Hearing the God Who Speaks
Since the fall of man and our exile from the garden, humanity has longed to reconnect and communicate with the divine. Different cultural religious views sprang up over the millennia, each prescribing their own methods of contacting the spirit realm, but the desire itself is universal. What is rather unique about the God of the Bible is His desire to communicate with us. Most other religious practices incorporate some form of prayer, meditation, or channeling, but in each case it is the practitioner who is seeking and initiating that communication and often it is completely one-sided. What is astounding in the scriptures is we witness a God who initiates communication with man.
El Dabar, El Shama
God speaks (Hebrew, dabar) from the opening lines of Genesis in the act of creation, to the final lines of Revelation. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and scripture is clear that especially as believers—and thus friends of God—we can hear His voice.
Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. -Exo 33:11 NASB*
"You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you." -Joh 15:13-14
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." -Joh 10:27
But not only does God speak, He listens. Communication with God is a two-way conversation. Hagar named her son Ishmael, from the Hebrew El shama which means "God hears." Five other Israelites in scripture were named Ishmael as well and a variant of this name, Elishama, is also found in the genealogies of the Old Testament. Again, from the Old Testament, to the New, scripture attests to the fact that God hears us.
I have called upon You, for You will answer me, O God; Incline Your ear to me, hear my speech. -Psa 17:6
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. -1 Jn 5:14
Despite this clear teaching of God's communicative nature in scripture, many Christians believe hearing from God is either impossible, only for select people, or an incredibly vague and nebulous affair. Often a simplistic "open door/closed door" theology is the extent of our hearing from God, but this is quite dangerous as temptations, distractions, and dead-ends appear to be "open doors" just as much as divine opportunities and a "closed door" can likewise seem as such for a variety of non-God-ordained reasons. Yet open and clear communication with God is fundamental to the faith—without it, our theology is more akin to deism than Christianity. This reality sounds incredulous to most and even invokes questions of sanity and rationality, but the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac is unlike any other.
For I know that the LORD is great and that our Lord is above all gods... The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, The work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; They have eyes, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear, Nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, Yes, everyone who trusts in them. -Psa 135:5, 15-18
Dangerous Back Channels
While the materialists and deists may struggle with the idea that the spirit realm actually interacts with the physical at all, there are many others who both understand this interaction and seek after such experiences. From the mystics who engage with psychics and horoscopes seeking guidance in their lives, to Ouija boards, mediums, and spiritualists, even in the West there is a fascination and innate desire to communicate with the spiritual world. Belief in supernatural entities such as ghosts and demons is actually quite high even in America, with nearly half (45%) of the population convinced of their existence. Then you have the overt communication with the spirit realm in satanic cults, various New Age practices, and the resurgence of witchcraft in our society. The dangers of attempting communication or guidance from the spirit realm through these means isn't that you won't make contact, but that you will. There are plenty of demonic beings willing to entertain such pursuits, which is why scripture condemns these practices so harshly (a capital offense in the Old Testament).
Biblical depictions of witchcraft are actually quite impressive in their power. In Exodus chapters 7 and 8 you have the Pharaoh's magicians who are able to replicate the first three (of ten) plagues initiated by Moses. They were able to turn their rods into snakes, turn water into blood, and conjure up frogs—no small feat. While no details are given in the text, Acts 8:9-13 also speaks of a magician who was astonishing people with his abilities. Of course Revelation also speaks of the beast from the earth's miraculous powers which will lead many astray (Rev 13:11-14). Acts 16:16-21 speaks of a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and made money fortune-telling. What is rather interesting in this story is that her assessment of their spiritual authority was accurate. She was correct in publicly announcing that Paul and Silas were "bond-servants of the Most High God," who were "proclaiming the way of salvation."
