A few weeks ago, a friend’s birthday came around. I’m not usually the greatest at purchasing gifts, but this time I had a clear picture in my mind – pink roses. I knew that this gift would bless her, so that’s what I set out to get. Three shopping centres later, in the pouring rain, I eventually found the right bouquet, having discarded white, peach, red and variegated bunches, and considered several times whether I should just change my mind and get something else.
My small efforts were vastly rewarded when, that afternoon, my friend told me what the pink roses meant to her. In them, she felt that God was answering a prayer, assuring her that He heard her and loved her. I just wanted to give a good gift to my friend, but God desired to speak to her, and by giving me that simple picture, He gave her a profound message.
God speaks! The God of the universe, not only deigns but desires to speak to us – mere humans. He guides us in small matters, like the flowers for my friend, and in much bigger ones, like the place we will live, the jobs we do, and the people we will marry. To clarify, I don’t think I’ve met any people who have heard an audible voice (I certainly never have). He more often uses other methods, sometimes singly and sometimes using several different ways, but, as the Bible tells us in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” So the Word says that when we listen or ask, God will guide us.
Many of us think first of the Bible when we think of God talking to us – and in truth, it is our primary source of revelation. In scripture, we see what, or rather who, every Christian is called to be – like Jesus. Our primary calling is to be like Him, and in so doing, to make a difference in the world around us. There are so many areas where we don’t need a specific word because the Bible lays out our collective calling – to glorify God in our hearts and actions. I don’t need a specific word to not set my sights on someone else’s husband, because the Bible has already given the command not to commit adultery. I don’t need to ask whether to pay my taxes each year, because the Bible has already instructed me that I should! The Bible is best read frequently, methodically, and collectively – it reveals the will of God, and I’m sure that’s something that we all want to know! And it doesn’t only reveal a will that is already spoken; indeed, the more we read the Bible, the more God is revealed to us. He speaks through scripture today.
But He doesn’t only speak through scripture. As well as this first incredible gift, He has given us another – His Holy Spirit in us. The Spirit often reveals things to us that apply to our present, like in Acts 20:22, where Paul says that He, compelled by the Spirit, is going to Jerusalem. This is part of us, God’s sheep, recognising His voice, and it often does take time and practice. Throughout my life, one of the most distinctive sounds has been the voice of my human father. I love the other members of my family, but it’s my dad’s voice that I can recognise down a passage, out of context, through a wall – wherever. Many are the times that I’ve stopped what I was doing because, in another room, I heard my father’s voice and went to seek him out. In the same way, as our relationship with God grows ever closer, we begin to recognise and (this is key) respond to His voice, which we hear in a few different ways.
Sometimes, God will speak to us when we pray; that is, when we pray attentively, asking and leaving space for God to speak. It’s no good pouring out our hearts to God if we aren’t willing to hear His heart for us. This is why many Christians choose to keep a prayer diary, or notebook, where they can write down things that they feel God is saying to them – whether it’s a feeling about a job you should take or turn down, a message that you should send, or a business decision to investigate.
And often, when He calls us to something, and we are yielded to Him, He will place the desire in us for the thing He has called us to – whether a job, a relocation or a friendship that He is calling us to cultivate. He also speaks in more unusual ways sometimes, like with my picture of the flower. He speaks in visions and dreams, prophetic words, or even audible voices.
I’ll be honest, sometimes when I think I’ve heard my dad’s voice, it turns out to be someone else. I only know that when I’ve followed the voice to the source, and not found my father. That’s why we need to test pictures, words, or dreams that we think might be God’s spirit – because we are human, and we make mistakes. We need to ask if it lines up with Scripture because God will not contradict Himself. We need to ask if it promotes love because God is love. And if it’s from God, then it will usually be strengthening, encouraging, and enlightening. It will promote peace, rather than taking it away. Those are ways we can know it is from God, not a product of our own flawed humanity.
So God guides us through Scripture, and through His Spirit, and also sometimes through two things that we might undervalue – common sense and the people around us. God has made us thinking beings, and, far from negating our logical ability, He uses it to guide us in our decisions. For example, when considering marriage, we must ask things like: Are we spiritually compatible? Do we believe the same things? Do we get along? God gave us the ability to reason in this way, and He wants us to use it!
He also places us in communities, exposing us to what is often called, “The counsel of the saints.” Simply put, we shouldn’t ignore the advice of wise and Godly men and women! Most of us have many in our lives, from pastors and other church leaders to friends and family, and they can be an invaluable source of input in so many areas of our lives!
However God chooses to guide us, whether one way or many, we can know without a doubt that He hears us when we speak to Him, and when we submit our ways to Him, He will guide us and He will use us and our circumstances – even our mistakes – for good! Romans 8:28 assures us, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” Thank the Lord that He does!