This is a question that bothers so many people and maybe let me start with encouraging you who is feeling like not sure if what you are hearing is from God or not. This feeling is normal because even the Bible talks about humans seeking God and finding him blindly (in French is the word " en tâtonnant that is used) Acts 17.27
The bible is saying that even though God is not far from you, if you seek Him, you will find him fumbling/ groping: search blindly or uncertainly by feeling with the hands.
So, that is how it is. Do not worry that you feel as if you are getting to Him blindly, this is because of many voices in today’s world that are so loud and competing for your attention.
God speaks in many and so different ways that there is no one single way someone would say this is how God speaks. Job 33.14 reminds you that He can speak through dreams, visions, and so on. Actually, God is always talking to you but many times you may not be paying attention.
God can use circumstances of life to speak to us, He can use every way to get to you and me and before we get into deep discussions, let's just make sure to understand that every time God will speak to you, His first intention is for you to know that He is talking to you and understand what He is telling you.
God is not there making a show that He is talking and you cannot understand...He will speak in a way you will not miss if you are looking and paying attention to it..
God will not speak to you in mandarin if you speak English, why would He do that? Remember that God needs you and me(humans) to do anything on the earth. He limited Himself on the earth when He said let us make man in our image and LET THEM have dominion over the earth, which means that He needs humans to be able to influence the earth.
With this in mind, you have to understand that He has interests in you and me, not only knowing that he is talking to us but understanding what He is saying. With that being said, let's now be practical, they are mainly two ways God speaks to us nowadays:
1) The written word, that is through the bible
2) The Spoken-word and this is what I guess many people are struggling with.
The first is Logos in Greek and the 2nd is Rhema, which is the revealed word of God. Rhema is important because it is where we even get faith from. The problem is that many people want to understand the spoken word, without having any sort of relationship with the written word of God. The written word is the foundation of all. God will never talk to you outside of his written word. Everything He says must be in alignment with His written word [this is the first way to know if He is talking to you or not. God can not violate His word].I didn’t know how to receive His message.
Psalm 138:2 says that He has exalted(elevated) His word above His name. A name in the Hebrew culture equals a person (a matter of fact the same in Rwandan culture “Kinyarwanda..izina niryo muntu.”
So,this verse is telling us that God's word is more important than His person. Remember the Word and God himself are one. So He will never do or say something in contradiction with his word! This is the first step to discern His voice, to know His word.
The spoken word of God is through the Holy Spirit, right? Well, Jesus explained that The Holy Spirit will only speak what He gets from Jesus Christ (The word) John 16 :13-15: But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come.
He will glorify me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.”
Here, Jesus is saying that the revealed word, Rhema, or spoken word you receive is proportional to the written word(logos) you have in you. The Holy Spirit will take the word you have in you and reveal it back to you. The more word(light) in you, the easier it will be for you to discern the voice of God.
This means that the more you store the word of God in your heart(mind), the easier you will understand/ or discern any God's other communication channels He may use to speak to you
When you see what God told Joshua to meditate the written word day and night so he can be able to live accordingly, [Josh 1.8], The more word you have in your mind the more it will come out when you are about every day’s life. God is always communicating with us.
Understanding this will help you to know when it is God, and when it is not Him. If you receive a revelation, a word of knowledge, a prophecy that is contrary to the word of God, you know He is not talking to you.
I hope it is going to be easy to know that God is not talking to us because the voice we are hearing is contrary to His word, by the way, this is why you need to read the word for yourself. I hope this time most people are confined home, you are reading the bible, the lack of time is no longer an excuse.
We do not read the word because we are doing devotion or we want to be good Christians, it is to understand God and be able to know How to talk with Him because an effective prayer is to be based on His word (another topic for another day)
Once you are in the word of God, then it is going to be very easy for you to discern what comes from him or not. For example, when Jesus told His disciples that He would die and so on, that is what was written of Him, but Peter did not want that to happen so when he spoke, Jesus rebuked him and said that he was full of the devil because his thinking was not of God but of humans. Peter could not discern the will of God because his discernment was not based on the written word, but his human emotions.>
Mathew 16.23: But Him, turning to Peter, said, get out of my way, Satan: you are a danger to me because your mind is not on the things of God, but on the things of men. Jesus is saying that when the thinking is not of God, it is of the devil (and here He did not say that Peter is a demon-possessed, just that his thinking was of human logic). Every time you allow your human logic to guide your life and not the word of God, you are being ruled by the devil. The way God communicates with you is mainly through your thinking, your mind is the airport of your life where God's word lands.
