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How Does the Holy Spirit Speak Personally to Me?

By Barbara Rainey

First posted on

Keeping my two grandsons recently, ages 4 and 2 1/2, has reminded me of the perpetual dilemma I faced with my own children: Who started the fight and how can I possibly know the whole truth?

You’ve been there too, haven’t you?

Was it an accident that the younger one hit the older one? Is the older one telling the truth?

I caught the older one in a lie already this week. He’s clearly past the age of three, when all of my six first demonstrated the ability to fabricate lies. I don’t fully trust his story, nor should I. But neither is the younger grandchild all innocence.

Much like my grandsons who knew they’d been caught, once there was a woman who came face to face with Jesus. The woman at the well, described in John 4, wasn’t expecting Him that day. Startled by His physical presence in her women-only space, she became uncomfortable when He spoke to her.

When Jesus began asking questions, this unnamed woman replied with questions of her own to deflect His focus. She asked, “Why?” Then, “How do you know?” Then she delivered a partial truth. Lastly, she changed the subject with flattery before she finally recognized the truth: this man was the Messiah.

Her self-protective strategies remind me of my two preschool grandsons who ask “Why?” a hundred times a day. They don’t ask because they desire truth but because they want their way; they want control. Like the woman at the well, they told me only part of what happened between them. Then the older one finished with a sweet, melt-your-heart voice, “I’ll obey next time, Mimi.”

I recognize this woman’s still-like-a-child nervousness, her telling only partial truth, and her flattery, because it is still in me, too.

Jesus’ presence makes us uneasy because He is perfect and knows all truth. We cannot hide our sin from Him. But hearing the truth from Him does not condemn us. Instead, like this woman we need to heed the words of Jesus: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

After Jesus declared the gift of the Helper who would soon come to be with and in His disciples, He added more clarity, more understanding, by naming Him the Spirit of truth three times. (See John 14:17, 15:26, 16:13.)

The Helper will also be your teacher, Jesus explained. Just as He Himself was Teacher to His disciples and His many followers who had come to depend on His presence, leading, teaching, direction, and correction. Jesus reassured them He would still lead them, but by “the Spirit of truth.”

Jesus’ disciples and followers had come to know His voice, His heart, and the integrity and purity of His every action. He spoke to them verbally and non-verbally. The Spirit also speaks to us verbally using words primarily from God’s written story, the Bible, but also words of truth about Him.

Here are three ways the Holy Spirit speaks:

1. The Holy Spirit speaks by illumining God’s Word. The Spirit is the One who illumines our minds to see truth. Like turning on a light in a dark room, so the Spirit of truth enlightens our understanding. Without His active work in our minds to “open our eyes” we would not see, which is why unbelievers scoff at any reading of the Bible.

Years ago I made a discovery that was life-hanging, a “light bulb moment” as we used to say, about the illuminating work of the Spirit. While doing a Bible study for a class I was taking, I found this verse in the Old Testament: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 5:12-14). I’d heard this commandment, one of the ten, but on this day the Spirit gave me eyes to see.

I was a tired mom with a bunch of little kids. Every Sunday we made it to church … barely clothed, but always smiling as if we had everything perfectly together! Going to church. Check. Learning about a holy God. Check. Got the first part of the verse right. But the part about a day of rest? Not so much for me as wife and mom. After listening to the words of the verse more, I realized our weekly church attendance was more a historical habit than one of obedience to Scripture.

Dennis and I both grew up attending church every week, so neither of us questioned the practice. Now I wanted to know more. I studied all the verses about the Sabbath and learned several things:

  • It’s healthy to question why we do and what we do in light of God’s Word. When we follow a pattern without understanding why, it can lead to legalism.

  • I heard God’s heart for me as a woman and a mom. I think He planned the Sabbath for women more than men! I mean that! The old saying, “A woman’s work is never done,” is proof that we need a Sabbath day once a week.

  • Most important, I experienced the Holy Spirit’s personal leading of me, His child. I asked Him how we could practice the Sabbath as a family beyond the Sunday morning hour. He gave me several ideas that helped me, as a mom, actually have a day of rest.

