How the Holy Spirit speaks today
With no uncertainty the Holy Spirit is the most misunderstood member of the Trinity…
As a child I would try to imagine what the Holy Spirit was like but because I could not draw him on a piece of paper I was left with questions of who he really was. As I became a teenager I realized that the Holy Spirit was not a person like you and me but he was responsible for prodding my conscience and I could even sense his mysterious presence during worship. While these sort of things can certainly be markers of the Spirit’s activity we must be careful to not limit the Holy Spirit to the activity of God or our sensitivity to his moving. The Scriptures teach us that the Holy Spirit is much more than a mystical presence and he is certainly far bigger than we could draw on a piece of a paper.
Some Christians have remarked that in many ways the church worships the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible. But as you can see the Holy Spirit plays a much larger role than pricking your conscience or giving you chills during a worship service. The Spirit was at the beginning of creation hovering over the waters (Gen 1:2) he overshadowed the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:35) and he cries out through the Church for the second coming of Jesus to the world to make all things new (Rev 22:17). It is vital that we emphasize the personhood of the Holy Spirit, because to view him as anything less than God would be to error in worship.
As we begin to focus on the prophetic gifts it is crucial to remember that spiritual gifts are literally gifts of the Spirit. The word gift in this context is not like something you give for Christmas that is separate from yourself it is something much deeper. This is why Paul refers to these gifts as “manifestations of the Spirit” which literally means a revealing of the presence and power of God in a real life situation. So as we approach the subject of spiritual gifts we must do so with humility. We are not dealing with an inanimate object we are dealing with how the Holy Spirit chooses to manifest himself through the lives of Christians.
With that in mind lets take a look at seven categories though which the Holy Spirit may communicate to us. Again I have no desire of providing an exact formula of how the Holy Spirit communicates, which is impossible, my hope is to simply show you that the Holy Spirit can communicate in various ways. In a future study we I will lay out practical guidelines for sharing prophetic words and how to test and steward a prophetic word if you receive one. It is important to take note of the word “if” because it is at the heart of prophetic. Prophecy is always contingent on God communicating to us there is no way to manufacture a prophetic word. Our responsibility is to simply be open if the Holy Spirit is communicating something to us and mature enough not to pretend. So how do you know if you are really hearing the Holy Spirit and not making it up? The Old Testament uses two unique words when distinguishing between genuine prophetic words and false prophetic words which will help shed light on this question. When speaking of true prophetic word from God the Scripture uses the word naba, which means to bubble up. When speaking of a false prophetic word the Scripture uses the word ziyd which means to boil up. As we compare these two words we see that a word from the Holy Spirit spontaneously arises from within us and is not the product of our environment or our own imagination.
Seven ways that the Holy Spirit speaks
The quickened Word of God
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
The Scripture is the primary and most important way that God has spoken to humanity. Anybody that has a desire to grow in the prophetic must have a heart for studying the word of God. The Scriptures are the plumb line and measure for anything that we may feel the Holy Spirit speaking to us. 1 Corinthians 12:3 tells us explicitly that no one speaking by the Holy Spirit can say, “Jesus is accursed” and no one except by the power of the Holy Spirit can say “Jesus is Lord.” These two statements serve as bookends that are to guide our discernment regarding the gifts of the Spirit. Anything that we hear from the Holy Spirit will always glorify Jesus and honor his word. Plainly said, the Holy Spirit will not speak to us something that contradicts what he has already said to us in the Scriptures. Therefore the word of God is the only objective truth in our lives to which everything else is subject to.
However, we would be shortsighted to speak of the Scriptures as a static rule or historical document that we read and attempt to apply to our lives through our own effort. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This means that there are times when God will quicken a specific scripture to our hearts for a unique purpose. In other words, all scripture is inerrant but at certain times one scripture may be more pertinent in a specific moment.
Recently, I saw the power of the quickened word in a conference when a pastors wife was praying at the altar the Holy Spirit brought this verse to my remembrance. “Psalm 34:7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” As I shared this verse with this Pastors wife and her husband, she looked at me with tears forming in her eyes thanking me for sharing a verse that encapsulated what God had been teaching her in that season of life concerning the fear of the Lord.
Verses for further study: Psalm 12:6, Psalm 119, Proverbs 30:5, Luke 11:28
Voice of God
The Audible Voice of God
1 Samuel 3:10 And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
Throughout church history individuals have testified to hearing the audible voice of God. Although this is not a normative experience the Bible shows that God can and does speak audibly.
Verses for further study: Ex. 3:3-4, Is 6:8, Matt 3:17, Luke 9:35, Acts 9:4-5
Still small voice or inner audible voice
1 Kings 19:12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.
Perhaps a more common way that the Lord communicates to his people is through a still small voice. Unlike the audible voice of God that is heard with your physical ears this voice is heard clearly in your heart. The majority of believers have experienced this in one way or another and some believers experience this on a more frequent basis.
Verses for further study: Is. 30:21, Psalm 16:7, Psalm 27:8, Proverbs 6:22
Acts 2:17 And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Every night as you sleep you dream. Most likely you do not remember every dream and because of this it is easy to pass over the dreams you do remember without ever thinking twice about them. In no way do I intend to advocate that every dream is from God, but the Scriptures are clear that God certainly speaks through dreams and we should be aware and desirous for him to communicate with us in this way.
