The conversation with God began when He uttered the world into existence. He spoke heaven and earth, evening and morning, plant and animal into existence. He spoke to Adam and Eve, Abraham and Moses, David and Hezekiah, Isaiah and Elijah. In the last days, he spoke to us through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2), who is the Word of God (John 1:1).
While the Divine Conversation has had its share of dramatic pauses, the Triune God has never ceased to take initiative with His creation. Having a conversational relationship with God begins with the recognition that we are receivers.
And what exactly do we receive? His revelation: general, special, and specific.
Hearing God in General Revelation
"The heavens declare the glory of God," the Psalmists opens the Nineteenth Psalm. "God does not leave Himself without witness," Paul preached in Lystra (Acts 14:17). "He did good and gave rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying hearts with food and gladness."
The problem with general revelation is it rarely changes a heart from unbelief to belief (see Romans 1:18-32). A skeptic will not look at budding trees and cry out, "Hallelujah." A follower of Jesus, however, can watch a sunrise and praise her Creator's transcendence.
Those who want to hear from God may begin to open their eyes and ears to hints of glory in the created world. We may hear Him whisper of his beauty or shout of His power.
Hearing God in Special Revelation
God's written revelation speaks in ways nature cannot. It amplifies our understanding of God's nature and will. Like the men who traveled with Jesus on the Emmaus Road, there will be times of Bible reading where our hearts burns with conviction, compassion, or deep understanding (Luke 24:32).
A few months I asked God to challenge me during my morning reading. In one of Paul's vice lists, the word greed reached from the page and squeezed my heart. The reality of my greed demanded I confess and repent. While these epiphanies do not take place daily, they give evidence of the Holy Spirit serving as my Tutor and Guide (John 14:26; 16:8-10).
Of course, we can read the Scriptures with no sense of urgency or attentiveness. Reading often digresses into dry duty or random habit. And if we study God's word without allowing Him to shape our character, we effectively turn down the volume of His voice.
Hearing God in Specific Revelation
Specific revelation may be the most prone to misunderstanding. It comprises prophetic words, dreams, visions, and impressions. In his Pentecost sermon, Peter indicated the age of specific revelation had arrived with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14-21 cf. Joel 2:28-32). Several examples in Acts provide evidence: Stephen's vision of Jesus (7:55-56); Cornelius' and Peter's visions (Acts 10-11); Paul's vision of need in Macedonia (Acts 16); Agabus' vision of famine (11:28) and Paul's imprisonment (21:10-11).
Specific revelation was common enough in the early church that apostles felt compelled to pen rules of engagement (1 Corinthians 14; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, see also 2 and 3 John, Didache 11-13). Just as in the Hebrew Scriptures (Deuteronomy 18), a prophetic word was legitimated by its effect (i.e., it came true) and alignment with the rest of God's Word.
In every day experience, specific revelation may take the form of a mental picture or impression that cannot be quickly dismissed or shaken. Several weeks ago I felt a strong urge to visit someone. I stopped everything and did. I cannot cite any profound reason or result, but I felt God led me. I've missed these opportunities as often as I've embraced them.
Finally, God may give specific words of comfort, encouragement, or guidance. You may hear the words, "I am with you," or "Don't be discouraged," or "I am your advocate," intrude into your mind. These affirmations come from God. He speaks yet today.
Next we'll discuss Hearing God in Prayer