Hearing God’s voice can be both beautiful and dangerous. This topic has caused me more trouble than most. I’ve been part of groups that say the Christian journey is all about “hearing” God’s voice, and then doing what he says. That sounds good and even biblical, but also raises some questions. What do people mean when they say they “heard” God’s voice? Is this an audible voice? A voice inside their head? A thought or feeling they have that seems random? What is this “hearing” people speak of?
To some, hearing God’s voice almost always means a thought or feeling they had internally. To others, hearing his voice is limited to the pages of Scripture. I say yes to both ways, and there’s still more. I never want to put limits on how God can speak and act, so he can do whatever he pleases. Throughout my life, I have “heard” God’s voice in Scripture, prayer, Mass, sermons, the Catechism, music, movies, books, culture, camp, nature, other people, practical thoughts, imagination, dreams, internal feelings and random thoughts. God is through all and in all, and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), so this list could go on and on.
Even though God can speak through just about anything, a word of caution is in order. Let Scripture be your first source for deciphering whether or not you are truly hearing God’s voice. Let the Holy Spirit, working through the Church, guide your interpretation of Scripture and your ability to hear God’s voice. If the Holy Spirit can speak to you directly, then surely, he has spoken to the saints who have gone before us. If God is telling you something completely unique that is not rooted in either Scripture or the Tradition of the Church, then you ought to be very careful before you claim it as God’s voice. Many false prophets have arisen because they thought they heard God’s voice. This is why we must take into account what he has already spoken to his Church throughout the ages. When you’re submitted to Scripture and the authority of the Church, then you are in a safe place to hear God’s voice. Remember, son, it’s not just about you and Jesus in a personal relationship, but about you as part of the Body of Christ in a communal relationship with Jesus. It’s personal and communal. Therefore, hearing God’s voice is both personal and communal.
I was once so obsessed with constantly hearing God’s voice that I would ask him whether I should drink orange juice or water with my breakfast. Oh how I tried my hardest to hear his voice in my head before making this monumental decision. Looking back, it seems quite ridiculous. I knew I was in trouble when I was trying to read the Bible one time and got distracted by this same “voice” inside my head which I had thought was God. This “voice” had become more of a slave-driver than a Shepherd. If you go down the road of trying to hear God’s voice in your head, then please let your knowledge of God and of his nature as revealed through Scripture and the Church overwhelm your thoughts. If what you hear is commanding or demanding, then it probably is not your heavenly Father. If this “voice” causes you anxiety and makes you feel guilty for not obeying the “voice,” then it’s probably the accuser you are listening to. I’ve experienced and known others to experience much anxiety over the “voice” inside their heads, thinking that it was God.
Now that you’ve just seen how dangerous this topic was to me, you can also see why the Sheepfold (i.e. The Church) and Scripture are so important for our safety. It truly is a beautiful thing when you stay tuned to God’s voice, because your relationship with him can grow so deep and so constant through it all. Just be sure that it really is God’s voice you’re listening to. Remember, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity” (James 3:17).
What I think would be most helpful for you, my son, would be to focus — not on hearing God’s voice internally — but on the voice he has already spoken in Scripture and through his Church, and then follow that. His command is to love him with all that you have, and to love your neighbor as yourself. So do that. He wants you to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and take care of the least of these. So do that. He wants you to know how much he loves you. Reflect on that. Reflect on the Gospel.