But probably the most spectacular story in scripture regarding witchcraft is told in 1 Samuel 28:6-20. Here king Saul is attempting to hear from the Lord, but God was not answering him due to Saul's disobedience. In his frustration, Saul seeks out a medium to contact the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel. The witch of Endor (not to be confused with the Ewoks of Endor) granted the king's request and was shockingly able to bring the spirit of Samuel up from Sheol (the place of the dead, explained at length here). Once awoken from his slumber, Samuel was able to hear from God and give Saul the answer to his question—as well as pronounce his punishment and foretell Saul's death for using witchcraft in order to get it.
Of course non-Western religious worldviews are no stranger to interactions with the spiritual realm either. Animism and shamanism, typical in tribal societies, is often depicted and glorified in Western fiction due to their supposed harmony with nature. Their highly superstitious nature and use of witch doctors and magic is often downplayed or ignored however. Witch doctors of course utilize a familiar spirit (they channel) in order to perform their duties within those societies—a spirit which is passed down to a child or next of kin through a religious rite when the shaman is on their death bed.
Hinduism and Buddhism are also steeped in dark arts due to their belief in several spiritual realms and many orders of demonic beings (the art in any Hindu or Buddhist temple would shock most Western Christians). These religious worldviews seem rather serene and innocent at first glance, especially in comparison to the bloody history and doctrines of Islam, but at their core they are insidiously demonic and interact with these beings on multiple levels. Tantric Buddhist practices such as those of the Vamachara and Chod traditions are prime examples of this underlying spiritual connection. In these traditions, animal and human sacrifice, self mutilation, the use of alcohol, cannabis and hallucinogens to heighten spiritual sensitivity, spirit possession and channeling, the worship of terrifying or violent deities, the extensive use of magic and spells, and ritual sex are all common. But even mainline Hindus acknowledge and often interact with spiritual beings.
Back in the West, while many have adopted purely materialistic worldviews, that doesn't necessarily mean they haven't interacted with spiritual beings—they have simply applied different labels to those experiences. Those who don't believe in spiritual realities have a tendency to believe in physical-sounding substitutes, such as alien visitations and abductions (covered at length here). But unsurprisingly, if you were to look at alien abduction cases and demonic possession cases side-by-side, they are absolutely identical. In fact, many abductees get involved in occult practices after their experience in order to reconnect with their alien captors and through channeling and other Eastern meditative techniques are often successful. For the most part, UFOlogy has developed into its own religion, synonymous with New Age.
With the mystical and biblically unauthorized modes of communication out of the way, let's dive into the more straightforward methods God uses to speak to us. The first on the list should be obvious—scripture. The Word of God is a primary method He uses to speak to us because it was spoken by God to the authors before it was actually written down (2 Tim 3:16-17, 2 Pe 1:20-21). So scripture was rhema (spoken word) before it was logos (written word). In John chapter 1, Jesus is called the "Word of God" (Greek, logos), which means he was the personification, embodiment, or fulfillment of scripture. Of course one of His favorite responses to questions from people was, "Have you not read?" and then He would go on to quote the applicable scripture to answer the question. The key word here is applicable. God spoke a lot of information, revelation, and prophecy in the scriptures, so knowing them well is important because being able to quote relevant texts to your present needs, situation, and questions is critical.
When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, He didn't quote random genealogies, Levitical laws, or Psalms at His adversary to overcome him—He quoted specific, applicable passages. We often hold our leather-bound Bibles in hand when we reference Ephesians talking about the Word of God being the sword of the Spirit, but the word for word there is rhema, not logos. The Spirit leads us into all wisdom and knowledge—He was given as the helper, the teacher, and He can bring to mind a specific passage in the logos or speak to us through an entirely different method.
Before we move on to what those different methods are, we should mention a few other spiritual disciplines that go along with reading scripture—namely prayer, meditation, and fasting. Fasting is often misunderstood and largely ignored within the church today, so I have an entire eye-opening article on that topic, but it is an incredible way to heighten your spiritual sensitivity in order to hear more clearly from God and align yourself with His will (not to align God with yours). Prayer is certainly more widely understood and practiced in the church, though it is mostly taught as a one-way conversation where we ask God for things we want or need. Petition is definitely a biblical element of prayer, but it is only one of five.
