Charles Stanley

B. Childress
Jul 23 2010 08:00 A.M.

People often ask me, "When I listen to God, how do I know if it is God speaking or some other voice?"  Or, "I've asked
the Lord to give me direction, but it's as if I hear two voices.  How do I know if God is the One I hear of if Satan is
involved?  Or am I just talking to myself?"  Or, "Is it just my conscience playing games with me?  Or is God trying to get

Those are legitimate questions that need to be answered.  Identifying who is doing the talking is essential if we are to
listen accurately.

In Matthew 16 Jesus told His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be killed, and then be raised up
on the third day (verse 21).  Peter, though with obvious good intentions, took affront at Jesus' remarks and said, "Far be
it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" (verse 22).  Jesus turned to Peter and stated, "Get behind Me, Satan!  
You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men" (verse 23).

In this passage you can see the difference between the voice of God and the voice of Satan.  Peter's dilemma in this
instance is also ours.  We may seek the Lord's mind about decisions we have to make concerning our families, our
finances, or our vocations.  We may be committed to doing the right thing, so we begin to pray.  Today we feel we
should move in one direction, but tomorrow we feel we should move in the opposite direction.  It seems as if the voice we
hear tells us something different each day.  The result is our frustration and confusion.  We wonder how much we can
know positively whose voice we hear.

Jesus made it clear in John 10:27 that the believer's normal experience is to hear God accurately.  "My sheep hear My
voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."  If we as believers walk in the Spirit, understand the meaning of the Cross,
and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and live His life through us, then it should be easy for us to distinguish whether
voice we hear is of God, the flesh, or the devil
.  The natural walk of Spirit-filled, committed believers is such that
when God speaks, we can identify His voice.

Some mature Christians have had experience in listening to God, and they can distinguish between God's voice and
another's.  For others, especially young Christians, it is a bit more of a problem.  A sheep who has been with a shepherd
for many years is better equipped to hear the shepherd's voice, but that is not true for the newborn lamb.  Since we
know that the holy scriptures teach us that all believers, young and old, should clearly discern the voice of God, let's
look at some scriptural guidelines that will help us determine the mind of God as we sift through what seem to be
conflicting voices.


God's voice will never tell us to engage in any activity or relationship  that is inconsistent with the holy Scriptures.  For
example, I hear people say, "when I pray I feel so guilty. I feel condemned.  I imagine God is pointing His finger at me,
and I have great difficulty in asking Him for anything."

If our sins are confessed, our lives are clean (as far as we know), we are not involved in any disobedience, and we still
feel guilty and condemned, then that voice is strictly from the devil.  We know that to be true because Roman 8:1 informs
us, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus."  The accusing voice is totally
inconsistent with the written Word of God; thus the guilt is false and is a dart of satanic condemnation.

That is why if we neglect the Word of God and don't build it into our lives, when Satan comes along we're all too easily
deceived.  Since almighty God never tells us to do anything to contradict His Word, the better we know it, the more
readily we will identify His speaking voice.

If you're in the process of making a decision about a relationship, go to the Word of God and see what He says about
relationships.  If it's about finances, see what the Word of God says about finances.  Whatever your need, some portion
of Scripture can offer you godly guidance.  If what you hear in prayer is not consistent with Scripture, then what you hear
is not God; it's another voice - that of Satan and his host or that of the flesh.  The voice of God will never include any
data that violate the principles of Scripture.


Although there are exceptions, usually when God requires something of you it will clash with what you consider to be the
natural, reasonable course of action.  Jesus said that if a fellow strikes you on one cheek, you should turn the other (see
Matthew 5:39).  Now that's not reasonable.  He also said that if someone wants you to go one mile, you should cheerfully
go two miles.  That's not reasonable either.

The prophet Isaiah put it this way:

    "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.  for as the heavens are
    higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."              
    (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Jesus usually did the opposite of what people expected.  If we feel the tug of the world and what we hear from God
seems reasonable and rational, then we should check it out.  That's not to say that God doesn't utilize human wisdom.  
He does.  But on many occasions God's voice will ask us to accomplish something that seems quite illogical to our
rational minds.

This was so when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son.  Abraham could have reasoned that this command was of the
devil, that God would never tell him to do such a thing.  But it was of God, and because he obeyed, God continued to
multiply Abraham's seed through his son Isaac.


