If God is really always present and at work, and salvation is participating in the divine life God shares with us, we can assume we are meant to live lives of constant communion with God. As Dallas Willard put it, we can cultivate a “conversational relationship with God.”
This is wonderful news, but one of the first issues that comes up for people who seek this kind of relationship with God is the question: “How do I know if I’m really hearing from God?”
In other words, when we are paying attention and listening for a word of good news from God, how do we know if what we are sensing and hearing is really God’s voice or just our own ideas?
This issue comes up quite a bit in our coaching. We train leaders to open space to hear good news from God for themselves and others, and we contextualize this good news and use our imaginations a bit in the process. This makes some people nervous, because how do we know if it’s really God unless we just quote Scripture at each other?
Here are three filters I use to help myself and others sift through the “words” that come to us as we listen for good news from God:
1) Think about the character of God
Does what I’m hearing line up with the character of God revealed in Jesus? Does it sound like something that the Father of Jesus Christ would say?
If so, relax and trust that you may be hearing from God!
2) Think about the story of Jesus
Does this good news seem like a coherent “extension” of the story of Jesus (which is the gospel)? In other words, as you think about the story of the incarnation, does what you’re hearing seem to “fit” with what God has done in Christ?
Think about the birth, life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and current reign of Jesus, as well as the sending of the Spirit, the hope of his return, the resurrection of the dead, and the renewal of all things.
If what you’re hearing seems to “match” the God of this story, you just might be hearing from God!
3) Think about the fruit of the Spirit
A final filter to use is to think about whether what you’re hearing is from God or not is to just “try it on for size” and see what kind of fruit it produces in your life.
If saying “yes” to the good news you think you’re hearing from God results in a heavy burden of fear, anxiety, anger, or frustration, it’s not from God.
But if responding to the good news produces the fruit of the Spirit in your life (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control), well, then you just might be hearing from God!
What’s the worst-case scenario?
If what you think you’re hearing from God “passes” these filters, then the absolute worst thing that could happen is that you heard some good news that, although you “made it up,” coheres very well with the gospel. And that’s not bad.
Ultimately the only way we move toward greater competency in hearing from God is to dive in and try it out. Participate in hearing and responding. Test it in community and see what the results are.
God really is present with you and seeking an interactive, conversational relationship with you. Take an experimental approach to hearing from God. You really don’t have anything to lose by diving into this with both feet. Keep listening for good news and then experiment with trusting what you hear!