The Five Elements of Prayer
1. Petition (Psa 5:1-3) making your requests known to God
2. Intercession (Col 4:12) lifting up others' needs to God
3. Confession (1 Jn 1:9-10) removing any hindrances between your relationship with God
4. Thanksgiving (Eph 5:19-20) reminding us of God's faithfulness which cultivates faith
5. Praise (Psa 34:1-3) shifting the focus of prayer from your needs to God's greatness
Philippians 4:6 indicates that we should use these elements together, and indeed we see several (at least 4) of these elements present in the Lord's prayer. But even if we utilize all five in our prayers, they can still be imperfect as they often come from our limited perspective, knowledge, and wisdom. There are a few tools we have which can mitigate this tendency: the fact that the Spirit Himself intercedes for us according to God's perfect will (Rom 8:26-27), the fact that we can partner with the Spirit at any moment and pray His perfect prayers with Him in tongues (1 Co 14:2), and the fact that prayer is supposed to include active times of listening as well as speaking. As we listen, God can speak to us what's on His heart which leads us into more powerful and effective prayers.
The last spiritual discipline we should discuss is meditation. Biblical meditation is the exact opposite of Eastern meditation which employs different techniques to empty your mind. Biblical meditation employs different techniques to fill your mind with God's truth. The Hebrew word that is translated as meditate in English is hagah and it literally means to murmur, mutter, or ponder. We see this clearly in God's command to Joshua.
This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. -Jos 1:8
Meditation isn't a mystical mind-silencing experience as you focus on your inner self, it is a mind-engaging tool which focuses on the Word of God. While meditation can be done on the go, there is certainly a biblical emphasis in getting away from the distractions of life to be better able to focus (Psa 46:10). Jesus certainly took a lot of time alone to pray and hear from the Father. The Psalms are obviously prime examples of this principle and there we find another key in understanding meditation.
I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. -Psa 77:12
Here in the same context, we have meditate (hagah) and muse, which in Hebrew is siach. Siach means to ponder or converse with oneself. We don't use the word muse very often, but we certainly use its antonym frequently—amuse. Muse means to become absorbed in thought or to think or say things reflectively. Amuse is the opposite—a largely mindless endeavor meant to distract and entertain. So we see clearly that biblical meditation is thoughtful reflection, recitation, and remembrance and is often done so aloud so that we hear the truth. There is power in the spoken word (Pro 18:21).
Modes of Communication
This leads us to the less explored question of how exactly God speaks to us. Getting away from the distractions of life and having quiet time with God in reading scripture, prayer, and meditation certainly puts you in a good position to hear from God. This is because one of the primary ways He speaks is the still small voice (1 Ki 19:12), which can be easily drowned out by other noise. But what exactly is a still, small voice? That phrase is indeed confusing, as is evident by different translators' attempt to render it in English. KJV is where we get that wording from, but NASB renders it sound of a gentle blowing, while NIV uses gentle whisper. In truth, the Hebrew says something a bit more confounding. The phrase in Hebrew is d'mamah daq qol, which literally translates to a silent, small noise. Qol (noise) is actually used elsewhere in scripture to describe the sound of horses charging into battle, the sound of shofars being trumpeted, feet marching, and thunder clapping. Noise is not silent, it is often quite loud.
