When one declares to others that they have heard from God regarding a prayer concern, the response that many Christians and non-Christians alike may have is skepticism.
Does God really communicate directly to us as He did in the Bible? Bingham Hunter* states “most Christians in our day do not routinely experience these types of responses to their prayers. Many never do.”
But that does not mean that direct communication from God does not occur. Some believers may feel they have had a word from God but they hesitate to tell others about it because they feel they will be judged as mentally unstable. Others may just tell their closest friend in hopes that their friend will keep their trust and not repeat the information to others.
Let’s assume that it is possible. Let’s assume that people do get direct communication from God. Are there any guidelines that would confirm His words? Hunter admits that some people may just have ideas inspired by a dream or possibly even indigestion and we know there have been people who have been arrested with guns or bombs who have said “God told me to do it.”
Obviously those people could use some guidelines for discerning God’s word.
What are some clues that would help the rest of us discern that a word from God may be authentic?
One thing we could do is compare the response from God with His word. The trick here is you have to be a dedicated reader of His word. People who read the Bible so much that they are familiar with Scripture have a definite edge. I know of some members in my church who have not only read the Bible; they can cite large chunks of God’s word by memory.
If you don’t have Biblical knowledge at your fingertips, go to your pastor or elders in your church. Hunter says a good guideline is that God’s “response to prayer is not extraordinary. Prayer is not an invitation to a side show.”
God’s response to prayer may come in the form of a devotional reading. Many devotional readings cover general principles which can relate to a prayer petition you may be making to God. Devotional readings are Scripture-based. God’s answer can also come in the form of a word from your pastor or Sunday school teacher.
Hunter cautions us about the Christian who says things like “I have peace about a situation.” Seeking peace can be real and God-inspired but he says that peace can also come from fear or just pure laziness. Some people report peace about a concern but this may just be an effort to quit thinking about their problems and they are tired of praying. Maybe they need to keep praying or thinking about their problem but they have thrown up their hands and have decided to let God handle the whole matter for the wrong reason.
That is not all bad. Too many times, we think we have to control life and we don’t control life. God does. However, when it comes to prayer, I personally believe that God is sometimes waiting for us to do our part. It may be prayer. It may be undergoing a personal change. It may be reaching out to someone who needs to be a part of our lives.
First, we act.
Then God will respond.
Just turning everything over to God may not be the best thing to do.
Hunter says that God may indeed respond to our prayer by changing our circumstances. We know that for a prayer to be addressed, God is going to have to put us in a new place. Maybe He is going to have to introduce a new person into our lives. Maybe He is going to have to help us accomplish a new task, one we are not used to doing. If this be the case, our action is part of the answer to prayer.
If an opportunity to change passes and we take no action, we have missed our answer. Our efforts in the future may feel like a no from God but maybe the answer is no because we failed to act when the time was right. When He presented the circumstances, we balked.
Skepticism is a common response to people who report that God has communicated to them. Maybe Bible times were so special and today we are not living in special times. But then we read Scripture like Matthew 7:7 which states “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
If you believe, really believe–you know you will find your answer, you know that the door will be opened. You know you will get your word from God.
The author of The God Who Hears