How do I know it’s the Holy Spirit? 5 Ways to Recognize God’s Voice

Do you know of Elijah, prophet of God, who challenged 950 idol worshipers to a contest to see whose God was best? With thousands of spectators watching, the competition of gods felt like a championship football game or soccer match.

Whose god was the real God? They all wanted to know.

Each team laid a sacrifice on a wooden altar. But neither team was allowed to set fire to their sacrifice. The agreed upon rules stated each side had to cry out to their respective god to provide the flames.

Elijah, the one-man team, convincingly conquered the powerless opposition when God dramatically answered his prayer.  Sending fire from the sky, God’s power burned up the ox offering, the wood altar, and 12 stones stacked beneath. God’s fire even “licked up the water that was in the trench” around the altar.

The audience who saw even stones and water consumed in flames responded by falling on their faces and saying, “The Lord, He is God…” (1 Kings 18:39).

No doubt Elijah felt an adrenaline rush! He was ecstatic for the vindication of God’s name and emboldened to believe God for more. It’s easy to feel that way when you’re certain something you see is from God.

But Elijah was also still very human. Just a few verses later, Queen Jezebel sent a courier with a threat on Elijah’s life.  “He was afraid, arose, ran for his life…” (1 Kings 19:3) and hid in a cave.

But God knew where Elijah was hiding. The word of the Lord came to Elijah and told him to go stand outside the cave. A great strong wind came that dashed rocks in pieces “…but the Lord was not in the wind.” After the wind, an earthquake came “…but the Lord was not in the earthquake.” Then a fire “…but the Lord was not in the fire.” After the fire, came the sound of a low whisper.

Elijah sensed that God was present in the soft whispers. He covered his face in humility and listened as God spoke. (See 1 Kings 19:11-13.) This is the lesson for you and me today on how to recognize the voice of the Spirit.

Here are five ways to recognize God’s voice.

1.Learn the volume of God’s voice. He prefers to speak in quiet, intimate ways.

Though God can use nature in spectacularly loud ways, like He did with Elijah, I’ve never found a single instance in the Bible when God screamed, yelled, or shouted at His people. Over 1000 years after Elijah another violent wind was sent to teach.

The wind churned the sea into huge, frothy waves, and crashed them into the small boat threatening to capsize it. Howling, splashing sounds punctuated by exploding lightning and thunder had filled the exhausted disciples’ ears all night. They were hoarse from yelling to one another to be heard above the roar.

It was almost morning, but the worst was not over. As early dawn illumined the wave crests, they saw a ghost out on the sea. They were terrified.

Calming their fear amid the screaming cacophony came a simple, calm, “It is I.” Jesus’ soft declaration turned away the wrath of the wind and waves. (Proverbs 15:1, John 6, Mark 6). What a beautiful image of the tender power of God toward His children.

Jesus did not rebuke His frightened, weary, and beloved friends. He didn’t reprimand or chastise them. Instead, each of His friends heard His calming voice as clearly as if He’d spoken to them face to face.

How many times did I yell to be heard above my children’s loud noises!

Not Jesus. As Lord over all, His words, His voice, have more power than the strength of nature’s violent winds. Even His whispers declare authority.  A good reminder for us that raising our voices is not necessary to communicate authority with squabbling children.

“Not by might, or by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord…” (Zechariah 4:6).

2. Learn the language of the Holy Spirit.

I only speak one language: English. Many around the world are bilingual or multilingual. Imagine the multiplicity of languages God speaks—He thought of every dialect of every language from every civilization and tribe who ever populated this earth! Yet His eternal words containing the secrets to knowing, pleasing, and living rightly before God has never changed since time began.

The Bible is the Spirit-inspired vocabulary God uses to speak to us. “All Scripture is inspired by God…” (2 Timothy 3:16) and written by “men [who] spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Become fluent in His Word and you will more easily recognize His Spirit’s voice. Remember, learning a new language takes time. Ask your Helper to be your translator as you continue growing in fluency.

3. Learn this unwavering truth: the Holy Spirit will never contradict God’s Word.

Over a recent lunch conversation, a friend encouraged Dennis and me about a looming decision, “The eventual outcome is not your responsibility; it is God’s.”

In the moment, I noted the good reminder.  But upon later reflection, I realized it was more than factual. The Holy Spirit shined His light on those six words, making it clear that those were His inspired words to me personally.

God is sovereign.” He was saying. “Trust Me.”

The realignment of my anxious heart with the truth of God’s control and purposes, which I don’t always see, was clearly the whisper of the Holy Spirit. I can be sure of that because He will never guide me to do or believe something contrary to God’s written word.