The confusion and apparent contradiction disappears however when we realize that like God, we are triune beings—we have a body, a soul, and a spirit. So what is silent to one part of us, can be quite loud to another. Even people who are not spiritually minded can relate to this as they have experienced an element of their soul which is both silent and deafening—their conscience. As God is spirit, and He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us until Christ's return, it makes sense that the primary mode in which God communicates to us is to our spirit (which is actually His spirit in us). This mode of communication mitigates the issue of interpretation, or the game of telephone effect where what was first spoken isn't exactly what is received in the end because it bypasses the body (physical senses) and the soul (carnal mind). So though we often want God to speak to us through our physical senses, and sometimes He indeed does, the Holy Spirit in us was really a game changer in terms of our ability to communicate with God. So let's break down the biblical descriptions and examples of God speaking in each mode.
To the Body
In this mode, God speaks to your physical senses—your sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. While our imagination may automatically go to rather spectacular examples, the truth is every time you read your Bible, God is using your sight to speak to you. The Holy Spirit may highlight part of that text to you, so a portion of that logos becomes rhema, but it began with a physical sense. It is also through the physical senses which we gain general revelation through the universe around us—which is enough to condemn us, but not to save us (Psa 19:1-4, Rom 1:18-20). Another example of God speaking through a physical sense would be prophecy—you're listening to the audible words of another person. Of course our lived experiences and circumstances can also be God's nudging, though again these alone are not clear indications of His will.
Occasionally God forgoes the subtle and opts for the dramatic however, and I think each of us can experience these life-changing moments if we're truly seeking God. Biblical examples are numerous, but I'll cite cases for each of the five senses. For sight, King Nebuchadnezzar saw a finger write a message on a wall, though he needed Daniel to interpret the words (Dan 5:5). For a combination of sight and hearing, you of course have Moses' burning bush moment (Exo 3:2-6) and in the New Testament you have Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus who saw a blinding light and heard a loud voice (Acts 9:3-7). For hearing alone, God spoke to Abraham and Peter from heaven to give guidance (Gen 22:11, Acts 1:9). For touch, there is the time Jacob wrestled with God through the night which ended by God dislocating his hip (Gen 32:24-28). For taste, remember the odd passage where God had the prophet Ezekiel eat a scroll in order to give Israel a message and it tasted sweet like honey (Eze 3:1-3). That leaves us with smell, which I'm going to have to cheat on a bit. Though I am not aware of a passage where God communicates to man exclusively through their sense of smell, there is the case of poor Ezekiel again who God told to bake all of his food over human feces as a prophetic act (Eze 4:12-15). There are also passages which indicate smell communicates something to God, particularly in the area of sacrifice—whether literal in the Old Testament or more figurative in the New (Gen 8:20-21, Amo 5:21-22, Php 4:18).
To the Soul
In this mode, God speaks to your mind, will, and emotions. Most think of the biblical examples of dreams and visions which still happen all the time around the world, but this mode also includes more nuanced and subtle forms. The notion that God can speak through our thoughts of course opens up all kinds of possibilities. Though this idea may sound a little foreign at first, most Christians are pretty comfortable with the idea that Satan can plant thoughts in our minds, so it shouldn't be controversial to think that God can and does. Scripture does indeed speak of this.
As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place. But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man, but for the purpose of making the interpretation known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind. -Dan 2:29-30
...in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them... -Rom 2:15
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. -1 Co 2:12-13
Understanding how God can speak to our soul is a game changer as it makes us realize how many times God has spoken to us and we simply didn't recognize His voice. Because we simply assume that our thoughts are our own, originating from us. But if our minds are like a computer, then we must recognize that they are connected to the internet, and information can be downloaded to them from a variety of sources. Ancient societies understood this reality much better than modern Western ones do because again, we have largely rejected the spiritual realities in favor of a more materialistic worldview. But ancient man not only viewed dreams and visions as very spiritual in nature, but also their thoughts and ideas.