The mind is the battlefield where God's ideas and the others are fighting for your attention, that is why the bible says to bring all the thought to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5: The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
Here we are not talking about phrases to be used in spiritual warfare. This is a way of life, this scripture is telling you that every thought that crosses your mind (around 60,000 to 80,00 a day or 2500 to 3300 an hour) is either aligning with God's will or not (from the other fellow), and it is up to you to bring them to submit to Christ (The word of God).
That means, every time you have an idea, you hear a word, an image, you do not just either throw it away or accept it, you have to check it against the word of God to either confirm it or discredit it. You have to fill your mind with the word of God so when thoughts are crossing it, it automatically chooses what is from God or not. Your mind is choosing either way. The more word of God you have accepted as truth, the easier your mind will choose them. The big thing here is to accept the word of God as the only truth.
I have seen so many people arguing with the word of God with their human logic, and many times they reject the word. That is setting your mind to choose your human thinking (from the devil...do no stone me yet: that is what Jesus said) over the word of God either a teen or an old person, it is the same. The more word of God you receive in you, the better you are equipped to discern His voice. So reading the word of God is one thing, and accepting it as the ultimate truth is another totally different thing. You can read the bible as a history book and not take it as the Truth. It will not change anything. The bible talks about in John 8:32 The truth you know is what sets you free...
The word to ‘KNOW’ here is not just having the information, it is comprehending it, and experiencing it. This knowing is from the Greek word ginōskō that is the same word use for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman, meaning to know someone to a point of becoming one.
For example, many people in the world have heard about Paul Kagame, but they do not know him as the president of Rwanda. Rwandans may know him a little more compared to the rest of the world, but none of us know him like the first lady or his children!
the problem is that in English, we will all use the same word, to know but the meaning is different from the level of knowledge and fellowship. So, knowing the truth is a different thing as having heard of it and this is the point I wanted to add.
The word of God is supposed to get into your mind and change the way you think, what is called the renewal of your mind. This is where you can start discerning the voice Rom 12.2 says I admonish you to not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve (discern) what God’s will is —his good, pleasing, and perfect will. We can see that the only way to discern the voice(Will) of God can only happen as your mind is renewed, meaning, it conforms to God's word.
By the way, the word of God is what separates the soul (where seats our thinking) and the Spirit (God's ideas) Hebrews 4.12: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
There is no short cut in discerning the voice of God, you must first get to know Him through His written word. Once this is done and your heart is right, i.e. your heart is in a place where God has the total ownership of your desires, then your mind will be in alignment with His will.
There is a scripture that most people quote in a very wrong way, that God will give the desires of your heart but they forget the condition for that to happen. If you delight in the Lord, He will give you the desires of your heart Psalms 37.4
Delighting in the Lord means that you have no other Joy than to make Him happy. There is nothing more important to your heart than what He wants. When you are in that position of mind, then the desires of your heart become His desires.
To cut a long session short, how does one know if it is God or his mind? When what comes through is in the right standing with the word of God, it is not asking you to compromise and your motivations are right, then you know that your thinking is from God.
Do not worry if you do not understand fully, He will repeat as many times it will take for you to get it. The problem is not really that we do not know if it is God or not, the problem is that most of the time we do not want what He is saying. When you do things out of ignorance, there is no problem! The issue is knowing what God wants and not want to do. When your mind is renewed, conformed to the word of God, then your conscience itself will confirm with an inner peace that what you want to do is the will of God.
God will never force Himself on you, if what comes to your mind does not have a peaceful feeling, then it is not from God and when your thinking is because of your lust you always know that when you have the Holy Spirit, He will always guide you in a way that you will know he is the one talking to you!
The issue is many times we shut down his small still voice and He ends up stopping to talking to us.
I did not want to go into discussing different ways God speaks because the discernment is for any of the ways, either dreams, prophecies, thoughts...not all dreams, words of knowledge, or any other medium come from God.
For example, the bible talks about God putting a seal (a stamp) on the instruction
Job 33:15-16: In a dream, a vision of the night [one may hear God's voice], When deep sleep falls on men while slumbering upon the bed, then He opens the ears of men and seals their instruction.
Do you see that a dream will always have a stamp from God? That means you have to recognize in a dream the DNA of God and that is only possible when you know the written word!
Some dreams result from our everyday struggle. Normally in a scientific way of thinking dreams emerge when your mind is classifying the pieces of information it received during the day. Your mind works like a computer, there are a soft memory and a hard one (sub-conscience mind), so when you go to sleep your mind takes everything and puts them into boxes. This is another discussion probably on how your mind works. Ecclesiastes 5.3 Talks about dreams come when there are many cares, meaning you may have dreams because of what is troubling your mind and not necessary that God is speaking to you. That is why when it is God, He must seal it.
I hope this will help you to discern more the voice of God and when you do that, I will see you at the top.