Grant me, O Lord to know what I ought to know, to love what I ought to love, to praise what delights you most, to value what is precious in your sight, to hate what is offensive to you. Do not allow me to judge according to the sight of my eyes, nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of my ears; but to discern with a true judgment between things visible and spiritual, and above all things, always to inquire what is the good pleasure of your will. – Thomas à Kempis
How do we know when God is speaking to us?
As Christians, we say we want to listen for God’s voice and do what God wants us to do. It is in those times we are really serious about it, when we feel an urgent need, when we really want to know, that we struggle to discover what that is--what that voice sounds like, what it is God wants us to do. Who has the real answers? Who has the truth?
There are churches on every corner, each with a different message; televangelists; politicians speaking like preachers; doom-and-gloomsayers; each one proclaiming that they’ve got the true word of God and the authority to speak it. There are religious folks on both sides of any hot-button issue in politics or culture--whether it’s war, peace, abortion, homosexuality, global environmental emergency, or economic crisis—every one of them is convinced that they’re speaking the inspired truth, revealed by God.
But there are times when God’s truth is spoken, and it is possible to know it. We know it in the teachings of Jesus: what he says gives us a glimpse of the realm of God—what it might look like for the presence of God to be more powerful than any other person, thing, illness, addiction, weakness, power, or principality in this world. In Jesus we hear a word, a truth spoken in power and with authority—because it has no conditions. It demands nothing but choosing to listen, requires nothing to earn it, yet gives everything: freedom, release, healing, wholeness, purpose.
It’s not necessarily flashy, or showy. We think of God’s guidance being spectacular, and often wish it would be. We look at the story of Moses and the burning bush, and we wish God would be that evident, that obvious. It would be great if we could always know what God wants because it always comes with a show. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. God’s word for us often comes in a whisper, a nudge, a conversation.
That’s often the way to discern what is the true word of God. When we encounter something that helps us to establish a relationship with God, and it exists only for that reason, then it is of God. When we hear a word that strikes a chord somewhere deep in our souls, and requires only our response to it, then it is from God. Maybe it is just that simple…
It is not always easy always to have ears to hear and hearts to discern, and the courage to listen always for God. I have discovered, however, that every time I forget, I miss out on something important.
Michelle Bogue-Trost is a devoted follower of Jesus, a pastor, preacher, leader, teacher, and mentor, committed to the health of individuals and congregations.