If you examine some English words and terms and study their roots and etymology, you begin to see this connection. For example, the word muse as stated earlier means to think or ponder, but originally muse wasn't something that you did, but rather a being you interacted with. A muse in Greek and Roman mythology was a goddess (there were 9 in total) who divinely inspired men with ideas. Even our word for extreme intelligence, genius, is tied to this understanding. A genius wasn't originally something you were, but rather someone you had. A genius or genie was a patron spirit which presided over one's birth and acted as a tutelary spirit or guardian angel over one's life. The implication being that brilliant and innovative ideas were often given to men by those spirits, not simply products of their own mind. It wasn't until the 18th century translation of Arabian Nights into English that the Arabic jinni (a demonic spirit) was kind of transliterated into the similar English word genie, which drastically changed the connotations of genies and altered the use of genius.
Yet even in modern times, many people in the Western world often have claimed they got their innovative or novel ideas from dreams, visions or spirits. The Beatles' song Yesterday was attributed to a dream, as was the invention of the sewing machine and even Einstein's theory of relativity, the shape of DNA, and the periodic table. In the 18th century, Swedish scientists Emanuel Swedenborg spent most of his career detailing interactions between men and spirit beings and attributed a few of his own innovative ideas to mystical experiences. So the membrane between the soul and the spirit seems to be quite thin, and therefore crossover via osmosis is very likely as the writer of Hebrews clearly indicates (Heb 4:12). This is why scripture warns us to guard our minds and to take every thought captive to Christ. In other words, spit that thought out—you don't know where it came from or where it's been.
The good news is that God is spirit, and He is good. What He speaks to us through thoughts, dreams, visions, feelings, and even our will, is wholly good, true, and trustworthy. But as the soul is more than just the mind, but also our will and emotions, it's important that we recognize that God can speak to us through them as well. We know the spirit of God has been poured out on all mankind, therefore dreams and visions are actually more common now than ever (Joel 2:28), but they aren't the only methods God speaks to the soul. In Ephesians 3:16 Paul talks about God giving our inner man strength—that is giving us the willpower to do what we are naturally unable to do. In fact, the entire spiritual disciple of fasting is designed to help us overcome our will and align with the will of God. And while often we are led by our emotions rather than truth, God speaks to them as well. Philippians 4:7 states that God gives us peace in the midst of the turmoil and guards our hearts and minds (emotions and thoughts).
To the Spirit
In this mode, God speaks to Himself, which is a bit of an unfathomable mystery. What we do know from scripture is that as believers, we become one in spirit with God (1 Co 6:17), that the Spirit of God knows everything about God, everything about us, and reveals this knowledge to us in the spirit (Pro 20:27, 1 Co 2:10), and that the Spirit intercedes for us and through us in the spirit (Rom 8:26-27, 1 Co 14:2). We also know that revelation which is given in the spirit (Eph 3:5) is not available to other parties—men or other spirits (1 Pe 1:12-13). This makes the Holy Spirit the ultimate Enigma machine (WWII German communications encryption device)—He is a secure channel. He knows the mind of God and speaks it to individuals through Himself as He resides in believers, making truth known to them, but hidden from the enemy. The Holy Spirit is our direct line to God, our most valuable strategic asset in the spiritual war we are engaged in for this world. The Holy Spirit's role cannot be overstated and must not be under appreciated. We must be sensitive to the Spirit and tune our mind, emotions, and will into His constant chatter with the Godhead. He has invited us to eavesdrop on their conversations, and even to join in on them.
Often people can get themselves into trouble by adhering to a highly individualistic notion of Christianity and an exclusive idea of personal words of the Lord. The reality is, none of us hear from God with 100% accuracy, 100% of the time, so accountability, counsel, and discernment are incredibly important in walking out our faith. Just because we feel something to be God, doesn't mean it is—Satan can often appear as an angel of light (2 Co 11:14). As we grow and mature in the faith, our ability to differentiate between God's voice and others' will improve, but we will always need accountability, counsel, and systems of checks and balances. God gave the body of Christ to us for a reason, and not only should we remain accountable to our peers in that body, but also submitted to our leaders who have been given authority over us. A man not under authority is a danger both to himself and to others.
