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.
I have been talking to God a lot recently, as I’ve been going through a bit of a rough patch. I have been thanking him for everything that goes right and asking him for the patience and strength to accept everything that goes “wrong.” I have actually been asking him for things, and he’s actually delivered. Not cars, or anything like that, but a ride home from the train station, a mood booster, etc. I don’t read scripture and honestly I’m not going to, but is it really this easy? All we have to do is ask, and we shall receive?
Becky: I guess I would ask why you would not want to read Scripture? If we truly value our relationship with God, why would we neglect studying his word? If a loved one sent you a letter, would you not take the time to read it and understand what they wrote? I could also point out that God tells us in his word that we are supposed to study it, so not only do we study it because we want to know more about God and his will for our lives, but we study it out of obedience.
God does promise to meet our needs. He never says he will give us anything we ask for. Most of our greatest needs are not things (money, cars, homes, rides home from work, etc.). Our greatest needs are instructions about who God is and what he wants from us (what life is all about and how we should live). These are the things we find in Scripture. It will be difficult for you to learn them adequately any other way.
Thanks for reading and commenting. God bless you as you seek him.
Sometimes we hear only want to hear, so as you suggest we need to use His word as God’s primary means of communication. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit also speaks to us personally, but I’m not sure that I’m wise enough to know 100% of the time if what I think is the Holy Spirits voice is actually Him speaking, or if its me talking to myself or even if it might be Satan speaking. The only way to know for sure is if that voice is fully attuned to God’s word. Also, if the voice is empowering me to fulfill God’s commandments then I can assume it is His voice encouraging to go where I might be reluctant to travel on my own in the course of my spiritual journey.
Great post, PT.
I’ve just started Fresno State; going to classes and extremely busy with the campus newspaper. I felt like I didn’t have a moment of rest the whole week with all the responsibilities on my shoulders. But the more I allowed myself to stress over it, the more I realized that it’s not benefiting me.
I believe I heard the voice of God this week in several different ways. First, with my job, I was given a paying job to support myself. But I felt I couldn’t possibly keep going on with it this week. But as soon as I told myself I needed to trust that He would help me, things just seemed to go more smoothly. I was able to get into contact with people I needed to talk to, and in the most unexpected of ways. And, I think most importantly, God gave me a new friend, a good Christian brother to really walk alongside me during this first week of school. I had been praying for that and God provided him for me.
I admit, I get angry when there are people who say to me that they’ve heard clear instruction from Christ about what to do with their lives, where to go, etc. In all my life, things have never been that certain. I guess I can be jealous. But I believe He can speak to us in different ways, and I know in my experiences outside of Santa Maria so far, He’s trying to make me realize that all of the little things that seem to just work out so nicely aren’t through coincidence or my own doing. It’s His doing, and when I remember it, that is the voice of God in my life.
And to add on to what I just said:
Even the things that we perceive to be a problem can be God’s voice. Just because we think nice and convenient things are always gifts from God (that may not always be the case), it doesn’t mean the troubles are not also a gift. If I allow Him to, those difficulties can shape me into a person who’s more dependent upon Christ and less dependent on myself.
I guess I am just not sure if it’s God speaking to me and giving me what I need, or just coincidence. And I don’t really follow a standard religion, just a sort of amalgamation of the lot. I believe what I think is true and can’t really be swayed to believe what people tell me to.
For instance, I think s/he’s a loving God and doesn’t denounce homosexuality, or believe in hate of any nature. And since he gave us free will, I think he allows us to make our own decisions based on what’s best for us. I am personally against abortion, but feel that it’s a person’s choice. Maybe I’m wrong in this, but I don’t really care. I think what I think and although I find it interesting to hear what others believe and their right to believe it, I am not going to change.
I’m not saying these things to be argumentative, I read your blog because I’m interested in hearing what you have to say and theology is fascinating. I respect your beliefs and am not telling your you’re right or wrong. 🙂
Becky: Thank you for your honesty and your kind-hearted dialogue. We obviously disagree on things, but I appreciate that you respect other viewpoints. I hope I show you (and others) the same respect.
