What do people mean when they say we hear God in the “still small voice”? Does God talk to us in our mind or in our spirit? What does it sound like?
The “still small voice” term comes from the King James Version of 1 Kings 19: 9-13, the story of Elijah in the cave. Elijah was discouraged, and God showed up to speak with him. Verse 12 says, “and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” Other translations render it, “the sound of a soft breath,” “a soft, gentle voice,” “the sound of a low whisper,” “a gentle and quiet whisper.” It is quite possible that what Elijah heard was an audible voice. People sometimes hear God speak in an audible voice today (meaning they hear it with their natural ear), but what people generally mean when they refer to hearing God in the still small voice is hearing in their inner being, not out loud.
It would be a whole lot easier for all of us if God just spoke to us through our natural hearing all of the time. But God is after intimacy with His people. Lovers share their most endearing moments together in whispers. When we first start our life with the Lord, He usually makes sure the inner voice is fairly firm and insistent. He wants to help us gradually become confident in recognizing His voice. But the closer we get in our relationship with Him, the more likely it will be that He will speak in a whisper.
Does the inner voice come from the spirit or the mind? Sometimes we sense His voice in our spirit, but it can also appear to be in our minds. I experience both, but the primary way I hear is in my mind. For me, it is as though God is speaking thoughts, usually phrases or short sentences, in my head. These are usually in the first person: “I love you. I will help you. Trust in Me.” They can be in the third person: “God will not let you down. God’s promises are faithful.”
Some people hear in full paragraphs in their minds. That has happened to me, but it is not my usual means of receiving. Everyone is different, and God tends to speak to us in the style that we do best with.
It doesn’t have to be thoughts. In fact, some people never hear God speak a thought in their minds. They hear the inner voice primarily as an impression. An impression is a deep inner knowing that feels like it is coming from within the spirit-man. It does not come as specific words, yet you know exactly what God wants you to know. I generally have this happen as an urging to do something, such as when God is directing me to talk with a stranger about Jesus. Here is an example:
I had gone to a rummage sale during the week, and I had been momentarily struck by the despairing look in the eyes of the woman who was holding the sale. I paid no further attention, but a few days later, while my mind was fastened on something entirely different, God interrupted with a deep knowing inside that I was to return to that lady’s house on the following Tuesday and tell her that Jesus loved her. I had never done such a thing in my life, and I was a very shy person at that time! But I knew it was the Lord and that I must be obedient.
When I knocked on her door, a young man answered, and I asked if this was the house where the rummage sale had been. It was. I asked if I could speak to the lady of the house. He told me she was not home. At this point I was wondering if I had heard God amiss, but I really didn’t think so. I explained to the young man that God had specifically spoken to me to come back and tell her that Jesus loved her and that He wanted her to know that. His eyes got pretty wide, and he volunteered that his mother was in the hospital, recovering from surgery. I asked him, “Would you please tell her Jesus sent me to say He loves her?” He nodded slowly. There’s not a doubt in my mind that the message got delivered. It was just too odd for a stranger to show up on the doorstep with a message like that. I’m sure he didn’t forget!
All of us experience hearing God speak through the inner voice, but sometimes we don’t recognize what it is. Have you ever felt the conviction of God about some sin you have committed? That was the Holy Spirit speaking to you in the inner voice. It wasn’t so hard to hear, was it? Hearing Him in this way for things other than conviction of sin isn’t hard, either.
Next time, we will talk about how to discern whether an inner voice is really from God or not.