I was curled up on the corner of our plaid couch, seizing the early-morning silence to talk with God, when my son's warm body cuddling next to mine interrupted the conversation. I opened my eyes to greet Lukas with a hug.
"Mommy?" he whispered. "Are you talking to God?"
"Yes, honey," I replied as I kissed his tousled hair, "I am." I closed my eyes to continue my prayer.
Soon, a curious voice interrupted, "Mom?"
"Does God talk back?"
My heart responded long before my mouth formed the words: "Yes, buddy, God talks back."
Lukas's blue eyes grew wide as he stammered, "But how do you know it's him?"
Help me, Lord, I prayed silently, attempting to formulate an answer. How could I explain recognizing God's voice when I was still discovering it for myself?
I've been a believer since I was ten, and I've always loved the Bible stories that portray a relational God. I knew God spoke to Mary through an angel and to the apostle Paul through a blinding light; I believed he longed to speak to me as well. But as I grew older, my childlike confidence faltered. How could I discern God's gentle whispers from my desires masquerading as godly guidance?
A Divine Progression
In his book The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer describes how the average person learns to recognize God's voice: "First, a sound as a presence walking in the garden. Then a voice, more intelligible but still far from clear. Then the happy moment when the Spirit begins to illuminate the Scriptures and that which had only been a sound or at best a voice now becomes an intelligible word, warm and intimate and as clear as the word of a dear friend."1