Does God speak to us privately or personally? That's a great question. As you read this, keep in mind this is not exhaustive. God’s Word is perfect. Mine are not, but you already know that.
On the question, “Does God speak to us?” I believe He does, but it takes careful thought and words to answer this. Let me be clear: My name is not Sarah, and I’m NOT advocating special revelation like “Jesus Calling.” I would not say I have had a divine word from the Lord especially one that is equal to His inerrant and infallible Word. I’m not advocating a careless, charismatic Word from the Lord, nor do I think emotional experiences like crying, chills, goose-bumps, shaking, falling, or the like are the things that confirm if God is speaking.
I’ve never heard God’s audible voice. For me to hear others say they heard His voice audibly, I am uncomfortable and may even think “you’re weird”—just keeping it real. Nevertheless, I’m still willing to dialogue with that person, but I hesitate to if he is unfaithful to read God’s Word daily, unfaithful in evangelism, unfaithful in making disciples, unfaithful in serving in the church, unfaithful in purity—to name a few. When someone is unfaithful to the Word and to the basic practices of the Christian life, he is not building discernment the way He intended (Hebrews 5:12-14).
For people to seek a “word” from God through feelings or dreams or visions is concerning to me especially when it’s not attached to specific guidance he is seeking from the Lord. To ask for a special Word for the spiritual high just doesn’t set well with me. It is also concerning to me to seek a “word” when someone does not study the Bible to show themselves approved (2 Tim. 2:15) and are not walking in obedience to the Special Revelation only found in the Holy Scriptures. To seek it as something special as though He is not already speaking through His Word is wrong. Let us walk in obedience to the things He clearly says in His Word.
I believe it is wrong to want more than what we find in God’s Word. It is foolish to assume I can have or need a greater spiritual experience apart from the Truth found in God’s Word. We should not seek more than what is given through the Holy Scriptures or suppose that we can hear a new additional Word from the Lord. I believe the Canon of Scripture is closed.
The Bible instructs us. It is for our doctrine (the teachings we believe), for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Undoubtedly, God speaks in those ways. Romans 12:2 tells us to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind, that we might prove what is the will of God.” The more we are in God’s Word, the more we are transformed into being who He would have us be and more able to discern His will. I believe that as we read His Word or as He brings His Word to our mind (in context) that God speaks through His Word. I do believe as we delight in Him and His Word, He transforms our desires to be more in line with His desires (Ps. 37:4).
What about the context of John 10:27? “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me,” is certainly in reference to the salvation of His people—that they will hear and respond to His call. However, I do not believe it is a stretch to say just as a shepherd will keep speaking to and guiding his sheep after he calls them, even still our Heavenly Father will keep speaking and guiding as a shepherd does. A shepherd does not call his sheep then leave them alone. He keeps speaking and guiding. I believe our Father does, also, but I do not believe it’s for the sake of us to seem super-spiritual. I believe it is a daily walk with the Holy Spirit as we seek the Lord for the issues of our daily lives.
Should we inquire of the Lord for the daily issues of our lives? Is it biblical? Does He care? Does the Holy Spirit guide us to do things or press us to not do things? I’ve read well meaning people say God didn’t directly speak to personal issues in the Old Testament (OT), but the Lord does speak to very personal issues in the OT. He spoke to David and others. Grant it, what we read about David is descriptive genre and not prescriptive. Nevertheless, can we not strive for the good things we read about from our OT models? Here’s some examples of David inquiring of the Lord:
1 Samuel 23:2- So David inquired of the LORD, "Should I go and attack these Philistines?" And the LORD said to David, "Go and attack the Philistines and deliver Keilah."
1 Samuel 23:4- Once again, David inquired of the LORD, and the LORD answered him: "Go at once to Keilah, for I will deliver the Philistines into your hand."
2 Sam. 2:1 - After this David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” And the LORD said to him, “Go up.” David said, “To which shall I go up?” And he said, “To Hebron.”
2 Sam 5:19 - And David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the LORD said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.”
1 Chron. 14:14 - And when David again inquired of God, God said to him, “You shall not go up after them; go around and come against them opposite the balsam trees.
What about examples of not consulting the Lord? Joshua was deceived because he did not seek the counsel of the Lord (Joshua 9:1-14). Without question, there’s consequences when we don’t seek God’s Word and understand His will as it speaks to specific ways to live and act. When we do things contrary to what is clearly written in the Bible, God can break out against us.
1 Chronicles 15:13-“Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule,…”
What I do believe is that God leads and moves His people to do things or not to do things. I believe we can and should seek Him on daily issues. There are times when direction from the Lord has come in my life, it has at times been unquestionably clear—never audibly but at times more clear than audibly. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin. He may lay it on your heart to move to a different city so that you can share the Gospel. The Lord may direct you to go down a different path like Phillip while not knowing there’s a purpose to share Christ with a particular person (Acts 8:26-31). He may press it on your heart to not speak the Gospel somewhere as when Paul was prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking in Asia (Acts 16:6).
There are times I do things because it seems right. There are times I do things when I feel like the Lord lays it on my heart. There are times I do things because I feel like the Lord “tells” me to do something even though when I say the word “tells” me it is not audible but the clarity in my heart is unquestionable. My relationship with the Lord is truly personal when I am still and listen to Him and am in His Word and am faithful in prayer and not living in willful sin. I can’t explain how I know it is the Lord. I just know. I wouldn’t dare teach how to hear His voice—I believe that is dangerous and there’s no biblical example of knowing how you know it is the Lord. What we do see in biblical examples is His people knew, except the example of Gideon, and I don’t think we should knock him for asking a second time. As you read through the passage on him, there’s not a slant or hint that he was in the wrong. Rather, it seems he didn’t want to miss the Lord. I can understand this. I felt the same on being sure whether or not the Lord was clearly leading our family to move to Asia, move to a new city, etc.
I recognize that people will use this phrase “God told me” or “God told me not to” as an excuse to not do something someone asks them to do, or the “I’ve prayed about it” phrase (which implies God gave an answer to the prayer). I know that happens, and so do a lot of other things under the guise of being falsely “spiritual” in daily matters or excuses. That is flippant and careless. Touting that “God has said” carries weight, and I believe carries consequences from the Lord when He never spoke to you.
I’m concerned when people say they hear from God, yet don’t even obey the basic commands He has clearly spoken through His Word—whether in personal holiness or a regular practice of sharing the gospel. I’m also concerned when people’s spiritual lives are so dry that they don’t know what is like to hear from the Lord. If you’re reading your Bible, He is speaking! I hear people refer to various things about being gospel centered yet they couldn’t tell you the last time they actually shared the gospel and led someone to Christ. There are both sides. There is the over spiritualization of acting as one hears God when there is no spiritual depth or obedience to His Word. There is also the over spiritualization of gaining incredible theological knowledge that can lead to arrogance rather than humble, Christ-likeness.
Is this all very subjective? Oh yes. Most definitely. Faith is subjective. Clear teachings in the Scriptures can be objective. We live in a spiritual world and a physical world and need wisdom on how to intermingle the two while not being mislead by an angel of light. I like how David sought the Lord and heard from Him. For me, this is not attempting to impress others with being “spiritual,” rather, it is unquestionable to me that the Lord can specifically guide and answer as we seek Him. The Lord is personal. I am simply trying to walk with Him in this body of flesh until He calls me home, and oh, I look forward to seeing Him when He does!