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One of the joys we experience in childhood, although we don’t see as a gift at the time, is that decisions are made for us. What’s for dinner? Ask mom! How will the electric bill get paid this month? Ask mom! What will I be doing from September to May of next year? School…because mom said so! We love independence, but most of us can at least appreciate the idea of a person telling us which way to turn when the lines get blurry and a world that once seemed very black and white takes on a surprising shade of grey.
During the years I worked in student ministries, one of the most common questions I heard asked was, “I wish I knew what God wanted me to do…how do I hear from Him?” It’s amazing to be reminded that, at the core, middle and high school students are wrestling with the same thoughts as their parents and grandparents.
As a part of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, I had the opportunity to be discipled by a staff intern. She would remind me that any church leader’s job is not to give people perfect answers, but to always point them back to Jesus. That became my goal with students and it is the perspective from which I write today.
I would like to suggest four questions we should consider when seeking the voice of God:
Do you believe His voice will flow out of His great love for you, even if it’s not the message you wanted to hear? If we aren’t willing to receive what He says, we really cannot proceed.
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If that scares you, remember that a God who loves us enough to sacrifice His son, who promises to never leave us, and who is gentle enough to wipe away our tears (Revelation 21:4)—a God that loving is good. His heart for us is good and His will is good. Are you willing to hear more?
The Bible is God-breathed, so it is here where we begin. In her song, The Word, Sara Groves sings…
“I’ve done every devotional
Been every place emotional
Trying to hear a new word from God
And I think it’s very odd,
That while I attempt to help myself
My Bible sits upon my shelf
With every promise
I could ever need.”
We might not be able to flip to the concordance and search “how to know if I should stay in this dating relationship…” or “how to respond when my co-worker says something cruel…”, however, if we develop a habit of abiding in the Word of God, we will know His heart. And when we know his Heart, we will recognize His voice.
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God has a lot to say in scripture regarding what it means to love people, how to handle conflict, and what it looks like to live a life that reflects Jesus. Many of you have read wise words from my friend and frequent iBelieve contributor, Nicole Unice. On several occasions, I have heard her say, “God’s voice will never contradict God’s word.” If we are questioning something that is in contradiction to what God has already spoken through scripture, it’s likely a situation of us wanting to hold onto something that He is asking us to let go of. For example, if we feel justified refusing to forgive someone who hurt us, despite the repeated calls for forgiveness in His Word (ex: Matthew 18:21-25 & Matthew 6:12), then it likely has more to do with our pride that any true conviction from the Holy Spirit.
In the quest for God’s voice, let the first stop be scripture. Dwell in it before deep questions arise and return to its truths when answers become unclear. The more familiar we are with the heart of God, the more familiar we will be with His voice.
During one particular coffee date I had with a student, we discussed an unhealthy dating relationship she was involved in. She lamented her frustration over not being able to discern what God wanted her to do. I asked her what her family, close friends, and spiritual mentors had to say. The people closest to her, who loved her and wanted the best for her, all warned that staying in the relationship was dangerous and they advised her to end it. We had talked about the reasons behind their concerns for quite a while when she looked at me through teary eyes and said, “I know what they want me to do…I just wish I knew what God wanted me to do.”
The people who love you…the people you trust and respect…what do they say? Have you asked them? Obviously, everyone should not be within your circle for wise counsel. Ask people who have made decisions that you respect, and who love you enough to want what is best for you. Allow their voices to enter the conversation and examine how their input is compatible with scripture and what you know to be true about the heart of God. The Lord frequently uses the voices of others to echo what He is speaking to our hearts.
You know that whisper? That sense of what God is calling us to? In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard refers to this as the “still, small voice”. For a deeper discussion about what it means to have a “conversational relationship” with God, as Willard describes it, jump into this thought-provoking piece of writing. I cannot do justice to the understanding he brings to the subject.
I will say this though – it’s hard to imagine hearing the “still, small voice” of God if we don’t make listening a priority. Our lives produce a shocking amount of noise. Our days seem to fill themselves with appointments and activities before we even have a chance to say otherwise. Repeatedly in scripture, Jesus left the noise. He got up earlier than everyone else, went away from the chaos, and was alone with His Father. He prayed and they talked, a habit which scripture tells us He did often.
Are you positioning yourself to hear the still, small voice of a great God who wants so badly to talk with you?
These are our beacons. If we are seeking direction, these questions may or may not lead us to a specific answer, but hopefully they will help us discern God’s voice in the midst of so many others.
Hearing the voice of God is about so much more than knowing what to do. It’s about relationship. If we only seek His voice because we want Him to tell us which choice to make, we have missed the point altogether. Listen and learn to recognize the voice of the Father because He is a loving God and He wants to be in relationship with us. What an incredible gift that is.
He has promised to be found, if we will truly seek Him. “’Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD.’” – Jeremiah 29:12-13.
Cara Joyner is a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom living on the East Coast with her husband and four children. After years of working in student ministry, she has come home to raise her children and begin tackling grad school. She loves hanging out with college students, watching Parenthood and eating chocolate like it's one of the food groups. In addition to iBelieve, Cara is a contributing writer at RELEVANT and Today's Christian Woman. She writes about faith, marriage, motherhood and intentional living at www.carajoyner.com. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.
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