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There is nothing particularly 'Quakerish' about this article, except as it could relate to the concept of silent worship, where Friends believe that God can speak to people.

If I told someone that God speaks to me and tells me His will, they would probably think I was crazy. The truth is, though, that God can speak to us, and he will if we're sincere about listening.

Not much has been written on the topic of how to hear from God. Churches give some clues, but they tend to focus on one area to the exclusion of others. This study is an attempt to share our experience of hearing from God, so that you can put it into practical use yourselves. We list a number of different ways God can speak, so that you can get a more reliable understanding of what God is saying to you. Perhaps you can think of more ways than what we have, or you may word some of the ways listed here slightly differently. That's fine.

Also, not all eight ways that we have listed here are equal in value, so we have listed them in order of importance.

1. Jesus' Teachings
Jesus, the Word of God, was God's mouthpiece on earth. When wanting to know God's will, who better to turn to? (John 14:6-7) If Jesus told his followers to do something, then you should seriously consider doing it too, if you want to be one of his followers. If you are considering doing something that goes against what Jesus taught, then you should seriously question it. It's as clear as that. Jesus gives us really good general guidelines to follow. He couldn't always give us instructions for specific circumstances we find ourselves in though, and that is where the rest of the ways to hear from God can be helpful. (See also The Word of God.)

2. Your Conscience
This one is almost as important as the teachings of Jesus. However, a conscience can be "trained"-- for bad as well as for good (1 John 3:20). So we need the teachings of Jesus to train our conscience at times. As you study the teachings of Jesus, you will see that they speak to your conscience. God's Spirit, speaking through your conscience, will tell you that what he is saying is true. You should heed that voice and not sear your conscience by listening to arguments against what Jesus has said. (Romans 1:18-21)

(See also The True Conscience.)

The next five categories are all similar in importance. Problems can result with any of them, if any one is followed to the exclusion of the others.

3. Advice from Godly People
We should listen to the advice of godly people such as those who wrote the Bible or people around us who have proven themselves to be trustworthy spiritual advisors. It's easy to be a "loose cannon" and want to do things "your own way", but by accepting advice from others, you can get a "second witness" about God's will for you (2 Corinthians 13:1).

The weakness with this way of listening to God is that someone you've trusted in the past could give you advice contrary to the rest of what God is saying. It may go against your conscience or against the teachings of Jesus. St. Paul said that if he or an angel from heaven should say anything contrary to the gospel of Jesus then we should reject it and curse him in preference to rejecting Jesus (Galatians 1:8). (See also Loose Cannons.)

4. Direct Revelations
God can speak to us through dreams, visions and prophecies. We should take the time to listen to what he has to say. Ask God to give you dreams when you go to sleep; and each day when you pray take time to clear your mind of its busy thoughts and allow God to speak to you.

You may see a picture, have some words come into your head or have a little daydream which you have not consciously created yourself. In direct revelations God often speaks in "parables". In this way, he can get a message through to you that you may have resisted when it came through other means. Once you have the revelation it is important to ask God for an interpretation of the lesson behind it and then to pray for an application of that lesson in something that has been happening in your life. You will need to do so with a willingness to accept the truth of the revelation, no matter how difficult it may be, because often the things God most wants to tell us are things that we are most likely to resist.

A weakness with direct revelations is that they may just be an expression of our subconscious, or in the case of dreams, they could actually be an attack from the devil (e.g. nightmares). A dream that is from God will provide a solution, and will not cause us to experience irrational fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

A combination of methods 3 and 4, can be quite reliable. If several godly people receive similar revelations in a community listening time, you can feel pretty confident that it is from God. (See also Hearing from God.)

5. Circumstances
God can set up circumstances to assist you in doing the right thing. Open or closed doors can make his will quite obvious. If, for example, you think God wants you to walk on water, but you try it and it doesn't work, then he probably wasn't the one telling you to walk on water! Easy, eh?

The weakness with this approach (if followed exclusively), is that there is a chance that God will want you to persevere under difficult circumstances and the devil will tempt you to give in, just on the grounds that it is too hard. Or the devil could tell you that a golden opportunity to do something that is wrong amounts to a set-up from God when it isn't at all. You can't rely entirely on circumstances, or you will end up just doing whatever is easiest.

6. Coincidences
Coincidences are a bit like circumstances, except that they are a lot more subtle. It has to do with the timing of a circumstance more than the significance of the circumstance itself. For example, if you're considering visiting relatives and you happen onto something in the Bible or elsewhere where it talks about families drawing closer together, you could take it as a confirmation from God that you should go. Under other circumstances the passage in the Bible would not have had the same meaning for you.

It's easy to become side-tracked by coincidences though. Some crazy people spend their whole lives looking for God to speak to them through coincidences for every little thing they do. You don't need to create the coincidences. They will happen by themselves when they are from God, and it will be clear when they are.

7. Desires
God can speak to us on an emotional level through his Holy Spirit. This may be expressed in subtle ways, such as an interest in a particular activity. God wants us to enjoy what we do and we will do best what we enjoy doing most.

This one is similar to conscience (when we feel a strong conviction to either do something or not to do something), but it is more passive. If, for example, you like working with children, and if there is an opportunity to do so, and if God does not use some other direction to stop you from doing that, you should not feel bad about doing what you like doing.

The weakness with this is that the devil tempts us by making sin look enjoyable. Our interest, or motivation, in doing something will not always be pure; we need to recognise when that is so. Following our desires should only be used when it does not contradict other leadings from God.

8. Miracles, or "Signs"
God may choose to use a supernatural experience to reveal His will to people. At times people have asked God for a "sign" to confirm His will for them (e.g. Gideon, in Judges 6:17, 36-40). This is a practice that we have discouraged because it can easily turn into "tempting" God, and people have been punished for doing that (e.g. Zechariah, in Luke 1:18-20). The only times that God seems to have tolerated people asking for a sign, have been times when he was asking them to do something that goes very strongly against their natural reasoning.

Jesus warned that an evil generation seeks a sign. He said that instead of seeking signs or miracles, we should rely on the words of God's messengers to know God's will (Matthew 12:39). If God has already spoken through other means, then it is wrong to demand that He do a miracle to confirm it. (See also Miracles.)

When trying to hear what God is telling you, think about all eight ways that he could speak to you, and weigh them up against each other. There will not always be unity between all eight ways, but there should be a fairly strong leaning in one direction or the other.

It is important that you approach the matter of finding God's will honestly and sincerely, being willing to interpret revelations etc. with an open mind and a willingness to do anything for God, no matter how hard it may be. The purpose of these eight different ways is to use them to get an overall idea of what God is leading you to do and then to act on it. If you do that, you can be sure that God will not fail you. Jesus said that if we ask God for the Holy Spirit, it is like a child asking her father for a fish. He will not give a serpent to the child (Luke 11:11-13). (See also The Reno Principle.)

If you consider only one way of hearing from God to the exclusion of others, you can easily delude yourself into thinking God is saying something that he is not.

Once you know what God is saying to you, you have a responsibility to follow it. If you ignore what He says to you, then chances are that you will gradually stop hearing from God (because you will destroy your ability to hear him) and you will become dead spiritually (1 Timothy 4:2).

So what are you waiting for? Tune in to what God wants to tell you today.

(See Hearing What We Don't WANT to Hear.)

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