Reminding us what is true about God Himself is always needed.

A good starting place to measure what we hear is the Ten Commandments. Any suggestion by another person, or any thought in your own mind, about cheating, stealing, lying, jealousy, adultery, or harming someone else is clearly not from the Spirit. Having the thought, I could pick up that cute little bookmark and drop it in my purse. No one would know, is not the Holy Spirit’s idea.

The idea itself is not a sin or disobedience. Taking the bookmark, though, is stealing and not following the Holy Spirit’s guidance clearly lined out in God’s Word.  The Holy Spirit’s whispered words will always match the unchanging truth of God’s Word. 

4. Learn to recognize the sound of His voice.

It’s unflattering to learn that God likens us to sheep who are quite gullible, defenseless, and susceptible to disease and injury.  Jesus knows our every weakness. In His great love and kindness, He teaches us to stay close to Him for our safety and protection. “I am the good Shepherd…I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10-11).

There is a very real thief who knows our weaknesses and who intends to steal, kill, and destroy the sheep Jesus came to save. The safety Jesus longs to give us is found in following His voice: “My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

A wonderful biography (that I wrote about here) Evidence Not Seen, A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II, tells of missionary Darlene Rose and her countless stories of hearing God speak specifically and clearly. She said she was certain that it was God’s voice and not anyone else’s because,“My sheep hear My voice. I know the voice of my Savior.”

 Darlene studied God’s Word all her life and knew it well. She was used to hearing God’s voice. Therefore, she easily recognized it.

Tune your ear to recognize the sound of His voice. Recognizing the sound of someone’s voice only comes with regular time together and conversation. Ask the Helper to sharpen your hearing, so you recognize His voice and His words more clearly.

5. Learn to verify the Holy Spirit’s voice.

How do you know if the voice you’re hearing is yours, someone else’s, or the Holy Spirit’s?

Ready for some heavy-duty theology? I’m confident we women can learn this because we have the promised Holy Spirit dwelling within us Who guides us into all truth. Agree?

We all hear many voices every day proclaiming messages from three influences:

  1. the devil,
  2. the world, and
  3. the flesh.

Jesus told us the devil is the Father of Lies. So every suggestion, every single word, from him will be contrary to God. Anything from his voice is obviously wrong, even if it might feel comfortable, inviting, or convenient.

The world we live is not yet subject to the King of kings. God, in His mercy, allows people to live in disobedience to His authority and from these millions of people on earth come voices: opinions on how to live, what choices to make, and how to be happy.

God’s Spirit longs to give us discernment as to which words are true, which are partial truths, and which are falsehoods.

Other messages come from the flesh. The flesh is the invisibly broken soul, “the law of sin” that dwells within (Romans 7:22). Every human inherited this from Adam and Eve when they rebelled against God.

But there’s hope! Paul, the apostle, teaches us how to live set free from the always-with-us desire to sin. He explained, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:16-18).

The Spirit-flesh dichotomy, our heavy-duty theology for the day, is the essence of our question.

Here’s a litmus test to give yourself when you can’t decide whose voice you’re hearing:

  • Is your first instinct to defend yourself or prove you’re right? If so, that is your flesh. It is not the Holy Spirit.
  • Are you looking down on someone or feeling disdain for another person? If yes, that is your flesh, your sinful nature at work. The Holy Spirit is always love and wants to give you love for every person.
  • Are you envious of what someone else has, feeling you deserve the same thing? If so, that is your flesh. The Holy Spirit never leads us to or condones jealousy.
  • Are you struggling to apologize and admit you’re wrong? That too is your flesh. The Spirit’s desire is for your pride to decrease and the humility of Christ to grow in its place.
  • Do you see the toddler version of yourself coming alive? Do you want what you want, when you want it? That’s walking in the flesh, not the Spirit. The Holy Spirit desires sacrifice for God that is also God-dependent, not sacrifice for self-glory.
  • Are you ungrateful and discontent? If so, you’re being led by your flesh. Ingratitude is never from the Holy Spirit.

So how’d you rank? It’s okay if you’re not where you’d like to be yet. You cannot get there on your own. You’re learning and growing in the Holy Spirit as you read this summer study.

The Holy Spirit is the greatest gift to believers! We cannot live the Christian life as God intends on our own strength. Sure, we can pretend, create a nice exterior and even deceive ourselves that we’ve got it under control. But the next disagreement with our husband or angry outburst at our kids reminds us of the truth: I need Thee O I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee.

