God is really speaking to us all the time. He created us so he could fellowship with us and enjoy our company. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden they enjoyed deep, intimate communion with God - until they sinned. Sin caused God's voice to go "out of tune" for them and for all of us ever since. But that is not God's desire; he would like to restore our "hearing" so we can have deep fellowship with him once again.
You know what a radio is like that is out of tune. Maybe when you turn it on there is nothing there except static. Maybe you can hear two or three stations at the same time. Or sometimes the signal is weak as you travel out of range of the station you want. A digital dial allows for more precision but when you have a manual dial you may have to fiddle back and forth for quite awhile to get your channel to come in strong and clear.
God's voice like a radio
Trying to hear God's voice is something like that radio. The signal is out there and it is strong and clear but you have to tune into it. You also have to tune out all the other signals or you will be listening to chaos and confusion. While there may be hundreds of choices in radio stations, within yourself there are three possible voices you can tune into: God's voice, your own voice, or Satan's voice from the demonic realm. It is of course very important to be able to tell the difference.
The truth is: you CAN tell the difference but it may take some fine tuning. Jesus said; "But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." (John 10:2-5)
Why is it that the sheep are able to so accurately know the voice of the shepherd? Because they have spent so much time with him. And the voice of strangers? They can tell that it is NOT the shepherd's voice. I understand that the way US Treasury workers learn how to identify counterfeit bills is by working with real ones. After a time of seeing and feeling the genuine, the counterfeit just doesn't seem right. We want to get to that place with God's voice. So let's begin.
The Bible is the Word of God
The Bible is the place to start "hanging out with God" in order to become familiar with his voice. He isn't going to say anything to you that is different or at odds with what he has said in his Word. The more you read the Word of God, the more you begin to see how God thinks and feels and speaks. I think a particularly good way to do this is to pick one of the gospels such as Luke and read just that one book over and over. Somehow it begins to saturate you after a while and the person of Jesus becomes particularly real. You start to feel like you are right there next to him and you can almost anticipate how he will speak and react.
If the Bible is your standard and you do not veer off to the right or the left from what it says, there are then many other ways that God speaks to us today. As you read the Bible you will notice some of the ways God communicated with the men and woman of past times. Since "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8) you can count on it that he is still speaking by these various methods in our own day.
Hearing through dreams etc.
Dreams and visions, prophecy, circumstances, quiet impressions, quickening of a Bible passage, confirmation through godly people, an audible voice, burdens to pray a certain way, divine signs, through people with spiritual authority over us, through a persistent nudging - people hear from God in all these ways and more. If you are not used to any of this it may take you some time to become attuned to his voice and his ways of speaking to you. Pray for God's help which he will generously give. Time and experience will make you proficient. Be patient with yourself and realize that you will "miss it" sometimes and not hear accurately. That's not all bad because you learn that way too - you learn what is NOT the voice of God through your mistakes.
My own story
But how can you distinguish between God's voice, your own human voice, and the voice of the enemy? Let me share a small story from my own life which taught me a lot about how to tell the difference. I was living in an apartment with my grade school aged daughters and at that time I had no way to buy a house. So when I met a man through business who was building houses under a certain government regulation which did not require a down payment I got excited. I thought; could this be for me? Maybe God had me meet this man so I could take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
Everything went so well at first. All the details were sliding perfectly into place and I got even more excited. I found a beautiful available lot to build on, I chose a suitable floor plan, the price was right, and the mortgage payment was easily doable. Finally I was sitting in front of the builder ready to sign the contract. As we went through the eligibility requirements it suddenly struck me that there was a provision I didn't meet. I also realized that there was no way that either the builder, the government or the mortgage lender would have any way of knowing that. It wasn't an out and out lie; it was more like just withholding information. It seemed a small matter. I signed the contract.
I had a vague uneasiness for the rest of the afternoon but the overwhelming feeling was that God had just done a fabulous miracle for me. My mind was dancing with the joy of owning this house and I was already decorating rooms and planning a garden in my imagination. The uneasy feeling was a shadow that might as well get lost because I was now in a legally binding contract.