God will never tell us to do anything that gratifies the flesh.  I don't mean to say that God isn't in favor of fun.  He is, but
He favors fun in the right way that pleases Him and brings wholesome fulfillment, not instantaneous gratification of the

If what we hear urges us to gratify the flesh - to forget what anyone else says, just do as we please - then we should
know that it isn't of God.  He doesn't speak in those terms.  God always speaks in such a way that the results please the
Spirit of God within us, not the flesh.  The old sensual nature is a part of our physical lives, but it is to be under the
control of the Holy Spirit.  We are to satisfy the yearning of the Spirit; His voice will build up and edify your spirits, not our
fleshly natures.

Our present society continually appeals to that fleshly nature.  Television, magazines, and many businesses seek to
affect the individual by arousing carnal instincts.  It is in a world dominated by such carnal clattering that God calls us to
listen to a voice that always seeks the benefits of others as well as ourselves, a voice that requires substantial faith to


God is always challenging our faith, and in so doing He builds our relationship with Him and helps us grow into intimacy
with Him.  When we lift up our petitions to the Lord, we should always ask ourselves if they will challenge our faith.  Not
every decision we make will necessarily call for great faith, but in making those decisions in which we aren't sure if we
are hearing from God, asking this question will help us determine the origin of the voice.

When Jesus was on earth, He was always looking for people to respond in faith.  He could just speak and that would be
the end of it, but in many instances His voice requires an act of faith on our part to comprehend what He has revealed.


When God speaks, oftentimes His voice will call for an act of courage on our part.  Probably nowhere is this courage
more exemplified than in the book of Joshua.  Joshua was faced with the staggering mission of getting hordes of
grumbling Israelites across the Jordan River when the Lord delivered him an encouraging message (Joshua 1:1-9).

In the space of those nine verses, God exhorted Joshua to spiritual courage no less than three times:

    Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land (Joshua 1:6).

    Only be strong and very courageous (Joshua 1:7).

    Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and of good courage (Joshua 1:9).

I would say Joshua needed courage to obey God's command, wouldn't you?  Just think if you were following in the
footsteps of a man named Moses.  Despite Moses' miraculous leadership, even he had failed to take the Israelites into
the Promised Land!  Joshua needed some spiritual fortitude to complete the task.  No less today do we stand in need of
inner valor if we are to accomplish the works God has assigned us.

The disciples needed courage to respond to Jesus' command, "Follow Me."  Paul needed courage to preach to those
who had once hated him.  Gideon needed courage to defeat his adversaries.  When God speaks, the fulfillment of His
plans hinges to some degree on whether we respond with confident, courageous spirits.  His voice leads us not into timid
discipleship but into bold witness.


Let's now apply these five points to Matthew 16 and see how they are related.  First, was Jesus' statement that He was
going to die consistent with Scripture?  Yes, according to Isaiah 53, it was.  Second, did Jesus' statement conflict with
human wisdom?  Was His assertion that He would be killed and rise again on the third day at odds with human logic?  
Obviously so.  

Third, did Jesus' remark clash with Peter's fleshly desires?  It certainly did, because Peter saw himself as one of the
group of disciples, and if Jesus died, where would that leave Peter?  He would no doubt be left out.  Fourth, did Jesus'
reply challenge Peter's faith and require his courage?  It certainly did.  Peter had seen a lot in his life, but Jesus'
resurrection proclamation was a monumental challenge to his faith.  Would he be willing to follow a man who said He was
the Messiah but would soon lose His life?  Would he have the courage to persevere and, if He rose. To follow Him?  
God's voice obviously called for courage.

Even though Jesus was obviously the speaker in this passage, Peter responded by declaring that what He said would
never happen.  Jesus told Peter he wasn't setting his mind on God's interest but on man's, and He told Satan to get
behind Him.  Jesus knew that Satan had objected to His death on the cross through Peter's lips.

I'm sure that Peter, in his enthusiasm and excitement, said what he did as an expression of loyalty and faithfulness.  The
only problem was,
it wasn't from God.

What we must clearly recognize is that Satan is a master of deceit.  Through his craftiness and deceitfulness, he lured
Eve and Adam into rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden.  Satan was deceptive in the way he spoke then and still
is today.  As maturing believers, if we listen to God, He will not lead us into the wrong decisions.  He will protect us as we
learn to walk in the Spirit and understand the centrality of the Cross.

We can distinguish the voice of God from the voice of Satan, despite Satan's ability to cloak his voice expertly.  He
comes as an angel of light along with all the appropriate enticements.  That's exactly why  believers also can be
deceived.  Multitudes of God's people today live in satanic deception, thinking they've heard from God.  There are
churchgoing people who say they have heard from God, and God has revealed that Jesus Christ
isn't the Son of God.  
That isn't true, of course.  The Bible says, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of
God...Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not
confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God" (I John 4:1-3).

