If you don’t feel like reading you can watch me stand in my kitchen and talk to you. Just scroll to the bottom of the post and enjoy the video. The written content below is almost identical to what’s in the video, so you won’t miss a thing either way.
One of you sent me an email asking a great question: “How do you know when God is leading you and how can you be sure it’s not just you?”
Let me start by saying that we have drastically underestimated the importance and power of the Holy Spirit. I think we often neglect Him, and assume that we will be led by Him in spectacular ways, like in visions, in dreams, or the clouds opening up and us hearing an audible voice.
We SHOULD expect to be led by God in daily life, but we’ve often missed out on His best because of our ignorance.
1-Have you been born again and filled with the Holy Spirit?
“Born again” is the language that Jesus used. You may have also heard the terms “converted,” “saved,” or “Christian.” Jesus explained that we were born the first time out of our mother. “What’s born from flesh is flesh,” and He also said that we must be born a second time out of the Spirit of God: “…but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
If we’re still spiritually dead, we must be made alive in Christ. That’s where we become His children.
Then, we see in Scripture that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a separate, additional experience that a born-again person can experience. We see this occurring multiples times in the New Testament.
These two vital and important things are going to raise your spiritual awareness and perception.
2- Be Sincere
When I was 19-years-old, I began praying a particular prayer that helped me to make a big decision. The power isn’t in the words that I prayed, but in my genuine desire. I prayed, “Lord, I don’t care if you want me to clean septic tanks with teaspoons, whatever you say next is what I’m going to do.”
There’s no replacement for a genuine heart that really wants what God wants. Don’t just pray something because it sounds good or because it’s what you think people expect. There is power in your sincerity.
If you ask God to lead you, He will lead you. Jesus said that if your child asks you for a piece of bread, you’re not going to give him a stone. If they ask for fish, you aren’t going to give them a snake. If we ask God to lead us in the power of the Holy Spirit, He’s not going to allow us to be misled.
3- Put God’s Word Into Your Heart
Psalm 119:105 says that God’s Word is a lamp to our feet that shows us where we are, and it’s a light to our path that shows us where to go.
I don’t think that we can expect to be led by the Spirit of God if we don’t first have a desire to be led in His general will for our lives, and that general will can be found in His Word.
Sometimes people say, “I don’t know how reading the Bible is going to help me with this really detailed problem/job/relationship issue that I’m facing.” I like to rewind and ask them, “First of all, are you doing the general will of God for your life? Have you been born again? Are you loving God and loving your neighbor? Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Are you putting God’s Word in your heart? Are you a part of a local church?”
If you don’t even want God’s general will for your life, I’m not sure you can expect to hear from God in the details of your life. It comes back to being sincere and wanting what God wants.
If you’re not familiar with God’s voice through His Word, you’re not even likely to recognize His voice when He’s directing you by His Spirit. Focus on His general will by putting His Word in your heart, and then you can expect His Spirit to bring you all the details.
4- Understanding Spiritual Perception
This is where we get down to the actual discernment of “Was that God or was that me?” This is where people get a little frustrated with us preachers and ask, “SO, WHAT’S IT ACTUALLY LIKE?”
It is a little difficult to explain. It feels a little like dancing to explain architecture. Language is limited to explain a supernatural experience, because it’s more than a feeling. (More than a Feeeeelin!)
Thank God that He isn’t so puny and weak to limit Himself to goosebumps or outward things that we can see. He is big enough to actually lead and guide His people by His Spirit.
My dog has a wireless device on his collar that beeps and then shocks him if he tries to cross the perimeter of our yard. We realized one day last week that it had detached from his collar and was missing. There had been a few half-hearted attempts with no results, so I sent my oldest servant boy (I mean, Elijah Faine, my son) out to find it for reals so I wouldn’t have to.
He came into the house a while later shouting, “God told me where to look!” He had found the device.
I was thankful, but I was also curious to hear more about how God might have led my son.
“How did He tell you where to look, Bubba?” (If you live in the South, your firstborn son will be called “Bubba” by his siblings and parents.) “Did you just think to check there, or did God really tell you?”
This was his response:
“Well, it came from inside of me, but it wasn’t my idea.”
That is the perfect explanation of being led by the Holy Spirit. It comes from the inside of us, but it’s God’s idea that’s given to us. If you feel fear, panic, or pressure (all of these will be in your mind) in any decision, then that’s not God you’re sensing. If you feel peace on the inside (in your spirit), then more than likely, that’s the Holy Spirit’s leading.
When I left my former role as a staff pastor at our church, I didn’t know what God was leading me to next. God didn’t tell me. He just told me to leave.
I felt lots of natural pressures and expectations. I’m a husband and father, and I can give that “provide for your family” lecture better than anybody, but I wanted God’s perfect will and I was praying that “septic tanks with teaspoons” prayer.
One day, in talking to my dad about it on the phone, I jokingly commented, “I’m just gonna come be your partner.” (My dad is a police officer.) Dad said, “No, don’t do that. You outta be a firefighter.”
My dad was teasing in his response, but in the moment he said that, I instantly had a peace on the inside. It wasn’t a feeling; it was a “knowing.”
I looked into multiple jobs and career possibilities, and tested my heart to see if any of them sparked something on the in my spirit. I had family and friends giving me leads, and there were many things that I could see myself doing that would help me to further prepare for ministry and would provide for my family. And, even though I could see myself doing any of them, none of those things were the right thing.
The moment that my dad spoke those words to me, I instantly had peace. Not because my dad said it, but because the Holy Spirit used his words to speak to me. I immediately had a desire for something that I had never even considered my entire life.
To make a long story short, a local city “just happened” to be opening up their hiring process for firefighting at the end of that month. They had over nine hundred applicants, and they only hired nine, and I was one of them. God got all the glory from that story because I had no qualifications or any experience. He led the way, and He made a way.
Another good indicator if you are being led by God is if it just “seems right” in your heart.
In the opening of the book of Luke, Luke is writing to Theophilus, and he says, “It seemed good to me… to write an orderly account to you…”
He doesn’t say, “You know, I was just hanging out the other day, eating some cheetos and I was thinking I outta write Theo a letter.” He had a prompting and inspiration from the Holy Spirit. To Luke, it seemed right, and we have an entire book of the Bible because of it.
There is a caution that comes along with this though. Proverbs tells us that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
Now some of you are mad. “Well which is it?!”
Our clarity and safety comes from staying in God’s Word, being sincere, and following the general will of God for our lives. From there, He will lead us into the details.
5- God’s Will is Counter-cultural
God will often go against what everyone else thinks and expects.
When I left my previous pastoral position, it made more sense for me to have everything lined up and to have another job to step into immediately. That’s “safe” and that’s “wise,” and that’s “always the right thing to do.” God’s kingdom, though, doesn’t always follow my rules, my flesh, and what I prefer.
If everyone and everything goes along with you, that should cause you to pause and make sure you’re following God’s will instead of culture’s expectations. Most people probably won’t understand the decisions you make because most people aren’t actually walking by faith. Most people are walking by sight, taste, touch, sound, and feel. It’s easy and natural for us to follow feelings and fear. It’s easier to pay attention to the flesh and not the spirit.
If that big decision or change you’re about to make is something in which God gets the glory, and if it’s something that He has to be a part of for it to succeed, then those are good indicators that you are being led by Him. If it’s easier for you to do the hard thing than it is NOT to do the hard thing, then that hard thing is most likely exactly what you’re called to do.
We see this example with David.
David shows up on the battlefield, and all the Israelites are terrified of Goliath. David goes, “I’ve got to kill this guy! He’s defying and disrespecting our God.” The Israelites tell him he can’t do it, and David’s attitude is, “I can’t NOT do it!”
We can look at Paul as he is saying goodbye to his fellow believers. He knows God is leading Him to Rome to meet with Caesar.
However, it was prophesied how his hands would be bound and how he would be led away for his execution. Paul knew the prophecy was true, but he couldn’t resist following God’s will. He and his beloved brothers and sisters cried together before he left. They all knew they wouldn’t see each other again until they all arrived safely in Heaven.
If God calls you to go to North Korea with your family, everyone will tell you you’re a fool, and you’ll admit that you’re a fool for Christ. (And now everyone reading this is worried that God is calling them to North Korea.)
6- God won’t lead you with pressure.
If my phone rang right now, and someone said, “Hey, we want to hire you as our pastor and we’re going to pay you $500,000 to do it, but you have to answer within the next sixty seconds.” I would laugh. Then I would say “No. I’m not your man.”
The only exception to that would be if the Holy Spirit gave me immediate confirmation that this was in fact a divine moment and that it was His will for me to take that position. (Like what happened when I spoke to my dad… I knew right away.)
We are not to be led by a paycheck, or opportunity, or high stakes. We are to be led by peace.
7- We Need Godly Advice
It’s important that we have mentors in the faith that are a few steps ahead of us. If you don’t have any Christ followers in your life with whom you can have spiritual conversations, then you need them.
If you are a part of a local church and you don’t have any believers around you like that, then you need to know that that’s weird.
It might be normal for the American church, but it’s not normal for the Kingdom. You should have believers in your life that can confront you, challenge you, and who will trust the Holy Spirit in you.
For example, if a guy came and told me, “Man, I’m so excited! God is leading me to leave my wife and just focus on Him right now,” I would punch him in the face.
That’s healthy, and we need that kind of accountability from one another.
8- Opportunity does not mean God is leading
There are “open doors” all around us. There are all kinds of opportunities. If you’re an American, there are thousands of companies hiring right now. Are you supposed to work for them all just because you’ve got the opportunity?
Think about the Egyptians who chased the Israelites. The Israelites went through the Red Sea on dry ground, the water stayed divided, and the Egyptians assumed that they could follow. Then they drowned.
Thankfully, God doesn’t lead New Covenant Christians with open doors. Before Christ came, God often led His people with signs and wonders.
You might be thinking of Gideon, who laid out some fabric overnight and told God, “Make the fabric wet, and the ground dry, then I’ll know you’re speaking.” God did it. Then Gideon tells God the next night, “Make the fabric dry, and make the ground wet, THEN I’ll know you’re speaking!” God did it.
“So, why can’t we be like Gideon and ask for signs?”
Gideon didn’t have the Almighty God living inside of him.
In the Old Covenant, God lived in a temple and people didn’t have the Holy Spirit in them, but now we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
God can do all of those things He did under the Old Covenant, but His highest and best is to speak directly to us through our spirits. He will usually bypass all of the outward distractions.
We’re pretty comfortable in our flesh, so we want Him to lead us with outward circumstances, but it’s dangerous to expect Him to.
9- Allow Time for Big Plans to Develop
When daddies and mommies love each other very much, they do a magical baby-making thing, but the baby doesn’t show up 10 minutes after the magic happens. The baby isn’t born for another 9 months.
It takes time for mommy’s body to change, for baby’s body to develop, and for daddy to paint the nursery and assemble the crib. It would be detrimental to everyone if the baby came right away. It would create physical damage and emotional turmoil. It’s a process.
God may speak to your heart and you’ll feel that a dream has been conceived, but it will take time for you to grow into it, and for it to grow into you. Maybe it will take 9 months. Maybe you’re situation will take 40 years like Moses’ did.
God has to develop us, train us, equip us, and mature us. He’ll accomplish His will in our lives as we walk daily with Him. The steps of the righteous man are directed by the Lord… not the running leaps.
Just Keep Walking
I know Natalie’s voice because I’ve spent time getting to know her. If you want to know God’s voice, spend time getting to know Him.
There is no substitute for walking with God daily. Let’s keep close to Him and we’ll recognize His voice and promptings. He can be trusted and we CAN follow the peace that He provides.
Jesus promised us that He would not leave us alone and that He would send the Holy Spirit as our Guide. Now that the Spirit of Truth has come we should trust Him to guide us into all truth.
What examples from your own life can you tell us about that show God was leading, instead of your mind, or the pressures from the world? Help us all out in the comments!