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Last week I shared a testimony of how I thought I heard God's direction, so I took some steps of faith to obey it. But once I was in the middle of "obeying," things did not work out the way I expected them to, and I began to wonder if I had somehow missed God's will. The big question for me became, "Did I miss God's will here? And if so, what should I do to try and fix it?"
I struggled with this for a few days, even though I usually hear God's voice relatively well. I wasn't sure if I'd heard Him correctly, so I cried out to Him for wisdom about this. Things seemed to go wrong for me left and right, and I was becoming convinced that I'd somehow missed God's leading and acted on something that was not Him. I even tried to take actions to correct it (trying to fly home right away), but I was cut off at the pass (e.g., no airline seats were available).
God finally worked in my circumstances near the end of the trip, and He showed me that I really had heard His voice, that I was doing what God wanted me to do. Even thought I'd heard God correctly and was actively obeying Him, the enemy sent a lot of frustration, hardship and spiritual warfare against me. Why did he do that? It was to try and throw me off course--and in my case, he almost succeeded. Fortunately, God is greater that all the power of the enemy, and He managed to keep me on course long enough to accomplish what He had set out to do in the first place.
I am guessing that I am not the only person who has ever stepped out in faith, then ended up wondering if they had made a big mistake in doing so because things did not seem to be working out very well.
The problem is that not every step of faith is really in response to God's direction, because there are times when we hear Him wrong. There are times when the desires of our heart imitate God's voice to us, and get us to do thing that God is not leading us to do. There are times that the enemy jumps in and imitates God's voice to us, trying to lead us away from God's perfect will. There have been times in my life where I realty did "miss the boat," and God had to reel me back in. But there have been other times when I really was in the center of God's will--yet I still wondered whether or not I had heard him correctly.
So the question becomes: how do you sort it out when you are in the middle of acting on something you originally thought the Lord told you? When doubts become to come up, how do you sort out whether or not it was really God? How do you determine when to stand in faith and when it is time to "cut your losses" and regroup?
There are four principles that I'd like to share, because they may help you in this situation:
There is so much I could say about these four principles--in fact I could write a whole book about them. But we don't have time for a whole book worth of information in this lesson, so I will only "skim the surface" on these topics. But let's take a brief look at each one.
Seek Confirmation Before Acting
If what you hear has trivial consequences, then I recommend that you practice instant obedience. If you heard wrong, then your mistake won't cost you much. But when the "price tag" of obedience is large, you need to spend some time and effort making sure that you are not walking in presumption. The first and most obvious way to do that is to bounce what you heard against the Bible. Jesus did that when Satan tempted Him to jump off the temple roof--Jesus knew from Scripture that God did not want Him to needlessly endanger Himself. That is why He countered the enemy's suggestion by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. Let's look briefly at the passage:
5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over You,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear You up, lest You dash your foot against a stone.'"
7 Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'"
Jesus did not even seek the Father's will on this because the Bible made God's will clear; He simply went with what God had already said in His written word.
We are to do the same. For instance, the Bible says that we are not to be unevenly yoked, so we should not pray over whether it is God's will to date (or marry) an unbeliever. The Bible says that we are not to steal, so we should never seek God for whether or not it is God's will for you to embezzle money from your company to pay for your daughter's surgery. If what we hear is not biblical, then we don't need to seek God for His will regarding it, we simply reject it.
However, many of the things we think we hear God speak to us cannot be found directly in the Bible. In those cases, we take what we have heard back to God and ask Him about it.
It doesn't matter if you hear God speak to you directly, or if you get a prophetic word from a "reliable source'--if there is a big price tag to obeying what you heard, go back and seek God for confirmation before you act on it. Seeking confirmation form God is not presumptuous, even Jesus spent hours and hours in prayer to make sure He knew God's will before He made big decisions.
For instance, in Luke 6:12-13, it says, "12 Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles." In other words, Jesus stayed up all night praying and getting to know the Father's will before He chose the 12 disciples who would become His apostles and church leaders after He rose from the dead. He did not make a big choice lightly, because He knew there would be big consequences if He heard wrong. That is why He spent all night praying about it.
