The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask questions and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity. ‘Who, what, where, why, when, and how!’ They never stop asking questions, and I never stop asking questions, just like a five year old.
—SYLVIA EARLE, MARINE BIOLOGIST, EXPLORER, AUTHOR, AND LECTURER1
The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
The first step in the scientific method is asking a question about something that is observed. The question can be a how, what, when, who, which, why, or where type question. It all boils down to what the scientist wants to learn. If the scientist wants to understand the cosmos better, he or she might ask, “How do sun flares affect the Earth?” or “What happens to space debris?”
Do you remember your early years in elementary school, when you planted a bean seed in a disposable cup? You probably didn’t realize it at the time, but that was science, and you were being taught the first steps in the scientific method. The questions you might have asked include, “How do plants grow?” or “What happens to a seed when it is stuck deep in dark soil, moistened by water, and warmed by the sun?” As part of your experiment, your teacher probably presented some research on the topic, and you hypothesized that based on the effects of the soil, water, and sun your little bean seed would eventually sprout and become a bean plant.
The first step for making contact with God begins with a question(s) for Him. As a believer, I know that, as Creator and Lord of the universe, He has all wisdom and certainly has the answers to my questions. Questions similar to those listed above: “What is His will for me in my family, work, ministry, or career?” “Where does He want me to live?” “Which house should I purchase?” “Why is life so difficult during this season?” or “How should I discipline my child about his disobedience?”
As God, He desires to have a relationship with each of us where we have open communication: expressing our hearts and desires and questions to Him, and God expressing His heart and desires back to us, answering our questions with His wisdom and direction. I want that kind of relationship with God, and I’m sure you do, too. The question part is easy; everybody has questions for God. However, hearing the answers from God often seems to elude us. So, how does God answer our questions?
He Clears His Throat
I know I’m not the only one who has wished that God would speak with an audible voice or at least give an occasional message written in the sky when seeking Him for direction. Soon after giving my life to Jesus, I remember thinking many times, God, I want to follow you and choose what you want me to choose. Why can’t you just drop a blueprint from heaven? That would make this so much easier.
God does not typically speak in an audible voice, and I have yet to receive a blueprint from heaven. However, I have found that He is true to His promise, as spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). It is important to note that God does not promise to be found by those who seek Him halfheartedly; but if our hearts are intent on seeking Him and obeying Him, we will find Him. The truth is, God wants to be found by those who really want to find Him.
I think about this truth when I play hide-and-go-seek with my boys. I can typically find where they are hiding in a matter of moments because I hear them giggling, wrestling around, or see their little feet hanging halfway out from under the bed. I think their favorite part of the game is when I find them. They hide in order to be found. I believe the same can be said of God. Meister Eckhart, a thirteenth-century German theologian, expressed this spiritual truth my boys taught me about the delight of being found: “God is like a person who clears His throat when hiding and so gives Himself away.”3
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah said it like this: “Truly you are a God who has been hiding himself, the God and Savior of Israel” (Isaiah 45:15). Why does God remain hidden to a degree? Why does He not always speak to us in the overt ways we would so prefer? I believe He is looking for those who will look for Him because every true and sincere relationship is always a two-way relationship.
Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” God loves it when we search Him out. He is inviting each one of us on a divine game of hide-and-go-seek, during which He clears His throat so that those who are listening can easily find Him. He wants to teach each of us how to discern His voice and promptings.
The longer you walk with Him and the more you value His voice in your life, the easier it is to discern. Hearing His voice has been compared to a radio picking up airwaves. Radio waves are constantly floating through the air, but you need a radio receiver to pick up the sounds. Like the radio waves, God is always speaking; we just have to learn to tune our frequency to hear what He is saying. Jesus explains in John 10:3–5 that hearing from God is meant to be a reality in every believer’s life.
I know some churches teach that we can’t hear His voice today. They teach that God only speaks through what is written in His Word: the Bible. God certainly speaks to us through His Word. The whole next chapter focuses on the ways that God speaks through the Bible and that nothing He speaks will ever contradict His written Word. However, the written Word is certainly not the only way He speaks.
