The following sequence is a great place to start in developing an objective approach to hearing from the Lord concerning specific issues. Knowing you have consistently followed certain steps often takes the emotion and doubt out of going to the Lord and increases our confidence that we have truly heard from Him.
1. Acknowledge and remind yourself of your spiritual identity in Christ. Who you truly are, a spirit being, already knows the answer to whatever your question is! God loves you, accepts and is proud of you now, regardless of the situation you are in or the choices that are before you.
2. Review the central means of guidance as described in “General Methods of Guidance according to Grace”: Providence/Circumstantial; Law/Morality; Instruction/Direction.
3. DO THE RESEARCH! Seeking divine guidance is not a way to get out of your decision-making responsibilities. Very often taking the time to ask questions and look at the actual circumstances will provide the direction you need. For instance, when considering job changes, is the new job offer in writing? In considering marriage, are you both healed enough to be able to make healthy decisions? Don’t just look to God to tell you what to do then expect everything will work out because God gave you the okay…do the work!
4. Decide what YOU want to do. Very often the reason the Lord puts us in positions where choices have to be made is to free us from old wounds, expectations, or perceptions of ourselves, others or God. You can’t submit your desires to God until you “own” them; you can’t truly give to God something that doesn’t belong to you.
5. Adjust your beliefs and expectations until you can take an objective stance regarding the issue. It’s difficult to hear from the Lord when we already have an opinion. So sort through your motivations, with the Lord’s help, until you don’t care what the answer is. This is part of not only recognizing His sovereignty but submitting to it as well. The Lord will prove His faithfulness. This does not mean that you will not necessarily have a desire; the Lord often directs us by giving us a desire. But we need to be willing to let that desire go. For instance, “Lord, I really want to take this job, but I’ll embrace whatever decision you want to make.”
6. Ask specific questions. Having done your research and self-evaluation, phrase the issue into specific questions, rather than asking the Lord general questions. For instance, use “yes” or “no” questions or multiple choice; “Lord, do you want me to take this offer?” versus “Lord, what should I do?” Obviously God is free to respond in whatever way He chooses, but restricting our options in questioning God keeps our soul focused on hearing from Him rather than speculating on all the possibilities. It’s easier to recognize and accept “yes” or “no” from Him rather than complete sentences or instructions, especially when we are just learning.
7. Establish a time frame for when you need an answer; by noon on Thursday, for example. Be realistic, and develop an expectation of His response. This deadline should be before your “final” deadline. For instance, if you’re considering making a purchase, and you need to decide by a certain day, set your initial deadline for a day or two before. The Lord may give you your answer well before, but by dealing in objective deadlines, emotions and pressure are less likely to play a role in the decision-making process.
8. Set aside time specifically to wait on the Lord regarding the issue. This is in addition to other waiting times you have established. Though God is not obligated to respond during this time, it is a good reminder that we are engaging Him regarding the issue on His terms. Remind the Lord (and yourself) of the question, and give Him an opportunity to respond. You may find from one day to the next that the question has changed, or perhaps has become irrelevant because you already “know” the answer.
9. When your deadline comes, if you have specifically heard from the Lord, acknowledge the direction specifically. If you haven’t heard specifically, go ahead and make a decision! For instance, decide that you will accept the job offer. Sometimes He will leave it up to us—because He also wants us to be growing in confidence in our judgment. As we become more and more dependent on Him, our will becomes more and more in line with His. As we grow into a strictness, we also grow into freedom.
10. Set a final deadline. Wait on the Lord, giving Him an opportunity to change your mind. “Lord, tomorrow I’m going to accept that position. If you don’t want me to, let me know.” Our God is a BIG God; it’s His job to reveal Himself. Your only responsibility in this is to make yourself available. Depending on God to make His will known is more important than the decision itself. His love for us comes before the need to make the “right” decision. God knows what and when you need—you don’t! “Lord, I believe this is what you want me to do. If I don’t hear from you by such and such a time, and I still am of this mindset, I’m going to act on this direction.”
11. Act on your decision, taking responsibility for the guidance received. This doesn’t mean you won’t have an emotional reaction. And the consequences may not fall into line with your expectations of what “making the right decision” should look or feel like.
Over time, review your decision-making projects with the Lord, letting Him provide feedback, joy, strength or encouragement as necessary. Every circumstance in your life is a training opportunity, reinforcing the rest, peace and giving nature that we now experience personally. Also be aware that the Lord may change your direction as soon as you make a commitment. That doesn’t mean you missed His direction, just that He’s ready to move you on to something else. Being led by the Lord doesn’t mean everything’s going to be rosy; one of the reasons to do this sequence is so you can “stand” when the doubts come.
Divine Guidance: Practical Do’s and Don’ts
- Do Be Discrete. Decision-making can be stressful; trusting the Lord to bring you into His rest will ultimately make it easier to have confidence that you have heard from Him. The more people involved the greater the stress, as most people will have an opinion either on what you should do or on how to decide what to do.
- Don’t shop around to get the answer you want. Truth is not in the number of people who agree with your decision; Truth is a Person.
- Do learn to say “no” without explanation. You do not owe anyone an explanation for your decisions; if awkward situations are likely, come up with scripts ahead of time. For instance, if you are heading into a situation where you know there will be a lot of questions regarding your decision, simply reply, “I’ve made my decision.” Take responsibility for your decision.
- Don’t save your communication with the Lord for special needs, or “important” decisions. Over time you will be able to sense His direction on a variety of levels, but start with recognizing that He wants you to be available to His direction at all times, even during your daily routine.
- Do make decisions with others. Whoever is involved in the decision needs to be in agreement; one person can’t decide to move, change jobs or make a purchase unless all (adults) agree. If you go into the process with this concept firm, you will be able to move in confidence. For couples, each should go through this process separately, setting a series of deadlines to discuss issues that may arise. Until all are in agreement, no decision has been made. Decide this before a situation arises and you’ll avoid a lot of needless controversy.
- Do include all members of the family in the decision-making process. Habits are caught, not taught. Mentor your kids by going through the process with them when they are making decisions, and including them in your decision-making process, as appropriate according to their age. Be a good example of the parenthood of God by letting them make mistakes and dealing with the consequences, with your support.
- Do remain flexible. Once a decision is made, continue to pay attention to the moving of the Spirit, both within and without. He may have some other things He’d like to discuss with you.
- Do make decisions with confidence, remembering you are free to make a mistake—He won’t hold it against you! There will be times He will be silent when you seek His direction; it may be that you are simply on the right track already, so He doesn’t have anything else to say. Walking daily in dependence reduces the necessity for special guidance.
- Do be sensitive to His re-direction. All the necessary guidance is not always given at once; sometimes the Lord’s goal is to get us from Point A to Point K, so don’t force your focus on Point Z, but on the Lord Himself. The enemy, by over-driving us in the direction of the will of God, can thus distract us from God’s true purpose.
- Do be sensitive to the still small voice of guidance. The farther we are away from depending on God, the louder He might have to shout—hearing the audible voice of God is not necessarily a compliment.
- Do be prepared to be “on your own.” It is possible to be personally in the will of God, though out of the will of God for a group.
- Don’t impose your level of understanding or experience on others. God takes into consideration our state of development and leads according to our level of dependence.
- Do accept the Lord’s private teaching. There are some truths that we have to experience for ourselves, and can’t be learned from others, so be prepared to learn something “different” in a different way.
Adapted from Knowing God by Dianne Thomas