As the age grows darker, more voices will be detrimental to the people of God.  Those who reluctantly seek Him and
don't intentionally desire to know Him will be easily swayed to accept numerous doctrinal errors.

Satan doesn't knock on the front door and say, "Hi, I'm Satan."  He comes in the back door using the most cunning,
convincing, persuasive language possible.  
The best way in the world to deceive believers is to cloak a message in
religious language and declare it conveys some new insight from God

That's why as believers we should continue to mature so that we don't need anyone else to teach us.  Although God has
sent pastors as teachers, the personal feeding of our spiritual beings should be our number-one priority.  
We don't
always have to have someone else to tell us what God is saying about a decision
.  We all, of course, need
counsel occasionally, but on a regular basis we should be able to become humble before God and know the difference
between God's voice and the devil's voice, between God's ways and the world's ways.

There are several other ways by which we can distinguish the divine nature of God's voice.


God is concerned about the influence and witness we as believers have on other people.  If there is a harshness or
crudeness toward others in what we hear, then it's not from God.  God never talks about our lives.  He talks about our
surrender.  He talks about our yieldedness.  He talks about our crucifixion, our death.  He talks about loving our brother,
about bearing one another's burdens, about encouraging one another, about not causing others to stumble.  Satan tells
us that we can do what we want, that we shouldn't worry about the rippling effects of our lives on other people.  He tells
us every man is an island unto himself, and we should please number one only.

When God speaks, He will have not only our best interests in mind but also the good of all concerned.  He always works
for the good of all His people, not just a few.


Nowhere in Scripture does God tell anyone to rush into a decision.  He doesn't operate that way.  Anyone in the financial
world knows that success is not based on snap decisions.  Though there may be times when we need to hear from God
quickly, God will never tell us to rush in blindly.  We may have to move swiftly, but we can move swiftly in the will of God
and still not hurry into a situation.

Satan always encourages us to act immediately, because he knows if we back off and think long enough, we'll
reconsider.  How many people have made decisions they regretted for the rest of their lives?  Psalm 27:14 exhorts us,
"Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say on the LORD!"  Psalm 62:5
explains, "My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him."  

If we feel an overwhelming urge to act spontaneously, we had better pull in the reins.  God is interested in having all the
details in their proper places.

King Saul was one who lost his throne because he acted hastily.  Chosen by the Lord to be king over Israel, he was
instructed by the prophet Samuel to wait at Gilgal.  "Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you
should do"  (I Samuel 10:8).

On the seventh day, Samuel still hadn't arrived.  With a hostile Philistine army pressing in on him, Saul decided to take
matters in his own hands, and he prepared burnt offerings to invoke the Lord's favor.  As soon as the offering was
completed, Samuel appeared.  Saul offered some lame excuses, but his rashness disqualified him for a long and
peaceful reign.  Getting ahead of God is a terrible mistake, and the consequences are always distasteful.

On the other hand, Nehemiah, cupbearer to Persian King Artaxerxes, patiently waited for God's timing with glorious
results.  Having heard from exiles who had been living in occupied Judah that the walls of Jerusalem were in shambles, a
grieved Nehemiah "sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of
heaven" (Nehemiah 1:4).

Rather than dash into instant action, Nehemiah waited before God.  In fact, he beseeched the Lord for a period of four
months, until one day the king himself asked Nehemiah why his appearance was downcast.  Nehemiah explained the
situation, and within days, he was off to Jerusalem with the king's approval and all the necessary building materials.  
Nehemiah waited until God put all the particulars in place and then moved.


Satan tells us to "move on, go ahead, make the decisions, don't worry about the consequences."  God, however, is
interested and concerned about the ramifications of our actions.  As we look back on our lives, how many of us, if we
had considered the consequences of a decision, would have made the same choice?  Surely we would all like to take a
few back.

Had Abraham weighed the possible ramifications of his dealings with Hagar, no doubt he would have resisted Sarah's
pleas to produce a child with her maid.

Had David thought of the severity of God's discipline with him over the numbering of his subjects in Israel and Judah, he
would have listened to the far-less-discerning Joab's advice to cease and desist the entire project.

Satan urges us to "eat, drink, and be merry."  But he fails to add "for tomorrow you are going to die and face judgment."  
Satan is not the kind of fellow who would remind us of Scripture.