Logos vs. Rhema
There are two Greek New Testament terms pastors often reference that are translated as “word” in the New Testament: logos and rhema. The first word, logos, refers to the written Word of God—the Bible—and also to the living Word, Jesus (see examples in Luke 8:11, John 1:1, Philippians 2:16). The second term, rhema, means an utterance or spoken word (found in Luke 1:38; 3:2; 5:5 and Acts 11:16).
For you and me, a rhema is the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the present moment, through thoughts, ideas, dreams, visions, and inner knowing or warning, and through the words of others: e.g., a preacher, counselor, friend, or even a total stranger. God’s rhema word to us will usually deal with specific current circumstances and may give us direction, warning, or confirmation about something God wants us to do. However a rhema word will never contradict God’s written Word—the Bible—the logos. In other words, God will never tell you to do something that is against principles in the Bible.
As you follow the steps outlined in this book, you will see that I encourage you, as you hear from God, to confirm what you believe God is saying to you by referring to the written Word (logos) and also share it with a trusted, spiritually mature friend. If God is really speaking to you, His words will stand up to the test and be confirmed by His written Word and His counsel through others.
Listening for the Voice
The one who enters by the gate is the Shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (John 10:2–5)
This passage teaches us that we have an active role to play in listening to His voice. In it, John explains that we follow Him because we know His voice and that we will not follow a stranger’s voice.
I love how God speaks to us through metaphors so that we can understand spiritual truth through natural symbolism. One of the interesting facts I learned when I was studying about sheep for a weekend message is that they really do learn the voice of their particular shepherd. If there are a thousand sheep all together in a pasture and five hundred of the sheep belong to one shepherd, only five hundred sheep will respond to his call. The other five hundred will stay in the pasture because to them it is a stranger’s voice calling and they have learned not to respond.
John 10:27 reiterates this same principle: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Notice the passage does not say “my super-spiritual sheep” or “my full-time ministry sheep” will know my voice. It simply says my sheep will know my voice. This is a promise for all believers.
We learn to quickly recognize the voice of the ones we love and those whose voices have weight in our lives. I remember when my wife, Taryn, and I were dating in the days before cell phones and caller ID; I could recognize it was her voice as soon as the first word was out of her mouth. After thirteen years of marriage, her voice has become even more familiar to me. Let’s say she calls and says, “Hey, babe!” and I say, “Who is this?” If she replies, “It’s me,” and I say, “Me who?” I don’t have to be a prophet to know that I am going to be sleeping on the sofa that night.
Although I can’t always recognize God’s voice with the same clarity or certainty that I can recognize Taryn’s, I have placed focus and effort into discerning and obeying His voice because I love Him and His words have weight in my life.
Discerning His Voice
How can we know we are hearing the voice of God versus the voice of the enemy or the voice of our personal desires? Ask yourself the following questions:
• Is what I am hearing unclear or confusing?
• Does what I hear contradict the Bible?
• If I act on what I am hearing, will it lead me to compromise my values?
The voice of the enemy is often unclear and confusing, it frequently contradicts biblical truths, and it ultimately leads you into sin and compromise. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent deceived Eve by adding to, omitting, twisting, and questioning what God said. The confusion in his words contradicted the simple directions that God had given Adam and eventually led Adam and Eve into sin.
Satan did the same when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. He quoted Scripture to Jesus, but the motive was to tempt Jesus toward selfishness so he would disobey the call of God. Satan pulled on the human desires that Jesus likely had for food and authority, but the offering was outside the will of God.
The key to discerning between God, the enemy, and our own voice comes by familiarity through practice. The longer you walk with God, the easier it becomes to distinguish between the three. It is often easiest to recognize the difference between God’s voice and the enemy’s voice; it is more difficult to distinguish between your human voice and God’s.
It’s okay if you can’t readily discern God’s voice at first. Don’t let that uncertainty paralyze you. If what you’re hearing seems like something that would be pleasing to God and agrees with His character and Word, take a step toward it as you remain in dialogue with the Lord, asking Him to redirect you if it is not the best path for you. God looks at the intention of the heart. If your heart’s desire is to please Him, you can trust He will not let you miss anything.
