God in the Abundance of His Methods
by Sam Williamson
Most believers long for—desperately long
for—God’s voice, but most of us experience
silence. Scripture says, “God speaks in many
and diverse ways, but nobody notices” (Job
33:14). We miss his voice because he’s not a
paint-by-number God. He speaks in ways we don’t
Well-meaning people often mislead us when they
describe their conversations with God. Their
exchanges with God sound like dialogues written by
I asked God: What should I do with
When people tell us these stories, we think, I
never hear God so clearly. Let me tell you a
secret: neither do they. At least not most
of the time. Their stories are usually shorthand
summaries of hours spent reading Scripture,
reflecting on his words, praying, getting Godly
nudges, and recognizing God’s voice in
circumstances or through friends.
God answered: Are you willing to take a
I replied: Yes, but I don’t know what to do.
God said: Move to Timbuktu.
Because God speaks through his infinitely
imaginative, artistic mix of methods.
Let’s not put God in a box. If we limit his voice
to a few methods—the scripted dialogue or heavenly
visions—we will miss his voice when he paints his
words with different brushstrokes. Below are seven
common methods in which God speaks.
God’s Spirit often resonates in our spirits as a
response to external events. Perhaps it’s a
burning in our heart or a sense that God has
something significant for us in this moment: a
Scripture passage leaps out at us in prayer, or we
overhear a “chance” comment in the coffee shop.
God moves speaks to our hearts to pay attention.
For example, “While waiting in Athens, Paul’s
spirit was provoked within him when he saw
that the city was full of idols” (Act 17:16). Now,
think with me: there were idols in every
city Paul visited, but God stirred something in
him in that moment in Athens.
Sometimes God nudges our heart out of the blue: to
pray for a friend or to act on an issue. It comes
more as a sense on the heart than as a direct
I once got a sense to pray for a friend, so I
phoned him. He had been let go from his job just
hours before. We prayed on the phone and he
thanked me for my concern. Only I hadn’t been
concerned—I hadn’t even known—it was a
concerned God who spontaneously nudged me.
Sometimes God speaks direct words—usually just a
sentence or two, or perhaps just a phrase. The first time I heard God speak,
I had just become a ten year-old atheist. He
simply said, “Sam, I am real and you don’t
understand.” For me, most direct words—if
any—usually only come after I pursue God in prayer
following a resonance or nudging.
Sometimes God brings to mind a past event. I once
remembered my twelve-year old self saying
something harsh to a neighborhood kid. Weeks after
remembering, I bumped into that kid, now a grown
man. I reminded him of the story and repented. He
too remembered and wept when I repented. (My eyes
teared up as well. Just don’t tell anyone.)
Planted Images: God
isn’t limited to nudges and words. Sometimes he
even paints pictures.
Around 1915, my grandfather received a mental
picture in which the letters KWANGSI were spelled
in red letters across the sky. In the local
library he discovered that the letters spelled a
province of China (now spelled GuangXi). He spent
the next two decades living in that very province,
founding four churches. Should we tell God we
won’t accept a vision?
Recalled Passages: God
often brings unbidden passages to mind at just the
Once while talking with a man—and when I had zero
wise words to say—a verse popped to mind: We
comfort others with the comfort we’ve been given
(a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 1:4). I told him of
a comforting word God had recently given me.
Nothing wise, just comfort. It answered an
unspoken question of his. Since my Bible
memorization is abysmal, it simply had to be God.
God Shaped Thoughts:
Perhaps these are the hardest to recognize because
our thoughts feel like our own. Yet how many times
have you felt utterly empty, no words to pray, and
then a brilliant (and obvious) thought streaks
through your mind? C. S. Lewis expressed it like
Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
God speaks in many and various ways. Let’s not box
The listener’s role and through
My dumb lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.
P. S. This article is an excerpt from my book
Hearing God in Conversation. Its topics include:
Learning to recognize the sound of
Hearing God in his silence
Hearing God for another person (and how to
respond when someone gives us “a word”)
Hearing God in the ordinary
Hearing God for guidance
Williamson has published numerous articles
and has written two books.
He has a blog site, www.beliefsoftheheart.com,
and can be reached at
God in Conversation: How to Recognize
His Voice Everywhere, by Samuel C.
Williamson, published by Kregel
Publications, 2016, available from Amazon
photo credit by bigstock.com