“Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.” – Corrie ten Boom
God has poured His Spirit in us to comfort, teach, and guide us in the direction of His will. The Holy Spirit is a gift of God’s love that lives inside those that follow Jesus Christ. It is God’s present activity in the world, guiding and driving us, teaching us what it is to truly know and follow God. Christians are told to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) and be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). We know that the Spirit is within us, but sometimes we can’t hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us, and we begin to wonder if we’re missing it. How do we know when the Holy Spirit is speaking to us? What does it feel like and how do we make ourselves open to receive it?
We are each given different spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit reaches us in different ways. We must listen in the way God made us and recognize when we are being spoken to. Although we may experience the Spirit differently, there is a common thread of truth and comfort. I have a dear friend who described it as a “blanket” – something that felt like a warm, safe hug. Though the Holy Spirit is often subtle and quiet, in the most recent juncture of my life, the Spirit spoke to me with unmistakable detail (which I happen to have a huge affinity for – itemized lists are my best friend). I can also be stubborn and fight for things that I believe to be right even when they may not be, even when God is telling me otherwise. But the Holy Spirit pushed through and broke my wall down, submerging me in His Spirit. He spoke to me in the ways I needed, not necessarily the ways I expected.
While going through the collapse of a relationship, the Holy Spirit was trying to whisper to me the entire time. He tried to tell me it wasn’t right, but my heart was clouded and I couldn’t hear Him. I tucked away His voice in a box of denial. Beloved, when we are living a life that strays from our walk in obedience with God, this is when we usually cannot hear or see Him. When we continually live life knowing the will of God but choose not to follow it, it’s the same as choosing to continue wearing a pair of foggy glasses.
We know the glasses are foggy and that we can’t fully see, but we keep them on. We keep wearing them hoping by some miracle, the fog will go away. Maybe we don’t know any different – we’ve always worn these glasses, they’re comfortable and we believe they’re the only thing that we can wear. Then one day, we think: what if we took them off? Would we be able to see better? But we don’t know what life looks like without them, and it feels like a really big step. So we ignore the thought. Then we hear it again, and it feels so strong and so true that we decide to listen and we take them off. Suddenly, everything comes into focus and is so vibrant and clear that we are certain that this is how it’s supposed to be. We can now see and we can’t believe we’ve spent so much time fighting the voice that told us to remove them.
During the course of my relationship, there were four very distinct moments that I now know was the Holy Spirit speaking to me, but it took action and humility on my part to open up to Him and hear what I was being told. I felt hopeless and weary, and I began to simply pray for His help. Instead of praying for my relationship to work, I began to pray for direction and strength. I prayed that if this wasn’t the right thing, I would know it and I would have the courage to step away. I stopped trying to impose my own will and relinquished all to Him. Only when I did that, was I able to feel and see the truth – the beacon of light that broke through the darkness.
- Coffee shop interruption: I was sitting at my favorite coffee shop one day, writing an article for TSB that had absolutely nothing to do with my relationship. Each time I dove into God’s Word or put pen to paper, I couldn’t seem to focus on what I was attempting to write. Instead, my thoughts kept being led to my relationship and its current state. I kept feeling these flutters inside that would direct me to what was happening between us and analyze why things weren’t going well and why they hadn’t been for a long time. I just kept hearing the words, “this isn’t how it should be.” But I pushed them away; I refused to believe that something was wrong and that I couldn’t make it work. Looking back, it was clear to me that God was talking to me. He was interrupting me with His truth and directing my thoughts even if I was trying to run away from them. When I’m immersed in God’s Word is when the Holy Spirit is most often present and speaks His truth. I’ve realized that it’s important to pay attention to where you are being led rather than attempting to be the leader.
- “I think you’re just comfortable”: These words were spoken to me a few months before I ended my relationship, and when they were said out loud, I felt a very physical “gut punch”. It felt as if someone had a string tied around my soul and tugged on it at that exact moment, and all I could think was, “yes, that is true.” But I didn’t want to believe it nor did I want to admit it, so I didn’t. These were the “words that jump.” I’ve found that the Holy Spirit uses words that seem to jump out and suddenly grab hold of you – those are the words we need to be listening to. Once we feel that, we should reflect on them and seek what they are trying to tell us.
- Peace in Scripture: One of the most definitive moments in which I felt the Holy Spirit was when I heard Proverbs 3:5–6 first at church and then multiple times in the following weeks.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Each time I heard or saw those words, I was flooded with indescribable peace. I felt the profound warmth and comfort that I first felt when I surrendered my life to Christ. It is the way we feel when we know we are in His hands, when we know how very deeply we are cared for and looked after. It is the most beautiful and comforting feeling. I believed those words with my entire heart and soul and knew that I needed to relinquish the last bit of control I was trying to maintain. I needed to stop trying to impose my own thoughts about my situation. In this way I feel that the Holy Spirit spoke to me using past experience. I was able to recognize His presence based on a time when I felt Him so deeply, I was brought to tears. In that moment, I knew He was with me.
- Words of truth: Once I let God fully in and allowed His voice to be present in my heart, I finally spoke to others about what I had been feeling. I broke down and spoke with both my parents as well as a very dear friend and asked for their advice and direction. Hearing my own words spoken out loud as well as the things I heard from them (not necessarily telling me what to do, just creating the opportunity to think about things in a way that I may have been blind to), I just knew. I knew what I had to do and I felt an unfathomable strength at a time of great pain. It was as if the Holy Spirit was radiating through me, hitting every corner of my body, encouraging me, guiding me. God uses others to talk to us and all we need to do is listen. Not just with our ears, but with our entire heart and soul. Once I followed His lead, everything fell into place and the path I was now on was lit up with His presence.
You may have also had that moment – the one where you feel something so strongly that sometimes you say to yourself, “are you talking to me right now, God?” It is in those moments that we need to be still and pay very close attention to what is happening and where our hearts are being led. We know when we are being spoken to, but the challenge is listening to it. We must humble ourselves, immerse ourselves in God’s word, study it, prayerfully reflect, open ourselves up to Him, and be patient and ready to follow in obedience. This is a daily, continuous walk in which we demonstrate our full and wholehearted trust in the Lord and let Him in. He will communicate with us. He will teach us how to listen to Him, how to discern His truth, and how to have an intimate relationship with Him. Listen for those whispers, beloved. Listen and follow His lead.
“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.” John 16:13