Many dreams recorded in Scripture are so symbolic that you have to wonder what kind of schooling they had to derive such interpretations. Consider Genesis 37 that recounts the story of Joseph’s dream about multiple sheaves of grain bowing down to a bigger sheave of grain. The Scriptures tell us that Joseph correctly interprets this dream as God’s plan for his future promotion and leadership over Egypt. I am not sure about you but there a quite a few things that would come to my mind before thinking God was going to promote me to a national place in government if I had that same dream of sheaves of grain bowing down to me.
If that was how you would interpret that dream try your skills on this dream from Judges Chapter 7.
Judges 7:13-14 When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” 14 And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”
Please don’t lie to yourself or pretend to be over spiritual. There are plenty of things that came to your mind when you think of a huge loaf of bread rolling into a camp before Gideon conquering their army. Yet the solider says it could be “nothing else” than Gideon invading the camp. From this we can see that when God is involved in a dream not only is there images that run through the mind, but a strong and definitive sense of God’s Spirit at work in the dream and its meaning. To be clear not all dreams are symbolic some deal with quite literal situations, and to reiterate again not every dream is from God! Ecclesiastes 5:3 tells us that some dreams are simply the decompressing of our soul as we rest, “As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.”
Some people attempt to attach spiritual meanings to their dreams in hopes of feeling important or to appear spiritual, but the biblical pattern depicts that urgency is not forced or even desired but is clearly sensed to be from God. If you are wondering if a particular dream is from God it would be wise to ask a few of the following questions.
- Do I remember a lot of details about this dream?
- What kind of impression or urgency does this dream bring to my heart?
- Do I continue to think about the dream long after it has passed?”
If you answered yes to any of these questions then it would be wise to pray and seek the Lord to see if he would reveal a meaning. There is no reason that interpretation should be a strenuous task or require a detective work like Sherlock Holmes. If God gives you a dream he will be faithful to reveal its meaning. Although interpretations may not come instantaneously you can be confident that if you hold the dream before the Lord in prayer he will reveal its meaning.
Look at how Joseph encourages us to take great confidence that God will speak to us clearly through dreams. Genesis 40:8 “Do not interpretations belong to God”?
Verses for further study: Acts 2:17, Matt 27:19
2 Corinthians 12:1…I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
Visions like dreams can be either literal or symbolic and may need to be interpreted to clearly understand what the Holy Spirit is saying. Though not every vision will carry the same intensity as those of Ezekiel, Peter or Paul they are an incredible way that God speaks to us. Like much of the supernatural we must be careful not to over-mystify visions. Visions come in all shapes and sizes. Some are seen with natural eyes and others are seen with the eyes of your heart. Some visions carry great intensity while others are as quick as a fleeting impression that run like racing thoughts through your mind.
Verses for further study: Acts 2:17, Acts 9:10-12, Acts 10:3
Vision of the night
Job 33:15 (God speaks) In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds.
A vision of the night deals with the state you are in when you receive the vision rather than the nature of the vision itself. It is important to write down what you see when you experience a vision. The reason for this is two-fold: not every vision is for the moment, and secondly you can be intentional to pray about what God has shown you. This small decision to steward what God gives us positions us to receive more. We should not be too spiritually proud to think that if we have a vision we will undoubtedly remember all the details anymore than we retain other important names and dates in our lives.
Verses for further study: Gen 46:2, Dan 2:19, Acts 16:9, Acts 18:9
Acts 22:17 “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance”
The English word trance is derived from the Greek word ektasis, which literally means to be out of oneself. Trances are only recorded two times in scripture compared to well over 100 visions. Trances are not everyday events and are often one of the most extraordinary ways that God speaks to people. It is important to note that both times trances are mentioned in Scripture it says that the person “fell into a trance” meaning that this is God induced state not something a person is to place themselves in.
Verses for further study: Acts 10:10, Acts 22:17
Knowing by the Spirit
Acts 20:22 (NIV) “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.
Knowing by the Spirit is best explained when you know that you but you are not sure why or how you know, but you are confident that you know. These knowings are internal promptings by the Holy Spirit, which causes you to understand something without prior knowledge. Acts 15:28 records an account a description when the apostolic counsel in Jerusalem put forth this statement, “… it has seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit.” Here we see that there was an internal witness or “knowing” that gave the apostolic counsel great confidence in moving forward with their letter that they would send out to all the churches.
Impressions & discernment of spirits
Long before I understood what impressions were I was experiencing them on a regular basis. I would walk into a room and sense something tense in the air, yet everything would appear normal or I would be in the middle of having a conversation with someone and start to think thoughts that did not feel like my own. I recall one particular incident where I was sitting in a church service and began to have strange thoughts like, “my life is hopeless”, “what am I going to do with my future”, “I have no purpose.” After a few minutes of these thoughts racing through my head I went to the bathroom to compose myself and quickly realized that the thoughts I was having were not my own. So in that moment I prayed and asked the Holy Spirit who was going through this particular struggle, and he brought to my mind the individual who was actually sitting behind me and I was able to encourage this person in the areas where they were struggling. After I shared with them what I had experienced they were greatly moved that God would speak to me about what they were struggling with.
