How Does God Speak to People Today?
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“Speak, for your servant hears.”— 1 Samuel 3:10b
At one time or another, the question “How can I hear from God?” has likely crossed every Christian’s mind. With heartfelt conviction, believers want to know what God has in store for their lives and what they should do to best please their heavenly Father. The wide range of suggested answers, however, has caused no end of confusion and controversy for many. So how can we hear from God? How can we know his will for us?
God tells us how he speaks to us.
The direct answer comes from Hebrews 1 where, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the writer to the Hebrews says:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1–2)
Before Jesus came to earth to begin his redemptive work that reached its zenith at the cross, God spoke to his people directly and through the prophets. We read of Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, and the other inspired prophets who spoke, as they heard from God, to give his people the law to reveal sin and to disclose his plan of salvation that would free us from our guilt and condemnation.
The law was clear, but the promises of redemption were less so in the Old Testament. In Genesis 3:15, when God tells Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, we find the first reference to God’s promise of a redeemer. Adam and Eve are given this promise as they sit in horror of their disobedience, but the details of how their disobedience would be undone were less than clear to them and their offspring.
Abraham didn’t understand fully how God would fulfill his promise.
It was the same with Abraham. When God promised to give him offspring more numerous than the stars of heaven, Abraham didn’t understand how or exactly why. Yet, he trusted in the promise by faith. It was the same for Moses. Told to return to Egypt to demand the release of the Hebrew slaves, Moses was more than a little reluctant to go (Exod. 4:1, 13; 6:12). God had spoken, however, and his people believed.
Hebrews 11 says that the Old Testament believers, including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, Samuel, the prophets, and countless others, trusted in the revealed word of God to guide them and assure them of eternal life (Heb. 11:16).
With the birth of Jesus, the prophetic office reached its pinnacle—Jesus was The Prophet foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15 (Acts 3:23; 7:37). As the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist said plainly,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’” (John 1:29–30)
So, beginning with the ministry of Jesus, God spoke to his people by his Son (Heb 1:2). In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; see also Luke 6:17-49) Jesus teaches us how to live to please God. He pronounces that he is the one who “came down from heaven,” being “the bread of life” and the “good shepherd” (John 3:13; 6:48; 10:11). Because we trust by God’s grace that Jesus is the promised One to deliver us from sin, we love him, listen to his words, and obey his teaching.
“In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
So when the writer to the Hebrews says, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,” it means we hear from God through the Word, Christ (John 1:14; Rom. 10:17). When Jesus ascended into heaven, he left behind his apostles and gave them the special task of recording all that he said and did. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, these men recorded all that God ordained as his word, so that we can hear God speak to us today.
So our plea “Please speak, O Lord” is answered by hearing God’s word faithfully preached and by reading the Bible. Unfortunately, for many people this answer is not altogether satisfying because they desire more intimate communication. They want to receive direct revelation from God.
God speaks to us through the preached word.
It’s critically important to recognize that, according to God’s word, there are no modern-day apostles or prophets who can bring new or specific revelations from God. Yet, God has graciously provided a way for us to find answers to our questions. Let me explain.
It is vital for every believer to be involved in a Christ-centered, Bible preaching and teaching church. The Holy Spirit that indwells every believer gives gifts as God chooses for the building up of the saints. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:27 and following that some are given the gift to teach, others wisdom and knowledge to correct, admonish, and encourage fellow believers.
By the preached word, God speaks to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. While there is no new revelation, there is biblically-based wisdom available from people in the church who speak, counsel, and advise regarding the correct course of action in various circumstances. It is in the body of Christ where we find instruction, worship, discipleship, and fellowship.
We also hear from God when we pray and meditate on his word.
The Bible is not a magic “answer book” of which we can ask a question and then turn to a random page to find the answer. That’s not how it works. Instead, we hear from God in our prayer time and devotions when we meditate on significant passages of Scripture. By drinking daily of the Bible, the Spirit points us to truths so the Bible becomes a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. The Bible claims to be living and active to discern God’s truth for us, and it does just that:
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12; see also Ps. 119:105).
The Bible even answers specific questions by giving us the guidelines for making proper choices. “Where I should live?” The answer is where there is a good church in which you can serve and grow. “Whom should I marry?” is answered by “Do not be unequally yoked,” meaning marry a Christian (2 Cor. 6:14). “What job should I take?” Take the one that honors Christ, provides for your family, contributes positively to society, and uses the talents God has given to you.
Do you want to hear God speak to you? He will through his word. And let us pursue the holiness that God is working in us by the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers because of his precious Son.
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packard; foreword by Mark Dever