Discernment

How do we know when God is steering us, versus when it’s just what we think we want to hear?

My daughter’s been wrestling with a pretty major school decision, and in the next couple of weeks she’ll have to make a decision. She’s been in prayer about it, but asked for advice on how to tell if it’s God’s will that she’s hearing, or if it’s just her own preferences that she’s picking up. We talked it over, and talked with our pastor, and here’s some of what we came up with as ways to tell if it’s God we’re hearing.

  • Does what we’re hearing draw us closer to God, or push us further away? Jesus said there are false prophets, liars in our minds, and that we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). If what we’re feeling urged to do helps advance the Kingdom, that’s a good sign. If it tends to make us focus on our selfish desires, then it’s not.
  • Meditative, contemplative prayer. Emptying the mind is a fiendishly difficult thing to do (and I do mean fiendishly–the tempter is always there to draw us away from focusing on God), but if it’s possible to do so, pay attention to the words and images we may get in our minds. Then try to erase them, and see if they recur. Words, images, or feelings that keep being brought to mind could be God’s efforts to break through the noise of our lives, and for his “still small voice” to be heard (1 Kings 19:11-13). I find it very, very difficult to turn off all the noise in my head–my brain is always running. But this might work easier for some who are more blessed than I with the ability to turn that faucet off.
  • Trying it on for size: If we think we get a sense that God is nudging us in one direction or another, then in prayer we can “try it on”–“God, I seem to sense you saying yes, we should go on the trip…is that right?” And then being still, and seeing if you feel affirmed in the choice. And if not, if you still feel uneasy, then perhaps it isn’t.
  • Closely related: do you find peace in the decision you’ve made, or do you feel still in chaos? God brings peace with him, and so a sense of peace with the decision may be a strong indicator it’s God’s will coming through.

What other techniques do you know for being able to tell when it’s God’s voice you’re hearing?

Hearing From God

As Christians we are called to be in a relationship with God. And any successful relationship I’ve ever been in means both sides get to talk.

It’s true, isn’t it, that for the most part our prayer life is a monologue? And a needy one at that: we pray for this, for that. But how often are we able to actually shut up and listen for the other half of the conversation?

I confess I’m as fallible as the next man in that I still need to develop that listening skill more. My bride will tell you that too. But sometimes, if we allow ourselves, we can hear God’s word for us. Sometimes it’s in music, even.

Case in point: lately I’ve been kinda preoccupied with the health of both my mother and my daughter, and the effect each is having on their place of residence and schooling, respectively. Yesterday was a very tense day, with one path seeming to close for where Mom might be able to move next, and frustrations with my daughter’s progress mounting in me as well.

This morning, however, I kept hearing two songs alternating in my head: Jason Gray’s “Sparrow“:

You can’t add a single day by worrying
You’ll worry your life away
Oh don’t worry your life away
You can’t change a single thing by freaking out
It’s just gonna close you in
Oh don’t let the trouble win

You may feel alone
But you’re not on your own

If He can hold the world He can hold this moment
Not a field or flower escapes His notice
Oh even the sparrow
Knows He holds tomorrow.

And Ryan Stevenson’s “Eye of the Storm“:

In the eye of the storm
You remain in control
And in the middle of the war
You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm.

And when I stop to recognize what it is that’s going on in my head, I recognize it as God’s voice, telling me to let him be that anchor, and that I’m not alone in this–that he’s got my back, and will see me through. That’s powerful! It was so reassuring to know that even this sparrow isn’t outside God’s notice, and that he will guard my soul with all that’s coming against me right now. In those little moments, sometimes, we hear his voice. And we are in awe at how much we’re loved, even, or especially, in the eye of the storm.

Stop The Noise!

Many, many years ago (ahem), my former college roommate and I spent a long weekend in Las Vegas. We rented a car and drove around to see the sights; we saw Hoover Dam and did the dam tour with all the dam jokes that the dam guide could offer. At night we drive west until we couldn’t see the lights of the city anymore, pulled off the road, and turned off the car.

I grew up in Vermont, so I had a pretty good idea what the sky could look like at night without all the lights of a city, but it was still amazing to see. But what I remember most was the silence. There wasn’t a sound, and probably no one around within miles to make any. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the presence of silence that pure. I remember the silence as almost a ringing in my ears: as if my brain, so accustomed to a wall of sound, had to make up something to take its place. I remember we both commented on the phenomenon, we were both not-hearing the same thing: the assault of the world in a place where God alone reigned.

I believe the key to being in conversation with God is being able to tune out The World and to listen for his voice. Unfortunately I’m not very good at that. Even when I sit in the relative quiet of my house, in prayerful attempts at receiving whatever Jesus may wish to tell me, I find my mind occupied by its own sounds. Granted, most of the time I have contemporary Christian music on in my head, but still–it’s not quiet. I find it hard to turn everything off, and to just…be. To just listen, to be completely and totally receptive to God’s voice. I know this is one of the places I need to grow, so I can be in better communion with our Lord.