1. God Does Not Speak Through Bible Verses Taken Out of Context
God’s word can be applied in many different ways. But God’s word always has one original meaning that never changes, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
So we need to be careful that before we try to apply the word of God to our lives that we have first correctly understood the intended meaning of a verse. One great example of this is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
This was a verse to the Jews who were exiled in Babylon. While it’s right to take the principle from this verse that God has a good plan for his people, it would be wrong to apply this verse to all people at all times since there are many curses and consequences mentioned in the Bible for those who reject God and live in sin.
For example, you can’t have sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend and then say, “I know this relationship will still be healthy because God has a good plan for me.” God’s good plan for you includes you submitting to God and turning from sin (James 1:12, 25).
If you repent and follow Christ in this relationship, you can be a healthy couple. But it’s not going to go well if you are rejecting God. When Peter was talking about Paul’s letters, he wrote in 2 Peter 3:16, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” When we mishandle God’s word, which occurs when we take verses out of context to make them mean what we want God to say to us, we are mishearing the voice of the Lord.
2. God Does Not Speak Through Us Attaching Our Own Meaning to Random Events
Many times we are so desperate to hear the voice of God that we look for signs in ways that God is not actually speaking through (Luke 17:22-23). When you want God to tell you if a stranger you just met is your future spouse and then you see a wedding dress advertisement on a billboard.
You might say to yourself, “This means God is giving me a yes, the timing of that billboard with my question must mean this is my future spouse.” Or maybe you have a dream about someone and then you interpret this to mean God wants you to be in a relationship with this person you dreamed about.
Interpretation is a deadly game. Through interpretation, we can alter reality in our own minds to mean whatever we want it to mean. The problem with this, however, is that our interpretation does not change reality.
It simply changes our perception of reality. A false interpretation causes you to live a lie. Seeing that billboard says nothing about this stranger’s character. God won’t tell you to marry someone without first pointing out biblical reasons that would make this marriage holy (1 Corinthians 7:39).
Your dream could just be a dream. You could just as easily interpret this dream to mean Satan is trying to deceive you into marrying the wrong person. Real signs from God come through his word and through verifiable evidence that confirms reality.
In other words, when God says something, it actually happens in real life. If something only is true in our own mind and not in the world around us, it’s not actually true. It’s just our own hopeful thinking.
3. We Misheard God If We Are Interpreting His No as a Need for More Faith
Satan often wraps his temptations in camouflage to make them resemble a test from God. Satan tempts while God tests. One way they differ is that a temptation always involves an enticement to sin while a test is always an offer for you to express your faith.
For example, if you are wondering if God wants you to date an unbeliever so that this person becomes a Christian and then you could marry them. This would be a temptation presenting itself as a test because the Bible clearly states not to be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14).
God would not test you by telling you to disobey his word. Sometimes God is just saying no, but because we don’t want to hear his no, we interpret it as “just wait and have more faith and then I will say yes.”
When a relationship isn’t working out, it’s probably God just saying no. When someone rejects you, it’s probably not God telling you to wait longer for this person. When you need to invest more money into a bad business idea that is already causing bad debt, it’s not a sign of faith to throw more money into this bad idea.
You can’t just change the will of God because you have so much faith. True faith is expressed when you accept God’s “No”, even when you wish he was saying yes.
God communicates through the Bible, His inspired Word, preserved through the centuries for us today. It is through the Word that we are sanctified (John 17:17), and the Word is the light for our path (Psalm 119:105).
God can also guide us through circumstances (2 Corinthians 2:12), the promptings of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), and godly mentors providing wise counsel (Proverbs 12:15). If God wants to speak to us, nothing can stop Him. Here are some ways to discern the source of our thoughts:
If we are confused about whether or not we are hearing God, it is good to pray for wisdom (James 1:5). (It’s good to pray for wisdom even when we don’t think we’re confused!) We should ask God to make His will known to us clearly.
When we pray, we “must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). If we have no faith, we “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7).
Talk to God in prayer and earnestly wait for His answer. However, keep in mind that God doesn’t give us everything we desire, and sometimes His answer is, “No.” He knows what we need at any given time, and He will show us what is best.
If God says, “No,” then we can thank Him for the clarity of His direction and move on from there.
Study the Word
The Bible is called “God’s Word” for a reason—it is the primary way God speaks to us. It is also the way we learn about God’s character and His dealings with people throughout history. All Scripture is “breathed out by God” and is the guide for a righteous life (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
While we speak to God in prayer, He speaks to us through His Word. As we read, we must consider the words of the Bible to be the very words of God. Any thought, desire, inclination, or urge we may have must be brought to the Word of God for comparison and approval.
Let the Bible be the judge of every thought. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
No matter how urgent the urge, if it goes against what Scripture says, then it is not of God and must be rejected.
Follow the Holy Spirit’s Leading
The Holy Spirit is God—a divine Being with a mind, emotions, and will. He is always with us (Psalm 139:7–8). His purposes include interceding for us (Romans 8:26–27) and giving gifts to benefit the church (1 Corinthians 12:7–11).
The Holy Spirit wills to fill us (Ephesians 5:18) and produce in us His fruit (Galatians 5:22–25). No matter what decisions we’re making day to day, we can’t go wrong when we exhibit love, joy, peace, etc., to the glory of God.
When we have a random thought pop into our heads, we must learn to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). Will following this inclination lead to more Christlikeness? Will dwelling on this thought produce more of the fruit of the Spirit in me?
The Holy Spirit will never lead us to gratify the sinful desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16); He will always lead us toward sanctification (1 Peter 1:2). Life on earth is a spiritual battle. The enemy is eager to supply diversions to distract us from God’s will (1 Peter 5:8).
We must be vigilant to ensure that what we heed is more than a feeling but is truly from God Himself. Remember, God wants to show us the right path to take. He’s not in the business of hiding His will from those who seek Him.
Here are some good questions to ask as we examine whether or not we are hearing God: Are the promptings confusing or vague? God is not the author of confusion; He is the bringer of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Do the thoughts go against God’s Word? God will not contradict Himself. Will following these promptings lead to sin? Those who “keep in step with the Spirit” have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24–25).
In addition, it is good to seek counsel from a Christian friend, family member, or pastor (Proverbs 15:22). Our pastors are there to help shepherd us: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).
God does not want us to fail. The more we listen to God, the better we will be at distinguishing His voice from the other noises in our heads. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gives His promise: “He goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4).
Others may speak, “but the sheep [do] not listen to them” (verse 8). The better we know our Shepherd, the less we have to worry about heeding the wrong voice.