Dave Everson

Vox: Discerning guidance

photo: engine order telegraphGuidance can come from four sources: God, self, other people, Satan.[1] Over the years, through others’ teaching and my own study and experience, I’ve put together a list of 12 questions I ask whenever I think God has whispered a specific point of guidance. These questions tend to weed out the guidance that comes from the non-God sources. Some questions are fuzzier or more subjective than others, and I tend to give more weight to the top of the list than the bottom.[2]

1. Is it consistent with God’s character?

In other words, is this whisper asking me to do something that is not in alignment with who I know God to be through Jesus, the Bible, sound teaching, and his natural revelation. If so, then it is not from God.

2. Is it consistent with Scripture?

Related to the previous question: if the guidance contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible, then it’s not from God.

These first two filters are decisive, yes/no filters. But they are not as simple and straightforward as they seem on the surface. We can spend our lives learning God’s character and studying the Bible, and still find ourselves in situations where it is not immediately evident either what God would want or how the Bible might apply.

The questions that follow are not absolute previous two. Each of them can help uncover reasons either to be cautious or to embrace a point of guidance.

3. Is it wise?

God may ask us to do risky things, but generally his guidance is wise.

4. Is it consistent with my own character/wiring?

God sometimes asks us to do things that are difficult or out of character. But more often, his guidance takes advantage of strengths, skills, and gifts that are natural or well-developed.

5. How does it strike the people I trust the most?

When trusted, insightful, prayerful people support a point of guidance, it can be a strong positive indication. On the other hand, their skepticism should be a red flag.

6. Is it loving?

If the guidance is unloving, it’s a guarantee that God didn’t speak it. On the other hand, if it would push you to love more deeply or sacrificially, there’s a strong chance God is speaking.

7. Is it consistent with God’s previous guidance?

One of the reasons it is so important to be sure about what God says is that he tends not to provide contradictory guidance. In other words, when he leads us down a path, it’s generally so he can lead us down that path, to the exclusion of all others.

8. Is it persistent?

Based on teaching from long ago, when I think I’ve heard God speak, I ask him to repeat it twice more. Listening for confirmation is a real art, which involves working hard at not letting other voices imitate God’s.

9. Who else hears it?

I give this question extra weight if a specific point of guidance involves more people than myself. God does not lead through consensus. But there is a clear Biblical pattern of God’s followers, especially in the New Testament era, seeking unity before deciding.

10. Does it require faith?

This isn’t a disqualifying question like the others. God’s guidance doesn’t always require a leap of faith. But if new faith would be required to follow a point of guidance, it can be a positive sign that a point of guidance is from him. On the other hand, bad ideas can also require faith.

11. Is it specific?

This is a way to distinguish vision from guidance. Guidance is always specific and timely. See yesterday’s post for more.

12. Does it “sound” like God’s voice has sounded in the past?

This is hard to describe, and incredibly personal and subjective, but I have found over the years that God’s voice has a quality that is different from the rest of the noise in my head and heart. It has become familiar, and so it tends to grab my attention. If something doesn’t sound like him, I am on my guard.

[1] I do believe in the existence of an evil being whose work is opposed to God. However, if you are among those who don’t share that belief, you could replace this with a non-personal “evil” or just drop the fourth category altogether. No matter what you believe about Satan, however, each of us must account for the influence of evil on our decision-making processes, regardless of its origin. Personal or non-personal, evil subtly corrupts what is good and loving into something self-serving and destructive, even our purest intentions.
[2] These first five questions are covered by Bill Hybels in The Power of a Whisper. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. In Chapter 4, “How to know when you’re hearing from God,” he describes how he uses these five questions as filters to eliminate whispers that come from sources other than God. The book as a whole is a good starting place for exploring the practical aspects of listening for God’s voice.
Photo Credits
Engine order telegraph: Steven Depolo; CC BY-2.0 license