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I attended a Christian summer camp for the first time when I was 15. It was shortly after I rededicated my life to God and started diving deeper into what it means to be a Christian and pursue a life that reflects Christ. It was a small high school leadership camp where they equipped us and challenged us to grow closer to God.
During one of our classroom sessions, the speaker taught us about intercessory prayer. We were given a card with steps and supporting Scriptures for how to successfully proceed, and we were sent out to pray. I distinctly remember what happened next because it was one of my first experiences recognizing God's intentional involvement in my life.
We stood outside in small groups to pray, and we were to be still and open our minds to hearing God's voice. Our task was to pray for the people whose names God brought to our minds. As such a new Christian, I was terrified to communicate so directly with God. I was not afraid to pray and submit my supplications to Him, but I was afraid of asking Him to speak to me so clearly.
As my friends in the circle around me prayed aloud for people God was bringing to their minds, I closed mine off by not letting my thoughts rest. I was afraid to hear from God. As I was frantic in my thoughts, one of the counselors in our circle began to pray for me. And she prayed for the very thing I was fighting against — that I would quiet my mind and allow myself to hear God's voice. He wanted to speak to me.
I felt like my heart stopped. No one could have possibly known the battle in my mind except for God. And not only that, but her prayer was so spot on that I knew God intentionally displayed His power for me. I began to realize how much He loves me and how much He desires for me to know Him. The same goes for you.
When I look back on some of the most defining moments in my faith, they are the moments when God interacted with me so personally that there was no mistaking His voice. They are the moments that shocked me, lit a spark in my heart and caused my faith to soar.
There are so many different ways in which God speaks to us. Sometimes He uses other people to speak wisdom and encouragement into our lives. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives us a slight nudge, which might be our conscience working in overdrive or a feeling we simply cannot shake away. And sometimes He speaks to us directly through thoughts we know are not our own or even through an audible voice. Other times He brings related Scriptures to our attention for us to meditate on for guidance.
I've spoken with several friends over the last week who were discouraged or felt stuck regarding certain situations in their lives. The only advice I could give them was to pray and listen for the Holy Spirit's leading because it would not fail them. Wise people told me over the years to pray through a tough situation until I felt God's peace.
Whether you are facing a relationship struggle, a career struggle, a financial struggle or something else, God will speak to you and guide you as you seek Him above all the noise of worldly voices — including your own. My caution is to pay close attention while doing so because sometimes when God speaks to us, we're so focused on ourselves and our desires that we dismiss it as a fleeting thought or emotion. It's not a great feeling to look back later and realize God wanted to guide you and you missed it.
How has God spoken to you recently?
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-- Considering what started brewing over in, "When God Calls You Away From Home," I expect this one to be lively.
-- I'm not a big fan of the whole "wait for God's peace" advice (minor quibble, I know) on finding God's will. A lack of peace can be caused by fear, doubt, a misunderstanding of the character of God, etc. I know when I came to graduate school, I knew that God had (per my prayers) clearly opened the doors to attend, and that I had sought and received counsel on the matter which pointed me to graduate school, yet I had no peace. I prayed intensely all that summer before graduate school, and yet I still had very little peace. In reality, I was scared to move two states away, to attend a secular graduate school in science (afraid it would pull me away from Christ), and I was going through the disappointment of a budding relationship ending abruptly. Also, coming from very conservative circles, with a desire to marry and have a family, I really didn't see how graduate school would help me prepare for that (I had received a couple of negative reactions on my plans as well).
In the end, I came anyway, but it took God over a year to show me very, very clearly that grad school was indeed his will for me. Looking back, I wish I would have had peace about the decision at the time (rather than being focused on fears of "missing God's will", worst-case scenarios, and other people's opinions), but I'm glad I acted on what God had clearly showed me in spite of my emotions.
-- @ARay, I understand how you feel. I recently had to make a decision about work and going back to school that required me to make the school decision before I had a firm commitment on the job lasting. Fear can definitely be paralyzing, but doing what you know in your heart is right is always freeing afterwards.
--One time I think I experienced God's clear leading. One Sunday afternoon I decided to fast for the remainder of the day and spend it praying and reading the Bible. About an hour in, my thoughts wandered from what I was reading to an image of a new friend of mine eating alone at a local fast-food chain. I reasoned with God, "I never go there, the food is bad for you, and besides I decided to fast today." But the image wouldn't go away so I decided to just *walk by* said restaurant and do some other shopping I needed to do. In the nearby shopping mall, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and it was....BAM! my friend from the vision. I casually mentioned going for burgers at the said fast-food place. She looked sad and said, "Aw, I just came from there! I had to eat by myself!" I was floored. So I made her come to a cafe instead and we had a good chat for an hour. The friend is not a Christian so maybe God wanted me to minister to her, instead of stay shut up in my room not eating. I almost disobeyed, glad I didn't!
Usually though, I don't experience things like that. Usually I know the Holy Spirit speaks to me in the form of bringing Bible passages to my mind, suddenly without me having to try and remember them, sometimes ones I didn't even know I'd memorized, at times when I'm facing temptation or needing special encouragement. Sometimes they are not what my self-indulgent ego wants to hear :P but they help me say "no" to ungodliness.
