We all want to hear the voice of God. What is his will for my life? Should I buy this car? Marry this person? Attend this school?
It makes sense that we’re looking for God’s voice in these things. We make so many decisions every day, and we don’t completely trust ourselves to perfectly assess each situation and know what is best. And as Christians, we want nothing more than to see God’s will done in our lives.
So how do we discern what God wants us to do in each situation?
Let’s start with the obvious. God has declared his will to us in the Bible. So there are some areas of God’s will that you never have to doubt. God always wants you to love your neighbor, to be faithful to your spouse, to not be anxious, etc. So if you ever find yourself in a decision between sin and righteousness (“should I sleep with my girlfriend or not?”), then finding God’s will is easy.
But things are not always that clear. Let’s say you have $100 that could be put into savings or could be given to a charity. Neither decision involves sin. So what do you do?
Well, pray. Ask God to guide you. Ask him to lead you into the right decision. Ask him to close doors and open doors. Maybe you’ll hear a clear response. But maybe you won’t. That’s okay. If you are a Spirit-filled Christian seeking the Lord’s will, he’s not going to trick you into spending the money in the wrong way. We can have enough confidence in God that if we’re seeking him, we can make the decisions that seem best at the moment and trust that he is going to use those decisions in the way he wants to.
I have made plenty of important life decisions that I was convinced were God’s will for my life, only to discover that God had something a little different in mind. I prayerfully chose to study Electrical Engineering in college. After two years, I prayerfully decided that I should switch to Speech Communication and become a minister. I prayerfully decided to go to seminary to be a church planter. Then during seminary I prayerfully decided to use my seminary training to be a Christian educator.
The point is, I made each of these decisions while trying to do my best to stay within God’s will. When I discovered that God’s will for me was not exactly what I expected, I didn’t need to have a crisis of faith. I can look back and see God guiding my life through each of those decisions. Had my life not followed exactly that pattern, I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have my daughters, I wouldn’t be serving at Eternity Bible College, I wouldn’t be writing, etc.
We do our best to discern God’s leading, we follow that leading as best we can, and we continue to discern and follow when it seems that either (1) we misunderstood what God was leading us to do or (2) God’s guidance in that moment of our lives was not for a permanent life course but was meant to continue leading us on a beautifully wandering journey.
I know some Christians that are paralyzed if they are not hearing God’s voice telling them what to do in each situation. One of my friends described it this way: “trying to hear the Spirit’s leading in every situation breaks down into OCD when you’re not hearing him clearly at every moment.” God delights in faith, and for that reason we shouldn’t expect a divinely written itinerary for our lives.
I do believe that God will at times tell us something very clearly. But we still need to be careful. We are never infallible and can certainly misunderstand even what we are certain is God’s clear communication to us.
Some of my more “charismatic” friends have heard God telling them that a certain person is going to die soon. Three separate friends of mine were in this situation. And since God revealed it to them, they went ahead and warned the person. But then the person didn’t die. You can argue that those people are still going to die, but my friends were predicting an imminent death for these individuals—in one case it was within a year. Yet years have passed and those people keep living. I think we have to admit that we don’t always hear God’s voice perfectly, even if we feel certain in the moment.
Ultimately, trying to hear God’s voice is a wonderfully faith-filled adventure. We do our best to seek and follow the Spirit’s leading, but we have to be okay with not knowing in every situation. And we can have the confidence that even when we don’t know, God does, and he is still working in our lives:
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:26-28)