Imagine your spouse walks into the kitchen one day and says, “Honey, I’m going to the lumber store. God told me to build an ark.” 

Imagine the day Zipporah was cooking over the campfire, and her husband Moses ambles in from the wilderness. “Listen, I was out with the sheep today when I saw this burning bush,” he begins. “So pack up the kids. We’re heading to Egypt so I can lead the Hebrews out of slavery.”

“Sure, Moses! Get washed up for supper.”

Now that thousands of years have passed, it’s easy to believe that God really spoke to the famous characters of the Bible, instructing them step-by-step through the course of ancient history. We don’t question that they heard the voice of God.

But someone making that claim today may be laughed at or locked up. In countless news stories, people have sworn that God told them to perform some ridiculous stunt or even commit a heinous crime. 

So we may feel a little uncomfortable telling our friends we are guided by the voice of God, even in these days when stories of angels and near-death visions reach the mass market. We are likely to doubt our own experience of God. 

How Do We Know When It’s Really God?

The Bible makes it sound so easy! Moses had his burning bush. Adam and Eve met God strolling through the Garden of Eden in the cool of the evening. Isaiah had visions, and Samuel heard God calling his name in the middle of the night. Paul was struck blind and heard a voice from the heavens.

“God speaks to us every day only we don’t know how to listen.” 

Mahatma Gandhi

Jesus taught that God is within, always present. Clearly, the Bible’s vivid descriptions of hearing God’s voice represent intuition. Moses, Paul and the others might also have had dramatic mystical experiences, but they certainly had an inner knowing, an inner voice.

Yet so many inner voices demand our attention! How do we know which one is God and which are the old tapes? Fear? Ego? Anger? The lonely child? 

Mary Manin Morrissey, in her book Building Your Field of Dreams, says we can learn to recognize God’s voice the way we would a good friend’s on the telephone, with the first “hello.” 

Here are some ways to test whether our impulses are really divine:

• God never asks us to harm anyone. The results are win-win for everyone, working for the highest good of all, even if that isn’t immediately evident. Relationships, jobs and lifestyles may change radically as we follow God’s guidance, but we trust that God wants only good for us and our loved ones.

• Everything falls into place. Doors open miraculously. There is no struggle: the universe rushes to support us. This doesn’t mean we’ll see the big picture. Often, the lantern of faith shines only a few feet ahead on the path. But with each trusting step, we can see a little farther. 

• This may not be our idea at all! Sometimes guidance feels like an assignment, not an option, and many people argue with God. Remember Moses? Who shall I say sent me? What if they don’t believe me? I’ve never been an eloquent speaker! 

• Conversely, we may find ourselves suddenly wanting to do something we never dreamed of. We are more surprised than anyone by where we end up and how much we enjoy it. Paul, who had persecuted Christians, later read the message of Jesus with the zeal of a convert. 

• We may even be guided to fulfill a lifelong desire, something we never thought possible.

• We experience love, joy and Truth. The path may be difficult—we may wonder whether God is still with us at times—but we experience an inner satisfaction and certainty.

• We finally stop asking whether we truly heard God’s voice. The question no longer has meaning for us, because we simply know, even if those around us think we’re nuts. 

You Can’t Escape It!

Some people are able to start at this point. Their deep inner knowing, their communion with God, steers them through life, and they trust it completely.

Others experience more doubt and struggle, questioning whether they’re on the right path, whether they’ve heard God correctly. They don’t yet feel the resonance of God’s voice as distinct from all the others. 

But here’s the good news: God won’t give up. If we are destined to carry out some divine idea, we won’t be able to shrug it off. 

For me, God doesn’t just whisper within. If I’m supposed to get a message, I start to see it and hear it everywhere— books, sermons, television shows, conversations with friends. 

I’ve never seen a burning bush, but I believe God communicates through nature too. I have been greatly comforted by sunrises and exhilarated by thunderstorms. Who does not feel hope at the sight of a rainbow? 

There’s no escaping divine instructions.

We can ignore them, laugh at them or argue with them—maybe for years. But I believe God will nudge us until we build that ark or get those slaves out of Egypt.

In the end, the only choice is to trust. God’s voice may speak to us in a garden, thunder at us on a mountaintop call our names in the night, or whisper from within. But God won’t go away. And hearing the voice is useless unless we heed it, trust it and step out in faith.

Enjoy this podcast with Rev. Deb Phelps — Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret