Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hearing God's Voice - Confronting Confusion

I sat among friends at a leadership training event, not at all prepared for what I was about to experience. One blindfolded volunteer moved out of earshot so that the rest of our group could receive further instructions. A second volunteer accepted the task of directing our blindfolded friend to walk to a specific chair and sit down. He could use nothing but his voice to guide him and couldn’t touch him.

The leader challenged the rest of our group to do everything we could to prevent our blindfolded friend from moving to the chair. We could say anything we liked to him, move closer, and even touch him, but we couldn’t use force to pull him from the instructions he chose to follow.

It was all fun and games until everyone engaged in their roles. Voices were issuing dozens of commands, each trying to speak louder than the others to gain the attention and trust of our friend – who didn’t know whose instruction to follow. Some were quite devious in their attempts to keep him from reaching his goal. As I looked at the face of our blindfolded friend, without even seeing his eyes, I detected his confusion.

My mind immediately traveled to an earlier time in my life when the bombardment of suggestions and advice I received over a situation overwhelmed me. I felt pulled in multiple directions, trying to please everyone around me and desperately searching for wisdom and discernment. The Lord was surely speaking to me too, but I could not hear the Holy Spirit because the worldly commotion was too loud, and I hadn’t yet learned to discern His voice above it.

Working through a scenario that so closely emulated life – and so accurately illustrated my own level of confusion during a personally overwhelming time – caused me to withdraw from our group. I found I was no longer participating in the exercise but vividly recalling the feeling of walking through a fog where I could barely see the next step before me. As the voices of my friends clamored for attention through the training exercise, I could palpably feel the fog of my past along with the profound confusion.

The point of the exercise was to illustrate how the world, the flesh, and the devil try to keep us from perceiving the voice of the Lord. As God’s children, we’re to listen to His voice (John 10:27), but sometimes it seems nearly impossible to hear above the noise.

We know that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and, therefore, understand that we have our Counselor and Guide with us always. 

Why then, does He seem so hard to hear and discern at times? 

Why do we often allow every imaginable type of worldly stimuli to drown out His truth?

Common Confusion

It’s common to feel a level of spiritual confusion when . . .

·      We believe we know the path we’re on but the Lord seems to lead us in a different direction
·      We believe we know God’s instruction but face unexpected opposition
·      When we believe that God has instructed us to do something but hasn’t revealed why or what will happen next
·      We have an expectation that God will bless our plans over His purposes
·      The Lord’s path doesn’t seem reasonable in our flesh
·      We believe we “deserve” or are “entitled to” something better than our current situation
·      We allow emotions to rule our decisions and seek the Lord only when difficulty comes
·      We pursue immediate happiness and momentary comfort rather than seeking God’s direction and following it

Walking in Discernment

The Gospel of John records that the Word became flesh and took up residence among us (John 1:14). Jesus is the Word of God. It’s reasonable, as the Word of God, to believe that Jesus still has much to say. He has given us His Word (the Bible) and sent the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor and Guide.  

God’s direction through the Bible

Psalm 119:105 teaches that God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Verse 130 encourages us, saying, “The unfolding of Your word gives light; It gives understanding to the simple,” and verse 133 continues with “Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me” (NASB).

The Word of God must always be our standard when we discern instruction that He provides. Any personal experience or perception, if truly from the Lord, will always line up with His Word. He will never, ever direct us to follow a contrary path.  

The more time we spend learning Scripture, the more we understand His character and grow in our ability to discern His leading. When we know God’s Word, we know God. When we know Him, we can quickly recognize any attempt by the enemy to throw us off track.

God’s direction through the Holy Spirit

When we spend time in prayer and allow time to listen to His prompting, we’ll sometimes find that a particular Scripture comes to mind that shines light into our situation. Or the Spirit may call to mind a teaching we’ve recently heard.  It’s not uncommon while praying in a corporate setting that the prayers of a trusted sister in Christ will quicken my heart and I recognize the Spirit using it to offer direction. When paired with fasting, we’re often able to discern these promptings more readily. See John 14:26 and 1 Cor 2:7-13. 

God often prompts us through His Holy Spirit when we’re willing to listen. The way the Spirit prompts us looks differently for every person. Very rarely do people claim to hear an audible voice from God. Most often, His direction is felt more than heard. It may be a quickening of our hearts or a confirming or knowing sensation. Some have described direction from the Lord as a vivid thought they recognize is not their own. Each of us may discern the Lord’s direction in different ways.

It’s worth repeating that any prompting that we feel is from God will always line up with the truth of His Word. If you’re not well versed in the Scriptures, consult with a trusted friend knows the Word for confirmation. Remember, we’re to test everything and hold on to the good (1 Thes 5:21).

God wants us to have spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we can walk in a manner worthy of Him (Colossians 1:9-10). He reveals things we do not know (Jeremiah 33:3) so that we can shine His light for the Kingdom of God. 

God is not the author of confusion and has given us all that we need to walk in clear wisdom and discernment. Answers are not always perfectly clear to us, but He continues to communicate with us through His Word, through His Holy Spirit, and through the Godly counsel of His people. In His kindness, He offers confirmation and often reveals His will by more than one method. I praise Him for His love and tenderness in this matter, and for equipping us for discernment. May we learn to trust Him and live in constant communion and fellowship with Him.

Your Turn

How often do you have trouble discerning God's voice?

Share a time when you feel you heard God's voice clearly? How was what you discerned confirmed through the Scriptures?  What peace did it bring knowing you had accuracy in discerning the voice of God? 

What advice might you give to someone who is trying to discern God's will? 

Be strengthened today, by His Word,
Psalm 119:28

Come, continue the conversation on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram. Or, you may leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you! (And shares are nice, too by the way ;).

Cathy McIntosh is the author of Finding Joy in the Journey: Savoring the Fruit of the Spirit. God’s Word makes it clear that He provides the gift of joy to each of His children. Struggles that are common to many women - such as fear, worry, shame, trials, and confusion - cannot steal our foundational, divinely given joy.
Click here to purchase the book.


  1. What an excellent, thought-provoking post. My husband and I have been considering moving (even potentially overseas as international teachers), but we've been confused by what we're hearing. Thankfully, strong Christian mentors, paired with Scripture, have clarified God's words. It's not always easy to understand God's commands, but we are called to trust Him through what he's already given us... The Holy Spirit, Scripture, and strong followers of Him.

    1. Thank you, Alex. We can receive much wisdom from those around us who, in turn, are also listening for God's instruction. I pray your decisions will bring great peace and tremendous joy as you walk them out. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. The world is so very loud, I have to step out, away from the world, putting my phone down and my computer up, and just get some place quiet or I will go crazy! God is speaking, we just need to get still and quiet. I am visiting you today from By His Grace bloggers

    1. I completely agree, Jennifer. Discipline. It's key. Praying you hear Him clearly today! Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Thank you for this powerful post. I pinned it as well to have it closeby when I need to read it again.

    For me it is sometimes quite easy to confuse my thoughts for God's voice, especially when I am tired. In today's busy world I have to get quiet and seek God to hear His voice. I realize He uses different ways to communicate, but even if it is through someone I will still confirm it with His Word and see if I have peace about it.