How to Know When God is Speaking to You: Lessons from Samuel Before He became a Prophet

I Samuel 3:1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli. And word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.

Are the Lord’s words rare today? With all the voices calling for our attention, it may seem that way. How can anyone be sure that God is speaking to them? Samuel asked that question in I Samuel 3. He didn’t see a flash of lightning or hear God shouting from the heavens sounding like Morgan Freeman. Instead, the Word of the Lord progressively became more clear as Samuel learned to discern God’s voice. We can learn to discern God’s voice as well if we are willing to go through the same process that Samuel did.

The first step toward a clear understanding of God’s word to you is:

1. Discern if it is from the Lord

3:7, 8 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor had the word of the LORD yet been revealed to him. So the LORD called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli discerned that the LORD was calling the boy.

In the middle of the night, the Lord called Samuel by name – not once but twice. Both times Samuel mistook the voice for Eli, the High Priest at that time and the only other human in the tabernacle at that time of night. It never occurred to either of them that God might be speaking to them in His own house. God did not condemn him and give up trying to get Samuel’s attention. He continued to call him just as He continues to call us even though we might be too busy or do not know His voice yet.

God uses many methods to speak to us. He has used radio, books, tv, movies, songs, recurring words or phrases, dreams, and miracles to speak to me. It doesn’t have to be a “Christian” movie and even spiritual. God has many canvases to convey His truth. We merely need to look for it and listen to Him.

Eli should have known God’s voice because he was the high priest, but it was becoming less clear for him. The story uses many metaphors like “his eyes grew dim” and “the lamp of God had not gone out” to indicate how Eli was losing his ability to see and hear from God. Seeing and hearing from God are the same thing in the Bible. When the chapter opens with the word from the LORD was rare in those days it adds visions were infrequent because when God speaks, He often illustrates what He is saying with vivid word pictures and memorable stories. For example, the Egyptians dramatically heard from God through the plagues as Moses spoke the Word of God to them before and after every one. Noah preached for one hundred years about a coming flood while he was building a huge boat nowhere near water. Unfortunately the Egyptians and Noah’s neighbors refused to listen and became deaf to the words of God.

It is easy to become deaf to the words of God if we never consider that He might speak to us using someone other than our pastor or our trusty King James Bible. We can be quick to judge potential prophets and chose not to listen because they’re too young or too manly or they “wear white socks with a dark suit” or they’re not “the norm”  or they’re not “hygenic” or don’t “wipe properly” or “own a toothbrush” or “let their scabs heal” or “frighten small children” or “eat their own dandruff” or  “pop their whiteheads with a compass they used in high school.” Regardless of the faults you might find in people, you are robbing yourself if you are not open to the possibility that God might choose to speak to you through “imperfect” people or “secular” mediums like tv or music.

When I was working at McDonald’s I heard the voice of God from a character on a television show. I had gotten into the habit of eating Chicken Mcnuggets while I was working. I justified my stealing with every excuse you can think of: “They don’t pay me enough!” “I’m hungry!” “Everybody else is doing it!” “We should throw this one away anyway because it is deformed.” One day I was watching The Simpsons on television and God spoke to me. Homer was stealing cable and using eerily similar excuses to my own. Lisa (his daughter) went to Sunday school and learned about the Ten Commandments. One of the 10 stood out to her: Thou shalt not steal. She asked the teacher what happens to people who disobey those commands. The teacher replied, “They will burn in hell!!” Though the show is a comedy, this suddenly became no laughing matter. I discerned that God was telling me to stop stealing.

After you have discerned that God is speaking to you…

2. Confirm it with others

In this text, Eli helped Samuel discern the voice of God. Though Samuel may have already suspected that it might be God, he did not fully discern who was calling him until Eli confirmed it.

Sometimes we get overwhelmed with a feeling that God wants us to do something, but then through a kind word from our friend or mentor, we discover the truth. For instance, if you tell your friends that God is calling you to move to China, but they point out how much you hate Chinese food, traveling, crowded spaces, and your inability to grasp the English language let alone foreign languages, then you should think twice about moving to China. Your friends and those who know you well can help you determine God’s voice for you and encourage you to pursue it or maybe persuade you that you heard wrong. If you can’t find anyone who will confirm it, that is usually a telltale sign that God did not say what you think He said. God never calls us to do anything alone. If He is calling you to do something, He will always confirm it through others.

3. Test it with Scripture

Once you’ve discerned that God may be saying something to you and confirmed it with others, you should test it. If it does not agree with scripture, it is not from God. If you believe that God is telling you to work seven days a week so you can give more, you must have missed the part in the Bible about honoring the Sabbath and the dangers of greed and the love of money.

4. Obey without hesitation

After we discern that God is speaking to us and confirm it with others and scripture, it needs to be acted upon. When I heard God telling me to stop stealing Chicken McNuggets, I had a choice to make: Do I ignore God and continue to steal or trust him that He will provide for me so I won’t go hungry? Though seemingly everyone else was doing it, God gave me the courage to stop. It wasn’t easy. Others noticed and egged me on to do it with them. But when God speaks to me, I want to obey Him immediately rather than live in rebellion and sin.

What has the Lord been speaking to you about? Even as you read this, God reminded you what He said so softly to you before. Were you listening then? Are you listening now? Will you be like Samuel in verse 10, “Then the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening”? God doesn’t come with a megaphone and a whip after we’ve ignored His repeated attempts to speak to us. He speaks “as at other times” until we give Him our attention, discern His voice, confirm it with others, and obey His word. So what are you waiting for? A big sign in the sky? A loud voice from heaven?

Night falls and the curtain goes down
No one’s around,
It’s just you and the truth.
As you lie in wait for a feeling to take you by storm.
Somewhere in the depths of your heart,
Where it’s empty and dark, there’s a flicker of light, And the Spirit calls, but do you notice at all?

Are you waiting for lightning,
A sign that it’s time for a change.
And you’re listening for thunder,
While He quietly whispers your name.

But the sign and the word have already been given,
And now it’s by faith we must look and we must listen.

(from Waiting for Lightning by Steven Curtis Chapman)


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