Tricked, hoodwinked, faked-out, double-crossed, fooled, mislead, or otherwise had the wool pulled over our eyes, we all know how it feels to be sold a bill of goods. The fact is that in many cases such unfortunate circumstances could be avoided if we simply followed step #1 of wise decision-making: consult with God.
Time and time again in Scripture we see the Israelites, for example, being led astray when they ignore the injunction for God’s people to “be careful to do all that is written” in His Word (Josh. 1:8) and New Testament disciples stumbling when they fail to “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). Just look at what happened to Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5! It’s no different for you and me. Satan loves it when we skip God’s input and go for our own plan.
Of course the next questions are, how do we seek God’s input and how can we know we’re hearing from Him? Good questions. The answer to the first is rather obvious: we pray. Along with prayer we open the Word and try to know it deeply enough so that it becomes part of our decision-making process, influencing us more readily than the worldly, secular, humanistic influences all around us. We approach decisions with transformed and renewed minds that eliminate most of the potential for being mislead by lies from the evil one.
An athlete who has trained for hours upon hours in the fundamentals does not have to think deeply about each move during competition. Those who do are easily defeated by the ones who have taken the time to prepare to handle the eventualities of the game. Entering the arena unprepared and assuming that because you’re wearing the right uniform you’re protected is a recipe for disaster. Too many Christians make that mistake. So begin by being as prepared as possible by the disciplines of prayer and work in the Word.
But what about hearing from God in other ways? Some believe they can train themselves to “hear” God speak to them. Is this to be expected as normative for the Christian? I would say that it does happen, but I would caution anyone who chooses to rely on this as protection against a wrong decision. We’ve all either had personal experiences, or heard of reliable stories of God speaking in the modern-day context that are pretty undeniable.
For example, Greg Koukl, Author and President of Stand to Reason, shares this story:
I had a friend once that told me about how she really felt God wanted her to go and talk to a friend of hers who was a non-Christian that she worked with and tell him that God loved him. After much consternation and fighting she said, "Okay, God, I give in." She got up out of bed in middle of the night, drove to his house, knocked on his door. He answered the door and she said, "Well, I just have to tell you that God loves you"—he felt pretty silly. The guy broke down and cried—he had been contemplating suicide. In kind of a last ditch effort at contacting God he said, "God, if you don't stop me I'm going to kill myself tonight." Then he gets a knock on the door; this woman says, "God sent me over here to tell you He loves you."
Yes, we may “hear from the Lord” in the form of convictions, or promptings, or comforting, answered prayer, or even guilt over something, but at the foundation of most of these things are what we already know to be true from His Word. That is what we are commanded to “accurately handle” (2 Tim. 2:15). It’s not about training our spiritual ears to personally hear His voice. Besides, people can use “God told me…” in such manipulative ways!
And how can you argue with their experience? One of the worst marriages I’ve ever seen took place after the young man told the girl, “God told me you are going to be my wife.” She was shocked but how could she argue with God? Either God really messed up on that one, or they guy was obviously lying, as many well-meaning people are when they say, “God told me.”
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” …Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” —James 4:13&15
If it is presumptuous to make decisions without affirming a concern for the will of the Lord in the process, it follows that trying to determine the Lord’s will might be important to consider as part of the decision-making process. It’s not always a matter of endless formulas, seminars or expensive curriculum for trying to discern the voice of God for yourself. Most of the time it is hearing from Him consistently enough through His Word that when the time comes to choose, you “hear” what He has already said.
“So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is”