The New Testament is clear in considering the consequences of decisions.  Whenever God speaks, He has our future in
mind and He will cause each of us to ask, "If I make this decision, what will happen to my family, to my job, to my walk with
the Lord?"  God isn't just the God of today, He's also the God of tomorrow.


God often leads us to get advice from others.  When He does, He wants us to check out the lifestyle of that person from
whom we receive counsel.  Why should a believer go to  a non-believer to get advice that will affect his life?  Some
businessmen may have a problem with that, but I challenge you to consider the spiritual, moral, and behavioral track
record of anyone from whom you obtain advice.  That decision you make affects not just your job but also your entire
family and future.

That is not to say unsaved people have no wisdom or good advice.  However, the believer can add the dimension of
spiritual and scriptural insight into the matter at hand.  Some counselors dispense unscriptural advice that will lead to
ruin and destruction.

Proverbs has a lot to say about the value of wise counsel.  Proverbs 13:10 declares, "By pride comes only contention,
but with the well-advised is wisdom."  Proverbs 20:5 instructs, "Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man
of understanding will draw it out."

I remember when my grandfather, who was a minister, told me one day, "Charles, whatever you do in life, always obey
God fully.  If He tells you to run your head through a brick wall, go forward, expecting Him to make a hole."  I have never
forgotten that advice, and it has been a main girder of truth that has supported my personal ministry over the last three


God informs us that He has ordained, foreordained, and predestined us to become conformed to the image of Christ.  
That being so, then whatever God speaks to us will stimulate our spiritual growth.  That means God will never tell us to
do anything or think of anything that sets us back spiritually.

He would never tell us to pursue a course of action that would hinder our spiritual maturity.  One young woman came to
me and told me she was dating a man who was an alcoholic and an adulterer.  Despite this, she informed me that she
believed God had told her to marry him.  Was she hearing God's voice?  Of course not, because a marriage of that
nature simply would not contribute to her spiritual growth.  In fact, more often than not, such a situation is to the
detriment of the believer.


When God speaks, one of the most prevalent signs is a sense of calmness in the spirit.  It may not be tranquil at first.  In
fact, it may be full of conflict and strife, but the longer we listen, the quieter and more peaceful our spirits become.  We
begin to possess what the apostle Paul called a peace "which surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).  It is a
peace that surrounds us like a fortress and keeps us from being overwhelmed with anxiety, worry, and frustration.

The process of being elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention was one of the most tumultuous conflicts in
my life; yet I had perfect peace.  Months beforehand, I had prayed and sought the mind of the Lord as to what I should
do regarding the possibility of being nominated as president.  On occasion, I spent a week at a time praying, being quiet,
and listening to God.  On the night before the Convention met, I again waited upon the Lord and listened to Him.  As a
result of His guidance, I allowed my name to be nominated.  There was great turmoil, and great conflict ensued
immediately thereafter.  In the midst of all that, I had perfect peace and assurance.  The time I had wrestled with the Lord
and listened to Him assured me that I must allow my name to be placed in nomination.  Those weeks and months of
praying and searching were the sure foundation that caused me to know I had done the right thing when the moment of
crisis came.

When that sort of peace comes to us, we know we've heard from God, and we are confident it is His voice.  When an
individual comes to me and indicates he has heard from God on a particular subject, yet he seems disturbed about the
whole situation, I question whether he has truly heard from Him.  People who have truly heard from God usually don't try
to convince me that God has spoken to them; they simply know that the decision was of God.

We will never have God's peace about disobedience.  We may be able to believe with our minds, but we will never be
able to believe with our spirits and exercise faith.

    Colossians 3:15 says:

    And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts -
    deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds - [in that peaceful state] to which [as
    members of Christ's] one body you were also called [to live].  And be thankful - appreciative, giving praise to God
    always (AMPLIFIED).

When I was a child growing up my mother would tell me "Charles, dinner will be ready at 6:00 P.M.  Be here!"  Pretty
soon I would get involved in playing and 6:00 came.  All of a sudden I would hear a voice crying, "Charles, Charles!"  I
didn't have to wonder whose it was.  I had grown up hearing it.  A thousand mothers could have called my name, but
my mother would have called my name in such a way that got my attention.  When we are saved, it is a natural,
normal behavior to know that when God speaks, it is our Father who has called us by name.


HOW TO LISTEN TO GOD, by Charles Stanley, Copyright 1985, Thomas Nelson, Inc.