How do I know when God is speaking to me? How do I know what is the right thing to pursue? Here are some quick thoughts
1. What does the Bible say?
A long time back on this site, we published some articles around the topic “How do I know?” They were all about how we know truth. We discovered that God clearly reveals who he is and what his purposes are in Scripture. This should always be my starting point because if I want to hear God speak to me, then I need to go to the place where God has said that he will speak to me.
Now the Bible won’t give you a minute by minute blow of every decision you have to make. However, it will help you to see God’s big plan, what he values and where you and I fit into that.
2. The Church Family
We are not here in isolation. We are part of God’s family -the wider church and put in the context of local churches. Often a little bit of listening to others and being accountable within the church can make the difference between wise and foolish decisions. I may feel very passionate about something but I need to hear the advice of others too.
But more than, that, I want to keep thinking about where what I do fits in with the mission, priorities and values of my local church family. This means that I won’t just try to find some people to agree with me to confirm my plans nor even to check if some people disagree. We can do this and still have a very individualistic view of things where the church essentially exists to facilitate my dreams and ambitions.
What if my starting question was “What is it that God has called us as a small part of his family to do and how can I fit in with that?” This may mean that I even need to forgo some of the things that I’m passionate about if they are not the priorities of the wider church. A big challenge for all of us is “How do I react when my local church says no?”
3. My family
As well as the church family, God puts us in families as husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. Take time to listen and respect others in the family. Do my plans and desires conflict with responsibilities I have to others?
4. Use your gifts
God gives us gifts to help up make decisions as we grow in maturity. So if you are blessed with gut instinct intuition then listen to what it tells you. If God has given you a logical mind then weight up the pros and cons. Back to body ministry, seek out those who have gifts that compliment where you lack. If you tend to go on your gut then get the advice of someone who thinks things through logically – and vice versa.
5. A word about prayer
This should be the obvious one shouldn’t it. Usually when we talk about guidance, the first question is “Have you prayed about it.” That’s absolutely right and all of these things happen in the context of prayer. James says “You do not receive because you do not ask.”
There’s a danger with prayer. It can become the superstitious charm or excuse. I prayed about it so it will be okay. How many times has someone come and said “well I prayed about it so it must be okay” to justify something that goes against Scripture, overrules the discernment of the wider body or is going to be unwise (and indeed, normally all of those!)
But prayer is essential and can also play a big part in guidance. Why? Well, when you look at Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 5 you see that God already knows what we want before we ask. Then you see a form of prayer that focuses on God’s will being done. In Genesis 19, Abraham gets into conversation with God about Sodom but it’s actually God leading the conversation. I think prayer is a great way of learning to desire and value what God values.
5. Let God disagree with you
I know my human friends are real friends because they sometimes disagree with me and challenge me. That’s what happens in a genuine conversation. Sometimes I have to re-evaluate and change my mind. If it’s God speaking, then it won’t always be the case that he agrees with me. That’s a helpful way of knowing that it isn’t just wish fulfilment.
Some helpful questions to ask
- Will this help me to glorify God and enjoy Him?
- How will this lead to gospel opportunities?
- What is actually needed?
- Does this conflict with responsibilities I have?
- Have I submitted to those I’m called to submit to or am I pursuing my own agenda?