Whether it’s a whisper in our hearts or an audible voice, God reaches us in ways we can’t ignore.
Posted in , Sep 24, 2021
Go back into the house!
Sandra Farney, of Reno, Nevada, was backing out of her driveway when she heard the voice. It was a man’s voice, coming from inside her own mind, cutting through her thoughts with surprising force. Shocked, Sandra slammed on her brakes. She debated going back inside, but she was late for work. She had to go. Then she heard the voice again. It was more insistent.
Go back into the house, now!
This time she got out of the car and ran inside her home. She checked each room. All seemed fine. Then she opened the back door to check the yard, which her two dogs had access to via a dog door. She was met with a horrifying sight. One of her dogs, Goofy, was hanging from the fence, vines wrapped around his neck. He wasn’t moving. Sandra raced to free him, frantically tearing at the vines. Goofy collapsed into her arms, gasping for air. He was stunned but otherwise unharmed. Sandra held Goofy close until he calmed down.
“I cut down all the vines to make sure this nightmare could never happen again,” Sandra said. “And with each cut I thanked God for the divine voice that saved Goofy.”
What Sandra experienced—hearing a divine voice—is miraculous but not as uncommon as we might think. Adam Powell, a research associate at Durham University in England, spent four years studying this phenomenon as part of a research project called Hearing the Voice. Powell estimates that 5 to 15 percent of the population has one of these “unusual or anomalous” auditory experiences in their lifetime.
Accounts of divine voices vary greatly, from when it happened to how it happened and what the voice sounded like. For Sandra, the voice was internal but masculine. Powell says that this experience is fairly common. However, other people report the voice was neither male nor female. Some say that the voice came from outside themselves, almost as if someone were standing right next to them. “It’s also somewhat common for people to say it came from their right side,” Powell adds.
Whether the voice was internal or external, Powell noted several similarities. Experiencers said the voice was clearly distinct from their own internal voice, that it was speaking directly to them and that it was trying to help them. Frequently, the voice offers clarification around a particular problem. Sometimes it’s prophetic. Other times it gives its listeners direction in life and purpose. Often people report that this mysterious voice provides comfort and reassurance.
These various accounts of what a divine voice sounds like and how it manifests don’t negate the idea that it's God speaking. Laura Harris Smith, ND, a pastor and author of the book Seeing the Voice of God, says that experiencing God’s voice differently actually aligns with Scripture. Smith points to several stories in the Bible in which people heard God’s voice differently—Paul receiving a message from God on the road to Damascus, John hearing a voice from heaven after he baptized Jesus, Elijah when he went searching for the voice of God, Moses hearing God’s voice from the burning bush. “In Scripture, it happened in different ways for different people,” she says. “Sometimes it was an external, audible sound. Sometimes it was a small voice... It’s going to be different for everybody because everybody is different.”
In some cases, the divine voice can even sound like someone we know. This happened to Jen Myers, of Aurora, Colorado. She’d recently lost her close friend, Kit, to an autoimmune disease. One day, while driving alone, she approached an intersection. The light turned green. She was about to step on the gas to go when a voice rang out next to her.
Jen slammed on the brakes just as a car blew through the red light. She was safe but it had been close. Jen recognized the voice that warned her. It was Kit’s. It had come from the passenger seat, almost as if Kit had been in the car with her.
“I don’t know if it was Kit or God speaking through Kit, but I was saved from a serious accident,” Jen said. She later wondered if she’d heard Kit’s voice because it was a voice she knew and trusted. Perhaps God had used Kit’s voice to be certain Jen would listen and stop just in time.
But how can we be sure that the voice we are hearing is God’s?
Smith says that aside from an innate sense of knowing within your soul, there’s another way to determine whether the voice is divine.“No matter what it is—there are times when the voice is going to tell you practical things, when it is going to tell you helpful things…it will align with God’s written word,” she says, “and it will never harm you or anyone else.”
While voice-hearing can be a symptom of mental illness, the main difference is the feeling the experiencer is left with. According to Powell, people who hear voices due to a mental health condition typically report negative effects. They can feel distressed, threatened or a loss of control. Whereas those who hear a divine voice most frequently feel comfort, encouragement and a sense of peace. That peaceful, comforting feeling imparted by the voice is so all-encompassing that some people report a physical sensation of warmth whenever they remember it.
That lasting, positive impact is what Marta Kennedy, of Springfield, Ohio, took from her experience.
Marta was packing for a trip with her daughter, Trudie, who had breast cancer. They were going to a special clinic a few towns over for her treatment and planned to spend the night. As she packed, Marta suddenly heard a voice telling her to pack scissors.
“It was a gentle, calm voice,” she said. “A medium tone, not a man or a woman. It felt close by, like it was in the room with me.” Marta brushed it off. Why would she need to bring scissors?
“I said, pack scissors,” the voice insisted.
Marta relented and tossed a pair of scissors into her suitcase. She and Trudie went to the appointment and then to the hotel room. Trudie was exhausted. She just wanted to put the hospital visit behind her and relax, but her patient armband was plastic and difficult to remove. Exasperated, she pulled at it. No luck.
“Mom,” she said, “you don’t happen to have any scissors, do you?”
Marta was shocked. “Actually, I do have scissors,” she said. “I was instructed to bring them.” She explained the voice to Trudie, who was amazed. It brought joy and wonder to both of them after a long, stressful day. They even got matching scissor charms for their charm bracelets so they’d never forget it.
“I know that removing hospital bracelets might not be a big issue, but it was quite apparent that the voice I heard needed to get my attention,” Marta said of the experience. “Perhaps had I not packed scissors, we might’ve missed this joy.”
Marta wasn’t anticipating hearing from God, but the experience left her with a beautiful memory from an otherwise difficult time.
Indeed, it is the unexpectedness of hearing a voice that is often another indicator that it is divine. It’s common for people to hear God’s guidance when they are praying, or to hear the comforting voice of a deceased loved one after their death. However, Powell was surprised in his studies by the number of people who heard a voice when they weren’t praying for any sort of guidance or direction—or even when they didn’t have a strong faith background.
“Oftentimes they were thinking about something unrelated,” he said, “and then suddenly this voice says something that had nothing to do with what they were focused on.” This proves to many experiencers that the voice did not originate from themselves but came from somewhere else. A source that knew what they needed in that moment.
Each of us experiences God in our own unique way because each of us is unique in God’s eyes. Whether his voice is a whisper in our hearts, a booming pronouncement or the gentle voice of a friend, God reaches us in ways we can’t ignore.
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