One of the questions that we all wrestle with is "How do I know when God is speaking to me?" It's difficult because we read in Scripture where God speaks clearly and articulately, like Kenneth Branaugh but we've also seen people commit hideous and atrocious acts of violence all the while claiming "God told me to."
So how do we know when it is God nudging, pushing, and pressing on us?
How do we know it isn't just the burrito we had for dinner last night?
I believe there are three major criteria for knowing when God is speaking that can help us listen and respond to God when He speaks to us.
*Just a note, I don't necessarily believe that God speaks in "audible" voice to everyone. That is the standard move in Scripture, but now as people with the Spirit of God dwelling within (Rom. 5:5, etc.) we can be moved by the Spirit of God into all truth and reminded of the teaching and guidance of Jesus (see John 14 & 16).
1. Repetition - God will speak to us repeatedly. We're spiritually hard-of-hearing, definitely, and so God will repeat promptings to us as needed. He doesn't expect us to get it the first time, every time. I'm thinking of the story of Samuel and Eli (1 Sam. 3:1ff) where God spoke to Samuel three times before He finally got it.
2. Confirmed by Scripture - The practice of listening to God's voice has to paired with the practice of reading and being shaped by Scripture. God will not move us to an action that is not supported by the grand narrative of the Scriptures - and we must be careful not to confirm God's voice based only on one passage or one interpretation. That's why #3 becomes so important...
3. Confirmed by wise counsel - When we think God is speaking, it is good to engage another person - someone wise and rooted in Christ - to help us see more clearly. A spiritual director, a small group member or leader, a pastor, or just a mature friend. It should be someone who knows us somewhat and who has shown themselves to be rooted both in language and behavior in the Scriptures. When we run what we're hearing past these folks, they will be able to point out places of agreement or disagreement that can give us wisdom and insight beyond our own. The whole "forest...for the trees" metaphor is important here.
I've found that these three "filters" have helped me discern whether or not God was moving me or if I was simply re-engaging burritos consumed prior to hearing God "speak." I don't believe these are hard and fast definite laws, however, as there are times when the voice of God or the nudging of God is so strong and definite that we are compelled to move immediately.
Formation into Christ-likeness is about developing a sensitivity to God's voice that makes humility and obedience possible.
The goodness of following these three filters is that we learn deeper levels of submission and obedience and we find ourselves and our agendas shrinking (see John 3:30) while God's explodes - clearly and beautifully - throughout our lives.