When the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives He speaks to us. But does that mean that every thought that runs through our heads is from God? How do you know when a prompting is from God and when it’s Satan whispering lies?
It is very important to recognize that Satan does come whispering. We all have an inner world and Scripture makes it clear that Satan has at least some capacity to influence our inner conversation. (Matt 4:1-10, Acts 5:3, 1 Thess 2:18 all point to this.) We also know from Matt 16:23 that Satan can tempt us to act on his behalf.
These whispers of the enemy can be very subtle in the way they come to us. He can even present himself as a godly presence disguising his lies as the voice of truth. Learning to sort out the voice of the enemy from the voice of the Spirit is critical to every believer’s spiritual wellbeing.
When Satan speaks into our thoughts he has only one purpose: to do harm. Whether through discouragement, temptation, frustration, depression or despair, his goal is always to divide us from God, to cripple our spiritual vitality, and prevent us from obeying and serving God.
The voice of our enemy comes with messages like these:
- This situation is hopeless.
- You blew it last time and you’re sure to blow it again.
- You’re no good: too timid, too stupid, too shy, too ugly, too ____________.
- No one cares about you.
- You are all alone here.
- Give up.
- Run away.
- You’re a failure.
- It’s too late to fix it.
- Nothing you can do will help.
- God is mad at you.
- God will never help someone like you.
- Everyone else gets good things but not you.
And on it goes. Satan is the destroyer, and he uses whatever messages he can to discourage and disorient us. When you feel defeated or hopeless, that’s a good sign that Satan is at work within your inner world. When it feels right to nurse your wounds and stay angry you can be sure that you are being lied to.
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The voice of the Holy Spirit is very different. Whereas the goal of the enemy is destruction, the goal of the Spirit is always edification. He speaks messages intended to lift you up, to encourage you, to bring strength, faith, joy, and peace.
The messages of the Spirit are like these:
- You are never alone. I am with you.
- You are my beloved child. I died for you.
- You do not need to do anything to please me. I love you already.
- Trust in me. I will give you strength.
- Believe in me, I want to lead you.
- You are mine forever.
- There is no sin so serious that I have not forgiven you.
- All things will work for your good.
- My plans for you are good.
Does this mean that the voice of the Holy Spirit always makes us feel good? No! Sometimes we sin. In those times the voice of God will bring discipline and correction. How do you tell the difference between God’s corrective discipline and the enemy’s discouragement?
Here’s the key: Satan brings judgment and condemnation; God comes with conviction and a way forward.
- You’ve sinned too many times for God to forgive you again.
- You are weak and hopeless.
- That sin was the last straw. God is against you now.
- It won’t do any good to apologize.
He tempts us with rationalization, excuses, and lies that prevent us from dealing with the sin. We fall for it so easily because we don’t want to deal with the sin in the first place. He keeps us trapped in hurt feelings, shame, embarrassment, pride, anger and self-justification. He nurses our pain and whispers that we should stay away from God.
God does exactly the opposite. He does not minimize or dismiss our sin but He reminds us that our sin is covered. If we confess and repent we can be free. The voice of God shows us a way out and gives us the strength to do the hard work of making amends.
The Spirit says:
- What you did was wrong.
- You are forgiven.
- Here is what you need to do to make the situation right.
- I will help you take the right next steps.
- Don’t deny your sin. Confess it and receive forgiveness.
It is not how the voice sounds, but rather what the voice says that lets you know who is speaking. Recognizing the voice of God takes practice but the litmus test is very simple. The next time you hear a whisper ask yourself, “Is this keeping me trapped and away from God or is it moving me forward toward God and obedience?”
Answer to that question, and you’ll be well on the way to know who is speaking!