When I make these mistakes and others, which I do daily, I acknowledge them and give thanks to God for my salvation in Jesus. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

Though I am still prone to feelings of failure and discouragement because of my inadequacy, I am learning to be quick to remember, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free…the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:1-2, 6).

I have this verse framed and prominently placed in my kitchen. Just yesterday, I walked over to read it again, thanking the Spirit for His reminder of what God has spoken about me.

Now that you know how to hear His voice, what do you do with what you hear from the Holy Spirit?

Recently, I had a light-bulb-moment. The Holy Spirit showed me that I tend to hear most good ideas, assume they are all from Him, and then assume personal responsibility for making the idea or action happen. Usually too I think I have to act now because He spoke.

Remember the story of Jesus telling His brothers He wasn’t going to the feast? That always puzzled me because two verses later Jesus went to the feast secretly. Why did He say no, then go? The key is found in these words: “My time is not yet at hand” (John 7:6).

In last week’s post on the Holy Spirit, I wrote about the profound truth that Jesus did nothing on His own initiative. The application for me is that when I sense I hear from God’s Spirit, I need to ask, “Lord, is this from You? Will You confirm Your will? Will You show me when to do this?”

 I am learning to live as His servant. “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, so our eyes look to the Lord our God” (Psalm 123:2).

To sum it all up, here is God’s will, the Spirit’s greatest desire for each one of us. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (which is the Holy Spirit’s work in us), that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Gather with Friends

  1. Share a time when you heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit, did what He said, saw Him work, and you knew it was the will of God.
  2. Which outside voice is easiest for you to confuse with God’s? Or maybe easiest to follow, even if you know it isn’t from God?
  3. How’d you do on the test? Which one or two of the questions revealed the areas in your life where you need to surrender more fully to the Holy Spirit’s work?
  4. In confession and accountability, share one of those areas with your group.
  5. In what area are you pretending right now that you can pull off the Christian life on your own?
  6. Close in prayer together, reading aloud Romans 12:2 (above) as your prayer for one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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28 thoughts on “How do I know it’s the Holy Spirit? 5 Ways to Recognize God’s Voice”

  1. Wow 😮 this was an awesome read! This is exactly where I am in my Christian journey .
    Desiring to hear the Voice of the Holy Spirit thanks for all the insight from each post !! I will continue seeking..

  2. Thank you.

    It helped me.

    I was at a point where I did not know what to believe. If it was my mind or the holyspirit speaking to me. But thank God I found this blog. Saving it as part of my boomarks straight away. God bless you BOB

  3. I run into the problem hearing for me. I have lyme disease. Overall I feel good. My concern is you do not know if it’s out of your system. So I ask God.. i am on meds but at times i feel God is saying forget meds and trust me. The worse case scenario i have a flare up. Go back on meds. The problem with lyme it can attack any part of body. The fear is how it will come back. So I ask God tell me to stop meds or continue.

  4. Real talk withkizzy rock

    Amen!!! Thank you so much! Im just learning that when i need to hear God, he needs be to be isolated from chaos. Our jobs, kids and just our daily lives can consume us and then we can not hear God. So he makes me sit UNTIL i hear him. Sometimes rather than give is the full answer, he will just tell us to do the next step. Do not question it, just do it
    I trust him enough that IF it is not his voice, he will not allow the attempt to go through and then he will redirect my path. The flesh wants us to put in the work the EXACT min we hear from God but if its not clear and your hearing to many voices, still still even if it means days or weeks. When your mind calms, God will gently bring it back to you
    I hope this helps someone. Thank you for this great read.
    RealTalkWithKizzyRock( Youtube)

  5. Byronette Harvey

    Wow the other day the holy spirit spoken to me about something and the thing God told me it came out thru a person or thru the Internet that God had told Me. God is a good God and he spoken to me telling me my job will be ok. The devil all he does is confuse us. And one day a friend of mines state that a lady that does suposly pyshic to tells a person future. So I was suppose believe that pyshic people was real. So I ask this supposed to be pyshic to tell me this and that. So one minute she stated that this and that was going to happen and later on after the question I ask her she switch the story around and said Naw this not going to happen. So God spoke to me and said he doesn’t speak thru a pyshic to tell me about what’s going to happen to me. God said pyshic is with the devil and God spoken to me said he speaks thru prophets. Tell me why soon I pulled up on Internet googling seeing does God give psyhic people advise to tell us things. It said God speaks thru prophets and I got happy and cried because when the holy spirit say something to you it came in front of me. Just as God told me yesterday to tell my friends how the holy spirit told me this and that. Now just by reading this… It said tell a friend about the holy spirit has spoken to me. I love God and Jesus. Amen

  6. Thank you for this article as it challenged me extremely.
    I am guilty of alot of these things and it was shown to me through these words.