I am not suggesting that you fleece the Lord with a specific set of "hoops" that you want Him to jump through. But I am suggesting that you take what you heard back to God and ask Him about it. Invite Him to confirm it to you in some way that you know is really Him, but don't specify to Him what that way must be. Then wait until He confirms it to you. Don't act on big things prematurely, but seek God to give you direction and confirmation, just like Jesus did.
Once you are sure that God has given you that confirmation, hold on to it with both hands. The enemy might resist you and get you to think that you have made a mistake in your hearing. So believe the confirmation and hold on to it when the going gets tough.
Stick With The Last Thing You Heard Clearly Until You Can Hear Again
We all go through times when we can't seem to hear God clearly. When that happens, that is not a good time to change directions or to change course. You need to hold on to (and follow) the last thing that you clearly heard God tell you to do. You have to trust that if He wants you to change directions, He will find a way to communicate that to you clearly. Until He dose, stick firmly to the last thing that you know for sure He told you to do. Never quite obeying because things "are a mess."
On the other hand, if God speaks to you and shows you that you are indeed going the wrong direction, you need to heed Him immediately. Be quick to stop what you were doing (even if it means that you loose face or look bad). Obeying God is much more important that saving face.
Trust God To Lovingly Correct Us When We Fall Into Error
Remember that God is faithful, and He is a living father. It is His nature to lovingly correct us when we wander into any sort of error.
Please don't confuse the word "correct" with the word "punish." God is not going to punish you if you make a mistake as you sincerely try to obey Him. He isn't like that--He is pleased that you are trying your best to obey Him, even if you make a mistake in implementing it. He won't punish you when you take a wrong turn, but He will redirect you and point you back in the correct direction.
James 1:5 tells us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him." In short, God wants us to know His will and He has made it plain in His word that He wants to show us His will. He wants to lead and direct us.
In fact, He has even committed to let us know when we get off course. Isaiah 30:21 tells us, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"
We often get caught up worrying about the accuracy of our hearing and fretting about our part. We forget that God is faithful to do His part, and His part is to lead us step by step, providing we remain teachable and submissive to His leading.
Spiritual Encouragement And Discouragement
Remember that there are two spiritual forces working in our lives: the Holy Spirit and the demonic. Both will try to influence us. The Holy Spirit tries to lead us into the center of God's will and the devil tries to lead us away from God's will.
None of us are exempt from the devil's attempts at misdirection. It doesn't matter how holy you are or how close you walk to God, the devil is still going to try to mislead you. He even tried that with Jesus--like when he tried to tempt Him in the wilderness. (If you don't believe me, you can read about it in Luke 4.)
Note that Jesus wasn't taken in by the devils' attempts to misdirect Him. That was because He knew His Heavenly Father, and He knew Scripture. The same is true in our lives--the more mature we are in the Lord and the better we know God and His word, the harder it becomes for the enemy to deceive us or misdirect us. But that doesn't stop him from trying.
There is a general principle called "reinforcement," and both sides apply this to our lives. The principle goes like this: they reward or encourage us when we move the direction they want us to go (positive reinforcement), and they discourage us when we move a direction they don't want us to go (negative reinforcement).
Of course, God's will for us and the enemy's will for us are directly opposed to each other. The Lord wants us to move into the center of His perfect will, and the enemy wants us to move away from God's will--almost any other direction will do. The devil wants to encourage you when you are moving away from God, (which is when the Holy Spirit wants to convict your or correct you.) That is when the devil will do what he can to make you feel good about your rebellion against God, because he doesn't want you to listen to the Holy Spirit and repent.
but when you are actively obeying God and in the center of His will, then the devil wants to discourage you from doing that. He will do what he can to make you feel bad about obeying God, and he will actively resist or oppose you. He will do things like sending emotional attacks and false condemnation. He will also uses strategies that produce financial attacks or hardships. He may try to make you sick, or he may cause things to go wrong for you, etc. He wants you to be miserable and he wants to make you feel bad about obeying God.
You need to be aware that the enemy uses these tactics against you. Many of us have been taught to believe when if we are in the center of God's will, then everything will go smoothly and well for us. That can make us assume that hardship or opposition are indications that we are outside of God's perfect will. We forget that we have an enemy who is trying to make things to go wrong for us simply to discourage us from doing what God is doing.
All this is to say, don't let circumstances be your primary guide in determining whether or not you heard right. God might be asking you to push through enemy resistance to gain your victory in Him.