Sunday, someone in my Bible Study asked me if I could pray for them this week.  She was facing some decisions regarding her job situation.   This is something we’ve discussed and prayed about several times over the past year.

It’s not a question of finding a job.  She is very blessed in that it always seems that she has a variety of choices.  The issue is “which” job is the right one for her. I guess it’s been awhile since we discussed her job.

She had started with a company that was a new launch, that was faith based, and I had thought things were going well.  But she said, “I thought God was leading me to another company.”  She started that job a few weeks ago.

Then she said, “But I think what I was hearing was something else.”

There are situations coming up in this new job and she is looking once again.

Does God Still Speak to Us?

Often when you start the conversation of whether or not God still speaks to His people, some Christians will object by saying that is supplanting Scripture with “new revelation.” No.  Not only is that conflating two completely separate issues, but it is a straw man argument, a logical fallacy.

Start with What You Know for Sure

What we can know for sure is what is written in Scripture. In order to really know you are hearing the voice of God, a firm foundation in Scripture is absolutely essential because that is the plumb line ( Amos 7:7-8 ) for testing everything you are hearing. The Word of God, Scripture, is written by men inspired by God and every single word holds as true for us today as it did for the people in the time it was written.

Everything else is held to that standard.  If you receive a “revelation” or “direction” that deviates from what it says in Scripture, then you know for sure that it is not from God because God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6 KJV ) and his Word doesn’t either. ( Num 23:19, 2 Peter 1:20-21, Luke 21:33 )

I am the Lord, I change not. Malachi 3:6 KJV

If you don’t agree with that, if you are under the mistaken assumption that this incredible collection of writings which was written over a period of approximately 1,500 years by more than 40 different authors, (( McDowell, Josh. Evidence for Christianity. 2006. Page 20. ))   with more than 2,500 prophecies, 80% of which have already been fulfilled, (( Ross, Dr. Hugh. Fulfilled Prophecy: Evidence for Reliability of the Bible.  Reasons to Believe. 23-8-2003. Accessed 19-5-2014. )) and that describes scientific truths that have only been discovered in the last 100 years, (( Ross, Dr. Hugh. The Big Bang – The Bible Taught It First.  Reasons to Believe. 1-7-2000. Accessed 19-5-2014.—the-bible-taught-it-first ))  if you think all this could have come about by human effort, I have to say you are extremely credulous.

It’s hard enough for that many writers, even half the number, to come up with a consistent storyline that doesn’t contradict itself when they are working together, let alone spread out over hundreds of years. The plot mess of the TV series Heroes is a perfect example. (( Gregsta, DJ. Heroes Season 3 Overview. DJ Gregsta Media Critic. Accessed 19-5-2014. ))

The other claim that it has been “changed by men” over time, that wasn’t credible before 1946 when the Dead Sea Scrolls (( Dead Sea Scrolls. Wikipedia. Accessed 19-5-2014. )) were discovered and it is almost imbecilic to claim that now.  As John Lea  points out in The Greatest Book in the World, there are actually more significant alterations in the works of Shakespeare, which was written a mere 300 years ago, than there are variations in Scripture. (( Lea, John. The Greatest Book in the World. Page 15. ))

But if you are still insist on refusing to acknowledge that the Bible is not only what God said, but that it means what is says, my advice to you is one of caution.  I think you will have a very hard time truly hearing the voice of God if you reject or cherry pick what He says in Scripture. Start with what you know, the Word of God.  If you personally are not confident in that, I don’t see how you can be confident in anything else.  It will all be chaos and confusion.

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We Recognize God’s Voice from Scripture

Have you ever had a favorite author that others tried to imitate?  It’s not the same is it?  It’s not the same voice and the more attached you are to the original author, the more irritating and unacceptable the imitators are.

Or have you ever participated in an online forum for a period of time, gotten familiar with the writing style and voice of the posters, and then someone created an alternate ID and tried to pretend they were someone else?  You could tell right away who it was couldn’t you?  The more they write, the more you read, the faster you identify it.

That is the way it is with reading the Bible.

Once in a discussion, someone mentioned they didn’t like the Old Testament.

I love it.

When I became serious about reading the Bible on a consistent basis, my plan was to read two chapters out loud a day.  I just started in Genesis and kept going through Revelation.

The New Testament gives us the fulfillment of God’s promises given in the Old and gives instructions for walking out the Kingdom of God here on earth, but some of the strongest promises in the Bible are in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament gives us a vivid illustration of who God is: His justice, his righteousness, and his faithfulness. I think it would be hard to really know and understand who God is . . . and recognize his voice . . . without getting into the Old Testament.

