How many times have you heard someone say “God told me to (fill in the blank) “? I am not talking about the crazy person who says that God told him to blow up a day care center. It is easy to dismiss those claims as psychotic nonsense. I am talking about the seemingly normal, everyday person who happens to be a Christian. Most of us have probably heard someone say this. Most of us may have even said these words ourselves.
Here is an example: When I decided to go leave my career in technology sales and enter seminary, many people asked why I would make such a decision. My answer? Because I believed that was what God was telling me to do. But how could I be sure? It is not as if God spoke in an audible voice and said, “Tim, I want you to leave your career, sell your home and move from beautiful Ohio to the land of your sworn enemy, Michigan.” I received no phone call from God. I received no visions in the night. God did not speak to me from a burning bush. But I still believed that God was “speaking” to me and telling me that I should enter the ministry as a pastor. I believe he spoke to me through others who encouraged me to go to seminary. And he spoke to me by developing a desire within me to go.
But how can we be sure? How do we KNOW that we are hearing the voice of God and not simply following the advice of others or our own passions? After all, the Bible tells us that we are all sinful and our desires and passions are not the same as God’s. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, who can understand it”. If this is true, how can we know if we are not just following our own deceitful hearts when we think we are listening to God?
To make matters worse, we not only have to deal with the deception of our own hearts, but also the deceptive work of Satan. Scripture tells us to be watchful because our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). This would not be so bad since, while lions are ferocious and dangerous, at least we can spot them easily and stay away from them. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Satan. We are told that he presents himself as an “angel of light” and that his servants present themselves as “servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). That means that we cannot easily spot trouble. In fact, Satan and his servants can seem like they have our, and God’s, best interests in view when they “help” us. Just look at Satan’s deceptiveness in the Garden of Eden as an example (Genesis 3:1-7).
So, we can see why it can be so difficult to “hear” God. We have an enemy who would like to deceive us and our own hearts are untrustworthy.
Fortunately, God has left us with more than subjective ways to understand his will for our lives. He has left us with his word. Scripture expresses the will of God for all of mankind in written form. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Scripture is the word of God. It is sufficient to teach us concerning the will of God and equip us to serve him. The best thing about Scripture is that it is not based upon subjectiveness. It is the objective word from God. We can have confidence in it.
What does this mean for us? It means that Scripture has final authority in all matters. While we may get a feeling that God is speaking to us either through our own gut or through the counsel of others, we must always test those “voices” through the voice of Scripture. God’s true voice will never contradict what he has said in his written word. In fact, we are told to oppose those who contradict God’s written word (Titus 1:9).
So, when we desire to know God’s will about a matter, the first place to turn is the Bible. When we feel that God is telling us to do something, the first thing we should ask ourselves is “What does Scripture say about this?”. Often times, there will not be a direct answer in Scripture, but there are always principles to apply to our circumstances. This is why it is so important for the Christian to constantly study God’s word. The more we study it, the more we are able to understand the will of God and live it out in our everyday lives. The more we understand God’s word, the better equipped we will be to perceive the deceitfulness of Satan and our own hearts. If we want to hear the voice of God, there is no better place to listen for it than in the word he saw fit to write down for us. If we neglect it, we have no idea whose “voice” we follow.