Recently, in a Facebook group I’m a part of, someone asked, “What would you say to a help believer who battles with doubts from not really having a personal experience or interaction with God?”
This is a fairly common question for Christians to ask. As Christians, we want to be in communication with God. We pray to him, after all; shouldn’t we be hearing from him as well?
But if we can’t sense God’s presence, or if we can’t point to a time when God communicated something to us through a personal experience, what seems to be one-sided communication can really bother us.
Can we hear God’s voice?
It doesn’t help that many Christians speak as though they are receiving regular communications from God. They might say, “I was reading my Bible the other day, and God really impressed on my mind that . . .” Or they might go so far as to say, “I prayed about my difficult relationship, and God told me, ‘You need to be more giving.'” We can get the impression that all real Christians receive communications from God in such a way that they can be absolutely sure it was God talking to them.
What might be happening here? Do real Christians hear God’s voice? While God does at times speak audibly to people, what many people are talking about is a sense of conviction that they have. Their conviction might indeed come from the Holy Spirit communicating to them consciously or subconsciously. However, I would be very surprised if a lot of times people aren’t confusing their own conscience or even desires with the voice of God.
It is hard to know where our beliefs and ideas come from. Do I think this because of my past experiences? Is it because I’m tired or hungry? Or is this God speaking to me? Sometimes people are very sure that it is one or another when they should perhaps be less sure. So, if you don’t hear God speaking to you, don’t feel like you’re the only one.
Personal experiences of God
Not everyone experiences a relationship with God in the same way. Some people feel a continual closeness with God. Some experience a lot of emotions when they pray or read Scripture.
For myself, my relationship with God doesn’t often come along with a lot of emotion. I believe in God because of the evidence for Christianity and because Christianity makes the best sense of the human experience. I rarely pray asking to feel God’s presence (although I do pray to have God’s presence), because I don’t want to deceive myself into thinking that something is God’s presence when it’s just my own feelings of euphoria or something else.
I have had times when something occurred that I knew was God’s goodness bringing light into dark situations. But was that a personal interaction with God? Not in the sense that the Facebook question seems to be speaking of.
I have also had times when, in a difficult conversation, I prayed for God’s guidance in what to say. And though I didn’t always feel God’s guidance, I could sometimes tell, from the wisdom of the thoughts that came from me, that God had helped me to apprehend truths that I wouldn’t have thought of by myself. And I do have religious experiences at times—every now and then, in prayer or worship, I do sense a jubilation that seems to be from the Spirit.
Don’t compare experiences
I would encourage the believer described in the opening question not to compare his or her experience with others. Instead, he or she should strive to be with God rather than to feel like being with God. Keep on keeping on, and remember the truths that made you a Christian. Remember the blessings that you’ve received through God, whether physical or spiritual, even if they aren’t as spectacular as what others seem to have received.
Don’t demand God to reveal himself in a certain way, but ask him to continue to assure you of his presence in ways that you can understand. He may or may not choose to, but stay faithful to him anyway.
God chooses how clearly we experience him. And in fact, experiencing him more directly in this life might not be a mark of high spirituality. After all, God cares about each person and sometimes goes out of his way to help someone in a particular way that they need help. It could be that some of the people who are experiencing God more directly are people who would really struggle if they weren’t able to have that reassurance. God might know that you are dedicated enough to him that he doesn’t need to give you extra experiences to reassure you.
How to hear God’s voice
Finally, God does communicate with us. He has given us the universe to explore, which shows by its incredible design that its creator must be incredible too. He has given us our sense of morality, which convicts us of what is right and wrong. Just think of the amazing beauty there is in a young human being, and let that image of God show you what God must be like.
Furthermore, God reveals himself to us in communication with words. We have the Scriptures, and even the words of wise and good people. So yes, we all have, in some sense, heard God’s voice.
Don’t imagine that God didn’t think of you as he planned out the world and communicated his thoughts throughout creation and human history. He does communicate with us; he just doesn’t always spoon-feed us with his direct communications. Look out into the world around you and search for God, and you will find each other, because he certainly is searching for you.