How to Listen to and Obey the Holy Spirit

Summary: Do you know the Spirit’s voice in your life? It takes a lifetime to learn how to hear God’s voice. And when you do, you are obligated to obey Him. But we all struggle with that too. I give helpful pointers on how to hear and obey the Spirit’s voice.


In my last post, I described a life empowered by the Spirit. In this post, I talk about how to listen to and obey the Holy Spirit.

Have you ever tried to put a desk, dresser, or other piece of furniture together using instructions that had no pictures? I have put several things together, only to find out a step or two was missing from the instructions, or I skip to step without realizing it. Pictures are very helpful when you’re putting something together. I scoff at directions that tell me I can put something together in an hour and half, and it takes me 6-7 hours.

I can say all I want about living a life empowered by the Spirit, but if I do not show you how to live this life, you will say, “That’s all well and good, but I don’t know how to do it.” The Bible isn’t an instruction manual that describes a life you cannot attain. So, in this post I want to talk about how to listen to and obey the Holy Spirit. Without this crucial understanding, we will fail as disciples of Christ to live out the life the New Testament describes.

Let’s see how to live this Spirit-formed life and reap the blessings of listening to the Holy Spirit. If we don’t listen to Him, we cannot obey Him. As Jesus and the letters to the churches In Revelation Say, “Let him who has an ear to hear what the Spirit says.” Let’s get started.

Hearing God’s Voice

Many books are written on the voice of God. They can be very helpful to us. I will summarize how to hear God’s voice, the voice of the Spirit dwelling inside of us. If we don’t have a relationship with the Spirit, or we know He dwells in us without reaping the power and intimacy that comes with knowing and listening to Him, what’s the point of him dwelling inside us?

There are several ways to hear the Spirit’s voice. I think the best way He speaks to us is through the words of Scripture. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to write to the people in their context, and also to us. Spirit inspired Scripture, He speaks to us as we read it, illuminating the passages we read and applying them to the situations in our lives.

When you read Scripture, you get tugs on your heart, or realize how this passage is giving new direction and godly wisdom. That’s the Holy Spirit speaking to you through Scripture. When I read the Bible, certain things I read stick out to me. That’s the Holy Spirit ministering to me, or telling me how to do something in my life according to God’s ways.

Another way the Holy Spirit speaks is through the words and Ministry of others to us. God can speak through people into your life. But you must not take the word of any Christian leader or mentor. People have given me personal prophecy, spoken directly into my life personally. I weigh these words people give me. Sometimes I can tell that the Spirit is using them to minister to my life. Other times, people miss the mark when they speak to my life. The word they give has no context for me personally, even though they are speaking into my life.

We must be careful not to just take the word of a Christian if they say, “Thus says the Lord,” or something similar. Personal prophecy from God through another person is incredibly powerful when you can tell the Holy Spirit is using a person to speak to you. But as with the gifts of the Spirit, a person can miss the mark, speak “in the flesh” and not really be getting a word from the Lord. I have had people tell me the Lord was speaking through them, but I can tell they were not getting that word from Him. Be careful about personal words from others to you.

The Holy Spirit can speak to you through a situation you face. Sometimes the trials you face are not because you are enduring in the Christian life, but rather because you cause your own trial. It’s not too far-fetched for us to face trials of our own making. Sometimes the Spirit speaks to you about your character or trust in Him by letting you go through a trial you manufacture for yourself.

These trials show the inadequacies of your character. You face them because you didn’t listen to God, or you caused them by personality conflicts, your bullheaded refusal to take godly wisdom from others, or do foolish things that cause your trials. The Spirit speaks to you about your character and uses the trial and adversity to refine your character.

The Spirit can speak to you in other ways unique to your ability to hear Him. Some of us need the Holy Spirit to whack us over the head to hear what He is saying to us. We just don’t listen to Him any other way. Others of us here the gentle, sweet whisper of His voice, training ourselves to listen like Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-14).

God came upon the mountain in three distinct ways, all used in Scripture for the presence of the Lord’s presence. But Elijah waited for the still, small voice, the whisper of God’s actual voice. Was this a test? If it was, Elijah passed with flying colors. Since God speaks in different ways, we must grow to learn His voice. It is unmistakable.

