Why Hearing the Holy Spirit May Be Hard for You

Why Hearing the Holy Spirit May Be Hard for You

If you are a believer and follower of Christ, you want to live in complete obedience to God.  But that is not always easy to discern.  Life can present complex problems with multiple decision options.  Which one are you to choose?  Each option seems to have benefits and negatives.  You can’t necessarily predict the consequences of each decision and you can even be paralyzed or live in anxiety.

Some decisions don’t seem that critical and may of little impact on the future, but others are weighty and can change your life or the life of others.  Should I marry that guy?  What major should I chose in college?  Which job should I pursue?  Should we refinance our debt?  You meet your new neighbor and you are wondering what you should say about your faith and how you should say it?  You sense that God is calling you to full time ministry, but you aren’t sure whether that is your own desire or if this is from the Holy Spirit?

Discerning the leading of the Holy Spirit is critical to living out the Christian life.  The Scriptures teach us that the Holy Spirit dwells in each person who has placed their faith in the finished work of Christ.  We are called His “body” and His “temple” (1Co 3:16; 16:19-20).  He does not just dwell in us; he is active in our lives.  He is speaking, directing, and encouraging, correcting, and giving wisdom (Jn 14:16, 26; Eze 36:27; Ps 143:10).  We are not alone in making decisions in life, but we have the promise of God that His Spirit is directing and speaking to us.

We have the Bible to give us direction as well.  It is living and active because it is God-breathed and therefore useful for guiding our lives in truth.  But He has also given us the Spirit who does not speak anything contrary to the Scriptures.  We have everything we need to obey God.  But we still find ourselves confused at times.  How do we discern the voice of the Holy Spirit?  How do we know when it is the Spirit of God or if our impulse is from the flesh, or even a feeling created by eating too much pepperoni pizza?

Recognizing the voice of the Holy Spirit is necessary in the Christian walk.  In the Old Testament, a young boy being called by God to be a prophet was woken by the Spirit’s voice, “Samuel, Samuel”.  He had never heard the voice of God before, so he didn’t know what it was.  We can be like that too.

When Elijah was depressed and felt very alone, he was looking for the voice of God.  God’s voice was not found in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire.  But it was found in a still small voice (1Ki 19:11-12).  He needed God’s wisdom and encouragement and direction.  He was able to find it, but it wasn’t found in a loud and evident way.  It was soft and required Elijah to filter out other distractions.

But we must also discern the source of that still small voice.  There are three sources.  It could be the enemy – Satan.  It could be yourself. Or it could be indeed the Spirit of God.

  1. The Enemy – Satan:  His name means “deceiver” and he is the author of confusion.  He seeks to lay a snare for us to walk into.  Be aware of the deceiver’s schemes.
  2. Us: Our own personalities can be the source of the small voices.  We must become aware of our own desires that impact how we hear God.  Our own voices can be louder than God himself.
  3. The Spirit of God: This is the voice we need to hear and pay attention.

I want to focus on how our own personalities often and predictively hinder our ability to hear the Spirit and live in obedience.  Our personalities are wired to prefer decisions that give importance to people, performance, process, or perspective.  Our tendency is to make decisions based on these preferences rather than how the Spirit of God is leading.

Let’s say that the Spirit of God is leading the church to move into the city to re-engage those who have been disenfranchised and have experienced injustice.  Those who are motivated by how decisions will impact people will immediately begin to process how this move will impact the people in the church.  If there are people in the church that this will inconvenience or create hardship, they may object without ever listening to what the Spirit of God is saying.  The person who is motivated by performance may begin to think through how this will advance or hinder the growth of the church.  Depending on the outcome of the analysis may determine whether they get behind the new direction.  The voice of the Holy Spirit may not be the primary consideration.  There are also people who are motivated by process.  They will want to know all the facts and details.  Have we looked at all the options?  Is there a clear plan?  Does this make logical sense?  Again, the voice and leading of the Spirit may not be the primary consideration.  Others are motivated by perspective.  They need to process this idea through all these avenues already discussed.  They want to make sure all options are looked at and are consumed with investigation and seeing things from all angles.  They are looking for a balanced approach to decision making.  The voice of the Spirit of God may be one of those considerations but may not tip the scale.

Our own personalities predictably draw us in specific directions.  What would it be like if each of us became self-aware of our own predictable responses and learned not to allow them to hinder our ability to hear the Holy Spirit?  Is it possible that we might have greater unity?  Is it possible that we might become more obedient to the calling of God in our lives?

One exercise that might be helpful is to identity your own propensities based on our personalities and make a list of the implications when it comes to decision making.  For instance, as a person who is motivated by performance, I will naturally be in favor of decisions that risk for greater gain, chose decisions that will move us the quickest, and prefer decisions that require the simplest methods.  I am not frightened by hard work but like the challenge.  These are my preferences.  I know that because of this, I may not hear the voice of the Spirit when he is saying slow down, don’t take that risk, don’t go that direction because of danger.  Knowing this about myself is necessary to living in obedience to God.

Let’s not fool ourselves by letting our own personalities and preferences keep us from being obedient to the Holy Spirit.

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.