7 Ways to Distinguish God’s Voice from the Circumstances of Life

hearing

Every believer wants to hear from God.

Why would you attempt to follow God closely if you didn’t want to know His voice or hear what He has to say?

Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice.” (John 10:27)

That’s especially true in the circumstances of our life. When life is happening — we want to know: Is this God? Is this what He is telling me to do? Is God trying to get my attention?

And, I believe, sometimes life if just happening. It’s not at all that God isn’t interested or in control. He counts hairs on our head and stores our tears in a bottle — He cares. But, sometimes life is life. Things happen. Doors open. Doors close. Jobs are lost. Health changes. The deal on the house we wanted falls through. We don’t get the scholarship we hoped we would. Life happens.

And, yet, I do believe God will use our circumstances to speak to us. He used a burning bush to speak to Moses.

I wish He’d use one to speak to me sometimes. I think I’d pay attention to that.

And, I think that’s part of the problem.

One thing I’ve observed is that we often expect God to speak in the grandiose voice of God. And, sometimes God speaks that way, but many times — at least in my life — God is more subtle than that. Often God speaks through those quiet moments, through other people, and through ordinary life’s circumstances.

In a crowded world of noise and life distractions sometimes it’s hard to understand what God is saying. Isn’t it?

How do we — in the midst of our circumstances — as mixed up and confusing as they can be — figure out what God could be saying to us?

First, I have to say this — it begins and ends in a relationship. If you don’t have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ — start there. (Read Romans 10:9 and if you have questions, email me.)

But, for those who have a relationship already — which is the majority of my readers — how do we hear God’s voice through our circumstances?

Here are 7 thoughts on hearing God speak through the circumstances of life:

Mirror your circumstances with the truth of God’s Word

God will never contradict Himself. He will never speak to us — even through our circumstances — in a way that will contradict His written word. I hear people at times claim God is telling them to do something that is in violation with what God has already said. That’s never God.

God uses people to confirm His voice

Even in circumstances, in my experience, God often sends people into our path to confirm His will for our life. People who attempt to follow God with their life can help us to hear from God.

Every time God has called me to something there have been others to confirm they are hearing the same calling. I’ve often had to cycle through the naysayers to hear them, but they are there. I seek out wisdom of others.

When we went to plant a church — I thought that’s what God was doing — the doors certainly kept opening, but one loud voice of God were the number of people who kept bringing it to my attention unsolicited — including one prophetic pastor (who claimed to not be a prophet) who spoke directly to a 10 year old vision of the plant exactly as God had originally shared it with me. That was my burning bush, but they don’t come along often. Probably only when you’re as stubborn as I am.

Recognize that God operates from a plan

Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Rick Warren has sold millions of books telling us that we should live our life with a purpose. God’s purpose.

Looking back over my life, I could never have scripted it, but I see how God has used me according to an overall plan. He’s used my life experiences to shape me for where I am today.in church planting He used my business entrepreneurial experience. In church revitalization, He’s used my business transition experience. God knows how to use a past for His good.

Examine your circumstances in light of God’s overall plan

When trying to hear from God through the circumstances of life, we should not try to make a decision on one event or set of circumstances. Circumstances may or may not be God speaking to us. We should look at our life over a span of months or years.

Jeremiah 29:11 indicates that God has a definite plan to proper us and give us hope, but it would take the people 70 years to get there. (We often miss that part when celebrating that verse.)

When we look at our life over time we will be able to see what God has been doing. When the circumstances of life consistently line up over time with God’s overall plan it is possible that God is trying to speak through those circumstances.

How many times do we have to hear the same thing — or experience the same circumstances — before we recognize and obey the voice of God?

Before God called me into ministry the voices speaking into my life were many. I was available at the time — in between business careers, there were tons of confirmations and signs, and I had to view my life in the context of God’s master plan — of what He had been shaping for years.

Don’t allow circumstances to keep you from hearing or obeying God

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 (NIV) “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” The common sense thing to do when everyone opposes you would be to leave, but Paul knew the circumstances were not indicative of God’s will for his life.

Sometimes our circumstances may look gloomy, but we haven’t heard the truth of our circumstances until we have heard from God. God has typically spoken to me clearest during my darkest days — when He has my closest attention.

Fear is a great tool of the enemy. The devil can use circumstances also to lead us away from God. This is where the Scripture and other people you trust can help you discern.

Ask God to show you His perspective on the circumstances

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV)

As followers of God we will spend our whole life trying to discern the will of God for our life; listening for His voice. If we desire to hear from God through our circumstances we must intently listen for the voice of God.