Based on the three questions I asked above, if what you are hearing is unclear or confusing, wait until the direction is clear. If what you are hearing contradicts the Bible in any way, even if it seems clear, do not act on it. If what you are hearing will lead you into sin in your actions, attitude, or speech, it is not coming from God.
God is not a God of confusion, but of peace (see I Corinthians 14:33). God will never contradict His Word, and if He is speaking to you and leading you by His Spirit, He will never direct you into gratifying the desires of your flesh (see Galatians 5:16). Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ” I have found that this voice brings joy, clarity, and further revelation, and even when I am not 100 percent sure of the origin of a thought, I can trust that as I continue to seek Him, He will guide me in the way I should walk, just as this verse promises.
There is a great story in 1 Kings Chapter 19. The great prophet Elijah had just come through a season of powerful ministry—he was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted, and he was running in fear after being threatened by his enemy, Jezebel. In his exhaustion, Elijah’s perspective becomes one of self-pity, but the Lord continues to minister to him, feeding him, providing water, and allowing him to sleep. God’s desire is to restore his servant so he can continue with the call and purpose that God has for his life.
In verse 11, Elijah is hiding in a cave and God tells him to stand outside on the mountain because He is going to pass by. Then three dramatic signs happen. First, there is a wind that tore apart the mountain, but the Lord was not in the wind. Second, there was a great earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Third, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a “still, small voice.”
Although the wind, earthquake and fire were probably creation’s dramatic response to the presence of the Lord, Elijah did not respond to any of these signs. It was when he heard the still, small voice of the Lord that the Bible says he put his cloak over his face and stood at the mouth of the cave to hear what God wanted to say. As Elijah responded to God’s voice, he received his next set of directions.
As you learn to attune your ears to hear the voice of the Lord, there are a few things that can be produced or evidenced, so I encourage you to look for the following six occurrences:
1. Strong Recurring Thought: One of the most common ways I hear His voice is through a recurring thought or idea. As explained earlier, this is often a rhema word from God that comes through our thoughts. I have learned to pay close attention to my thoughts, especially recurring ones, and ask God if these are ideas from Him.
2. An Idea with Genuine Excitement: Generally when God is calling you to do something, there is an excitement about that area. But there are times when He calls you to do something difficult, so there is not a natural excitement about following through, but it is still typically superseded by the excitement of knowing that He is actively calling you and providing direction, and that He will be with you.
3. Deep, Calming Peace: Colossians 3:15 explains that God’s peace will rule in our hearts—it is a gift He gives that helps guide us. His peace is a supernatural confirmation of His presence with us and a way He confirms where He is leading. We will explore this topic more thoroughly in chapter 4.
4. An Inner Warning, Caution, or Check: God in His kindness allows us to discern that certain decisions are not the wisest or best, or the direction may be right, but not the timing. It is up to us to heed these warnings and choose to go a different path or wait when we sense an inner check or caution.
5. A Supernatural Knowing: This is when you have a strong inclination about something that feels certain deep down, but that certainty is too deep to have a logical, natural understanding. This is more than intuition, as it is a supernatural understanding from the Lord. However, because of the subjective nature of our inclinations, we must test it, just as we test the other ways we hear from God.
6. Open Doors: Revelation 3:7 says that God will open doors that no man can shut and shut doors no man can open. We will explore this idea further in this chapter, but I encourage you to be looking for open doors of opportunity and to ask God if He is leading you through those doors. Obviously, not every door that opens before you is God leading you in that direction, but I have learned to look for open doors as a way that God leads and provides direction.
The Seeds of Vision
God subtly speaks to me every day through His still, small voice as well as little nudges and ideas that I know did not come from me or even through my desires. However, there have also been monumental times God has spoken to me that I would place in the game-changer category. I have documented each of these milestone moments in the back of my Bible with their corresponding date. One of the most significant game-changing moments came on April 22, 2005.
