In learning to listen and hear God’s voice, one big question comes up for many of us that goes something like this: “How can I know if this is from God, and not just my own thoughts?” The first answer is that we all have to learn by experience, the same way we learn to recognize the unique voice of a friend over time by being around him or her, or how we learn to distinguish between the sound of major and minor scales.
We can learn a lot from those followers of Jesus who have become adept at listening to and hearing from God. Dallas Willard talks about three points of reference, or three “lights” that mature believers have generally used to help in discerning God’s unique voice: circumstances, impressions of the Spirit, and passages from the Bible. For those who listen to God, those three factors come together to help in the process of making a responsible decision.
I really like some practical advice given by James Dobson about how this process might work: I get down on my knees and say, ‘Lord, I need to know what You want me to do, and I am listening. Please speak to me through my friends, books, magazines I pick up and read, and through circumstances.’ And then, we are to listen. To pay a special kind of attention to what to what we read in Scripture, to what is going on inside us, and to our surrounding circumstances.
A year ago, I had left my church job after 18 years to move across the country, and was asking God for direction and guidance for my next season of life. My journal is full of my requests and questions for God: “Am I supposed to work for another church? That’s what I know, where my experience is, and I am willing to do whatever, but I need Your guidance.” Here’s what happened:
- On January 20th, 2015, I noted in my journal that in my Bible reading I had come across Mark 2:22: And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.
- Also that day, somewhere I read this and wrote it down: You can’t start the next chapter until you stop re-reading the last one.
- Later the same day, I became aware that a single phrase in a song by Basia from back in the 90’s was looping in my head: “Gonna be a new day, for you.”
- That evening, a song by Sting came up on our Pandora set list: “Brand New Day.”
- Ummm, by now I was really listening. Nine days later, in my journal entry, I wrote: God, you are amazing! The verse that day on our desktop flip calendar was Isaiah 43:18: Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
For sure, I felt God’s smile of encouragement and guidance. I gathered up my courage and took steps to begin Soulmind – which is certainly something completely new and different for me.
Listen to the Devotional