I went to bed that night but woke up somewhere in the middle - in misery. The weight of the deception was so heavy I could hardly stand it. It was unbearable. The truth poured in all around me and I felt totally grief stricken that I had really lied; I had cared more about owning a house than owning integrity. I didn't try to pretend anymore that this was a small matter and I begged God to forgive me. I didn't know what to do or how to get out of this. Nothing else made sense except calling the builder in the morning but that was going to be quite embarrassing. However, that would be better than living with this horrible guilt so that was my plan.
The night dragged by even after I resolved to make things right. Once I knew what I had to do I just wanted to do it as fast as possible. Finally the morning arrived and I reached the builder and told him the truth. He paused for a moment on the phone - thinking things over- and then agreed to tear up the contract as if I had never signed it and just forget the whole thing. Relief flooded me. Peace returned to my heart and I determined I would never let such a thing happen to me again.
The voice of God, my own voice, and the voice of Satan all played into this incident in my life. It was my own voice that said meeting this man was from God and that God was providing a way for me to get a house. We all have preferences and plans and dreams and it is natural to read into those things what we really want to hear. There was nothing wrong with seeing it that way at first because God sometimes does work that way.
Satan's voice came in at the point that I saw I would have to lie to get the house. He used my human desire against me and said this was no big deal - couldn't even be considered a real lie, could it? Just sign the contract. God wants you to have this house, doesn't he? Look how all these things fell into place; that must have been God's doing; you couldn't have arranged all this on you own.
The uneasy feeling I had all afternoon was also my own voice - it was that built in conscious that God graciously gives every one of us to help us navigate right and wrong. But of course I was insistent on drowning it out with how happy I was to be getting a new house.
God's voice came in the middle of the night. Not really like a voice, it was more the sense of separation from him and the absence of peace. How could I stand to have his fellowship withdrawn? But he made me feel it to a very deep degree. It was almost a physical heaviness and I will never forget it. I would not like to ever hear God's voice again in that same way. I should mention too that when the incident was over I felt totally free with not one bit of condemnation ever since. That's another way to tell if something is from God. When it's over, it's over! No ugly guilt showing up later to make you feel bad again.
All the various methods that God uses to speak to each one of us today are not nearly as important as discerning whether it is really God speaking rather than ourselves or Satan. Yes, God still sometimes speaks to people in an audible voice but you better be able to tell that it is really him. There are those in jail cells right now who killed someone because they said a voice told them to do it. In some cases, the cost of being wrong can be quite high.
Hearing God's Voice
As you evaluate the various voices that are coming at you all the time, remember that God loves you. He is always on your side, encouraging you, smiling at you, guiding you in a good path and drawing you closer to himself. You can expect loving communication from him. His voice and his direction will never propose sin and will never contradict his Word. When something comes from God it will bear good fruit. The final outcome will be right and will feel right. When making a major decision, it is a good rule of thumb to make the decision and then let it rest for 24 hours before acting on it to see if God's peace confirms it. If you feel uneasy or agitated, back away.
Knowing your own voice
Your own voice will bring you a mixed bag. Some of it will be positive and worthwhile and some negative and worthless. You are partially the product of your past experiences and how you see yourself will often determine how your own voice comes up inside you. Each of us has a streak of selfishness. We need to be suspicious when we want things to turn out a certain way more than we want God's way in our life. Make sure God is sitting on the throne of your life instead of yourself or you will fall for your own voice time after time.
Satan's voice deceives
Satan is the robber, the destroyer, the discourager, the liar. His main method of snaring us is deception. Sometimes Satan can make something rotten appear good for a time. Pray and examine the issue deeply and ask God to reveal any deception. Proceed slowly. A feeling of pressure to do something NOW should be a red flag. Ask yourself if you would mind people knowing about this. Do you feel okay to tell your children? Is it something you will later be proud of or ashamed? If you feel like hiding what you are doing, Satan is no doubt somehow involved.
We do not need to wonder if God's voice is speaking to us. Jesus made it very clear that we would be able to know his voice and also know the voice of a stranger. He had great confidence that we could tell the difference. Stick close to the Shepherd. If you are off in the far side of the pen or hanging out by the door of the sheepfold running in and out, turn around and hot foot it over to his side. Nudge your way in and keep your eyes on him; listen to every word he says until you know his voice better than your own. Tune into his frequency until it is loud and clear.