So I planned on writing this article about Tech’s college graduation and how homeschool contributed to his success, but life happened. Look for that article next week, hopefully. Instead I’m posting this article I wrote a couple of years ago. It still relates to graduation, sort of. Graduation brings lots of questions and decisions and wondering what God’s will for your life may be. It can be hard to discern God’s voice apart from all the others rolling around in our heads.
Don’t Go With Your Gut
How do I know I am actually hearing God when I pray? Often when Christians ask this question, a variety of answers surface:
“Listen to the still, small voice.”
“It just feels right.”
“You’ll know in your heart.”
All of this vague, nonspecific advice boils down to “go with your gut.” The problem is that going with your gut can get you into trouble, just as it did with my husband and I. In our early twenties, just newlyweds, we fell under the spell of a controlling pastor. We lost the next dozen years trapped in an abusive church. During that period in the wilderness, my husband and I prayed countless times asking the Lord whether we were in His will, whether this was the leader He wanted us under, and whether this church was the place He wanted us to be. Every time we prayed, we heard God’s affirmation, or so we thought.
Of course now that we’re free of that church’s hold, we understand how very wrong we were. But, at the time, we were certain we’d heard God’s voice. In the years since, I’ve struggled. If we were misled for so long, how can we be sure anything we hear is from God? While pondering this concept recently, God walked me back through those days, showing them to me in a different light. It became clear that God had shown us, in a myriad of ways, we were not hearing His voice. If we had applied the following Biblical principles, we would have saved ourselves and many others a great deal of heartache.
Does what you are hearing line up with the whole counsel of God’s word?
This may seem obvious, but it is easy to manipulate gray areas of scripture or take verses out of context to support a questionable cause. A young woman who is praying about a possible future spouse may quote Hosea as grounds for a dubious match. However, the guidelines throughout the Bible paint a specific picture of a desirable husband that is different from the circumstances of that one, short book. In my case, our pastor majored in minor snippets of scripture and quasi-spiritual concepts. Had my husband and I perused the entirety of God’s word instead of fixating only on the passages our pastor dictated, we would have known that the answers to our prayers did not bear up under the weight of scripture.
Does what you are hearing line up with the counsel of spiritual advisers?
One theme that weaves itself through the Bible is that all believers are part of one body. If one is praying about an important issue, he should have his friends and spiritual family praying about it with him. While ultimately the individual is the one responsible for the decisions made, these trusted people in his life are part of the process. “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.” Prov 15:22 NKJV
It’s probable that not everyone will be on board, especially if it’s a high risk ministry or a move out of the country. But a majority of Godly friends should be in agreement with your plans. If no one says yea, the answer from God likely should be nay. When my husband and I were trapped in the abusive church, members of our old congregation drove an hour and a half to reason us out of the situation. Throughout the years family members and other Christians pleaded with us to leave the church. Those many times we prayed for guidance, we didn’t recognize that God was answering through the wise counsel of others.
Does what you are hearing line up with your emotions and feelings?
When a person is aligned with our Father’s will, it should be evident in their emotions. The first three indicators of God’s work in our lives are love, joy, and peace (Gal 5:22). In short if a person is on the right track, he should be happy. This doesn’t mean doubts won’t creep in on occasion or there won’t be Job moments, but the overarching sense should be contentment. Our time in the church was accompanied by constant anxiety. For years, we woke up each day with knots in our stomachs. The reason why we prayed so many, many times about that pastor was because we were plagued with doubt. If we had paid attention to our own feelings, we would have known that what we thought we heard was not God. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Tim 1:7 NKJV
When believers talk about hearing God in prayer, is it often described in esoteric, hyper-spiritual terms. In reality, God has given us tangible guidelines for differentiating His voice from all the other noise. Had my husband and I recognized the checks and balances provided in the Bible, by fellow Christians, and, even, our own emotions, we would have known that answers we thought we heard in prayer were not of God. I encourage all believers to seek and pray diligently, but test your answers before acting.