If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. —Psalm 95:7-8
As a spiritual director, people often ask me, “How do I know God is talking?” or “How do I know it’s God’s voice and not just my imagination?” These are great questions, and people were asking the same ones of St. Ignatius more than 500 years ago. He got those kinds of questions so often he wrote some guidelines to help us discern God’s voice from other voices. There are hundreds of books on this subject (just search “Ignatian discernment”), but some brief rules of thumb are as follows.
Does what you are hearing and sensing in your prayer, your heart, or your body seem to be an invitation to more freedom, joy, or peace? If so, that’s almost certainly from God. “Yes! Even though I’ll make less money in that job, I would love to do that work!” Notice the freedom present in this response. If the voice you hear leaves you feeling depressed, unsettled, or more anxious, that’s probably not of God. “It seems like something I should want to do, but I just can’t imagine how I would manage two months away at this time.” Notice the sense of burden when contemplating this invitation to study abroad for a summer.
Is the voice you hear a voice of love that wants to give more life to you and others? That’s God’s voice. “Ask that homeless man if he needs anything.” Or does it inspire judgment, resentment, or violence? That’s not of God. “They are living in sin, and someone needs to tell them.”
None of this means that God’s voice won’t ask anything hard of us, but if the voice we hear is ultimately asking something that will bring more life and love to us, others, and the world, then harden not your heart.
For Action: What has God been putting on your heart or nudging you to do recently? Reach out to an estranged relative? Take a meal to a lonely friend or neighbor? Say yes to a particular volunteer opportunity? Leave a toxic relationship? Ask God for the courage to do it, and follow through on it today.
To Pray: God, help me to hear your voice, to trust it, and to follow through with what you ask of me.