Hearing from God is not always easy. When life is coming at us we cannot seem to understand what is going on, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for clarification. We should feel free to ask, “God what did you mean by that?”

Many times I think I know what God is saying, but it’s in the seasons of questioning that I am more intentional to go back to Him for clarification. I’ve even taken days away to intentionally listen during the confusing times.

Remember: God’s primary desire in speaking is for eternal purposes

We limit God to this finite world when we fail to remember He is an infinite God. When we are trying to discern God’s voice through the circumstances of life we should consider how what is happening around us fits into God’s eternal plan to save a lost world from destruction and to mold His children into the image of His Son.

God’s primary activity will be in these areas of our life. I’ve always been able to see how God’s specific plan for me lined up with His desire to invite a world to know Him. If what I sense He is asking me to do would help people know Him or know Him better it is much easier to recognize and affirm the voice of God in my circumstances.

Hearing from God is critical for the children of God to know God’s will for our life.

Our mission is to learn how to hear His voice. We must listen intently and carefully for His voice through the crowd of noises in the world in which we live. Thankfully God has not given up on us, but is still speaking to His people today.

Are you in a season of trying to hear from God?

Easter Reminder: Don’t Look for the Living Among the Dead

empty garden tomb

And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you.

Luke 24:5-6

Easter reminds me that I often make the mistake of those who were seeking the crucified — now risen — Christ.

I look for the living among the dead.

I look at my past mistakes and think I can’t recover.

I look at my failures and think I’m defeated.

I look at those who cast doubt upon me and think they speak truth.

I look at my inadequacies and think I’m limited.

I look at my problems and forget that His mercies are new every morning.

I look at my struggles and think I’m limited to my own abilities.

I look at the circumstances of the world and feel all hope is gone.

I look for the living among the dead.

Let Easter remind us that we serve a RISEN Savior!

He’s on His throne. He has a plan. He has not forgotten us!

The tomb is empty!

Still.

Let’s live that way!

Lessons Learned from Walking on Hot Coals

Walk On Fire

People say Christians are crazy, but I would like to submit another group of people for consideration: fire walkers.

I’d recently gone on a 37,000-mile prayer pilgrimage around the world, a modern re-working of the ancient tradition. I experienced a world of prayer traditions across the Judeo-Christian faith family, including some of the “strange cousins” and “weird uncles.”

Thus, firewalking.

Some people say firewalking is dangerous, and those people are correct.

It had been a long day – I’d been dancing and yelling and sweating for over 12 hours, without a meal stop or bathroom break at any point in the process. This was how things rolled at The Guru’s convention – part sales pitch, part rave, part rock concert, part tent revival. I was there as an observer, and to some extent, as a participant.

While I didn’t “worship” with my hands raised (to the Titanic and Chariot’s of Fire theme songs), I had committed to taking part in the evening’s crescendo: a brisk walk across a 12-foot bed of 2000-degree roasting hot coals.

The Guru had taught us a very simple neurolinguistic programming technique. We were instructed to “make a move,” some sort of repetitive physical action that would pump our bodies full of testosterone. (I went with a manly combination—a Hulk-style chest flex paired with a front double bicep curl.) We were told to reach the front of the line, get in the zone, “make our move,” and then calmly walk across the coals while focusing on the phrase “cool moss.”

I got to the front of the line and stared down at the glowing embers, two thousand degrees of heat ready to bake my bones. I started to get into the zone. “It’s your turn!” a volunteer yelled. “Head up and go!” He shoved me onto the coals.

I wasn’t in the zone.

I hadn’t made my move.

I hadn’t even prayed.

My first step—my right foot caught a hot coal right between my big toe and the ball of my foot. It was hot. The ball of my left foot landed on an equally fiery chunk of flaming wood. There was no “cool moss” for me.

I stormed across the pit like a drummer in a marching band, moving so quickly that two volunteers had to grab me at the end and spray cold water on my feet. And then it was over. I hadn’t died or burned my feet off.

I exhaled with relief. And I realized that no prayer is necessary to walk across hot coals. There is nothing spiritual about it at all, in fact.

A lot of people, myself included, are guilty of treating God like that self-help guru. Prayer is our mantra, a way to bolster our confidence and psych ourselves up for whatever challenges lie ahead.

To some extent it works. But prayer isn’t a mind game; it’s not a pseudoscientific technique for achieving success in life. It’s a deeply intimate form of communication with the Lover of our souls.

Prayer isn’t about self-improvement.

