As a pastor, I’ve encountered so many stories about people who claim to have heard from God but who really haven’t—or who have misused their proclamation of it. Maybe Tom is sure he’s heard from God that he’s going to marry Angie—except God hasn’t mentioned anything about it to Angie. Tom assures her that God has indeed made this pronouncement. And now … they’re married to other people.
This type of “hearing from God” can cause all kinds of hurt, manipulation, and confusion. It sometimes makes those who claim to be led by the Spirit lose credibility in the eyes of those around them. In addition, I’ve seen dozens of well-meaning Christians, desperate to hear and follow God’s voice, adopt all kinds of unhelpful practices for attempting to hear it. There are those who follow the “Random Verse Method.” Have you ever done this or known someone who has? It’s when you need direction from God, so you flop open your Bible and expect the random page you now see to hold the key to your problem. The Random Verse Method is not a reliable strategy for hearing from God.
There’s the “Fleece Method,” also known as the “Open Doors Method.” This is when a follower of Jesus will put out a “fleece” like Gideon did to determine God’s will. For example, “If I get a hole in one today at mini-golf, I will see it as a sign from God that I should ask my girlfriend to marry me.” Or, “If the company calls before 7:00 p.m. today, then I should take the job in Arizona.” The Open Doors Method is a variant of the same: “If the door opens for us to buy the house, then it must be God’s will to move forward. If the door closes, then we shouldn’t buy the house.”
Though well-intentioned, these methods for hearing God’s voice can quickly create a world of confusion, uncertainty, and missteps. They rarely produce confident, faith-filled followers of Jesus, because they are fundamentally flawed in their premises. They work from the assumption that God is like a puppet master, seeking to control every movement of his puppets. Or that he’s like a computer program. If you put in the right code, you will get the desired result.
But God is not a riddle that must be solved; he is a Father who must be known. Hearing from God flows from authentic relationship with him.
Here are four simple tests can help you avoid confusion when it comes to discerning God’s voice.
- The Doctrine Test. When trying to hear God’s voice, first ask, “What does the Bible teach on this topic? Does my decision align with the teaching of Scripture?” Some questions can be completely answered through the Doctrine Test. For example, it’s not God’s will for you to lie to your boss about the report you didn’t complete. You don’t have to pray much about that one to know what God’s will is. This is one area where the counsel of a pastor or other leader from your church can be helpful if you’re uncertain about what the Bible teaches on a particular topic.
- The Disciple Test. Next, ask, “Does this decision make me more like Jesus? Does it push me to trust God more? Will it stretch my heart to love him more?” Everything God leads you to do will in some way make you more like Christ. If the answer to this question is clearly no, then God’s will is fairly obvious.
- The DNA Test. Thirdly, ask, “Does this decision seem to fit with how God has been working in my life recently?” You’re looking for clues of the work of God’s providential hand in your life. God can and will speak by unexpectedly aligning events or situations. Does this decision seem to be marked with a divine DNA? You need to learn to discern between coincidence and divine appointment. Sometimes, God will lead you to do something that is outside of your gift mix, so you can’t write off an opportunity just because it’s beyond your comfort zone. What is God doing in your life? The more you are aware of his overall guidance, the more clearly you can discern his specific guidance.
- The Dinner Table Test. Lastly, ask, “When I sit down at the table with wise, mature Christians who know me and love me, what do they think of my decision?” Notice it doesn’t ask, “When I sit down with friends who think just like me, what do they say?” Invite mature Christians into your process as you learn to discern God’s voice. Their wisdom can save you a lot of needless pain. Here is again an area where your pastor or other leaders from your church can play a critical role. What do these leaders think about your decision?
These four tests will help you build a library of evidence when it comes to knowing and following God’s voice. Over time, like in any relationship, you will become more and more familiar with the direction of God (John 10:27).
Justin Kendrick is the author of Bury Your Ordinary and lead pastor of Vox Church, which he founded in 2011 with a small group of friends on the doorstep of Yale University. Since then, Vox has grown to multiple locations across New England. The dream of Vox Church is to see the least-churched region of the U.S. become the most spiritually vibrant place on earth. Justin and his wife live outside New Haven, Connecticut with their four children.
Required permissions line:
Taken from Bury Your Ordinary by Justin Kendrick. Used by permission from David C Cook.