Outside of Scripture, the most common way the Holy Spirit speaks to me is through impressions. These are thoughts, perceptions, feelings, or understandings that seem to come out of nowhere. They don’t have the certainty or the clarity of God’s internal audible voice. They come without any rational evidence or logical inference to support their truth. Impressions from the Holy Spirit are different from intuition in respect to their origin. A divine impression comes to us from the Holy Spirit, while intuition arises from within our human spirit.
Some people use a technique called “cold reading” to give the appearance they are receiving a supernatural impression about a person. For example, a “prophet” notices pet hair on a woman’s dress and says to her, “The Lord shows me that you love animals.” Then he may continue to observe her appearance or body language for other clues, phrasing statements in such a way that the woman’s response gives him additional information. Professional gamblers are highly skilled at reading signs given by demeanor and body language. They call these signs “tells” because they “tell” them something about the person they are observing.
Impressions from the Holy Spirit are not like cold reading or observing a tell, for they don’t come from our observations or logical inferences. Often an impression from the Holy Spirit will communicate knowledge that is the opposite of what our minds think or our senses tell us.
I spoke about the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit to six people preparing to be missionaries from a denomination that did not believe in the contemporary miraculous ministry. As I looked at a young guy with the sculpted body of a weight lifter, I had an impression that he had arthritic pain in his neck. It can’t be him, I thought. I looked at an elderly woman in the group and thought, It must be her. I said, “Ma’am, do you have arthritic pain in your neck?”
She said, “No.”
The weight lifter said, “I do, and it’s severe.” Since that experience, I try to discount my opinions and act on the impressions alone.
The Bible has different ways of describing impressions. Nehemiah told how God led him by an impression: “So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families” (Nehemiah 7:5, emphasis added). Nehemiah was able to discern that this impression on his heart had come from God, not from himself.
While Paul preached in Lystra, there was a man in the audience who had been lame since birth. Paul “saw that he had faith to be healed” (Acts 14:9, emphasis added). Paul commanded the man to stand up, and he was instantly healed. You can’t literally see faith. In this context, the word saw means that Paul had an impression about the man. Impressions may lead to miracles.
Another way of describing an impression may be found in the story of the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof in front of Jesus. When Jesus told the man his sins were forgiven, “some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ ” (Mark 2:6–7). They hadn’t said a word out loud, but in their hearts they were furious with Jesus. “Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts” (Mark 2:8, emphasis added). Often divine impressions are just like that, an immediate knowing in our spirit. It is a form of knowledge that does not come to us through logical reasoning or personal observation. Suddenly we just know that we know.
Sometimes God will give a spiritual impression while we are contemplating something physical. Solomon had a truth about the value of diligence and discipline reinforced when he considered the ways of ants (Proverbs 6:6–8). Paul wrote that God uses the creation to impress us with his greatness (Romans 1:18–20).
I believe God speaks to us through impressions all the time, but many Christians have trained themselves to ignore their impressions. They’ve been taught that feelings are bad or unreliable. Before I believed in the voice of God, I sometimes found my prayers interrupted by an impression out of nowhere to pray for something I hadn’t thought of. I tried to dismiss these pesky interruptions because they weren’t on my prayer list. It’s as though I said to the Holy Spirit, “Get out of here. I’m trying to pray!” The Holy Spirit tried to lead me to pray for what he wanted to grant, but my theology would not let me listen to him.
The rationalism of Western tradition is offended by knowledge that bypasses the logical workings of the mind. Sometimes God must remove our confidence in our intelligence before he can talk with us.
Are you interested in learning how to hear the voice of God in your life? This is an excerpt from Jack Deere’s new book, Why I Am Still Surprised by the Voice of God. This is the story of how Jack Deere learned to hear the voice of God and, in doing so, became a friend of Jesus. Now a modern classic, Jack wrote Surprised by the Voice of God over twenty-five years ago. Based on that first book, Why I Am Still Surprised by the Voice of God has been entirely rewritten and includes additional thoughts and insights from a lifetime of hearing God speak. Deere guides you through the Bible to discover the variety of creative, deeply personal ways God still communicates with us today. You’ll learn how God speaks with people apart from the Bible, though never in contradiction to it.
- Groups desiring to learn more about how prophecies, dreams, and visions function
- Individuals wanting to study the biblical foundations for hearing the voice of God
- Churches ready to embrace and experience God speaking in community
In these pages you will:
- Learn through Bible study, compelling first-hand stories, and sound arguments
- Witness the way God carries forth the biblical pattern for speaking to us in contemporary ways
- Be trained to hear and recognize the voice of God in your life