All too often people act unilaterally when they feel God has spoken to them, and while this is understandable, it is not biblical, mature, or wise. The reasons for such independent behavior are easy enough to identify however: pride and fear. The former being amplified by our hyper-individualistic culture and the undertones of rebellion accompanying it, while the latter being a belief that if submitted to someone of authority, one may not be given the freedom to follow God's leading. But the same spirit in you is in your spiritual authority as well. God is one, He isn't going to tell you one thing and your leader, mentor, or friend another. This biblical model does of course assume that each party involved actually seeks God for wisdom and revelation and holds a biblical theology which allows them to hear to God in any mode He sees fit. Sadly, this isn't always the case, but that doesn't excuse us from accountability, it simply changes the nuances of the relationship and communication.
Let me give one example from my own family. My wife was raised in a Hindu and Buddhist household and only came to Christ in her early 20's. Shortly after, she felt the call to missions but knew it would be a tough sell to her family as Asian culture dictates children take care of the parents financially as they age. She wanted to honor the call of God on her life, but also knew she must honor God's command to honor her parents. So instead of making a unilateral decision and justifying dropping her cultural (and biblical) obligations to her family, she involved them in the process—even though her parents weren't even believers and therefore she had no guarantee they would hear from God and release her. But God can speak to whoever He wants in order to accomplish His will, and He did. Her mother had a single dream one night where she saw an angel take her daughter's hand and lead her away. She woke up having complete peace in releasing her oldest daughter into missions. Though she does not know God or understand her daughter's faith, she has not once been anything but supportive of her decision to go. We have no need to fear that we will miss out on God's plan for our lives by submitting that plan to others. He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
We do however need a good biblical matrix to run any thought, dream, sense, feeling, or word through to test and see if it is from God. Though not comprehensive, a good list of tests and qualifiers would be (yes, please read the proof texts):
2. Does it exalt or give glory to God alone? (Rev 19:10)
3. Does it edify, exalt, or consult? (1 Co 14:3, 26)
While simply being unaware of how God speaks or even that He speaks is one reason why Christians don't hear His voice, another reason is less benign—sin. But the reality is that it isn't necessarily the sin itself which creates communication issues, but rather the effects of sin on our soul and spirit. Sin begins a process which scripture calls the "hardening of the heart," (Exo 9:34, 2 Ch 36:13, Heb 4:7) and this condition makes the heart (soul and spirit) less and less sensitive and receptive to God. In fact, the figurative phrase literally means to turn away from, or to not listen to. And while any and all sin can create hindrances in being able to hear God's voice, I want to highlight three classifications or categories of sin: pride, unbelief, and disobedience.
We often think of pride as thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, but pride is actually any deviation from the truth of anyone's identity. As Dean Sherman says in his book Relationships, "Pride involves moving outside of the truth about who we are, who others are, and who god is." So while superior pride is certainly an issue in our lives at times, inferior pride is equally destructive. Inferior pride, also known as false humility, is when we think less of ourselves than what is true. But regardless of the form, pride hardens the heart as it moves in presumption rather than in submission. As Joy Dawson says in Forever Ruined for the Ordinary, "Pride feels no need to inquire of God and take time to seek His face. When we see this from God's perspective, it is both proud and foolish to live independently of Him by continuously making our own decisions and hoping or presuming they are in His will."
Scripture is quite blunt regarding God's feelings about pride. Not only does He hate pride (Pro 8:13), and not answer the cry of prideful men (Job 35:12), but He actually actively opposes them (1 Pe 5:5). The Greek word antitasso translated as oppose actually means to set an army against, so this language could not be more strong. If you think more or less of yourself or others or less of God (you can't think more of God) than what is true, God will ensure your downfall. Your pride will come up against His power and it will end poorly every time. Humble yourself, or He'll do it for you.