I was at a retreat center in the Shenandoah Valley for a doctoral course. Our professor, Dr. Mara Crabtree, taught the class about stewarding the dreams God had placed in our hearts. She shared a passage in Genesis explaining that there were many years between the time when Joseph first received the dream God had for his life and the time that the dream was fulfilled. She then gave us a handful of seeds that were supposed to represent the dreams God had placed in our hearts. Planting the seeds was meant to be symbolic of the season of stewarding our dreams before they came to fruition. With the rest of the class, I planted my seeds outside the chapel at the retreat center. I knew my seeds represented the church Taryn and I had long felt called by God to plant in the Washington, D.C., area.
Planting a church had been a dream in my heart since 1998, but the dream felt vague and seemed way too big for me. (This is actually a great litmus test to show that it is a God-sized dream. As Ephesians 3:20, says, He doesn’t want to give us dreams we can accomplish with our own strengths or talents because He wants to show us that He can do immeasurably more through us than we could ask or even imagine.)
I had actually shared this dream with Taryn on our first date. Some guys may stick to the light stuff on the first date, like asking about the girl’s favorite food or where she grew up, but evidently not me. I knew there was a call on both of our lives to do something great for God, and I began to pursue her to see if we were meant to walk together in the dream of planting a church in D.C. After I felt God’s yes, I asked Taryn to marry me in the spring of 2002 (after a few obstacles and course corrections from God, which I will share in more detail in chapter 5). We were married that summer, and we both knew we were called to plant a life-giving, multicultural church in the Washington, D.C., area. What we didn’t know was when or how it would happen.
After I planted the seeds my professor had given me, I looked down at the formation in which the seeds were planted—I noticed there were seventeen seeds planted in a circle and three above it to the side. At that moment, I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper, “You will plant seventeen churches in the D.C. metro area (the seventeen seeds represented the seventeen campuses we would plant around the D.C. area) and three up in New York (represented by the three seeds off to the side).” This was one of the clearest voices I have heard in my life, and I know that it was the Living God speaking to me. For the next two years Taryn and I continued to seek God and wait on His timing for how and when we should launch the church.
The Hebrew word for “wait” is qavah, meaning to “look expectantly.” The definition demonstrates that waiting on the Lord is not a passive activity. Rather, it is actively seeking where He is moving, so we are ready to step forward when God says it’s time.
Waiting on the Lord has been a significant theme in DC Metro Church’s story. The spring before we launched in 2007, two of my closest friends from graduate school who would help me plant the church, Matt Stroia and Julie Reams, and I visited the D.C. area to fast, pray, and walk the streets asking God to reveal to us the location He had for what would become DC Metro Church. We investigated over twenty-five locations, knocked on countless doors, and even sent chocolates and flowers to one of the school superintendents, hoping the gesture would gain her favor and possibly an opportunity to use one of the area schools. All twenty-five-plus doors were closed—very humbling!
One day Matt was lying on his bed thinking about the future church when a Middle Eastern restaurant he had visited in Alexandria, Virginia, popped into his mind. He was puzzled as to why he was thinking about food. He was about to attribute it to random, wandering thoughts or hunger, when he decided to ask God if this thought was somehow connected to the church. He immediately thought about the movie theater, the Regal Potomac Yard Theater, down the street from the restaurant. Was this God’s voice speaking through a picture in his mind’s eye?
Thoughts and Ideas
Just as Matt experienced the thought of the Middle Eastern restaurant popping into his head, God will sometimes speak to us through thoughts, ideas, or a picture in our imaginations. In February 2014, I experienced God speaking to me through a recurring thought. DC Metro Church was close to making an offer on a large church facility in Maryland that was in foreclosure (the building was the size of one-and-a-half Walmart Supercenters). Our board had signed off on making an offer, and although I still didn’t have complete peace about it, we were moving forward with an offer that we expected would be accepted.
