“Is This Just Me, or Is It God?” – The Surprising Answer to the #1 Question About Hearing God’s Voice

Tony Stoltzfus

What’s your biggest question about the process of hearing God’s voice?

When I’ve asked groups this over the years, their immediate response is always the same: “Is this just me or is it God?” What we seem most unsure of is how to tell the difference between the voice of God and the voice of our own hearts.

Well, today that question is going to be answered!

Let’s start by reviewing what we know of the Word with a quick stroll down Scripture-memory lane. If “Is this me or is it God?” is our biggest obstacle to hearing God speak, then the Bible would surely speak to it, right? Let’s find it! Where in the New Testament does it tell you how to distinguish between the voice of God and the voice of your own heart? Take a moment and really think about that before you read on.

When I ask groups of mature believers this question, they are pretty much stumped—and so am I. Surprisingly, our biggest question about connecting with God is something the New Testament doesn’t directly address at all![1]In four different, extended accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings, 22 lengthy letters to the churches, and the entire early church history (the Book of Acts), that question never comes up.

So what is going on there? What is so different between first-century life and ours, that our biggest question about talking to God seems not to have even occurred to them?

The difference is found in what our different circumstances have produced in us. Jesus came and spent three years traveling, eating, sleeping, laughing, going to parties, and hanging out with a circle of people He called friends. For them, talking to Him was as natural as . . . talking. They continued speaking with Him as friends after His resurrection, and post-ascension they kept right on talking—Acts 1:14 says that “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer.” Their philosophy of prayer is summed up in one verse: “My sheep know my voice” (John 10:4).

I think the difference is between us and them is pretty simple: they believed they heard Jesus, and we don’t.

As western Christians in the twenty-first century, we’ve grown up in a culture of doubt, where little is certain. Photoshopped images we can never be sure are real, fake news (from both sides), a media built on a philosophy of presenting both sides of an issue, plus a general increase in dishonesty and decrease in civility have all made us wary of believing  in anything. Trust in our institutions has fallen so low that we’ve spawned a millennial generation whose source of truth is not research or objectivity but what my friends say is true. Conditioned by the culture my generation built, they only trust what they hear from people they know.

We have been more deeply impacted by our culture of unbelief than we realize, and it bleeds into our relationship with God. Jesus believes we Hear him, but we find it hard to believe about ourselves what He believes about us.

“That’s all well and good,” you might be saying, “But what do I do about it? I don’t have the advantage of hanging out with Jesus in the flesh for three years. How am I ever going to develop the faith that experience developed in them?”

There are three simple keys to learning to believe about yourself what Jesus believes about you.

Key #1: God Sounds A Lot Like You

The first key is found in the second biggest obstacle to hearing God: we expect Him to sound a lot different than He does.

Have you ever stopped and thought about what you expect God to sound like? Consider this: for you to “hear” what God is saying to you, it has to come into your conscious mind—your brain. God may speak to you in the spirit, but for you to be consciously aware that He is speaking, words, a picture, or an emotion have to form in your consciousness. In other words, God’s voice has to come through your physical brain for you as a physical human to hear it.

But we don’t want that! We want the voice of God to be this booming, unmistakable James Earl Jones (you know—Darth Vader) baritone, that leaves no doubt and requires no faith to believe that it’s Him. We think, God ought to sound totally different than my brain—and therefore any voice that sounds like my brain must be me. So we ask God for a fish, and when He gives us one, we decide it is a stone—because if this fish really was from God, it would be radioactive or speak Swahili, or breathe through its tail, or something supernatural. God’s fish has to be different somehow.

Here’s another way to think about it. If I asked you to name the most far-out, supernatural, that-couldn’t-be-anything-but-God way He speaks to people, you’d probably say, “The audible voice.” Wouldn’t it be cool if Jesus spoke to you audibly?

But stop and think about what that means. For God to speak audibly, He would have to produce physical sound waves in the air, which would go into your ear and vibrate your eardrum, which would cause a couple of tiny bones in your head to move, which would create an electrical signal. That signal would go into your brain, your brain would convert it into words, and you would “hear” what your brain told you. So even if God spoke to you in an audible voice, it would still have to come through your physical brain for you to hear Him.

So the first key to hearing God is this: when God speaks to you, it has to come through your brain, so it is going to sound like your brain (and not like James Earl Jones)!

Key #2: Ask God What He Wants to Talk About

The second key to hearing God is to ask Him about what He wants to talk about. When I am coaching a person and find she’s been praying for some time without an answer, I often give her a question for Jesus: “Jesus, are you going to answer this question right now?” (Almost always, the immediate answer is, “No.”) Then the next question is, “So Jesus, if you don’t want to talk about that, what do you want to talk about?”

I believe one of the biggest causes of unanswered prayer is that the Lover of our soul doesn’t want us to spend all our time together talking about our chore list. He saved us by love, for love. Love is the goal, not service. Romance is the focus, not work. Knowing exactly what God wants you to do at every moment is not nearly as high on His priority list as we believe. He is much more interested in us getting to know and enjoying each other. If your prayer life gets too focused on doing, your answers will get fewer and fewer.

So the second key is to change your conversation, from talking about the business to talking about the relationship. For a great guide to doing this, see my book, Questions for Jesus.


Key #3: Have Faith

There is one last key to hearing God that can literally jumpstart your prayer life—faith.

If you don’t have it, grunting and striving and pushing won’t get you more. Faith is not something that is mustered up by trying harder. The best and quickest way to increase your faith is to hang around someone who has it and let it rub off.The apostles believed they could talk freely to God because they hung around with someone who did it all the time: Jesus. Jesus regularly called God His own papa—which was totally revolutionary and borderline blasphemous in His culture. He said things like, “Papa, I know you always hear me.” That faith rubbed off on His disciples.

Faith is not earned. It is not attained through effort. Where I have seen great faith break out, usually some individual has a breakthrough, and then that faith rubs off on the people around them.

So, find someone in your life who believes what Jesus believes (that you both already hear His voice) and let it rub off on you. Read stories of people who exercised faith—not so you can compare yourself to them and criticize your own lack, but so their words increase your own faith. God gave them a breakthrough gift of faith so that it could be yours through impartation and not through working for it. Faith was a free gift from Him to them, and it is also a free gift working through them to come to you. So accept the impartation of faith like the gift it is and not like one who has failed at an obligation.

Not only can you hear God’s voice: you already do.Learning to believe that “My sheep know my voice,” will allow you to claim what is already yours.


[1] There are verses that tell us how to distinguish the voice of God from the voice of the devil (“Any spirit that confesses Jesus as lord is of God…), but that is not the question we’re asking. And there are verses we can tease some principles out of, but nowhere that I know of is this question directly discussed.


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