Much of my time alone with God should be spent listening to God, not in God listening to me. God can speak aloud if He wants to, but He usually doesn’t. In the early days of salvation history it would seem that He spoke aloud to the prophets and the leaders of His chosen people. Today God speaks more often through impressions. How do I know that what I think I’m “hearing” is really from God and not just my own thoughts or imaginations? I need "hearing aids."
In John 10:4 and 27 Jesus said that His sheep would know His voice and follow Him, and a stranger they would not follow. One writer pointed out that the Greek word for sheep that Jesus used in this passage literally means “fully mature ewes.” The lambs do not recognize the shepherd’s voice in the beginning because discernment takes time and must be learned by experience. The young lamb gradually develops an ear to hear the shepherd’s voice by observing which voice the mature sheep of the flock respond to.
Similarly, we Christians need to learn to recognize the voice of God for personal guidance in our lives. In matters of morals and ethics and theology, however, it is not a matter of our private interpretation. God’s truth is not up for grabs at our every whim and desire. Jesus knew the capricious and vacillating heart and mind of man so before He ascended to the Father, He established “the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth” as a sure way of continuing to hear His voice on earth. (1 Timothy 3:15) In the Catholic faith, we don’t depend on guesswork or “everyone doing that which seems right in his own sight” as they did in the times of the Judges in the Old Testament. Jesus gave the keys of His Kingdom to the apostle Peter and his successors. The Magisterium, the teaching body of the Church composed of the Pope and the bishops, guard the New Testament revelation and pass it on faithfully through the generations. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to decide what is or is not God’s truth. Based squarely on the inspired Holy Scriptures and in line with Sacred Tradition from the apostles, we are on solid ground when we check our impressions. The greater our familiarity with the Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the better our chance of discerning God’s voice from among other voices we may hear. God has provided us with ample “hearing aids.”
As I bring the Scriptures into my prayer time and ask for the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, I learn to recognize the tone of God’s voice; my fear of mistaking His voice lessens. The degree of my surrender to the Lord and my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit are other factors in my listening perception. The more I submit and commit myself to obey the Word and will of God, the more discernment in hearing God’s voice I will develop.
I’m at some disadvantage when I try to enter the spiritual world by prayer. I’m only one-third spirit, as it were, and I’m trying to communicate with God who is all Spirit. I almost immediately meet resistance from my body which operates in the flesh and my soul. My soul operates through my senses and emotions and is uncomfortable in the spirit world; in the natural, it resists entering the unknown realm of God’s presence where feelings are not paramount. However, my spirit is alive and well because I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit by virtue of my baptism, and I received spiritual ears to hear God’s spiritual voice. Jesus emphasized that by repeating many times, “He who has ears, let him hear”! And that means us!
Granted, sometimes an impression could come from my human spirit or from the realms of evil and not from the Holy Spirit. I must always square the impression carefully with what God said in His Word and in His Church because God never contradicts Himself.