That is my personal opinion.  Others may disagree with me.  After all, a huge chunk of the New Testament actually quotes the Old.   I still think you should read it for yourself.  Jesus taught from the Tanakh and the apostles witnessed by proving Jesus was the promised Messiah through the law of Moses and the prophets.

Step 1: Learn to Recognize God’s Voice by Reading His Word

And not only read it, but memorize it.  It says we are to hide God’s Word in our heart. Start with What You Know for Sure If you are looking for guidance in a specific issue, the first place to look, your starting point, should be the Bible.

(Back to my first point above, if you don’t have confidence that the Bible is the Word of God and absolutely true, stop reading right here.  The rest of this post isn’t for you.)

If God explicitly addresses something in the Bible, it means what it says.  You don’t need to seek further guidance about it.

If you’re thinking about cheating on your taxes, the eighth commandment is “Thou shalt not steal” ( Exodus 20:13) and Jesus said to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” ( Matt 22:20-22, Mark 12:17 )

Don’t expect a further conversation about that.

If you want to know how God expects us to live out his instruction, Exodus 23 is one chapter that very succinctly and in a condensed version talks about what living with integrity looks like.   That is what God is looking for, not observing the letter of the law or flamboyant worship for show; he wants us to live a life of integrity.  When Jesus called Nathaniel as his disciple he said, “That is a true Israelite, a man of complete integrity.” ( John 1:47 )

God also gives a lot of instructions about relationships.

If you have a friend that is constantly getting into fights or making bad choices, the Bible says not to hang out with them. ( Prov 22:24, Prov 13:20 )

If a fellow believer is persisting in sin and refuses to listen to the correction of the Holy Spirit or the church, we aren’t supposed to tolerate and go along with it.  The letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians were written specifically to address a situation like that. ( 1 Cor 5:9-12 )

If you have a disagreement with someone, or someone has an issue with you, Jesus told us how to handle it. ( Matt 18:15-34 )

If you’re considering entering a close relationship (dating, a partnership, etc.) with someone who isn’t a believer,  God tells us not to be unequally yoked. ( 2 Cor 6:14 )

If you get emotionally entangled with someone who is married to someone else, don’t pray and ask God, “What do I do?”  He’s already told you.  The seventh commandment is “Do not commit adultery.”  (Exodus 20:14)  Also a man is supposed to cleave to his wife when they are married, and that the two become one flesh.  So that means there is supposed to be a distance, a separation, between the man and wife and third parties.   That includes parents, friends, and definitely other romantic relationships. ( Gen 2:24, Matt 19:5, Ephesians 5:3 )

It doesn’t matter how many times you ask him about it, the answer is going to be the same.  That is a no.

Godly Authority and Counsel

Another way God guides us is through authority and counsel.    If you are in your parents’ home, they are your authority.  If you are married, your spouse should be in agreement with your decision.

Counsel from others is also a way God leads us.  We are to honor our parents for our entire lives.  ( Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:12 )  When we marry, our spouse is who we are accountable to and who we make decisions with, and our parents move to a position of counselor.

Friends, mentors, and pastors, can also provide counsel.  That is why the relationships we make are so important.  If you hang out with fools and with people who reject the will of God, you can get yourself into a huge mess.

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Ask God and Be Prepared for the Answer

Read the Bible, seek counsel, and while you are doing this, pray to God and ask him to show you His will for the decision you are trying to make.

And be prepared for the answer.

The post title references the book, “Discerning the Voice of God,” by Priscilla Shirer which is a 6 week devotional designed to help you recognize when God speaks to you.  While this can be used as an individual study, there is also a DVD and study guide that can be used in a Bible study setting, which is how I went through the book.

The one thing that stood out and stayed with me from the study is in the opening chapter Shirer uses the illustration of Habakkuk as someone who went to God, seeking an answers, and wasn’t going to stop until he got one, whatever the answer might be. (( Shirer, Priscilla. Discerning the Voice of God. 2006. Page 8. ))

I will stand on my guard post And station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.  Habakkuk 2:1

I think sometimes we shy away from asking God for guidance because, if we are really honest with ourselves, we don’t want to know the answer.   We want the answer we want to hear.

The reality is sometimes we aren’t going to like the answer we get.  At least initially.  If you follow God’s will, in the end you will be glad you did, but it may take a while to see that.

There are some things that I know God told me to do, and I still haven’t seen the outcome of it.   I think, “Why did I have to do that?  It didn’t make a difference.  It would have been easier just to have done nothing.”

That is from my perspective, those are my thoughts.  But I know that isn’t God’s perspective and that there was a reason and there was a purpose and I am believing in him that he will work it out.  There WILL be fruit from that.

