The Voices We Hear in Suffering

Have you ever heard God’s voice?

Has he spoken words that have strengthened your soul? Or transformed your perspective? Or brought you abiding peace? God’s words are unlike human words. They change us. They bear fruit. They do not — and cannot — return void (Isaiah 55:11). God spoke our whole world into existence. For God, speaking is the same as having it done.

In suffering, perhaps more than at any other time, we need to be attuned to God’s voice. Otherwise, we’ll be persuaded by the voices around us that tempt us to despair in our pain, to believe that God doesn’t care, to conclude that the world’s way to handle suffering is better than God’s way. These competing voices, of Satan and the world (or of our friends or insecurities), can lead us away from the Lord, making us doubt what God has clearly said.

Who Has Your Ear?

Satan came to Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, tempting him to doubt his identity and to test God’s reliability, implying that God was not true to the word he had just spoken (Matthew 3:17). Satan loves to prey on our vulnerability, pouncing when we feel alone and weak.

People we trust can also inadvertently lead us from the truth. We can begin to doubt what God has shown us when others question what he’s said, or when they offer some fresh “revelation” or insight that supersedes what God has clearly said. In 1 Kings 13, the Lord told a man of God to go straight home without stopping, but he was persuaded by an old prophet (who claimed to hear from an angel) to do the opposite of what God had told him. We don’t know why the old prophet lied, but the consequences were disastrous. When God’s word to us is clear, we need to obey him rather than relying on the opinions of others — even of those we respect.

The voices of our fears and insecurities are constantly whispering to us as well. God told the Israelites that if they were disobedient, he would send faintness into their hearts. The sound of a driven leaf would put them to flight, and they would flee as someone fleeing from the sword. They would fall even though no one was pursuing them (Leviticus 26:36). This is what happens when we don’t trust the Lord, when we listen to our fears instead of listening to him. We hear terrifying sounds. We imagine the worst. Our hearts melt, and panic consumes us, even when we have nothing to fear.

All these voices can fill our minds, drowning out the voice of God, redirecting our thoughts, and intensifying our insecurities. This can happen even when the words we hear aren’t inherently evil. Since the voices we listen to will inevitably shape us, we need to be aware of their influence. What books or articles are we reading? What podcasts are we listening to? What friends do we spend the most time with? Whom are we following on social media, and what are we watching on screens? These voices all shape us, in both subtle and overt ways. Some leave us unsettled and fearful, others entitled and angry, but listening to God’s voice will fill us with strength and peace.

I Know His Voice

When I was a little girl, I lived in a large ward in the hospital with other children, and was permitted to see my parents only on weekends. I went through major surgeries alone, constantly afraid of what might happen since my parents couldn’t be with me before surgery. But on Saturday mornings, as soon as visitors were allowed, my parents would come to the hospital. I vividly remember hearing my mother’s voice in the hall. Even before I could discern what she was saying, her voice made me feel safe. I could relax, confident that she and my father would take care of me.

“Hearing God’s voice in my suffering has brought a comfort that has enveloped me.”

Similarly, hearing God’s voice in my suffering has brought a comfort that has enveloped me. I know that I’m not alone. God is near. He will take care of me. Like all Jesus’s sheep, I know his voice (John 10:27). It’s unmistakable. Even though sheep may not understand all the words, they recognize the reassuring voice of their shepherd, and know they are safe.

So, how do we recognize God’s voice?

Often it begins with inviting him to speak to us, perhaps when we wake up, and particularly at the beginning of our time in Scripture. We might say with Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9). While Scripture describes God speaking in a variety of ways, the Bible is the primary and most reliable way we hear from him. The words of Scripture are God’s very words, and form the framework for all we know about God.

What Does God Sound Like?

When we read the Bible, we are listening for God’s voice, often reading and rereading until the Spirit gives us ears to hear. Until God opens our ears, the words can seem dry and lifeless. They can seem like academic knowledge, not like life-giving comfort and wisdom.

As we dig for treasure, though, persistently knocking until we hear God’s voice, the same words suddenly come to life. They inspire us, leave us in breathtaking awe of God, and buoy our confidence in him. His voice dispels our darkest fears, revives our weary souls, gives us supernatural wisdom, and reassures us that something much better is coming.

In reading Scripture, we are not only listening to God’s words for us, but we are also becoming familiar with the sound of his voice. We start understanding his ways. God isn’t limited to speaking through Scripture — but Scripture attunes our ears to what his voice sounds like. As we memorize Scripture, his words begin running through our minds. We can discern truth from falsehood, knowing God will never contradict what he’s told us in the Bible.

At the same time, other voices can encourage our faith as well. We know, for instance, that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” and all of nature sings his praise (Psalm 19:1). Faithful preachers proclaim God’s word, which then takes root in our hearts. Friends share nuggets of what God has shown them, and our spirits and faith are strengthened.

“I must choose to open the Bible and read, even when everything in me is fighting against it.”

Sometimes God speaks directly to our inner being without an intermediary. While God speaks predominantly through Scripture, I’ve sensed him speaking to me twice in words that were not directly from the Bible. They were both during times of suffering and uncertainty, and immediately afterward I felt a tangible change. As I considered the words I believed were from God, I tested them against Scripture, and asked him for confirmation. After the encounter, I was left with an inexplicable peace and a deeper wonder and trust in God.

Let His Voice Be First

When I’m anxious, my mind naturally runs in a hundred different directions, looking for answers and solutions I can produce in my own strength. It’s hard to be still before God. Yet that’s when I need stillness most. I need to be quiet enough to hear God’s voice, and know that he is near. I must choose to open the Bible and read, even when everything in me is fighting against it. In turmoil, I want noise and distraction to drown out my pain, so stillness has to be an intentional choice, a deliberate shift to listen to God. It rarely happens when I’m scrolling through my phone, landing on whatever captures my attention.

When you want to hear the voice of God unmistakably, I urge you to read your Bible, and ask him to speak to you through it. Quiet your heart, and submit to his word. Listen for his voice singing over you as his beloved (Zephaniah 3:17). Let the first voice you hear be his, as you declare with David, “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust” (Psalm 143:8).