I don’t know about you, but I always get a little wary when someone states that “God told them” to do something. I wanna ask, “Wait a minute, what do you mean God told you? Did He send an angel to you in the night? Did you audibly hear His voice?” All the while thinking, “I don’t think God told you anything. It was probably just a bad burrito.”
Yet as cynical as I am in the face of these claims, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve basically done the same thing. I may not have admitted openly that “God told me xyz,” but I assumed it in my heart. I just knew I was supposed to marry the guy I was dating, or I just knew I was gonna get that job. I believed in a very powerful way that God had spoken these things to me, and they were going to happen.
However most of the time, they didn’t.
Now far be it from me to question the Holy Spirit’s leading in someone’s life. I do know the Holy Spirit will never lead in a way that contradicts Scripture, but if you say that God told you you’re gonna marry a man with brown eyes who loves dogs, then that’s between you and God. What’s more, Scripture does give us examples of people who heard directly from God Himself. We shouldn’t assume He would never do the same today.
The problem with these claims, however, is that they are tough to distinguish from our emotions. Sometimes we want something so badly that we can’t sort out our desire from the voice of God. And in my own life, desire has been far louder.
Desire, coupled with imagination, is a powerful influence in the mind of a woman. We can literally convince ourselves of something that is not at all of God, and that is a scary reality. We can convince ourselves that we can date or marry men we shouldn’t, buy things we shouldn’t, or let ourselves off the hook from following God the ways we should.
All of that to say, here are several ways that God DOES speak to us in a definitive way. If you think God has told you something, how does it line up with the following….
1. Scripture. As I said, God won’t lead you in a way that contradicts His Word. Maybe the Bible doesn’t say whether or not you should leave your kids with a nanny so you can pursue a career, but what does it say about being a godly mother and wife? Maybe it doesn’t tell you whether Alex is your soulmate, but can he lead you spiritually?
2. Godly counsel. What are your godly friends and family saying? If they are all telling you the same thing–namely, that a decision is wise or unwise–you should listen. The Holy Spirit uses the people in your life as a vehicle for His voice, so when you fail to heed consistent godly counsel, you are ultimately rebelling against God.
3. Circumstances. God never told me to marry my husband. But after I spent time getting to know him, learning about his character and how my personality matched with his (among other factors), I prayerfully came to the decision that it was wise to love him as my husband. Had our personalities clashed, that would have been an answer to the contrary. Sometimes our circumstances are clear indicators of God’s leading. If God has shut a door, that is often His way of telling you directly that He has something else in mind.
#2 and #3 are somewhat flexible since people can give you bad advice, and sometimes our circumstances are meant to teach us perseverance and patience rather than a clear negative answer. But usually there will be an extent to which the above three factors will all align on some level. If, however, you are still struggling to discern the voice of God, the last way He speaks to us is as follows…
4. Holy Spirit leading. There have certainly been times in my life when God has disquieted my spirit in a way that seemed to be coming from Him. It was usually in contradiction with my desires–perhaps I wasn’t willing to sacrifice as much for my church, or I had my heart set on taking a particular job that I never actually felt a peace about taking. There have also been times when I knew I was making a bad decision, but I did it anyway. That knowledge of the decision’s wrongness was the Holy Spirit.
While the Holy Spirit can direct our mind and instincts, it’s important to to check these “feelings” against the first three indicators I listed above. If it contradicts Scripture, or if it goes against the advice of godly women, or if circumstances keep getting in the way, then the “feeling” is likely just selfish desire. Otherwise, the leading may be affirmation of all that you already know or have heard from the Holy Spirit’s primary means of communication–His Word, His people and His world.
All of that to say, God DOES speak to us, every day in fact. But how he speaks to us is usually different from what the words “God told me to” imply. While God can certainly reveal Himself in dramatic ways, He already did so through His Son, and he continues to do so though Scripture and the Church. Many people engage in self-destructive decision making because “God told them to do something,” using it as a guise for doing what they want. At the very least, be honest with yourself and God.
And for those of us who are so blinded by our desires that even this type of honesty is difficult, remember that the ONLY promises we definitively have are found in Scripture and pertain to the Christian life. God doesn’t need to add to His promises, so be careful in doing so yourself–you may be setting yourself up for heartache and disappointment.