The other aspect of that is that not only does God sometimes tell us to do something that we’d rather not, sometimes in his answer he is convicting us in an area of our life that needs to be address.

That is what Habakkuk was saying, “I want an answer, NO MATTER WHAT.”  He was ready for any “complaint” God had against him.  He recognized that he might need to address his own garbage before God answered in other areas.

So the question you have to ask yourself when you are trying to hear from God, “Are you ready to listen to whatever He has to say to you.” One of my pastors once said, “I’ve noticed that God won’t tell me something more until I do what he’s already told me.”

Expect an Answer

A foundational point of the study by Shirer is that we have to expect an answer when we pray.  We have a God who loves us and wants a relationship with us.  Not only does he hear us, but he answers.

But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.  Micah 7:7 NASB

My God will certainly hear me. Micah 7:7

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek. Psalm 27:8 KJV

For example, I had to make a decision about something.  I had counsel from a friend and she said, “You’re not going to do what they (the other people involved)  tell you to do, you’re going to do what God tells you to do.”  I prayed about it, but I didn’t think I had an answer.

Months later, after there had been more leading by God, I went back and looked through my dream journal.  The night that I prayed for guidance, I had a dream in which someone came up to me and specifically told me what I was supposed to do.

I had written down the dream  but I hadn’t paid attention to those instructions.  First, I wasn’t expecting God to give me the answer in a dream.  Second, the answer was so far from what I was expecting it to be that I dismissed it.

I came across Phil Vischer’s current web site and podcast and read the story of how it came about.  If you aren’t familiar with Phil Vischer, he is the creator of the Veggie Tales cartoons and used to own the company, Big Idea.  The company went into bankruptcy and was bought out by Classic Media.

On the FAQ page, he explains how as the company got bigger, he had less and less time to be creative, and as he points out the bankruptcy was evidence that corporate management was not where God had gifted him.  He lost literally everything he had created in his life, the rights to all his work and characters he created.

But God took him out of that and gave him a new start.  He and Classic Media came to an agreement that he would still create a few episodes for them each year.  The world of imagination he created in Veggie Tales still continues and grows and he is free to focus his creativity in other areas.

While he still produces Bible resources for kids, now his voice and message is heard by far more through his podcast than just the 8 and under crowd who love Veggie Tales.

Sometimes we get so focused on our own way, even things we “think” are in God’s will, that we don’t take the time to ask him until we run headfirst into a wall.  Then, when he has our attention again, he can move us to where he wants us to be.

“If righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and ignore the obstacles I put in their way, they will die. And if you do not warn them, they will die in their sins. None of their righteous acts will be remembered, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths.  Ezekiel 3:20

This is part of Phil’s explanation of how God spoke to him through the situation:

So God has really done something interesting. He has taken a situation that started out as a complete disaster (literally the loss of everything I have done in my adult life), and brought out of it an opportunity for me to return my focus to new stories as he directs, while allowing Veggie Tales to provide the funding. To be honest, trying to run a ‘big company’ didn’t fit my personality or gifting in any way. I was pretty darn miserable as Big Idea’s “Top Tomato.” And the bigger the company grew, the less time I had to use the creative gifts God had given me. I was so convinced that God wanted me to be “Walt Disney” that I kept banging my head against that door, even as the company was unraveling around me. And amazingly, God used the disaster of Big Idea collapsing to gently whisper, “I don’t want you to be Walt Disney. I want you to be Phil.” To which, of course, I replied, “But I’m not sure I know who ‘Phil’ is!” And then he responded, “Just slow down, take a deep breath, and I’ll show you.” Pretty cool, huh?

How much easier would life be and how much drama would we avoid if we learned how to hear God’s voice and actually listen to it?

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Listening to the Prompts of the Holy Spirit

When someone accepts Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. ( 1 Cor 3:16, 1 Cor 12:13, 2 Cor 5:5, Rom 8:16 )  This was the fulfillment of the promise of God to “give gifts to his people.” ( Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:17-18 )  And Paul tells us that the prophets spoke of it and longed for the day when it would come about. (Ezekiel 36:27, Jer 31:33-34, Titus 3:5-6 )

Before Pentecost, the Spirit of the Lord would “come upon” the prophets ( Num 11:17 ) and those anointed by God, but they were not “indwelt” and the Holy Spirit could leave them like it did Saul (1 Sam 16:14) and which David pleaded to God to spare him from. ( Psalm 51:10-12 )

"Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence and don't take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. Psalm 51:10-12"

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.   Psalm 51:10-12

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth, and He does that by transforming us by helping us throw off the sin that weighs us down (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT)  Unless, of course, we reject his efforts by quenching the Spirit.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks to us, prompting us to do something through a quiet thought. How do you know it’s the Holy Spirit and not your own thoughts or something else?