A short time before the offer was to be made, I was sitting in a local pastors’ gathering called City Fathers. Pastor Mark Batterson, who was leading the gathering, said he believed God was going to speak to each of us that day about our area of greatest need. As I bowed my head and was thinking about that potential property, a thought came to my mind: Take Virginia first! It was a thought that I heard over and over again that day at the gathering and many times over the following weeks. For me and the church, it was God’s direction that we not purchase the property in Maryland but focus future expansion in Virginia—something that is happening as I write.
Another time I experienced Him speaking to me through a great idea. I was on my way home to spend a date night with my wife. The church was in the middle of a fast from food and media, so I couldn’t take her to a restaurant or to a movie. I wanted to have a special date night with my wife and asked the Lord if He had any ideas of what we could do together. I had a thought that was too good to be mine: take Taryn to all the houses God had provided for us to live in during our time in D.C., and other places significant to what He had done through DC Metro Church. As we stopped in front of each location, we took time to pray a prayer of thanks for God’s blessings. The God-inspired idea was both spiritual and romantic!
God can speak to us through thoughts, ideas, and through pictures in our imaginations in which, instead of hearing words or thoughts, we see an image. Similar to the other ways that God speaks to us, you should validate these thoughts, ideas, and images to what is in the written Word (the Bible) and, when necessary, submit to godly counsel. The source of our thoughts can be God, self, or even the enemy, so it is important to test them. Remember, nothing from God will contradict the Bible. If you are unclear of the source or interpretation of a thought, it can be tested and weighed with the help of some spiritually mature friends.
The absolutely incredible part of the story is that while Matt was having this interaction with God, God was also speaking to me about the movie theater. I had just heard about a church in Florida that had started in a movie theater, so I began to research theaters in the Alexandria area. I had the Regal movie theater website still open on my computer when Matt called me that afternoon to ask me my thoughts on starting the church in the Potomac Yard Theater. Talk about an incredible confirmation that this was the location we were to pursue! Needless to say, I immediately contacted the theater to see if they would be open to a church meeting in one of the theaters. After a ton of discouraging closed doors, this door essentially flew open . . . and the rest, as they say, is history. The moment we secured the theater, I was overwhelmingly thankful for all the closed doors, knowing that all twenty-five-plus facilities that rejected us paled in comparison to the theater.
We had a similar journey while searching for our first campus location. Because the Lord had so clearly spoken to me in 2005 that the church would have seventeen campuses throughout the D.C. area and three in the New York area, becoming a multisite church had been in our hearts from the beginning. What the Lord did not tell me was when or how. During the third year of the church, we began seeking God to see if it was time to start the first campus. Over the next two years we went to go see more than thirty potential campus locations. Similar to our search five years earlier, we encountered closed door after closed door . . . until—you guessed it—we approached another Regal movie theater, this time in Fairfax, Virginia.
Throughout the process, we had been praying the prayer from Revelation 3:7 that says, “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” The Fairfax area was already on the radar of our leadership team as a strategic area to start our first campus, so we were thrilled when this location opened up. We saw God’s fingerprints in this choice, as our first sanctuary was a Regal movie theater in Potomac Yard. Somehow it seemed right in step that the door God chose to open for our first campus would bring us back to our roots in a Regal theater. Thus, we officially became one church in two locations on January 13, 2013, as we launched our Fairfax campus.
When God Says No!
The number of closed doors we experienced before we initially launched the church and the first campus illustrates an important principle we find in the Apostle Paul’s life in Acts 16. God often speaks through a no before He says yes to what is actually the very best choice for us. I am not always the biggest fan of hearing God say no because I am so ready for Him to say yes, but I have seen time and time again how the no is actually a gift, as He is at work to bring into alignment His best and highest for me.
Modern day amateur theologian Garth Brooks had this same revelation in his song “Unanswered Prayer,” which hit number one on the Country Billboards in the 1990s. Brooks talks about taking his wife to a hometown football game and running into his girlfriend from high school. As he introduces the two women, he begins to remember how much he had desired his girlfriend back in the day, praying each night that if God would give her to him for all time, he would never ask for anything again.
