Sometimes I teach a small group session on discipleship and spiritual growth.
A question that I often get is “How Do You Know When You Have Heard From God?” This is difficult to answer but I can speak out of my own experiences.
- Your next steps will confirm what you just heard – When my wife and I felt called to leave our comfortable existence in a small town with quality jobs and low-cost of living to begin working in social ministry in a larger town with no assurance of adequate compensation, we found our confirmation a few weeks later when I was able to secure a job at a local university. My kind of vocation, academic librarian, isn’t that widely available but God seemed to provide exactly what we needed when we needed it. This demonstrated to us that our original word from God to go was for real.
- The words will sound familiar – This is where your relationship with God bears incredible importance. Many people fail to hear from God because they have no relationship with him. I know my wife well enough to know that when she says certain things in a certain way I need to pay attention and respond appropriately. Through experience with God and a relationship that has grown over the years, I start to recognize that what I am experiencing or hearing (though it seems more like a thought) is coming from God and not from my own prejudices or whims. This kind of relationship takes work, and familiarity with God’s word, but with time and understanding, recognizing God’s voice won’t seem to be such a random phenomenon. This is where step number three comes in.
- Careful and thoughtful guidance will validate the words – I am an introvert and rarely enjoy speaking just to speak so when I need advice or help with a decision, the advice better be good or at least thoughtful. Christians are so bad at giving advice. We think we have all of this wisdom but what we really have are opinions that we try to spiritualize to look good. Parker Palmer has written extensively on the value of a “clearness committee” that listens, asks non-leading but helpful questions, and brings the person needing guidance to a place where they can more clearly hear the Holy Spirit. I like the freshness and simplicity of Palmer’s approach. Christians need to seriously rethink how they help those needing guidance and direction from the Lord. Pray first, speak tenth.
If none of the three items above are happening and confirming what you thought were words from God then maybe you need to ask for more direction from the Lord. You can hear from God but sometimes what we think we hear needs fine tuning and consideration.