Imagine what your life could be like if you could strongly discern every opportunity God has for you. The past few years this is something I’ve been learning more about and I want to share a couple reasons why it can be so difficult and four things I’ve learned.
First, our lives are a product of the messages we’ve heard again and again. Whatever messages are most repeated we tend to believe. It’s simply SCIENCE.🤓 I first learned a lot about this from a cognitive neuroscientist named Carolyn Leaf back in 2013. I had a lot of anxiety and worry and a therapist recommended I search her on YouTube and watch a talk she gave on this topic. I did and I was fascinated. She took brain scans and visually showed in a way that regular people can understand how science and the way the brain works confirms the things God says about taking our thoughts captive in the Bible.
We demolish every argument that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -2 Corinthians 10:5
You may know this verse, but it takes on so much more meaning when you can see that the cellular structures in your brain actually change based upon the types of thoughts you repeatedly think. When I saw images of a brain and what happened at the molecular level when someone chose to replace a negative thought with a positive one, I was amazed. You literally see something that looks like a dying tree start turning into a healthy tree with leaves. The cooler part is that it only takes 21 days of proactively changing your thought patterns for the brain to start making these changes. It was one of the biggest aha moments I’ve had in my life. The more you practice taking a negative, false thought captive and replacing it with truth, the easier it becomes to do and the less those undesirable thoughts occur. At that time my mind was full of thoughts of worry, fear, insecurity and worthlessness and I had no idea how much they were influencing my mental state and life. I thought they just were what they were and I wasn’t living in reality if I tried to think otherwise. The reason I mention all this is because if you aren’t filling your mind with true things, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to discern what’s true.
Second, I think it makes it harder to trust your gut and to wonder if you’re discerning correctly after you’ve been through something hard. Particularly things like relationships or opportunities you completely felt were right and you gave your all to, but the outcomes left you with a lot of hurt and loss. Maybe in retrospect you can now see things that were red flags or missteps that you couldn’t see then. Maybe you don’t. Regardless, I bet you’ve dissected it looking for things to do differently, wondering how you can protect yourself from that pain, and if there’s a way to better follow God’s leading the next time. It can make you get in your head and wonder which thoughts and ideas are from you, from God, or from the enemy trying to confuse and trick you. It can be paralyzing and keep you stuck because you want to follow the direction that’s from God, but don’t know which it is when the counterfeits have felt so real in the past.
If you’re still reading and you have this same struggle you probably want to know what to do about it. I remember being so scared to hear wrong and wanting to know so badly how to be clear on knowing what was God speaking. I’d hear of other people saying they knew God told them something and I’d be so jealous. One day I literally was in my car and remember bursting into tears at a stop light because I just wanted to hear from God and know it was him so I made the right decisions in life. It just so happened that I was on my way to the bookstore and while I was looking for the book I came to buy, I noticed another book by Priscilla Shirer called, Discerning the Voice of God. It jumped off the shelf at me and I knew it was no coincidence it crossed my path. I immediately bought it and read it and much of what I’m about to share comes from the wisdom Priscilla shared in that book.
Four Ways To Get Clear On Hearing From God:
1.) When you get clear on what God says in his word your gauge for discernment becomes stronger. If you want to know what God is specifically telling you in certain situations you first have to know who he is in general and you do this by learning his word. Read your Bible, start a devotional on the Bible app, go to church. There are lots of ways and tools to learn about God and his character and until you know more about who he really is its going to be difficult to know when it’s him speaking to you.
2.) Create margin to hear God speak. If you’re always busy and running from place to place with the TV or music on, you’re not allowing any time or space for God to speak. If you’ve read the Bible you’ve probably heard phrases like, God speaks in a “still, small voice” or “be still and know that I am God”. The reason this is in the Bible is because it’s true. You have to create a space of stillness in your life to hear from God. Clear out the distractions, the mental chatter, and the to-do lists. Get still and mediate and listen. For me (ADHD child who has trouble being still and keeping my mind from darting all over the place) this took a lot of intentional discipline. I studied the spiritual discipline of meditation and took a season where every Saturday morning I would take my Bible, the devotional book I was reading, and my journal and go to a coffee shop or a place where I could be away from the distractions of my home and roommates.
I started by reading my devotional and instead of just reading it and going about my morning, I really READ IT. I thought about it. I opened my Bible and looked up the whole passage from where the verse in my devotional was from. I read the chapter or section to gain additional context. I read any of the commentary in my Bible about it and also pulled it up on my Bible app to read other translations to really understand the meaning and stay in that space to make room for God to speak. It was amazing how it worked. Not one of those Saturdays did I leave feeling like God didn’t show me something. Maybe it was a new understanding or perspective on a scripture I had known for awhile. Maybe it was increased clarity on a situation I was dealing with. I don’t remember all the specifics from each of those times, but what I do remember is the peace and strength I felt.