Although he doesn’t tell us what had happened to the old girlfriend over the years, Brooks ends the song thanking God for unanswered prayers, reminding us that God still cares even if He doesn’t answer prayers the way we want Him to—and that some of His greatest gifts are those unwanted answers. God always answers, but sometimes His answer is “in a different way” or “in a different time” because He sees from a perspective we cannot and He can be trusted to work all things together for good, even when it is not what we would have chosen at the time. I think all of us in hindsight can thank God for His no’s to some of the prayers in our lives. As author Tim Keller says, “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”4
We see this same principle of God saying no before He says yes to direct the Apostle Paul where to go in Acts 16. When teaching others to hear God’s voice, I often choose the Apostle Paul as my biblical example because he did not walk with Jesus while Jesus was on the earth. The other apostles had the advantage of hearing His voice before His ascension, but Paul had his first encounter with the ascended Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Like you and me, he had to learn to discern the promptings and leadings of the Holy Spirit. From the start of Paul’s ministry in Acts 9 until Acts 16, we see that he received very distinct direction on where to go and what to do, but it does not clearly explain how he determined where to go until Acts 16. In fact, I believe Acts 16 reveals his grid for how you and I can discern His voice.
In Acts 16:6–10, there is a process that Paul is taken through that gives much insight on how to discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit for our own lives.
They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia they were trying to go into Bithynia and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night, a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
In Acts 16:6 we see Paul learning where he is not to go. It seems to reveal that if there is a place that we specifically should not go, then we can infer that there is a place that we are to go. It is significant to observe that the passage says the Spirit of Jesus would not let them go. I don’t know about you, but I had to learn the hard way that it is not worth it to push ahead if God does not want me to go somewhere. Now when I feel a hesitation in my spirit or a check from the Lord about a certain direction, I have learned to more quickly say, “I’m not going.”
The next thing we observe from the text is that Paul comes to the end of the road in Troas. It seems highly probable that Paul came to a point here where he started to doubt. He had just tried to go two other places, and they were both obviously blocked by the hand of God—let’s call them closed doors. Perhaps he thought God was going to block everywhere and anywhere he wanted to go, or perhaps he wondered if he was listening more closely to his own voice rather than God’s.
This is helpful to remember when we are having trouble discerning the will of God. Even Paul, the man God used to change the course of history in the Roman world, could not always immediately know God’s direction. I’ve learned that to enjoy this process with God, I have to focus on the outcome or reward rather than on any delays or setbacks. It’s similar to eating a Cadbury Creme Egg. You have to unwrap it and break through the chocolate “shell” in order to get to the center—a tasty surprise better than you could even imagine. God delights in the relationship and trust that is formed when we have to continue to look to and depend on Him for each step of the journey.
I like to call this “progressive revelation” where He gives us just what we need to know exactly when we need to know it. I naturally prefer to know where the path is going to lead before I start my journey, but God kindly reminds me that He is walking with me and that it’s His path, not mine. He invites me to enjoy the adventures we will go on together and promises to help me navigate every twist and turn along the way—and at the end of the day that is all I need to know.
In verse 9, we see that in the night, in what may have been Paul’s moment of despair, a vision came to him. All Scripture tells us is that it came to him “in the night.” It is not stated whether he was sleeping and he woke up or if the vision came to him as he walked along the road. However, the most important thing is the content of his vision—it was of a man that needed his help in Macedonia.
Dreams and Visions
Two additional ways God will speak to us is through dreams and visions. There is a prophetic word that appears in the Old Testament book of Joel and later in Acts 2:17. The word talks about God pouring out His Spirit on all mankind in the last days. One of the results of this outpouring will be that “Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28). The difference between a dream and a vision is that a dream takes place while you are asleep and a vision occurs while you are awake.
In a dream, God’s Spirit often speaks to you through images. Sometimes the meaning of a God-inspired dream is very clear—a warning, a blessing, or a sense of direction for something you had asked God about earlier. Other times the meaning is not so clear and will need some interpretation.
