How do we hear from God?
iGO, Island Evangelical Community Church talks to Island ECC Pastor Albert Ng to get his views on this question.
We all want to know how to hear from God. We think: “If only I could hear clearly from Him, I’ll do whatever He tells me to.” So how does God speak to us? Practically, how can we discern His will for our lives? How can we obey His call?
Let me begin by asking this question: “What is the difference between the traffic lights of Tokyo and Shenzhen?” Answer: One is meant to be obeyed. The other is for reference only.
1. Cultivate a habit of obeying God’s known will
The key obstacle for us to understand God’s will is not that God does not reveal His Will, but our unwillingness to obey. We tend to treat God’s will as “for reference only.” If we are unwilling to obey God in small issues, God may not reveal His Will to us in big issues. Even if he does, we may not be able to discern it because we are so used to ignoring Him.
Can we know God’s will? Of course we can. In fact, we already know quite a bit of God’s Will. God has already revealed much of His will through the Bible. This covers a great variety of our practical daily living. Training ourselves to act on God’s known will enables us to be more sensitive and receptive to God’s whisper when the situation becomes confusing and the stakes are high.
2. My will versus God’s will
There are two opposites that are both wrong and deadly. On the one hand, some Christians believe that whatever is in their mind must be God’s will. On the other hand, for reasons that I don’t quite grasp, there are Christians who believe that whatever is in their mind must NOT be God’s will.
I believe God desires that our will collaborate with His will. However, our will must firstly be submitted to, and then be aligned with, God’s will.
In our daily lives, I believe God has given us great freedom of choice. One topic that comes up often is “How do I know which girl is God’s will for me?” Following the tradition of Socrates, I always reply with a question: “Do you believe that there is one and only one girl that God has prepared for you and you want to seek out that girl?” The answer is mostly yes. Then, I will ask, “If you end up not dating and marrying that girl, are you sinning and is your marriage with another girl doomed to fail?” Surprisingly, the answer is always “I don’t think so!” Deep down in our hearts, most of us believe that God has given us freedom of choice, including who to date and choice of career. (I will talk about God’s specific will later.)
So, how does God unfold His will?
Firstly, God unfolds His will by guiding our circumstances. God guides your marriage by leading you to live in a certain city, worship in a certain church, relate to friends in a certain social circle, and thus “guides your choices.”
Secondly, God also unfolds His will by uniquely forming you in such a way that you are attracted to specific types of girls. These two criteria alone will significantly “narrow down your choices.”
Finally, God’s will is unfolded through biblical principles. There are biblical principles which will help you date in a way that is God-honoring and satisfying. For example, the first principle is that we will only date believers who have a similar life mission as us. Other principles include the commitment to honor God and one another, and to spur one another to become more like Jesus through the course of courtship.
In this example of dating, we see both God’s will and our will working together.
3. How do I practically know God’s will?
In our daily encounter with different issues, there are times when the choice is clear. The problem is whether or not we will obey. There are times, however, when the choice is confusing and we wish to have more guidelines. Pastor Bill Hybel’s book, The Power of a Whisper, offers great insights in this area. I have a simpler version. Here are several guidelines that I often use:
- Is it biblical? Is this particular course of action consistent with biblical teaching? Are there biblical precedents that I can learn from? Will my conscience be clear before God if I act this way?
- Is it wise? Sometimes the Bible is silent about the particular situation. In this case, you need to exercise your wisdom to discern the pros and cons of such an option.
- What would my true friends say about this? Here “true friends” means those who will look for your long term well being, those who will say tough things or disagree with you because they love you, and those whom you can trust. Seek counsel also from mature believers who can provide you with spiritual perspectives.
- Pray and pray and pray. Humble yourself before God. Weigh all the options. Ask God for wisdom. Then by faith make a decision before God and act on it.
4. How about God calling me to do something special?
I believe that in many cases God reveals His will by providing us with a framework by which to live. Our job is to exercise our free will in a way that is God-honoring and responsible. There are situations, however, when we feel strongly that God may be guiding us to a special direction. This happens often when He calls us for a specific purpose, guiding our path into serving Him and serving others. Here are my observations of a typical pattern:
Firstly, we will feel a “calling,” in the sense of a special feeling or a nudge from God. Normally it starts with an act of obedience — you go to some place for a mission trip, or you join a project to serve a particular cause. Then, what you see strikes a chord in your heart. The more you see, the more you are drawn to that cause. Then, you start wondering if this is what God is leading you to do.
When you are in this stage, the Bible becomes alive to you in a different way. Suddenly some bible verses pertaining to that ministry jump out at you in a way that you have never encountered before. You almost feel like “God is speaking to me through the Bible.”
Secondly, you will start doing the ministry on a more consistent basis. You feel joy and satisfaction. You feel like you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. You sense that you are making a real contribution and want to do it even more.
Thirdly, for some of us, the passion keeps growing to such a point where we find ourselves doing the ministry in all our non-work hours. We want to devote all our resources in order to champion the cause. Some of us would even consider leaving our career to “serve God full time.”
If you are experiencing this, I have some advice for you.
Firstly, keep a journal. Record every conversation between you and God. Record how God speaks to you through the Bible. Record also “the journey of your heart.” This will help you review your life and discern how God is leading you.
Secondly, take time to pray and ask God for confirmation. If this is a real calling from God, the burden inside you will keep nudging you until you act on it. At the same time, do not try to explain away your inner nudge. Be open to God.
Thirdly, seek counsel. Remember, the Apostle Paul did not go on his journey by himself. He and other church leaders were praying when the Holy Spirit asked the church to send Paul and Barnabas out. I agree that calling is personal, but it is not individual. God places you in a spiritual community for a reason. Seek counsel and confirmation from those who are more mature than you
Pastor Albert’s book recommendations on this topic:
Oz Guinness, The Call.
Bill Hybel, Holy Discontent.
Bill Hybel, The Power of a Whisper.
With permission from IGO Global Outreach, Island Evangelical Community Church, Hong Kong.