I've always felt funny whenever I hear somebody begin a sentence with those words. It sounds so resolute, so certain.
God told me ...
I've always felt funny whenever I hear somebody begin a sentence with those words. It sounds so resolute, so certain. It sounds so tangible. With how often I hear these phrases in conversation with other Christians, you'd think it was common practice for God to bend down and say audibly to someone, "Excuse Me, Bob, but please pursue architecture as a vocation. That is My will."
And how about those people who say that God told them whom to marry! Come on! I mean, who is this God who communicates the details of His plans for people in plain English, and why is He holding out on me?
I guess that's my beef with the God-told-me-to story; I've just never felt like I had that kind of clarity — and when it seems like others do, I wonder what's wrong with me.
Are you hearing from God?
That's what somebody asked me one time when I was faced with a big decision (whether or not to move 3,000 miles for a job). When I shrugged my shoulders, his eyes widened. He warned, "Well, you'd better be!"
I tried really hard to hear what God was "saying" at that time. I fasted for the first time in my life. I memorized Scriptures about prayer and revelation. I did a whole bunch of other things that got me closer to feeling like God would have to owe me some kind of verbal or otherwise unmistakable confirmation. In the midst of that, God only seemed more distant than ever.
Truth be told, I agonized about the choice for months after I had actually moved and started this job. Then I felt guilty for having made the choice, never having felt "sure" that I had gotten the go-ahead from God. I mean, aren't you always supposed to have that?
A popular author and speaker came to a church I attended a few years back, and he talked about this very issue. The message he shared that Sunday centered entirely on how important it was to decipher God's exact plan for your life. According to him, God has one perfect destiny for each person, one calling upon which each believer will be judged at the end of time. Just one.
He referenced the passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 about those whose work will be "burned up" at Judgment, even though they will still be saved. A woman called to be a mother cannot be a missionary, the speaker explained. A man called to work in a factory and raise money for his church cannot be a pastor (these were real examples he used), even if his heart is set on serving and honoring God. He made it sound like if you weren't able to figure out exactly what God wanted you to do with your life, you'd end up — at best — spending eternity in Heaven's slum areas, dressed in hellfire-singed tatters.
Exactly how to figure out God's one-and-only plan for you wasn't part of this speaker's message. He did, however, have numerous resources for sale in the foyer.
I realize I'm always giving extreme examples in my articles — but it's funny: I keep running into them.
How many of us believe something like this, though? Like I said, my big life change was accompanied by a lot of agonizing indecision. My head echoed with warnings from those who said that if I should step out of God's will for my life, He would stop blessing me.
Looking back, I can see that this turned my walk with God into less of a relationship and more of a hostage situation.
Listening to Yourself
Since that time I've come to believe that a big part of "hearing God's voice" — which isn't much like hearing a voice at all, at least not for me — is a lot about listening to myself.
Let me explain.
The process has brought me a bit of familiarity with my own inner workings. For instance, I naturally tend to struggle with inadequacy, doubt and obsessive thoughts. Now consider what that means when someone comes along and urges me to listen to the "still small voice" inside. It probably makes perfect sense to them — but then, their internal process may very well be shaped quite differently from mine. For me, though, the concept could turn any little nagging doubt or fear into the warning bell of the Holy Spirit.
The cure for that has been to know and believe more about the character of God: He is gentle, not a bully; He's compassionate, not manipulative; He is mindful of who and what I am, not over-expectant. It is freeing for me to know that thoughts and feelings which bring agitation and doubt may be discarded because they are from the broken part of my nature, which I am now familiar with and rightfully wary of.
A primary characteristic I look for in discerning God's influence is peacemaking. If it's God, then its natural result is peace. One thing I no longer struggle with — but I know people commonly do — is the misconception that peace requires clarity. This false belief is fostered by misguided people like the speaker I mentioned.
Mother Theresa, on the other hand, once refused a man's request that she pray for him to have clarity. Surprisingly, she responded with, "I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God."