Verses for further study: Matthew 9:4, Acts 5:1-4, Acts 16:16-18
Proverbs 1:20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice.
Wisdom may not come with a loud boom or a fireworks show that sends chills running down your spine, but it is one of the most vital ways the Lord speaks to us today. If I could sum up wisdom with a phrase it would be do not miss the supernatural by looking for the spectacular. I am unaware of any person who would not desire to be led by supernatural fireworks show every day of their life, but the reality is that is not the way life works. We must remember that God is both the author of Proverbs and Acts. I am not saying this to discourage the supernatural fireworks but like waves in the ocean we are to surf them when they are available but we must know how to swim when there are no waves.
If for some reason you are tempted to think that Wisdom is a lesser way that the Holy Spirit speaks to us know God cares so much about wisdom that the book of 1 Corinthians tells us that it is one of his names (1 Corinthians 1:24).
Verses for further study: Proverbs 1:20, Proverbs 2:6, James 1:5
Elders and Leaders
Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.
One of the primary ways that Wisdom speaks to us is through godly friends, spiritual leaders, and mentors in our lives. No Christian is intended to function as an island. God has created each of us to be a part of the body of Christ and to be interdependent upon one another. With that said, it is greatly concerning and even frightening to meet Christians that claim to hear from God yet they are not active members in a local church or submitted to any spiritual authority. There is no doubt that spiritual authority can be abused and can cause great harm, but there is no reason to reject wisdom of godly leaders due to past hurt. As we will discuss later it is crucial to have people in your life who know and love you that can help discern what you sense to be from the Holy Spirit. There is no way we can constantly be objective concerning our lives for that reason we must have other voices of wisdom.
Verse for further study: Acts 15:28
Matthew 18:19-20 Again I say to you, if two agree of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
The context of this familiar but often misappropriated verse is actually about church discipline. Although in many charismatic circles the words church and discipline do not commonly go together. Throughout church history Christians have held that the Holy Spirit is present in a unique and special way when the church leadership gathers to chasten unrepentant believers and offer restoration. Even reading this small paragraph may seem a bit unsettling but the ministry of the Holy Spirit through church discipline is a promise that leaders must stand upon in times of great difficulty and the Church at large must recover in spite of abuses in the past.
Verses for further study: Galatians 6:1, Titus 3:9-11
Romans 2:14-15 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.
The human conscience is a mysterious thing but the scriptures are clear that God himself is the originator. As the verse above from Romans indicates all people have a conscience and it is given by God to communicate a universal sense of morality. To be clear your conscience is not the Holy Spirit but is a tool that the Holy Spirit uses to point you to your need for truth.
Verses for further study: Job 27:6, Acts 24:16,
Psalms 103:20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!
Angels played a vital role in both the Old and New Testament as well as the Early Church. Some Christians speak of angels as if they are imaginary friends or as if they went into retirement when the Bible was written but this simply is not true. The writer of Hebrews warns us that in our daily lives we may be entertaining angles unaware (Heb. 13:2). So whether we perceive them or not the Scriptures teach us that Angels are constantly surrounding the children of God. Like other ways that God communicates with us angelic encounters are by no means a normative experience, but they are certainly a part of Christian experience. In fact the word Angel literally means messenger so it should be of no surprise that the Lord uses them to bring messages to his people or that they may appear to us in dreams, visions, or even in bodily form.
Verses for further study: Acts 8:26,10:3-4, 27:23-24, Galatians 1:8 Hebrews 1:14, 13:2
Exodus 3:3-4 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
Due to the arid climate and extreme temperatures of the desert burning bushes were not uncommon. What was strange about this particular burning bush was that it was on fire but not being consumed. Notice the sequence of events in this passage. God caused something strange to happen with the intent of getting Moses’ attention so that he could speak to him personally.
Not long ago I had a strange experience that the Lord used to catch my attention so that he could speak with me. I was dealing with some internal pressures regarding our local church and I could not find God’s peace. As I was praying about these matters I happened to be driving my car and pulled up to a red light and found myself stuck behind a van that said in big block letters “Sovereign count it done.”
When I saw this my jaw dropped and I started to laugh. What uncanny timing and a strange thing that God used to quiet my heart and remind me to trust in his sovereignty. Like a burning bush there was nothing uncommon about this van, but the timing and peculiarity of the moment caused me to like Moses step aside and see what the Holy Spirit desired to speak to me. On that day I was reminded that there is no shortage of ways that God communicates to man, but there is a great void in our awareness.
These seven categories are in no way an exhaustive list of how God can speak to us. Instead these are broad stokes that show us that God is communicative. Even with these categories it is important that we do not try to construct a formula. The apostle Paul said in Romans 8:14 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” God must do the leading and we must do the following. You cannot force the Holy Spirit to speak to you but you can certainly miss him or restict him. Our responsibility as Christians is to make intentional time and space for the Holy Spirit to speak personally to us not to manufacture something.