Sensing the Spirit

Another way to listen to the Spirit’s voice is to grow in knowing when he prompts you to use your gifts. The prompting of the Spirit comes to people in different ways. Some people have physiological signs that accompany His prompting, like sweaty palms, the hair on the back of your neck rising, or a chill.

Others since the Spirit’s presence and prompting with a deep calm, hearing His audible voice as what to prophesy, or speak a word of knowledge or wisdom. One thing is sure. The Spirit will not send you mixed signals. God is a God of order, not chaos (1 Corinthians 14:33a, 40). However He speaks to you and prompts you, He will make His wishes plain to you.

We must all learn His prompting as we develop our gifts and our ability to work with the Spirit. I don’t think anyone gets it right all the time. Sometimes we think we hear the Spirit when we may not. It’s easy for our flesh to get in the way. Don’t beat yourself up if you think you hear from Him and find out you did not. We all make mistakes, and we must all be gracious to one another.

Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice

Once you hear the Spirit speaking to you, Scripture is clear that you must obey Him. I tell people that as we become sanctified, we don’t have to do anything. We were saved and sanctified by grace. However, the one thing we must do is to obey the Spirit, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 3:12).

It is the only thing God expects of us. King Saul became impatient after asking the Lord whether he could win the battle (1 Samuel 15). Instead of waiting, Saul does his own thing. When he does to battle, he does not utterly destroy everything, as the Lord commands. He keeps back some of the spoils of battle. When Samuel comes to him, he hears the bleating of the sheep. Saul makes an excuse that he was going to sacrifice them to the Lord.

That’s when Samuel says those famous words, “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Saul did not obey the Lord, and it was not just this one time. Saul had a rebellious heart, wanting to do his own thing. That’s why God rejected him as king. A good king obeys the King of Kings. As His children, we must have an obedient heart and a surrendered posture to Him (James 4:7).

Yielding Your Life to the Spirit

We do not only give every decision and action to God. Our life belongs to Him, even before we knew Him. Everything belongs to the Lord. Everything He entrusts to you is under your care so long as you obey the Spirit. Your life, your finances, your family, your will, and your action belong to Him.

Paul talks about it as being a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:17-18). You will be a slave to something or someone. When you are God’s slave, you do the works that glorify and please Him. This doesn’t mean every decision and action will be easy. But a heart yielded to God surrenders to Him with every decision and action. These flow out of your surrender to God.

As His slave, you don’t have a choice on whether to listen to him. You must. Recognize the sovereignty of God. He created you for His glory, purposes, and enjoyment. You cannot call Him your Lord if you say, “No.” We are afraid to give someone so much power. But God never misuses or abuses His power. He is a good King. You cannot question His purposes or actions. You and I don’t have the right. It would be like a mouse asking a human why it must die for ruining the place the human lives, or clay asking its Potter, “Why did you make me like this (Isaiah 45:9)?

Obeying for Spiritual Vitality

When we obey our Lord, we experience the life and spiritual vitality obedience brings. When God gave Israel the Ten Commandments, it wasn’t too hinder them from “having fun.” It was a fence to keep them from the things that would harm them. The law brings liberty when we follow it.

But obeying is a learning process, and we will not always do it. It starts with our spiritual growth in Christ. I’m convinced the reason it takes a lifetime to reach our complete maturity in Christ is because we hinder the process by our disobedience. If we would listen and obey without asking questions or doing it begrudgingly, we would grow in Christ faster.

For the sake of your spiritual vitality, obey the Spirit at all times. The faster we learn to obey, the faster we will become more like Christ and go home to be with our Lord. Let us live inside the fence sovereignly given to us for our safety and freedom.

A Repeating Process

One final word about listening to and obeying the Spirit. We will not get it right every time. The Spirit will command our obedience over and over, and we will sometimes give it completely and sometimes give it reluctantly. God does not always command us to do such easy things.

What may be easier for me to obey the Spirit about may be harder for you, and vice versa. Each of us must to obey at every level. It’s a circular learning process. As we learn to yield more to the Spirit, the obedience test will get harder. God continues to help us live by faith and be more obedient with each task.

Growth Challenge

Do you struggle with listening to the Spirit? What is the way He speaks to you most often? When you disobey the Spirit, what reasons do you give? Are they really worth disobedience?

Up Next

Now that we have talked about how to be formed by the Spirit as we grow as disciples of Jesus, I will begin another miniseries on renewing your mind by describing the Christian mindset.

Image by Martine from Pixabay

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.