    I shall change my thinking and my behavour accordingly.

  7. Thank you for this amazing article. Recently I experienced His voice. I had planned to commit adultery and the Spirit talked to me and I have conformed it was His voice. I called the plan off and I feel happy and fulfilled. I am learning to listen to His voice more, especially in my daily work which is full of all sorts of things like telling lies and presenting false documents as accountability etc. Someone out there stand with me.

    1. Stand firm! Don’t give in to temptation! I have faced similar situations. Reading your Bible every day will help you stay strong. Perhaps finding another job with less temptation would be helpful…

  8. I was pricked to the heart after reading this.
    But before i usually pray to God to make me hear his voice, to confirm that he is the one talking to me, but i cant any tangible thing. Please help

  9. I heard the Holy Spirit talkin to me telling me abt thing that will come n warning me to forsook evil thoughts but though i doubted that it was no God but maybe my own thought thankd for this msg

  10. God is pure and truth, any thought coming from God is truly and good. Bad and evil thoughts comes from devil. While good thoughts, love only comes from God.

  11. Looking to experience God as fully as humanly possible. Looking 4 signs & I find them but not from God as I have failed @ everything I think God is leading me to do.
    I learned that 1 must worship in Spirit & truth.
    So, I can’t trust “signs” can’t trust feelings. He is already in me. OK idu as I am physical I have never been a spirit that I remember so I am blind. He is in me yet I don’t feel it can’t c it. Kinda like my friend up here. Don’t talk or acknowledge almost like no friend at all

  12. I am at a point where I am seeking to know and recognise God’s voice more clearly. This beautiful writing has given me one little push towards that which I seek. God bless you for this article.
    Thank you

    1. God, I just came to the understanding that I have been living a lie, my life is and had been in shambles because I didn’t fully understand your word. This article has helped me tremendously come to know the TRUTH about me. I have been so wrong on all levels. But now that I know the truth, I’m believing the work of the Holy Spirit, as I yield will usher me into am Truths, Your Truth Lord. In Your Word. Freedom for me today!!!!

  13. Thank you. Blessed. Timeless and always apropos.

    Your litmus test immediately made me think about Psalm 51:10 “Create a clean heart in me, O God”. What are my intentions in wanting to do this?

    “The Whisper” cleared the clouds and confirmed, I’ve not emptied myself and therefore can’t get my fill of Him; still a work perilously close to the raw beginning rather than the desired goal.

  14. Thirsty for Answers

    Barbara,

    Thank you for your blog. This was a true blessing. My question is, once you’ve asked God to confirm his will, how do you know when he’s showing it to you?

    1. I can’t answer that question but I saw it and was compelled to say whatever he wants you to do it will be something u are already good at don’t go on your own adventures trying to find what u are good at because what God has in store for you is far more greater than anything u can think of yourself I hope this helped be blessed

  15. Thank you for just being here. For some reason my biggest obstacle is making time for reading the Bible. I can read your devotions and hear God working. I am greatful for the time and Christian love put into each post.

  16. diana shishoian

    Thank you, Barbara. I hope that I can learn to listen for His voice better. I had a feeling that all the thoughts in my head were just the flesh. I’ve prayed so much for God to speak to me and so far based on this study(and as I also thought) He has not. What could be the problem? Am I doing something wrong?

    1. Barbara Rainey

      Diana,
      I’m glad you have enjoyed the study. I think sometimes we look for God to speak in dramatic ways that are unmistakeable. And we all wish to hear His voice more clearly. But like the soft wind Elijah felt His whispers are easy to miss. So I’m praying that the Spirit will open my eyes to see and my ears to hear the ways He is leading and directing and guiding me that aren’t audible. And Im trying to write down the times I do notice Him so I don’t forget which I too easily do. Maybe this will encourage you too.
      I don’t think you are doing anything wrong.

      Walking by faith isn’t easy because faith isn’t a feeling and we are filled with various and conflicting feelings every day.
      May you recognize His hand and His whisper more and more even as you long for more and wait.

    1. So glad you’re enjoying them! There is an easy way to save these and even print them! Just click on the icon for more next to the social media buttons at the top of the post. (It’s the gray circle just to the right of the gray circle with the P.)Then choose “Print Friendly” from the options. It will pull up the blog in a print friendly format for saving as a PDF or printing.

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