I used to have a small sign with Garfield on it saying, “Can I get caller ID for the voices in my head!” I Googled to find some media for this post and came across this; “I know the voices in my head aren’t real, but they have some great ideas.” And then this; “I hate it when the voices in my head go silent… I never know what they are planning.” Face it, we all have “voices” in our head. They may be our own, or our parent’s, or they may belong to we-don’t-know-who. But we have them. It’s no big deal, unless you begin losing arguments with them!
If we all have the voices then we all struggle to identify them. To decide which ones should be trusted and which ones we should flush down the toilet! It’s the olé good angel on one shoulder and the bad devil on the other. For those who’ve made God their leader, the voices split three ways. They struggle to know if the “voice” they hear is God’s, Satan’s, or someone else’s. Of course, if that “voice” is a negative influence, we don’t want to be loosing those arguments, or following their ideas! Most people don’t want to be taking advice from Satan or from any evil entity for that matter.
You may have noticed that I mention Satan a couple times and speak of him as if he’s real. While the sophisticated, academic and acculturated crowd often discounts the existence of the Devil, the Bible and we here Two Rivers Church do not. He’s much more than an evil idea or invisible force. Just read Genesis 3:1-7, Job 1:1-2:13, or Matthew 4:1-11 to see that he’s a real person, and not a very nice one at that. If you read those passages as stories that recount actual events you’ll see that he can take on different shapes but his “voice” is pretty much the same every time. He’s always in attack mode. That’s true of most of the voices in our head that need to be ignored.
He’s always in attack mode. That’s true of most of the voices in our head that need to be ignored.
It’s with that characteristic that I’ll begin helping you distinguish between those voices. My primary goal is to help you know if it’s God you’re hearing or someone else. Someone much less worthy of being listened to. Regardless of what God may “say” to us, whether it’s something corrective or encouraging, He doesn’t attack and tear down. Never. He is for us, not against us (Romans 8:1-2, 31-34; John 3:16-17, 8:10-11). He doesn’t want us to sin but He comes to us in love and not judgment. A critical, disparaging voice is the sound of hate and jealousy and fear and rejection and all that brings death to the human heart. That’s never the sound of our life-giving God. Never. The same cannot be said for Satan. He’s known as a liar or deceiver (John 8:44; Revelation 12:9, 20:3, 7-8), accuser (“Satan” Zechariah 3:1-2; 1Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:10), and slanderer (“Devil”). He tries to mimic God but there’s a combative and manipulative way about him. If you’ve ever walked away from someone and wondered if you were just praised or criticized, if they’re a friend or foe, an ally or attacker, you already know a little about the subtly of Satan’s “voice.”
That brings up another helpful reality. Those voices that belong to others can usually be put in one of the two categories. The way God communicates or the way Satan does. There are human voices that are neutral, but usually they are either negative or positive. In fact, Satan mimics God by using those around us (without their knowing it) to get his message to us. Some voices we hear in our head may be the positive and affirming voices of people that love us. They’ll sound very similar to God’s. Other voices are negative, attacking, naysaying, and destructive voices, in contrast to God’s positive, protective, encouraging, and constructive voices. They should be flatly rejected. Feel free to learn from any truth hidden under the toxin, but extract it from the poison first. If we can improve our ability to tell the difference between God’s communication and the Devil’s, we can also begin to know which human voices (our own and others) to listen to as well. Are you beginning to see a clear demarcation between the two primary categories of “voices”?
The Bible contrasts these two by labeling what’s right, true and good as “light,” and all that’s evil, wrong, and false as “darkness” (Luke 11:33-36; John 1:6-15, 8:12, 12:44-47; Ephesians 5:8-9; 1John 2:9-11). Whatever and whomever is with God, is light, and whatever and whomever opposes Him, is darkness. Truth and goodness (righteousness) is light, deception and evil (unrighteousness) is darkness.
I think that maybe the simplest way to learn the difference between God and Satan, light and dark, truth and deception, relative to those voices in your head, is by beginning with Romans 8:1. It declares that those who’re Christ–followers are no longer under condemnation (Romans 8:1-2; also Romans 5:1; John 3:16-19, 5:24; Galatians 3:13). This simple concept and the application of it to those voices can give clarity to everyone. Even if you’re not a professing Christian, God will not attack and condemn you and you aren’t going to want to give much time to anyone who does. I think the story in John 8:1-11 makes it evident that God MO isn’t to criticize. Here’s a woman caught in a very ungodly act, probably an act that was the norm for her life, and Jesus defends her rather than taking the easier and expected route of condemning her. Sure, He challenges her to change her ways, but not until she’s been protected and valued as a human being.
As far as offering a formula through which you can run the voices in your head to ferret out the liars among them, consider Philippians 4:8. Fill your mind with voices that speak things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious, and what’s best, beautiful and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). You have to use all the modifiers when you test the voices, making sure it passes the whole test. Remember that the truth is still often difficult to hear, challenging, corrective, and “redemptive” (rescues, delivers, liberates). Here’s a quick final test. A mentor of mine use to say that the voice of evil sounds a lot like that of Linda Ronstadt’s singing “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good, I’m gonná say it again, you’re no good…”! Any voice with that same finger-in-your-face disapproval behind it isn’t one to respect and believe.
Remember that the truth is still often difficult to hear, challenging, corrective, and “redemptive” (rescues, delivers, liberates).
Even with these suggestion, sometimes we believe the lies told us and can’t recognize accurately a voice’s origin. Maybe it sounds a lot like mom or dad’s voice and those are people we’re supposed to be able to trust. So we’re inclined to believe them even when laced with demeaning rhetoric. What we need is something that contrasts the two sides, light and dark, truth and lies, constructive and destructive, so that we can tell them apart. I have just such a tool for you! A colorful comparison of what God’s positive voice and Satan’s negative voice “sound like.” For printing purposes I also make available a black-and-white version. Let’s learn and live!