Peace comes not from knowing what lies ahead, but knowing that God is the same before, during and after whatever it is.
The other thing about listening to yourself is that the broken side of you is not all you have to go on. That's why I always try to say "the broken part" of me or likewise, instead of making it sound like all I am is trash.
If I really do trust God and take Him at His word, then I will know that He is replacing the bad in my heart with good (Ezekiel 11:19), that He is actively transforming me into His image even now (2 Corinthians 3:18). Sadly, the joy and freedom of this active process has been undermined by many things I have heard from atop different pulpits. But the cool thing is that the more I grow, increasingly the things I want really are right and good. God, rather than hinting at them in a cryptic vision or proclaiming them from a cloud, is planting them directly in my heart.
And all of this is just one of the results of knowing Him.
God's Favorite Subject
I have known people who consult God about every decision. And I mean every one. They will literally pray and ask whether His will for their breakfast is cereal or toast. I used to just laugh at that, but I can really respect the earnest desire to actually make Him Lord.
However, I'm not sure that's how He Himself goes about it. I wonder how much of the time we spend trying to get God's take on a certain situation that He doesn't even want to talk about it quite yet. It's easy to forget how our current circumstances, choices and even emergencies scale according to His perspective.
I think that, most of the time, God just wants to talk to us about Himself. This is not a stuck-up or arrogant way for Him to be — because arrogance is all about an over-appreciation of self. God is literally the best thing to talk about in the whole universe — the universe being His idea, after all. Do you realize how compassionate, how generous, how exceedingly loving He is to invite us to enjoy Him?
So how do you hear God talk about that? I figure that's up to you. God gave us different hearts and minds because He expresses Himself an infinite number of ways. Have you ever been surprised by a sudden swell of emotion, or an unexpected moment of clarity when you just knew that it had something to do with God? Well, however that happened can tell you a lot about how God talks to you.
I had one such experience when I saw Spider-Man for the first time in theaters. Yes, Spider-Man. There was this moment when Spidey came swooping down to rescue Mary Jane, and then before she knew it he was off again, her staring after him with awe and wonder.
I felt really stupid getting choked up at Spider-Man, of all things, but I realized later that what I loved about that movie moment was something I love so much about God. He didn't speak audibly to me, but He may as well have said, "That's Me. I have powers you can't comprehend, and I'm going to fly down and save you, again and again, and you're going to fall in love with Me."
Another example: I recently watched the BBC's Planet Earth series in high definition. My initial intention was just to witness the full visual power of my new blu-ray player, but I was surprised to "feel God's hand" — as they say — all over that experience.
As my eyes took in these diverse images from nature, I realized how much God has written Himself into the world around us. We are literally living in one big invitation to worship the Almighty.
Watching the sweeping aerial views of mountains, deserts and glaciers, I truly felt God trying to express to me how vast, beautiful and intense He is. The Great White Shark told of His fearsome fury, but then watching wolf cubs you could tell He's still a big softy at heart. The deep sea segment expressed sort of a dark side — not a bad dark side, but the mysterious, infinite creativity of God's personality. Then there was this silly-looking flightless bird that hopped awkwardly through Africa's elephant grass in order to get noticed by a mate; God is the original comedian.
Now, I don't watch documentaries and superhero movies for my quiet time. But I am learning to look for God in everything, to "listen" for what He is saying about Himself, to hunt for more of Him to worship. The more I do that, the more I learn that everything I've ever loved about anything has only been a glimmer of Who He is. That's what He offers when He speaks to me, because that is the absolute best.
The paths I take in relationships and vocation are important and I'll be paying attention to them. I'm not going to fret, however, over these things when I am called to get myself lost in the mystery of who God is. The events, the choices and twists and turns of this short little life all pale in importance — and they take care of themselves when we really have His Kingdom first in our hearts. If I could see anything clearly and know what it means, it would be Him.
... let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,"
declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:24)
Copyright 2009 Mike Ensley. All rights reserved.