Question: “How can I know if I am hearing God, hearing Satan, or hearing my own thoughts?”
Answer: Life is full of decisions we must make that do not have absolute, specific-by-name, how-to directions in the Bible. How many hours a day should my kids watch TV? Is it okay to play shoot-‘em-up video games? Am I allowed to go on a date with a co-worker? Does God get mad if I miss work because I stayed up too late the night before? We all have notions about the truth, but how do we know for sure that these ideas are coming from a Divine Source? Sometimes distinguishing our own ideas from God’s leading is difficult. And what if our urges are actually coming from the enemy of our souls and not from God? How do we “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5) when we aren’t sure where the thoughts are coming from?
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.
Prayer is an honest, two-way conversation with God that involves both speaking as God hears us and being quiet as we hear God. When we pray, we “must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). If we have no faith, we “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). We must “be still” and willing to hear (Psalm 46:10; Matthew 13:16).
Talk to God in prayer and earnestly listen for His response. However, keep in mind that sometimes He doesn’t give us all the answers we desire. He knows what we need to know at any given time, and He will tell us if it is best.
Study the Word
Reading the Bible is the best way to learn about God’s character and His dealings with people throughout history. All Scripture is “breathed out by God” and is a guide for the righteous life (2 Timothy 3:16). The more familiar you are with how God works, His desires for His people, and what He has said to others in the past, the more you will be able to recognize what He is saying to you now (Psalm 32:8). While we speak to God in prayer, He will very often speak to us through His Word. Again, as we read, we must listen.
Listen to the Holy Spirit’s Voice
The Holy Spirit is God—a divine Being with a mind, emotions, and will. He is always with us (Psalm 139:7-8). His purposes include interceding for us (Romans 8:26-27) and making decisions to benefit the church (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). His voice comforts, and He offers counsel when we ask and listen (John 14:16).
When we feel that we have received personal instruction from God, we need to remain wise (Proverbs 4:7). We must “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). The world is full of noise and distractions, and so are our minds. Life on earth is a spiritual battle. The enemy is eager to supply diversions to detract us from God’s will (1 Peter 5:8). We must be vigilant to ensure that what we have heard is more than a feeling but is truly from God Himself.
Remember, God wants to show us the right path to take. He’s not in the business of hidingHis will from those who seek Him. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
Here are some good questions to ask as we examine whether or not promptings are from the Lord: Are the promptings confusing or vague? God is not the author of confusion; He is the bringer of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). Do they go against God’s Word? God will not contradict Himself. Will following these promptings lead to sin? Those who live by the Spirit will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16).
In addition to prayer, studying God’s Word, and listening to the Holy Spirit, you may want to seek counsel from a Christian friend, family member, or pastor (Proverbs 15:22). GotQuestions.org is a great resource, too, as we have many volunteers waiting to help answer your questions with biblical truth.
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 [does] not listen to them” (verse 8). The better we know our Shepherd, the less we have to worry about heeding the wrong voice.