One of the hallmarks of the Christian walk is obedience. Following the voice of God. A clear command. A mutually beneficial design.
But in practice, discerning the voice of God is harder than it may seem. Over the years many of my friends were very certain they heard the voice of God (usually concerning who they were going to marry) but it did not turn out well. Others, including myself, seem to use the “voice of God” as a type of shield. After all, you can’t argue with the voice of God. So, instead of taking ownership of the choices we are making, we project it onto God, a safer, surer place. I (and most others I presume) do this subconsciously, but habitually nonetheless.
Our power for self-deception is strong. Very strong. So is our power for discernment. Our ability to hear from God is what we were created for. We are very capable of both. All of us.
I am currently reading The Wheel of Time series. In it, there is The One Power, a source of strength and light that some citizens can summon to great effect. But, in the story, The Dark One has managed to taint The One Power. So, those who use this great source of Light are also open to the contamination of The Dark One; meaning it can drive them crazy or be used for ill as much as for good.
Sounds a lot like Christians in the modern world.
God is alive and well, speaking to us. The forces of darkness are there to pervert and spoil. They are not going to show up in Halloween costumes, they are going to show up trying to disguise themselves as something decent and good.
So, how do we make sense of these difficulties? How do we discern, truly, what is from God, what is our own making, and what is a tainted message from the spiritual forces of evil?
The Aid of External Consistency
One of the reasons Scripture is so important is because it is the voice of God outside of ourselves. Meaning, it is a stable, consistent message. Obviously, our interpretation of Scripture can be tainted just as much as our discernment of God in any other arena. So, we need to start by valuing Scripture and being intentional about our approach.
So often, we read ourselves into Scripture. We come in with our opinions, preferences, dogmas, and predispositions. And we are searching for those within our reading. It is sort of like a Word Scramble. We are looking for certain things, a predetermined list in our heads, and casually ignoring everything else.
This is obviously problematic.
The key to reading Scripture is to read it for what it says, not what we would like it to say. Easier said than done.
As far as aiding our discernment, Scripture, other believers, and time can be important allies. The Kingdom of God is bigger than my tiny little self. To discern is a community effort. You should not have to do it alone. Scripture and accountability are tools, not obstacles. If we want to be students of the truth and hearers of God’s voice, we have to go searching for it. Not searching for what we want it to say but searching for whatever it has to say.
Circumstances and Character
Another thing that helps us discern the voice of God is reframing how we listen.
Most of us listen for the voice of God circumstantially. What job should I take? Should I date this person? We approach God’s voice as a “what do I do” tool.
I don’t think that is God’s primary concern. The voice of God is focused on who you are. Your character. One of the reasons we have a hard time hearing God is because we’re only looking for Him when circumstances are dire, when we can’t “handle” something on our own. This is a mistake. God’s voice is a guide through all circumstances. If we are not seeking it when we are happy and sure, we are not seeking it wisely. And are opening ourselves up to a tainted and ineffective approach. Self-deception creeps in when circumstances are the focus.
When we are not pursuing the voice of God on a daily, consistent, non-circumstantial basis, it will be unfamiliar to us when we do chase it.
Ultimately, God wants us to try. With courage, to steward. There will always be a heavy dose of mystery when it comes to God’s will and God’s voice. We are Job, not there for the creation of the world and not privy to all of its mysteries. If we seek God for surety of circumstances, we are seeking Him incorrectly. If we seek God for alignment of our character with His Spirit, we are on the path to truer discernment, decision-making, and effective living.