We don’t “gain confidence”; we enter God’s. We don’t “become a better person”; God conforms us to the image of His Son. We don’t “attain perfection”; we’re covered by the spotless Lamb.

Prayer can get us through the fiery seasons of life, but it’s not the prayer that gets us through — it’s the God who’s willing to carry us across that bed of burning hot coals.

This is a guest post by Jared Brock. Jared is the co-founder of Hope for the Sold, an abolitionist charity that fights human trafficking one word at a time. His is the author of A Year of Living Prayerfully, and he is happily married to his best friend, Michelle. Jared’s writing has appeared in Huffington Post, Converge, Esquire, and Relevant Magazine, and he writes regularly at JaredBrock.com.

An Exponential Interview about Church Revitalization

Expo 2015 Precon Booklet Ron Edmondson5

Tom Cheyney and I will be hosting a pre-conference Revitalization lab at Exponential East this year entitled: Finding New Life for an Old Church. Tom and I were talking recently and we both agreed — we are surprised more pastors are not considering revitalization. In addition to church planting, revitalization has tons of Kingdom-potential. And, there are lots of opportunities out there — lots of declining churches need help.

Up for a challenge — consider revitalization! 

Of course, Church revitalization involves change. And no matter how necessary the change, some people will fight until the end preferring to let the slowly die, but the church can change — and thrive again.

Exponential recently interviewed me to find out more about this bonus session:

What do you hope to accomplish through this pre-conference?

I hope people will leave with some of their questions answered about church revitalization and what it takes to be successful. We are really thinking in terms of best — and frankly worst — practices. We have some experience personally and working with other churches that we think can help. I’d love to think some church planter mindsets would reconsider revitalizing an established church.

What are some of the reasons you decided to do a pre-conference on church revitalization?

Obviously it is and should be a calling. You’ll need it, but we also need a renewed interest in revitalizing existing churches. In my estimation, we have more Kingdom dollars invested in non-productive, non-growing churches than in church plants. Obviously we need lots of church plants, but we also need to revive some of the older churches. Someone said it takes 30 years for a declining church to die. Not trying to be cruel, but that’s too long. If it’s not going to revive, maybe an immediate closure and redistribution of resources is warranted. Wow! Did I just say that?

What are some tensions you have faced in this area?

It involves change. That’s never easy. But, you can’t produce growth from decline without change. All my tension has been from change. Yet, the real root of tension is in an emotional response to change. Change always produces an emotional response — positive or negative. So, I’ve dealt with a good deal of emotion over the past couple years. But, that also doesn’t mean everything has to change. Some traditions may actually be good and should be celebrated. And, we will talk about that at the conference.

What are some of the differences in leading this generation and culture from the past?

Time commitment and loyalty are different for the newer generation. There is less of it. That can be difficult, because it sometimes means we see them less often and they are can be quick to disengage if something else comes along. On a positive note, they are very driven to make a difference. They prefer a “hands on” experience. With motivation and opportunity this generation can make huge Kingdom differences. By the way, this should be a very attractive element for younger generations of pastors entering church revitalization. Many times in an established church the resources and people are there — that if energized again for the vision — a church can hit the ground running much faster than in a church plant.

What can someone expect to takeaway from attending your pre-conference?

I think there will be some frankness and some challenge. We are going to give lots of practical information, but even more, we are here to invest in church leaders. As Exponential does so well, we will be learning together and build community quickly with other church leaders. This should be very helpful and applicable.

We are excited for this Revitalization Lab. Make sure you are there by registering for the main conference + pre-conference with code: revitalization15. You will receive $30 off of your conference registration and a FREE pre-conference as well as access to Bonus Sessions. Register here!

7 Ways to Better Enjoy Reading the Bible

Christian woman reading a Bible

I’ll never forget the day a young college-aged girl told me recently that she didn’t enjoy reading her Bible and asked if there was an alternative book.

At first, I didn’t know what to say. Then I realize she was very serious.

“Well…no!”, I thought, but didn’t say.

The Bible is THE BOOK!

There is no substitute. There are plenty of great Christian books, but none compare to this one.

That wasn’t a new concern. I’ve heard similar concerns many times. The Bible intimidates many people; even those who are avid readers of other books.

I did suggest this girl could listen to the Bible on a CD or mp3. YouVersion will even read the Bible to you. But then I told her I’d give her some more suggestions.

That’s what prompted this post. The reality is I think we need to figure out how to enjoy reading God’s Word. Part of maturing as a believer is to fall in love with the Bible.