As a disclaimer, not all dreams are God inspired. Our dreams can be influenced by different stimuli: random people and events strung together through subconscious thoughts, a mind that is racing with thoughts from your busy day, or even from the enemy. When in doubt if a dream is from God, or when you don’t understand the meaning of a dream you believe is from Him, ask Him for the wisdom to understand. James 1:5 affirms that God wants to give us wisdom if we ask.
A vision is like a spiritual movie playing in front of us or in our heads while we are awake and conscious. Like a dream, the vision may be clear in meaning, or it may need some additional interpretation and understanding from God. If you do experience dreams or visions, submit them to the process we are introducing in this book. See if the dream or vision’s message is supported by the Bible (God will never contradict His written Word) and submit it to someone who is spiritually mature and whose counsel you trust.
Paul’s night vision reveals something about the way God guides, but it also reveals something about Paul’s heart. Paul was partnered with God. It seems to reveal that he sincerely wanted to go where he could help people. Why else would the Lord give him a vision of someone needing help? The Lord did this because He knew that Paul wanted to go where he would be used to help people. Here we see God’s sovereignty in choosing to guide Paul in a way that would relate to desires in his heart. Once we submit our hearts and lives to Christ and begin growing closer to Him, God often uses the desires of our heart to guide us into His will. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires in your heart,” but we must remember to look at Psalm 37:4–5, which says, “Commit everything you do to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will do this.” These verses are a great reminder that although the Lord directs us through our desires when we are surrendered to Him, our role is to commit everything to Him, trust Him, and receive His help, just as we see modeled in Paul’s life in Acts 16.
In verse 9, the Greek word parakaleo is translated into the English as “appealing to him” in reference to the man from Macedonia. This word means, “To call to, to beseech, and to exhort.”5 This brings us to a greater depth of understanding on what the passage is really stating. Further insight is gained by noting that the use of this word is “to call someone to oneself,” not “to call to someone.” It is evident from the Greek word chosen that this man in Macedonia needed help and that it did not matter where the help came from; it just mattered that the help came to him.
It is also significant to note that once Paul received guidance from the Lord, he was confident in putting that guidance into motion immediately. This word is derived from the Greek word eutheos, which means, “suddenly and straightway.”6 Thoralf Gilbrant explains in The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary, “Paul and his company did not hesitate once this positive guidance was given. They concluded that God had called them, therefore they acted.”7 It is said that slow obedience is no obedience. Paul’s expedient obedience should be a model to all believers, that when we do receive guidance from the Lord, we are to act upon it quickly.
As we take a closer look, we can begin to see a pattern of guidance that the Lord used in Paul’s life, especially concerning the geographic location of ministry. It is interesting to note that Paul’s discernment came in two steps. First, God told Paul where not to go. Only after Paul was obedient to those instructions, God told him where he was to go. This is not always the pattern, but as we discussed earlier, one of the ways in which God often speaks is that He closes wrong doors before He opens the right one.
God wants the type of relationship with us where we speak to Him and He speaks to us. His speaking to us can happen in many different ways: through His written Word—the Bible, a rhema word, thoughts and ideas, pictures and images, dreams and visions, an inner knowing, or even through closed or open doors. As you experience God in Step One of the 40-Day Challenge, get ready to submit your questions to Him. You will then have the opportunity to record the preliminary answers you think you have received in Step Two of the process: The Research.
5 Steps to Knowing His Will for Your Life
Hearing from God
5 Steps to Knowing His Will for Your Life
Throughout his time as a Senior Pastor, members of his congregation have asked Pastor David Stine many questions about the Christian faith, but there is one that he continuously hears the most: “How do you make contact with God and hear His voice?”
In Hearing from God, David presents a five-step process designed specifically to help Christians grow in their ability to listen for and better recognize God’s voice. David shares personal stories about how, after applying these steps to his own life, God has specifically answered his prayers and provided clear direction for him. This Scripture-based guide includes a 40-day devotional with carefully chosen Bible passages, questions for reflection, ideas for personal worship, and space for two-way journaling—everything you need to receive God’s message to you.
Hearing from God will transform your ability to hear God’s voice, enrich your relationship with Him, and better understand His will for your life.