How do you know when God is speaking to you through another person? How can you recognize His convictions from something they just made up? There are several guidelines to go by here.
1. Test every message.
Just because someone is godly or you’ve heard God speaking through them to you before doesn’t mean their current message is legit. Every message must be tested separately. It’s always the contents of the message we examine, not the source. God speaks to us through our friends and our enemies, through the saved and the unsaved, through the holy and the satanic. We have to be open to hearing Him through anything and anyone.
2. Wait for confirmation.
Learning to recognize God’s Voice takes time. With practice and coaching from Him, you’ll get very good at it. Once you’re good at it, you’ll usually be able to tell right away when God is speaking to you. But when you’re still learning the ropes, you need to give yourself time to pray and think. Don’t let people push you into making hasty judgments. Postpone them by saying, “Okay, I understand what you’ve said. I’m going to pray about it on my own.” Be extra guarded around anyone who tries to discourage you from getting your own confirmation from God. Suppose your pastor says to you, “Hey, you don’t need to pray about it. I’m your pastor. I’m telling you what God wants from you.” What are you going to say? Something like, “Step aside, pal, I’ve got just as much Holy Spirit as you do.” You DO have just as much God as the big shots at your church. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re a lesser Christian or that God wouldn’t talk to you or that you need them to interpret God’s will for your life. These are absolute lies. God is MORE than enough for you. Even if you’re being intimidated by someone who always gets words from God and you never get words from God—don’t let them tell you that you’re spiritually inferior. Every Christian is precious to God and He talks to us all.
Suppose someone tells you that God wants you to get involved in a particular ministry. You don’t want to act on a message like that until you receive a strong sense of confirmation from the Holy Spirit. Serving God is a serious thing. In the Church, it’s been turned into a carnal game. If we’re going to please God, we must be willing to wait for HIM to lead us. Don’t sign up until you receive a clear leading from Him. If no clear leading comes, then keep doing what you were doing.
3. Know the three markers of conviction.
God’s conviction comes with three critical features. First, He will CLEARLY identify a SPECIFIC problem to you. Vague, general criticisms are from Satan. It’s Satan who says things like:
“You’re a lousy husband.”
“You’re being a bad witness.”
“You’re not doing enough.”
When testing for God’s conviction, ask yourself: “Is a specific problem being clearly identified?” Then ask yourself, “Is this something I can do something about?” When God convicts us, He doesn’t just rag on us, He also gives us a SPECIFIC, DOABLE solution. Maybe you got an abortion five years ago. Is this something you can fix today? No. You can’t rewrite history. Maybe you’re a homosexual. Is there some magic button you can push to instantly erase your perverse desires? No, there isn’t. God doesn’t tell you to do impossible things. Be on your guard against impossible solutions. God is clear, He is specific, and He is realistic. God doesn’t tell you “just grow up” or “just stop drinking” or “just stop lusting.” There are very few things that humans can realistically “just stop” doing. God understands us better than we understand ourselves. When He asks us to do something, it’s going to be something we can handle.
4. Understand God’s priorities.
This is the most important point of all: you need to understand that God’s top priority for you is to draw you CLOSER to Him. Everything He says to you is going to be about strengthening your bond with Him. If you are a Christian, then God will NEVER say something to you which makes you feel like He is shoving you away, spitting on you, hating you, or rejecting you. If you’re not a Christian, things get stickier. There are some people in this world who God does end up hating and rejecting. But if you are His kid, God will NEVER reject you. This means that ANY message that makes you feel beat down, discouraged, failing, hopeless, and unwanted by God is garbage from demons and you need to reject it. Even when God has a problem with you and He is irritated—even if you are seriously irking Him (and yes, God does get mad at Christians)—His convictions will ALWAYS be put to you in a way that shows you how to immediately get back in a good place with Him. God does NOT leave you with some horrible judgment hanging over your head and no way out. So always ask yourself, “What effect is this message having on my soul? Does it make me feel closer to God or distant from Him? Is there hope?” With God, there is ALWAYS hope.
Let’s use a grisly example to show how God talks to us in the midst of ugly circumstances. Maybe you’re a dad who is molesting your daughter. This is super evil behavior, right? How do people react to child molesters? We know how, and it’s ugly. “Die, scumbag,” is the general message. Where is the hope in that message? Where is the way back to God? Where are the steps to restoration? God will ALWAYS speak to you in a way that draws you closer to Him. To the child molester, He’s going to say something like, “What you’re doing is wrong and it’s only going to hurt you more. You need My help to heal what’s broken in you. Talk to Me.” Do you hear the difference? This is not “Die, scumbag.” This is “Come back to Me, I want you.” As a Christian, you are God’s child and He LOVES YOU. It doesn’t matter what nasty mess you’re all caught up in at the moment, God WANTS YOU, and He is going to be reaching towards you with open arms. Are you hearing, “Come back to Me, I want you” in the message that is being said to you? Are you hearing, “I love you and I value our relationship”? Are you hearing, “Let Me help you”? These are the bottom line sentiments that God communicates to us through convicting messages when we’re all caught up in sin. He doesn’t say, “Get away from Me, you disgust Me.” So what are you hearing? There has to be hope, or it isn’t from God.