Unbelief sounds fairly benign, but Hebrews makes clear it is evil and results in a hard heart against God (Heb 3:12-19). The logic of this argument is pretty straightforward: if God is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), and truth, then unbelief is falsely claiming God is impotent, ignorant, and a liar, which would be morally wrong and evil. Furthermore, if you hold such a warped and and skeptical view of God, then obviously you won't trust Him, listen to Him, or obey Him, so unbelief quite directly causes one to turn away from or not listen to God.
Conversely, belief builds up our faith and creates not only internal change in our hearts, but begins to create external change in the world around us as well. We all read or hear of amazing stories of faith and miracles and desire to experience them ourselves, but often aren't willing to go through the faith building process to get there. We want instant spiritual power and authority, but like getting in physical shape, that's not how faith works. Faith isn't created out of nothing or spoken into existence, it is cultivated from a consistent practice of hearing, believing, and obeying. This biblical process of growing your faith is covered in depth in the article Radicle Faith.
Often we can't hear God currently because we refused to hear God previously. Because open communication requires relationship, and according to Jesus, there can be no relationship with God without obedience (Joh 14:21). Note that works are not the same as obedience (Isa 66:2-4, Mat 7:22-24), which is a critical distinction to understand prior to standing before the Bema Seat of Christ and having your deeds judged (1 Co 3:11-15). Jesus makes it plain and clear—if we are ashamed of Him and His words (disobey His instructions), He will be ashamed of us when He returns in glory (Luk 9:26). There's simply no more effective way to harden your heart than to actively disobey (Heb 4:6-7).
Obedience applies both to God's written word (logos) and His spoken word (rhema). Indeed if you're not reading, believing, and obeying His written word, why should God trust you to respond to His spoken word? So reading, understanding, and keeping God's commandments is step number one in softening our hearts and becoming more sensitive to hearing God's voice. It's important to understand that this is not a performance-based relationship however. God doesn't cut you off from communication and communion with Him because you're a dirty sinner—you are hidden in Christ due to His sacrifice after all. Rather, it is we who cut off communication and communion from God by choosing to turn away and not listen to Him. Repentance does not bring about reconciliation because God turns his face back to us, but because it turns our face back to Him.
But it is not just a right relationship with God that is necessary to hear His voice, but also a right relationship with others. As the apostle John said, you cannot love God and hate your brother (1 Joh 4:20). Jesus made it clear that we must be in right relationship with others in order for our sacrifices and offerings to God be acceptable (Mat 5:21-24) and Paul likewise commands believers to be at peace with all men (Rom 12:18). But the consequences of ignoring these commands are also often ignored or downplayed. Peter warns that by simply not honoring one another (he uses the context of marriage, but the principle would certainly apply to any relationship), we run the risk of our prayers being hindered (1 Pe 3:7-12). In other words, if we are not in right relationship with others, we cannot be in right relationship with God, and therefore our communication with Him is broken. Jesus takes it even further and states that unless we forgive others, He will not forgive us (Mat 6:14-15, also a concept present in the Lord's prayer). Obedience and relationship are linked at the hip.
Those Who Wait Upon the Lord
The modern world is full of hustle, bustle and noise. It is all too easy to listen to the loud and obnoxious voices in our culture, society, families, careers, and circles. But loud voices have to be loud because they lack true authority and are insecure. Unlike those voices, God isn't vying for your attention. He doesn't need your love and affection, but He loves you and desperately wants what's best for you... and that just so happens to be relationship with Him and obedience to Him. The world is loud, but God is meek. If we seek Him, we will find Him, but He will not chase us down, tackle us, and force relationship upon us. Free will is the most powerful (and therefore dangerous) thing that God ever created, and He loved you so much as to give it to you. Be very careful what you do with it and do not presume your will is His.
God is speaking, but it is only those who wait upon Him who hear. Let us not turn our face from the lover of our souls, but enter into His presence daily with awe and wonder that an infinite God would be mindful of us and speak to us as friends.