Here are 7 suggestions which may help:

Pray – The Bible is not like any other book. You need God’s Spirit to help you understand and process it. You should always pray before and as you read it. Ask God to help you understand what you’re reading — even to help you enjoy it. Good news here! This appears, in my experience, to be one of God’s favorite prayers to answer.

Version – Pick a version easy for you to understand. I would suggest you read a more literal translation primarily, but the paraphrase versions are good for casual reading. I suggest HCSB, NIV or NLT for a more literal but very readable version, ESV or NKJV if you want a most literal translation, or for a paraphrase version, that’s extremely readable, try The Message Version. I read some of each of these for my studies and casual reading. (I wrote a post on how to select a version HERE.)

Sharing – It brings Scripture to life when we can share it with others. Find a small group. That’s what church is great for at providing. Or find a group of guys or girls at a coffee shop or a couple of people from work. Studying the Scripture with a community helps energize you as you learn. When you talk about what you’re reading, it helps you value it more. (Read Philemon 6 for an example of this.)

Journaling – Writing about your time in God’s Word will help you process your thoughts and keep a record of them. It’s exciting to go back over time and remember what you read before. It fuels your enthusiasm to study even more.

Timing – I love the idea of reading the Bible through in a year. I’ve done this many times. I think it’s more important, however, that you benefit from what you’re reading. I sometimes meditate on a few verses or a story for a day — or a week. I also recommend people start with an easier book to understand and move to more difficult passages from there. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John are good places to start. And, find the right setting. A comfortable chair, an open field — morning, noon or night — what works best for you. And, for as long as you can. Don’t put a time limit on it that adds more burden to the experience.

Clarify – It’a best to have a study Bible for this part, but there are plenty of free online tools also. Look up words you don’t understand. Learn to use Bible dictionaries and commentaries. Use the Table of Contents. No shame. Look up passages, which aren’t clear, cross-referencing verses with other similar verses using footnotes. For some people, having a Bible study to work through along with reading the Bible is helpful. And, when you aren’t certain, ask someone you trust who understands the Bible.

Relationship – The best way to fall in love with God’s Word is to get to better know it’s Author. It’s cliche now, but read it as a love letter written to you. If someone writes you a love letter, you’ll read it continually until you figure out what it means, and maybe even memorize parts of it along the way. If you can’t figure out something, you’ll consult the author.
The greater your love grows with God the easier Bible reading becomes — and the more enjoyable. You may even someday say it’s “fun”!

What would you add to my list?

2 Simple Prayers That Greatly Changed My Life

prayer

Over 25 years ago I took a month to read through the book of Jeremiah. Two verses stood out to me then that have continued to produce spiritual growth in my life.

The two verses are:

Jeremiah 24:7

I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

I realized that God had promised the people they could have a heart to know Him. Therefore, the God who never changes has also promised me I can have a heart to know Him, not just know about Him, but really get to know Him personally. I began praying that God would give me that kind of heart.

A few days later, I read this verse:

Jeremiah 32:39

I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.

God also promised His people that not only could they know Him intimately, but also He would help them carry out that heart in the things they did. They wouldn’t simply believe a truth; they would actually begin to live truth. Again, I realized God would do the same for me. I began praying that God would give me “singleness of heart and action.”

Praying the truths of these two verses became a pattern for my life over the next year. Looking back, I can see how God did just as He promised. I continue to make mistakes and I consistently need to go back to these principles, but God truly has given me a heart that desires to know him and more and more I am beginning to see myself live out the truth I believe.

What verses have worked that way in your heart? Do you need to pray God would work these verses for truth in your life?

A Guaranteed Way to Have the Best New Year Ever

Thumb Up young couple

Do you want to guarantee your success in the new year?

If you could figure out a way, that’d be worth it, right?

Here’s a Biblical example of how to have the best year ever.

The Lord said to Abram:

Go out from your land,

your relatives,

and your father’s house

to the land that I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation,

I will bless you,

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

I will curse those who treat you with contempt,

and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

Genesis 12:1-3 (Emphasis mine)

The secret, for lack of a better word, for any success Abraham would ever had would be found in moving from his will to God’s will — allowing God to shake his direction and the outcome of his life.

When the “you” comes after the “I” rather than before, we’ll always guarantee our success.

Here’s a guaranteed strategy for the new year to be a success:

  • Drop your agenda — and join His agenda.
  • Get off your path — and get on His path.
  • Release your ambitions — and embrace His ambitions.
  • Set aside your will — and live His will.

Are you ready for a great new year? Let God lead the way.