Back in June, I attended the Cross Style conference in Tennessee with a few friends. We rented a cabin, made new friends, learned deep truths, and experienced more of God. It was refreshing, but perhaps the most influential part of the trip was when I had a one-on-one conversation with one of the speakers, Nathan Johnson.
Nathan has been part of the Cross Style church and ministry since he was a young adult before being directed by God to move to Colorado and join Eric and Leslie Ludy's ministry, Ellerslie. (You can find more about him at his DeeperChristian website, an incredible resource that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and information on events such as his speaking engagements and yearly Israel study trip.)
I was intrigued by how he definitively knew God was calling him elsewhere, so I pulled him aside one evening to ask how one can hear direction from God.
I've been in a tricky spot myself, a recent college graduate with no clear idea what's supposed to come next. I think deep down, I was hoping for some kind of magic answer from him where I would suddenly know if I should apply for a job or grad school, but that's not what I learned from our conversation.
Instead, Nathan gave me several principles. I think every believer has been in at least one situation where they weren't sure what decision to make or path to choose, so I wanted to share with everyone what he told me, combined with my own personal reflection (AKA don't blame him if I say something unbiblical; that's more than likely me, not him).
It's worth noting that the most important factor is having an open and humble heart. The direction God gives may not always be what we want to hear, so we must be willing to hear what He truly wants, humble enough to know His ways and thoughts are above our own, and close enough to Him to trust His heart, knowing that wherever He leads is for our absolute best and utmost benefit.
1. God speaks to you in a unique language because He knows you and knows how you'll best hear Him.
Priscilla Du Preez
This is the God who knows when you sit and rise and lie down, who perceives your thoughts from afar, who knows every word before it's even on your tongue, who's acquainted with all of your ways (Psalm 139:1-4).
He created you, and He searches you and knows you. Because of this intimate knowledge and His deep, abounding love for you, He will speak to you in your unique language that coincides with your giftings, personality, experiences, etc. Whether that's through prophetic words, direct Scripture, worship, visions, a gut sense, or something else, it'll be in whichever way you can best hear Him.
2. Seek God, not direction.
Luis Alberto Sanchez Terrones
Though this may seem counter-intuitive at first, we must remember that God is not a vending machine or genie. He's not there to grant us wishes or for us to merely ask for things from Him.
The purpose of everything in life is to know Him. Therefore, every situation is meant to drive you closer to God, and it is in His presence, getting to know His heart, that your way will become clear. Because sometimes the very place you're supposed to be directed to is His presence. Maybe in this season, where you're confused and not sure what to do, you're just supposed to be with Him for right now.
3. Your calling is not what you do, but a person—Jesus.
Oftentimes what we're seeking direction for has to do with our calling. We feel called to be a pastor or missionary or to create art that will reveal Jesus to the world, and now we're calling on God to figure out how to do that.
While those things are great and our intentions are admirable, we cannot mistake our calling to be what we do instead of who we know.
If we believe our calling is what we do, then what happens when circumstances occur that seem to foil that calling? What if you feel called to be a pastor, and then you get throat cancer? You can't preach anymore, and the calling changes. But if your calling is Jesus, it never changes.
4. God will lead you to something you can't do so that you'll be dependent on Him.
If your calling is achievable by your own effort and talent, that ain't it, fam.
When we let our light shine before humankind and they see our good works, their response will be to glorify our Father in heaven, not us (Matthew 5:16). So if we're called to something that seems impossible and insurmountable, something we can in no way accomplish by ourselves, then we're right where we're supposed to be. If we're called to something where we may not get praise or recognition and instead face difficult situations, then we're in the right place.
God will call us to these situations so that He can be our everything. It's not an ego trip where He wants the entire world to know how great He is (though that's what He deserves and we can never truly fathom all that He is on this side of eternity). It's because He knows something we don't, the secret to the Christian life: there is deep joy in the presence of God.
There is peace beyond understanding in Christ. There is true fulfillment and satisfaction that can only be found in Him. There is supernatural strength and miracles and love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control that we can only have when we are completely dependent on Him instead of ourselves.
He calls us to be entirely dependent on Him for our benefit.
5. The "light unto your path" is just enough to illuminate the next step or two, not the whole path.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
— Psalm 119:105
It's not a floodlight that will show us the entire path; it's a lamp that will illuminate the next few steps.
It's like when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. He did so backwards, seeing out of his peripherals, not able to directly see where he was going.
Again, God doesn't do this just because He can or because He wants to mess around with us. It's for our benefit. We may not be able to handle seeing the whole path or feel overwhelmed by knowing all the steps we'll be taking.
And, ultimately, whether or not we could handle seeing the end game or whole path, that's not faith. Hope that is seen is no hope at all. And faith is more than just blind belief; it's an intimate, moment-by-moment relationship with Jesus where we live with Him. How would it be loving or for our good if God revealed everything and we felt we could skip that relationship with Jesus?
That is our true best—being with Christ.
6. God will always tell you; you never have to doubt Him.
He's not going to jerk you around or stay silent and never reveal His plans. He's promised that we are friends and not slaves, because slaves do not know the master's business (John 15:15), and that we only need to ask, seek and knock and He will be faithful to answer (Matthew 7:7-12).
At some point or another, He will tell you where to go, what decision to make, what to say, etc. He won't abandon you or leave you out in the cold. Walk in confidence that He will answer.
7. If it's not clear, step out and choose. He will be faithful to tell you if it was the right choice or not.
Say you're stuck between two options, whether that's two jobs, two colleges, two cars, two majors, whether to move out of state, what ministry you're supposed to go into, whatever. You've prayed, fasted, consulted the authorities in your life, and you're still unsure which you're supposed to do. Just choose one of them. Either it'll be the right one, or God will show you that it wasn't and will close doors.
Life is never simple, and God never promised that everything will be easy, including hearing direction when it comes to various situations in our lives. But we can stand firm on His promises:
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice saying, "This is the way. Walk in it."
— Isaiah 30:21
You don't have to be stressed or anxious about whatever you're facing. Seek God, get in His presence and what you need to know will be revealed at the exact right time.