November 11, 2008

Was it God?

Have you ever been in prayer and thought to yourself: ‘God is telling me to call Sam’; or ‘God is telling me to give my Christmas bonus to that family at church’; or ‘God wants me to take that job.’ If not, you may have never prayed. For there is no doubt that, as we seek the Lord in prayer and meditation, the Spirit occasionally urges us with His still, small voice. And we need to listen for that voice. But the question always needs to follow: ‘How do I know it was God speaking?’ For, after all, our hearts are deceitful above all else. So maybe we misunderstood what God wanted. Or maybe we convinced ourselves that God wanted something when He actually never spoke at all. So, how do we know if God is really speaking? Let me make a few suggestions that you should always apply when you sense that the Spirit may be urging you to do something, or telling you that something is so.

1. Compare it with Scripture. Peter says that the Bible consists of material in which “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1.21). So the Bible is the word of the Holy Spirit. And surely the Spirit would not contradict, in prayer, what He has already said in print. So, if you believe the Holy Spirit is speaking to you … compare what you hear with the teaching of Scripture. And don’t just seek our one verse that seems to justify what you believe you heard. Study the whole counsel of God’s word on the subject at hand. And if the urging you heard in prayer does not match up with the plain teaching of Scripture, rule it out as not from God.

2. Seek the counsel of fellow believers. Sometimes you may feel the Spirit is urging you to do something for which the Scripture gives no specific or comprehensive command. You feel fairly certain He is telling you to take that new job. It’s not a sinful job. And the Bible doesn’t say anything specifically about where you should work. So that settles it, right? You should go ahead and start boxing up your pens and post-it notes, making ready for the new office, right? Not necessarily. You may still have mis-understood God’s will for you … even if what you feel you heard does not directly contradict Scripture. So, talk things like this out with some mature Christian friends – people who won’t pull any punches; and who won’t tickle your ears. If they give good, reasonable feedback that says ‘Maybe this is not the best fit’ … then perhaps you misheard. Not necessarily. But it’s a lot harder for 3-4 people to misunderstand God than it is for just one.

3. Recognize that you and your friends can be wrong. Let’s say that, after praying with friends, you still feel certain that God is telling you that you are about to change jobs. Your friends, in fact, agree that this would be a good thing. And then you get a call that says the company has ‘decided to go in a different direction’. What now? Do you show up at HR and say: ‘Obviously, you made a mistake; God told me this was my job’? No! Instead you take a step back and remember that your heart is deceitful … and admit that you must have misheard or misunderstood what God was saying (or that, perhaps, He wasn’t saying anything at all). You admit that your capacity to hear from God is fallible. In fact, it would be helpful to remind yourself of these things right up front … to never assume, in the first place, that the word was certainly from the Lord.

The only sure method of hearing God’s voice is in the pages of the Bible. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen anywhere else. But it means that, as we do, we put an asterisk beside everything we believe we hear. And we don’t put ultimate confidence in ‘the leading of the Spirit’. We put ultimate confidence, rather, in the writing of the Spirit.

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