How to Hear from God

To those who follow Him, however, He will make Himself and His directions known. Especially as we learn to make Samuel’s words our prayer. by Bob Hostetler

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear from God? For students who are struggling to choose a school, a major, a career, for sweethearts contemplating marriage, for a parent who’s worried sick for a child, or an entrepreneur considering a new risk—for nearly anyone who is hurting, floundering or fearing, it would be so nice to hear from God and gain His perspective and His direction.

Happily, there is a story in the Bible that may offer guidance for anyone hoping to hear from God in matters both large and small.  

In the early days of Israel’s history, God’s people had hit a rough patch. It seemed to them that God had gone silent. Rarely did anyone hope or claim to hear from God. But there was a young boy named Samuel who lived in the Jerusalem Temple and helped the priest, Eli, in his work.

One night Samuel heard a voice calling him. He reported to Eli, but the priest said he hadn’t called. After this happened two more times, Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening’” (1 Samuel 3:9, NIV).

Samuel went back to bed, heard the voice again, and answered as Eli had told him. And the Lord spoke, and gave the boy a specific, detailed message, which he eventually relayed to Eli. That story, told in 1 Samuel 3, may suggest seven things to the person who wants to learn to hear God’s voice.

1. Get humble.

God chose to speak to “the boy Samuel” (1 Samuel 3:1). That seems to be a key detail. God spoke not to the priest, nor to the priest’s haughty sons, but to “the boy Samuel.” James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” It is a grace to hear God’s voice, and God gives grace to the humble.

2. Get quiet.

According to the account, God spoke when “Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD” (1 Samuel 3:2-4). That’s probably not coincidental. That’s often when God speaks—when we get quiet, when we somehow step aside from the haste and noise of life, from the traffic and turmoil, and listen for the “still small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:12, KJV).

3. Get into God’s presence.

The Bible says that “Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel” (1 Samuel 3:3-4, NIV). If you would hear God’s voice, you must get into God’s presence. That’s not the same as “going to church.” Certainly, worshiping with others can usher you into God’s presence, but if you are worshiping only with others, you’re likely to have a hard time hearing God’s voice. The converse is also true: if you are worshiping only by yourself, you’re likely to have a hard time hearing God’s voice. If you want to hear from God, it helps if you are regularly in God’s presence—alone and with others. 

4. Get counsel.

If you read the entire passage in 1 Samuel 3, you’ll notice that God spoke repeatedly to Samuel. And God spoke to Samuel by name. And Samuel was slow to catch on at first. Samuel may never have caught on if Eli—though he was not the one hearing God’s voice—hadn’t given wise counsel to Samuel. So it may be in your case. If you believe God is speaking, but you’re not sure, go to someone you respect, someone who knows God, someone who is spiritually mature. Of course, sometimes we seek counsel when we know God is speaking…we just don’t like what He’s saying. In that case, says Oswald Chambers, “Never ask the advice of another about anything God makes you decide before Him. If you ask advice, you will nearly always side with Satan” (Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest”).

5. Get into the habit of saying, “Speak, Lord.”

Every time you face a decision, large or small: “Speak, Lord.” When you lack wisdom: “Speak, Lord.” Each time you open your mouth in prayer: “Speak, Lord.” As you greet a new day: “Speak, Lord.”

6. Get into a listening attitude.

When God finally spoke, Samuel heard it because he was listening. He wasn’t talking, he wasn’t singing, he wasn’t watching television, he wasn’t reading. He was listening. And God spoke. Charles Spurgeon said: “I remember being asked to see a person, and I thought that he wanted to learn something from me; but when I saw him for three-quarters of an hour, he spoke the whole time, and afterwards he told a friend that I was a most delightful person to converse with! When I was told that, I said ‘Oh, yes, that was because I did not interrupt the man! He was wound up, and I let him run down.’” 

God is a gentleman. He doesn’t like to interrupt, so He seldom speaks unless we are listening.

7. Get ready to act on what God says.

When God finally spoke to Samuel, it wasn’t great news. God said: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. At that time, I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering’” (1 Samuel 3:11-14, NIV).

Samuel was unenthusiastic about relaying the message. But he did (see 1 Samuel 3:18). If you want to hear from God, you must be prepared for the possibility that He might say something that doesn’t align with your thoughts or preferences. He may reveal things you didn’t want to know. But if you aren’t prepared to act on what God says, either way, you’re probably not ready to hear from God. 

That’s probably a big part of why God spoke to Samuel in the first place, and not Eli. To quote Spurgeon again: “One may be a child of God, like Eli, and yet so live that God will not speak with him; and, on the other hand, one may be a child like Samuel, obedient, beautiful in character, and watchful to know God’s will, praying, ‘Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth’; and then God will speak to you.”

If you intend to hear God’s voice, and then decide whether or not you will heed it, you’re not likely to hear God’s voice. Hearing is always for heeding.

Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27, NIV). If God has said something to you, urging you to repentance, perhaps, or to surrender or obedience in some area, and you are still saying, “Not yet,” “Not me,” “Not that,” then it’s unlikely He’ll say anything new to you until you follow Him.

To those who follow Him, however, He will make Himself and His directions known. Especially as we learn to make Samuel’s words our prayer: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 

This article was published in the May 2022 issue of The War Cry.