A second way to create margin for God to speak is to read your Bible and pray with a journal and pen. This is something that was recommended to me this year by a women who’s leading my Life Group. I really admire her and how connected she is with the Lord. She definitely has prophetic gifts for hearing him speak and it made me want to learn more about her daily practices. What she does is she’ll journal her prayers and then pause. She’ll listen for God to speak and write down what comes to her mind. Maybe it’s a word. Maybe it’s a phrase. Maybe it’s a verse. If so, she’ll look up the verse, or maybe look up verses in the Bible pertaining to the word or phrase that came to her mind. She’ll read those and write them down, along with what she hears next. I’ve heard this practice done by a few people and one bit of wisdom I’ve gathered is this. No, you may not know 100% if what is coming to your mind is from God or yourself, but by writing it down what you’ll start to identify are trends. This brings me to my third point.
3.) God is persistent. He brings things back around that are meant to be. If you’re really seeking God and what he’s saying to you, you don’t have to worry about missing something from him. When I learned this, I can’t tell you how much peace and freedom it brought me. How many times are you so afraid that if you hear wrong or don’t give someone or something a chance that you’ll miss an opportunity or the love of your life? I’d say maybe just me, but I know too many people who have shared that fear with me, so I know it’s common one. Usually the context is some version of, “what if he/she changes or I give up too soon?” That’s the stuff that keeps us up at night, makes us second guess, torments us, and causes worry. Let’s just be honest.
Here’s what I’ve learned and this applies to a relationship, your career, or any big life decision. If you keep walking in obedience and taking the next right step, you can trust that God will open and close the right doors. You don’t have fear missing out or that something will be forever lost if you hear wrong. Take care of you. Do your best. Ask yourself if the thing that keeps coming back around brings you closer to or takes you further from God and your purpose? Don’t compromise your truth. If you have to rationalize or justify sin in order to have the thing, that’s likely an indicator it’s not from God. If you genuinely make a mistake and miss something God has for you by doing these things, he will bring it back around again. He’s not trying to trick you and he’s not trying to make hearing from him or following him difficult. You are not that powerful to get that off track if you’re sincerely trying to follow God. This isn’t to say that you won’t face challenges, see certain dreams die, or have to develop endurance to patiently wait. That brings me to my last point.
4.) When you’re following God and hearing from him you’ll have a supernatural peace. Peace is not equal to easy. You still will experience hard things and God also may challenge you. In fact, if all else lines up and what you think God’s asking you to do is hard and you can’t figure out the “how”, it’s likely from him. Some example of this from the Bible are:
- When God told Noah to build the ark, yet it hadn’t started raining and the world had never before seen a flood. He was ridiculed and also had to question the “how” behind the whole flood concept and fitting his family and all the animals on a boat for 40 days.
- When God told Esther to plead her case for the king to not kill the Jews. She had to be terrified and wonder “how” she’d have favor in that situation.
- When God told the virgin Mary she’d give birth to the Messiah. That doesn’t sound easy at all and she had to be so confused and wondering “how”.
These may be some extreme examples, but they’re in the Bible for a reason. God wanted to show us what faith looked like when he’d ask us to do challenging things. He wanted us to know that our humanness would cause us to feel scared and overwhelmed, and that we might be criticized or wonder “how”. But he also promised a peace that surpasses all understanding with a stillness and rest in your soul that you’re on the right track.
Lesson I’m Learning: You don’t just get good at this once and remain good at it. It’s like working out. You may have taken spin classes for a month, learned all the moves and hit a crazy high PR, but unless you stay in shape and keep exercising you’re going to lose your endurance and ability to execute. It’s the same with your spiritual walk. You can learn a spiritual discipline but you’ll get out of shape if you stop practicing it.
Challenge For The Day: We all have to start somewhere. Pick something. Maybe it’s reading the Bible and learning more about who God says you are and the things he has for you. Maybe it’s creating margin in your life to allow God a space to speak. Two of the most life-changing resources I’ve found in my own life have been, Carolyn Leaf’s 21-Day Brain Detox online course and Priscilla Shirer’s book, Discerning the Voice of God.
And…The Palm Tree Picture: I snapped this on a trip to Palm Springs a couple years ago. I chose it because it was a significant time in my life when I really was learning to hear from God. I got up early this morning and drove the streets, soaking in the stillness and beauty all around me. I looked up at the tallest palm trees, mountains, and clear blue skies in absolute awe of the enormity of God and the beauty he creates.