For me, it’s usually because it’s something I do not want to do at all or something that I would never naturally have the urge to do.

As an example.  I am an introvert, an INFJ using the Myers Briggs personality types to be specific.  It doesn’t mean I don’t like people, it just means that after I’m around or in front of a bunch of people, I need solitude to recharge.  (Being around people energizes extroverts.)  It also means I’m friendly to people, but left to my own inclination, I probably won’t go out of my way to get to know you.  (And if we are friends and you think I ignored you, I promise I’m not.  I was probably in my own little world in my head thinking about something and wasn’t paying attention.)

When I was in a mom’s group, I would go to the meetings and talk to the people I knew.  The membership director was great about grabbing me and saying, “That person’s new, go talk to them.”   I would, and I was always glad about the new connection and friendship I made.  I just wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t told me to.

Someone told me, “You have to be intentionally friendly.”

It’s true.  I like hanging out with people I already know.  I have to remind myself to expand that circle.

I am the last person that would just strike up a conversation with a random person . . .  and then to ask if I can pray for them . . . that is completely out of my comfort zone.

So, I was at a restaurant with my girls, and every time the waitress came over, I felt like God was telling me to pray for her.  At this point, I think I’ve made it clear why I know this was not me, not my own thought.  That is literally the last thing I would think of.   And I know this because every time the thought came, I was backpedaling in my mind thinking of excuses of why I didn’t really need to do that.

Every time she came over the thought came.  Every time I was mentally arguing against it.

The check came and I still hadn’t felt, or chosen to see, there was a time that was appropriate to do it.

My daughter asked for a pen and left the waitress a really sweet note on a napkin.

I felt that was a confirmation that God really wanted to speak to that waitress that day.

But it was time to leave and I hadn’t seen an opportunity because I thought, “She’s busy, I don’t want to interrupt her work.”  Excuses, excuses.

The whole time I was sitting there with this cross on my arm that Second had handed out when we started the series in Romans last August that is supposed to be a reminder of the verse Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.”  I have been telling God and myself that I want to hear more of God’s voice, see more of his works, and be a part of doing more . . . and then I balk at something as simple as praying for someone.

We start to leave and she is standing at the server station literally right in my path.

I don’t even let myself think about it at this point, I just said, “Hey, I just wanted to tell you that we appreciate the awesome service you gave us, and every time you came over I felt like God was telling me to pray for you.  Is there anything you need prayer for?”

She looked kind of startled and said, “My finances?” I said, “Okay, great.”

I prayed a short prayer for her finances, maybe 30 seconds tops, I don’t even think I said “in Jesus’s name,” which was really lame.  But I did it.

As I gave her a hug goodbye, she said, “Thank you, you don’t know how much I needed that today.”

Yes, that was God.

The Answer is in the Repeat

It is exciting to get a prophetic word from someone or to get direction from a dream or vision, but don’t make a major life decision on any one thing alone . . . even if it is what you feel is guided by the Holy Spirit.

If God is really speaking to you, you will know by the repeat.

You will get confirmation when you’re reading your Bible during devotions, maybe a verse will stand out to you and you know God is speaking to you.  Maybe you will hear the same message from different people. I mentioned in another post that sometimes, God has spoken to me through Facebook posts.  Sometimes he uses Google’s schizophrenic search algorithm which changes daily to make an article on an obscure web site pop up that exactly answers the question I was asking.  The person I mentioned at the beginning of the post that is looking for guidance in her job search said that every morning when she turns on KSBJ the same song is on, “This is not my Home.”

However God speaks to you, if it is him, there will be a repeat.

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Go With the Last Thing You Know

Once you know you have the answer from God and you follow it, sometimes there will be a sense of “Now what?  What’s next?”

I had that happen in a situation.  I believed God told me to do something and I did it, but then the rest of the situation didn’t play out the way I thought it would.

I talked to a pastor about it and he said, “You have to go with the last thing you know.”

You stay on that until you know God tells you to do something or move somewhere else.  Sometimes, most of the time I think, God’s timeline and way of working things out are a lot different than what we think they should be. We just have to do what He tells us to do and trust Him to work out the rest.

Overview from Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer

This is an overview of the steps to hearing from God from Shirer’s workbook:

  • Expect to hear it.
  • Wait patiently for it.
  • Plan to obey it.
  • Listen for it.
  • Have faith in it.
  • Respond to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  • Be persistent in seeking it.
  • Seek God’s peace.
  • Verify and confirm.

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