I haven't ever felt God's clear direction on big decisions, like where to live or go to school, but in hindsight, I can see He opened all kinds of doors, as it were, and it wouldn't have been possible without something/-one outside my control working to bring me to that point.
--I guess I'm in the camp that would caution against considering fleeing thoughts or emotions from God.(The Bible even cautions against it, as the heart can be deceitful) It's too easy for people go off track when they start doing that. Scripture provides much of what we need, especially for moral doctrine and ministry related decisions. For other things we should seek wise council from others, pray...and use the head God gave us to make the best decision.(how will it impact my family/friend relationships? do I have the finances for it?, etc)
Also not everything has a right or wrong answer either.... we shouldn't put so much on ourselves... yes, our path through life will look different based on some decisions (Just imagine if our parents didn't make that move or purchased a different house). But God's provision and dominion over all things won't change, we can take comfort in that.
--I agree with you. I've always been taught to discern whether or not a message is from God by diving into Scripture. If it's backed up biblically, then it's generally OK to follow. However, if it is simply a fleeting thought that can't be supported by Scripture, then absolutely be careful and seek guidance, preferably from a pastor or mentor. I'm a huge fan of Christian music, and so often times God speaks to me through that. He'll bring lyrics to my mind during prayer that lead me back into Scripture. He gives me a verse or a passage to meditate on that speaks into my situation. And that's how I know it's God's leading.
--I was taught four criteria to determine whether or not a voice comes from God:
1. The voice / thought should be different from your usual norm of thinking. If you usually buy something for homeless people you see and you hear "God" telling you to buy a coffee for someone it is probably your own voice and not really from God. That's not to say he hasn't changed your heart to make it more compassionate, but that specific call probably came from within.
2. All messages from God should be alligned with scripture. Also, people tend to hear from God more when they spend more time reading the Bible.
3. There should be some external confirmation of the message.
4. There should be peace. If something comes from God it should bring peace even if it makes little sense rationally.
--Last year, at age 24, I packed my bags from the mid-Atlantic, where I was born and raised, and moved to Alaska for my first real job, doctorate of pharmacy in hand. Over the years, I have received clear direction from God for career selection, transcontinental relocation, and many other decisions. Feel free to read the details on my blog: truevineworks.wordpress.com/.../connect-the-dots. When I do not receive clear direction, I seek wise counsel, do research, use good judgment, etc.
Amy: Thank you for the excellent post.
Ria: I loved your fast food story!
--I just don't understand all the hoops people jump through to try to feel like God is speaking to them.
Can you imagine this for the people God actually spoke to in Scripture? Can you imagine Paul trying to figure out if the vague thought in his head came from God or not, looking for external confirmations and examining his emotional state? It is a ridiculous picture, because that is not how the God of the Bible operates. When God wants to speak to someone, He does so, clearly and unmistakably.
I would argue that this sort of twisting is not only unbiblical in the sense of not lining with the Bible, but also almost anti-biblical in the sense of implying that the Bible itself is not sufficient for the Christian life, that further revelation is necessary.
--Oh, PricklyPete... I want to answer to some of your comments from this blog entry and Ivette's blog entry, but I wonder if it's worth the effort... Are you "prickly" because you wanted to hear God speak and didn't, or because you think God doesn't speak? Either way, my heart grieves for you, for hearing God speak is perhaps the greatest joy in my life.
I would answer this much, at least for now, that it seems to me we are reading an entirely different Bible if you think God speaks only rarely and radically in the Bible, and if you think he speaks without using our emotions in the Bible and if you think people always understand clearly what he speaks in the Bible. I can think of examples in the Bible that counteract all of those assumptions, but I don't want to write them out for now and be late for work! And I don't want to waste my time if you're not willing to accept or at least seriously consider them.
I feel like, based upon your overall posting habits before this "hearing God" discussion, that despite your prickliness, you do genuinely seek God, so let me know if you want the examples or not. And, why don't you ask him, if he wants to speak to you? :-)
--p.s. That last question is a dare.
--I used to believe this and it leads to heartbreak and craziness. The people that get by with it are so loose about being consistent that is is easy for them to just say "well I guess I misheard" or "God's timing changed" or "that was a certain word for that time but meant something else". It is impossible for them to ever be wrong in their belief about hearing from God because it morphs into whatever they want at the time (a sense, other people saying this, a peace, etc...).
For those of us that want to be serious about it and have a straight answer (and be consistent with what words mean) it causes anxiety, frustration, and paralysis. If that sounds like familiar to you, there is hope.
Just Google Greg Koukl Decision Making and the Will of God PDF and MP3s. All the verses thrown out about listening to God are taken out of context, I had to confront that and painfully change the way I was doing things.
God does not whisper, he makes himself known clearly. He has no expectation on us to try and discover his sovereign will, he only expects us to make wise Biblical decisions; just as a good father would would want his children to learn how to make decisions on their own.
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