Have you ever noticed how important it is to pay attention to the tone of voice with which something is said? Depending on the intent or attitude of the speaker, a voice can be compassionate or cold, inviting or demanding, timid or confident. Have you ever considered what God’s tone of voice might be like?

Hearing God is rooted in a lifelong, interactive relationship of communication, intimacy, living in the will of God, and learning to live with God’s voice (John 10:3-4). It is the same for you as a pastor as it is for all people: It is less about how to listen (technique) and more about staying close to the one who is talking. Staying close will help us as pastors to continually fine-tune our perception of God’s character. Learning to hear God well includes learning to recognize both the content and the tone of God’s voice that represents the character of God. Indeed, God is the One who truly knows how to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Even when the tone of God’s voice is bold or firm, it still flows from His character of love: patient, kind, not bragging or prideful, not rude or self-seeking, not easily irritated, keeping no record of wrongs, not delighting in evil but rejoicing in truth (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

The five points and exercises below can help you train yourself in recognizing God’s voice from its tone and content. Does what you hear match His character? Or is it more from self or from the enemy?

Indications of the Voice of God

  1. Tone
    From God                                                         
    -Leads and invites
    -Invited and wanted
    From within self or from enemy
    -Driving or pushing
    -Illegal entrance (forcing its way)
    Think of a time in recent months, in your role as a pastor, when you felt pressured into making a decision. How did that feel? How does that pressure measure up with the qualities above? In contrast, when have you sensed God inviting you to do something? How did that feel?                                               
  2.  Content
    From God                                                         
    -In line with scriptural principles
    -Corrects actual behavior
    -Convicts of specific sin
    From within self or from enemy
    -No mercy
    -Broad condemnation
    -Condemns self-worth
    Think of a time in your life when you felt unworthy or like a failure as a pastor. Now compare that with a time when the Spirit convicted you of something specific that you needed to address. Notice the difference.
  3.  Relevance of Content
    From God                                                    
    -Current situation
    -Practical, even mundane
    -Simple and definite
    From within self or from enemy
    -Future outcomes
    -Impractical and sensational
    -Complicated and confused
    As a pastor, in seeking direction from God for a specific decision, try to recall a time when the direction was clear, simple or practical. Now compare that with a time when the impressions you were getting felt confusing and complicated. What might you infer from these two examples from your own life?

  4. Effects of Content?
    From God                                                         
    -Love, peace, and joy
    -Faith increased
    -More understanding of others
    From within self or from enemy
    -Anger, worry, and discouragement
    -Faith deflated
    -Despising of others
    Think of a current decision or dilemma that you are facing. Prayerfully reflect on the various options. Which ones tend to foster in you the qualities “From God” versus the qualities “From within self or from the enemy”?

  5. Exercise Options
    “How Does It Sound?”
    Read aloud scriptures where God is speaking to His people or an individual. What tone do you read it with? Does that tone reflect the character of God? If not, try rereading it aloud until it does. This is quite intriguing to do. Test yourself with the scriptures below or others that come to you.

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:2-3).

(You might also try Isaiah 43:1; Matthew 5:23-24; Matthew 5:37; Matthew 5:46; Mark 9:19; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 4:18-19; Luke 21:34-35.)

Periodically throughout the month, simply ask God questions and see what comes to you. You might begin with, “Dear God, what do You think of me?” or “What do I need to know today?” Reflect on and record your impressions in a journal.