own. Babies learn to recognize the voice of their parents before they understand what they mean.
Growing in our ability to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit works much the same way. We can feel His voice and the comfort of His presence, but over time we learn, “words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”
Natural men (or people who only use their natural intellect to process and understand) cannot accept when the Spirit speaks, because it sounds crazy to them. I’m not just talking about the gift of speaking in tongues, but that is a part of it.
“Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?”
— 1 Cor. 14:23
The gift of speaking in tongues is a real and beautiful gift imparted to believers by the Holy Spirit, but it absolutely bypasses the natural intellect and understanding, which is why ungifted believers and unbelievers alike think it’s insane.
A large population of ungifted believers even dare to call the gift of speaking in tongues “demonic” or “evil.” Apparently they forgot about Jesus’ warning against blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ response to those who were saying,
“He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” and “He has an unclean spirit.”
“Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”
— Mark 3:28
The Extraordinary Voice of God
God speaks in extraordinary ways. His voice transcends mere talk. When our Father speaks, entire galaxies take shape. The aspect of existence itself hinges upon the intention of His articulation. To hear the voice of God then will never boil down to a mere auditory experience. All we experience with our physical senses—sight, smell, sound, taste, touch—is but the after effect of His utterance. Our senses are caught in the riptide, the spiritual shockwave brought on by the impact of His eternal voice upon the fraying fabric of time and space.
This might be why we are confused sometimes when He speaks. This might be the reason we sometimes have a hard time recognizing when He speaks.
We have imprisoned our comprehension inside the arbitrary architecture of intellectual thought. But the language of God is the Spirit, and His medium is all creation.
It takes the Spirit of God to translate the language of the Spirit. Why else would the sole function and purpose of one of the spiritual gifts be interpretation? We experience the expression of His heart through what we feel, taste, and touch, but to understand what He means, or even know that He Himself is calling out to us, takes nothing less than a spiritual awakening birthed in an encounter with the Living God.
He plants the seed of salvation in the secret soil of the heart, far beyond the ability of comprehension to kill it.
My Personal Journey
In my personal walk, God spoke to me as a new believer through various signs that took the shape of repetitive coincidences. As often as I went out, I’d see a sudden flock of birds fly, as if from nowhere, across my view. In that instant, I would feel the Holy Spirit rise up in me and say some thing like, “See, I am with you, even to the end of the age. I love you. I will never leave you nor forsake you. You are my beloved son.” Every time it happened, I felt that same affirmation from the Spirit fill my soul and strengthen my faith.
One particular morning, I looked out of the window of my classroom across a parking lot and a field to the treeline of woods beyond. I was having a conversation with the Father, when suddenly I asked Him,
“Father, show me something wonderful.”
As soon as the last words left my lips, I saw a vast army of birds rising into the sky above the treeline and flying in my direction. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many birds together in my entire life. They continued to rise until they filled the sky Like a cloud flying in my direction until the last flutter of wings flew overhead.
For a moment, I sat there wide-eyed with astonishment. I didn’t expect Him to answer like that so suddenly. Then, a ridiculous thought entered into my mind. As I looked out again into the clear and empty sky, I said to Him (as little children often say to their fathers),
“Do it again…”
I don’t know what I was thinking or expecting. All I knew in the moment was the wild and wonderful hope that the Father would hear me. And He did. As soon as I finished speaking, once more, just as before, hundreds if not thousands of feathered flyers filled the air from the same place as before, headed in the same direction. This was not the group of birds I had just seen. I’m positive I would have seen that many birds circle back around (especially in that very short space of time).
The Voice of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit longs to communicate the unending eloquence of the Father’s heart toward His children. He is always speaking, but we are not always listening. Sometimes we will hear His call and recognize the kind tenor of His heart, but we will not know what it was He said. That’s OK. He is in the process of patiently teaching us His ways, and whether or not our minds comprehend, our hearts feel the impact of every word and grow taller toward the full stature of Christ.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. — John 16:13-14