I knew this was all from God and not my own imagination because the Holy Spirit gives assurance, a peace, because God is “not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). He assures us we are doing the right thing or He disturbs us when we are not. His presence affirms the truth within us.

2. The Holy Spirit speaks by teaching all things. I have learned to ask God for all kinds of things that years ago I would have felt were too unimportant to bring to the King of the universe:

  • When I’ve lost something, I ask the one who knows all things where I’ve left the item. Usually He helps me find it quickly. But not always. I lost a favorite book nearly a year ago and though I’ve asked Him where it is, I haven’t yet found it. He knows its location even though I don’t yet.

  • When I’ve slept terribly at night and have many things to do the next day, I ask Him for strength. Psalm 28:7 says, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped.” I don’t feel instant supernatural physical strength, but He gives me enough to do what is before me. Importantly, His strength isn’t just physical but He also supplies His strength to help me choose what is pleasing to Him on days when I’d rather do what feels best for my tired body. He knows all truth about what my mind and body are experiencing, and I choose to trust Him that He is sufficient.

  • I ask Him to help me focus when I’m distracted because He knows the truth of my heart and my circumstances.

  • When I don’t know what my husband or child is really saying, I ask Him to give me understanding because He knows the truth about their hearts.

  • When someone asks for advice, I try to send a quick prayer for His words to be mine when I reply. He knows what she is really asking.

  • In my work with Ever Thine Home, I am constantly asking the Spirit of God, who was present and involved in Creation, to give me ideas and inspiration, His creative thinking, His new ways of saying eternal truth, His artistic touch on every new product. He knows all truth because He is the Spirit of truth.

3. The Holy Spirit speaks by reminding me of Jesus’ words. In John 14:26, Jesus says that the Spirit of truth will bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” The disciples had come to believe Jesus was the Messiah, but they didn’t yet understand what was ahead on Good Friday. When someone you love dies, one of your greatest longings is to hear that person’s voice again. Mixed in with grief is the fear that we will forget all that we remember and love.

Jesus knew His disciples would fall into deep grief, become numb in their pain, and begin to forget His words. So He told them in advance that the Helper, the Spirit of truth, would bring to their remembrance all that He taught them.

In order to lose something, you have to possess it first. To remember something, you have to hear and experience it first. The Holy Spirit doesn’t put the words of Jesus into our heads that we have never possessed or heard, though He certainly could. His assignment, as stated by Jesus, is to bring to our remembrance what we have heard, which makes knowing the words of Jesus, the words of the entire Bible, essential.

I once wrote a blog post about a time I heard God clearly answer a question I asked Him about aging. His reply to me was simply, “Lay up for yourself treasures in heaven,” from Matthew 6:20. The words weren’t audible, but I heard them as clearly as if they had been. He pulled that phrase and shone His light on it from the memory bank of all I have read.

The Holy Spirit also uses hymns and song lyrics that are theologically accurate to remind me of His truth. Many mornings I wake up hearing the lyrics, “I need Thee, Oh, I need Thee, every hour I need Thee.” My Friend, my Teacher, is reminding me of the truth of the Word from Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

In response, I can declare, “Thank you Lord that you will give me all I need today.”

One morning I woke up hearing the melody, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” I was surprised because I hadn’t heard those words in a long time, and I wondered why the Spirit had given me that reminder.

As my day unfolded, I found myself in a conversation with friends. Instead of feeling comfortable with these people I had known for many years, I felt alienated as the talk increasingly became a discussion about topics I couldn’t engage in. As I sat in silence, feeling out of place and insignificant amidst the happy chatter, I remembered Jesus loves me. He reminded me, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in My love” (John 15:9).

What an incomprehensible gift the Holy Spirit is to us! He is our Friend, the very best Friend one could have. He is our Helper who comes to our assistance in countless ways. And He is our Teacher who illumines our minds and hearts, speaking truth about Jesus, about ourselves, and about His world!

Ask Him what He wants you to remember and to do. Then thank Him abundantly for every way He works on your behalf.


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