One of the questions that I see believers most frequently wrestle with has to do with understanding God’s will for our lives. Particularly during times of decision or crisis, we yearn for divine answers to our questions: What is the best thing to do? What does God want me to do (or does God have an opinion)? How can I be sure that I have heard God’s voice?
I have observed two extremes when Christians try to discern God’s will for their lives. Some believers talk as if they have a direct line to God: “God clearly told me to take this new job.” “The Lord has given me a great vision for this church (and it involves your wallet).” Try as we might, many of us can’t relate. Yet other believers behave more like functional Deists, as though God has no personal interest in or connection with life on Earth. They scarcely pray about their decisions or consider how they might connect with the realities of the Kingdom of God.
However, many serious Christians have had experiences in which they are sure God communicated with them. They are often reluctant to share about these because they worry they won’t be believed or that some people may even think they’re crazy. As comedienne Lily Tomlin wryly asks, “Why is it that when we speak to God we are said to be praying but when God speaks to us we are said to be schizophrenic?”
But as Christians we stand in a millennia-long tradition of humans who have been personally addressed by God. Central to the everyday life of Christians is our confidence in God’s faithful and personal concern for each of us. We believe that, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters.” We trust that God knows the number of hairs on each of our heads. Together we sing, “He leadeth me, O blessed thought, O words with heavenly comfort fraught.”
So how might we better discern God’s voice as we seek his guidance for life today? First, we may be sure that God will not guide us in a way that is not Christ-like. Understanding scripture and the gospel message can help prevent us from getting off course here. Second, we need to pay particular attention when one thought or course of action persists as we pray and seek the Lord’s direction; while this is not proof of God’s voice speaking to us, we should not ignore it either. Third, the aligned wisdom of several godly mentors should not be casually set aside. I Thessalonians 5:19-22 provides a fitting summary as we listen for God’s voice and seek his guidance: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”