5. Know your current standing with God.
When you don’t know what your current standing is with God, you become much easier prey for Satan. So before you even get approached by someone with a “word”, you need to know where you’re at with God. In this very moment of time, how does God feel about you? Is He pleased with you or displeased with you? It’s very easy to sort this out. If you sincerely care about pleasing God with your life, then He is pleased with you. If you really want Him to be pleased with you, He’s pleased with you. God judges you by your soul’s response to Him, not by your behavior.
Let’s use an example here. Suppose you visit a classroom full of first graders. Some are bright, some are not so bright. Now the world would say the smart kids are the “good students” while the not-so-smart kids are poor students. But now let’s say you can suddenly see into every kid’s heart. You see that the girl in the front row who is super smart is also leaning back in her chair with a bunch of attitude and not listening to anything the teacher is saying because she thinks she’s above needing instruction. Is this a “good student”? No, it’s a brat. The girl doesn’t have a teachable attitude, she’s all smug and close-minded. But now let’s say you notice some boy in the back who has been scoring low grades on all of his papers, but he is earnestly listening to the teacher and really trying to understand what she’s saying. Who is the better student? The boy, obviously. He is far more teachable than the snooty girl is. He might need more time and extra help, but such a child is a delight to teach because his attitude is so great. From God’s perspective, that not-so-smart boy is the far better student.
It works out the same with Christians. Who are the “good Christians” to God? The ones with the perfect lives and families? The ones with no rap sheet? The ones who are always running around in ministry? All these things are irrelevant. God looks on the heart. Which souls really care about pleasing Him? Which souls really want to grow and improve? Which souls long for His approval? Those are the souls who are greatly pleasing to God, and they come in many forms. Prostitutes, addicts, perverts, pastors, Sunday School teachers—you can’t identify these people by their current lifestyles or struggles or callings. God looks on the heart. So what about you? Are you pleasing to God right now or not? How is your soul responding to Him in the midst of your current situation? You don’t have to have a perfect life to be pleasing to God, but it’s very important that you recognize when you’re pleasing God so you don’t fall prey to someone trying to slap the “rebel” label on you.
There are Christians who are currently rebelling against God and there are Christians who sincerely care about pleasing Him. God speaks very differently to these two groups. Towards defiant rebels He tends to be harsh and impatient. He often threatens them with discipline. He will still give them hope and show them how to get back into alignment with Him, but often His messages will feel like a swift boot to their bottoms. God doesn’t tiptoe around the egos of rebels. If you’re being hostile to Him, He’s going to be hostile to you.
But towards those who are pleasing God, He is very gentle, compassionate, patient, and kind. God is a good father, and good fathers don’t spank children who are trying to obey them. Good children make honest mistakes. Good children bumble around and make messes. But when God knows that your heart is in the right place, He’s going to put His instruction to you in an encouraging way. He’s going to talk to you with a smile on His face. He is going to be emphasizing education, not correction. God expects you to make mistakes in life. He expects you to bumble and fumble and get all caught up in your human agenda. His convictions will be like gentle taps on your shoulder, pulling your focus back onto Him and showing you how to course correct. “Don’t keep going that way. This way is better.” Because you are eager to please God, you will feel inspired by the insights He’s giving you about why some choices are wiser than others, and you’ll be eager to course correct.
So then, are you a defiant rebel or are you eager to please? When you know that you’re in the eager to please camp, God isn’t going to talk to you like you’re a defiant rebel. So if what you’re hearing is a harsh message full of threats and anger, then obviously it’s a sham and you need to reject it. Don’t let some other human try to tell you where you are at with God—they can’t see into your heart. Many Christians will judge you by external things, and their judgments of you will be wrong. They’ll then give you “words” from God which they’ve made up in their own minds, yet those words will reflect THEIR beefs with you, not God’s. You need to know where you and God are at before these fakers come along—then you can blow them off as the liars that they are.
6. Have confidence in your Shepherd.
The key to all of this is to have confidence that God IS leading you in life. He is YOUR Shepherd—not just the Shepherd of other Christians. He is YOUR God. So trust that He will guide you. Trust that the God who created everything in existence can handle the task of clarifying His will to your tiny little mind. Know that there is no way God is going to let you miss some important message and then later blame you for not acting on it. That just isn’t how He operates. Remember that God WANTS a personal relationship with YOU. You are not just one drop in the ocean of humanity to Him, you are His dearly loved creature who He designed with great care and purpose. Be willing to wait for that clear signal from Him before you act. The more you do this, the more confident you will become in recognizing how God speaks to you personally. He speaks to us all because He loves us all.