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Hearing God’s Voice

man listening

My friend slash mentor slash former coworker, Chris, pointed me a few days ago to an interesting article on Relevant, titled “Is This God’s Voice or Mine?

The title alone compelled me. I know I’ve found myself wondering if some thought I’m having, especially in relation to making a big decision, is merely my own intuition or the voice of the Holy Spirit.

The author, Phillip Cary, recounts a paper one of his students wrote, in which she equated “revelation” from God with hearing a voice from God in her heart. That hearing, the student noted, is a confusing prospect. How do you know if you’re hearing God’s voice or your own?

As it turns out, according to Cary, we needn’t worry about which of the voices in our head is God’s.

“None of them is,” he says. “The revelation of God comes in another way, through the word of God in the Bible, and this is something you can find outside your heart.”

So I agreed with Cary on some points. And vehemently disagreed with him on others. One thing is for sure, though: His article definitely got me thinking about what has led to what he calls “deeply flawed” theology — all this fretting about distinguishing our panoply of interior voices from the voice of God.

One problem, as I see things, is that for quite a while now in the evangelical branch of Christendom we’ve been telling people — and, consequently, telling ourselves — that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

Now, that idea isn’t explicitly untrue. But such a conception of the gospel can encourage us to think God necessarily has a specific, predetermined path for our lives — from the job we take to the person we date to the car we drive.

After all, He has wonderful plan for me, right?

Thinking in terms of plans and paths leads to questions like, “So how can I know if the option I’m about to choose is going to keep me on the path?”

It’s an honest question. But the problem isn’t that we don’t know how to discern God’s perfect, and ostensibly singular, will for our lives. The problem is we see our believing in Jesus as a means to an end, that end being the plan God has for us.

Instead, we need to view the gospel in terms of relationship. We need to see Jesus not as a means to an end, but as the end itself.

Jesus Himself is our goal.

Our prize.

That which we’ve been looking for all this time.

When we conceive of the gospel, and our relationship to God, as being primarily about relationship with God, the decisions we make about dating this or that person, taking this or that job, buying this or that car, all become much easier — at least in my estimation and in my experience. Because we don’t have to wait around for God to reveal His perfect will in a particular situation. Instead, we make whatever decision seems appropriate, knowing all the while that Christ is walking beside us on the path we’re walking.

I should pause here and be clear: I’m definitely not saying that I don’t think God sometimes has a particular path for us at particular points in time. To the contrary: You couldn’t convince me that in certain situations — my choosing to attend K-State, my participating in the Juneau Men’s Project with Campus Crusade — I merely divined from Scripture the direction I needed to go. I believe that in these two cases, and in myriad others, God provided me, in the parlance of Cary’s article, “revelation.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we need to embrace the idea, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us, that making decisions according to God’s will is not without its fair share of mystery.

But one thing isn’t mysterious: the fact that the gospel is all about reconciled relationship with the God of the universe. And that relationship provides us the very freedom — especially from our fears of making the wrong decision — for which Christ has set us free.

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