I would say that we all operate on certain foundational beliefs. The thing we need to ask ourselves is why we believe those things. I base my beliefs about God on what the Christian Bible tells me about him. I am convinced that the Bible is true because I feel it has proven itself true where it can be tested. I also believe that the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus gives us firm grounds for believing.
Have you ever examined the claims of Christianity?
“Even the things that we perceive to be a problem can be God’s voice. Just because we think nice and convenient things are always gifts from God (that may not always be the case), it doesn’t mean the troubles are not also a gift. If I allow Him to, those difficulties can shape me into a person who’s more dependent upon Christ and less dependent on myself.”
That is a great point! Thanks for adding that.
I’ve probably examined the claims of christianity, as I went to catholic school until college. I’ve studied other religions and have just become comfortable believing what I believe. I believe in a higher power and I try to be a good person. Nothing else seems important to me. The God that I believe exists isn’t going to cast me from heaven, if there is such a place, just because I didn’t read the scriptures or go to church.
Becky: “The God that I believe exists isn’t going to cast me from heaven, if there is such a place, just because I didn’t read the scriptures or go to church.”
Nor would the God I believe in. However, scripture is where we learn about God and what he wants from our lives. We can see the evidence of God by just looking at the world around us, but that is a limited picture. Scripture is God’s word to us to tell us more about him and our place in his creation. If we do not read it, we have a very narrow understanding of who God is and what life is about.
Hi Tim. It’s been a very long time since I’ve visited your blog, and it’s interesting to me that this was the topic I stumbled upon. I’ve had two experiences where I felt God made sure I knew He was answering my prayer. Once was a time of sin that I was experiencing in my life and it was consuming my mind. I prayed as hard as I’ve ever prayed for God to take the sinful thoughts from my head. I begged and pleaded with all my might. I, without a doubt, believe that God answered my prayer (not immediately) when I was diagnosed with cancer. No He didn’t cause my cancer to relieve me of my sin, but certainly redirected my thoughts and my heart. I had a different mission and was release from the chains of that sin in my life. I thanked God for the cancer because it truly made the other thing that was going on within me go away. He still reminds me of that time and keeps me in check which I’m always thankful for.
The other time God absolutely “spoke” to me was when I was desperately lost in my battle with cancer and trying to understand how to handle mentally and emotionally what I was going through. I did not doubt the God was with me through it, but I needed some kind of affirmation from God that would give me the strength to endure it spiritually.
Turning to my bible I had no clue where to even start or how I would know if God was actually telling me what I needed to hear. So I started in Job where I had already been reading. As I state in my book, I read the words aloud and heard my voice as His, telling me these are the words that will help you. There were several passages that made things so clear to me that I just cried pure tears of joy. A weight was lifted that I didn’t expect.
Basically, through His word, God told me He had my back. I might not be relieved of the trial, but He would give me what I needed to endure it, and that I would also experience joy within the trial. No one could ever convince me otherwise that God answered my prayer to help me get through the sorrow I was feeling at that moment. I was so excited that I called and shared with two people immediately, and I gave a testimony of it in church the Sunday following.
Thank you for your lesson here. It’s wonderful to visit your site again. You are an amazing teacher. I’m so glad that God spoke to you to lead you to where you are now.
Shannon: Great to hear from you! Thank you so much for sharing how God has been working in your life through his word and your battle with cancer. I am excited to hear that you are writing / have written a book. How can I get a copy? I really want to read it!
Thanks, Tim. Yes, I’ve spent the last 9 months writing a book about my cancer experience. It’s been interesting, tough, blessed. I’m waiting for a response from a publisher. It may be a while, but when it does get printed, I will be sure to let you know. Hugs to you and the family. That little Miss of yours sure is getting big. Take care.