How do you tell the difference between wanting to do something, and actually being called by the Lord to do something?
A: Dear Jessica, Your question is a very wise one. It is so important that we want to know God’s will. That is the first step in understanding it
We all have desires, and sometimes seemingly good ones; but that doesn’t make them God’s desires. As a friend of mine likes to say, a “good idea” isn’t necessarily a “God idea.” So how are we to know the difference? There are three ways God reveals His will to us. The first way is through His word, the Bible. When we are seeking for God’s will in the Bible, we need to look for principles that relate to the situation we are trying to understand. We can also think about which Bible stories are like the situation we are wanting to know about. For example, I remember one experience I had when I didn’t know which path to take, and a friend asked me, “Is there any Bible story this reminds you of?” I thought about it and said, “The Rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16.” He asked, which charater are you, and which character are the others involved?” As I identified them, I could see how God worked in that situation, and it gave me insight as to how I needed to act in my situation.
The second way God speaks to us is through His providential workings. This is the “open and closed door” method. This is where we lay our plans before God, asking Him to “open the door” of opportunity if it is His will, or to “close the door” if it is not. This method DOES NOT take the place of Bible study. For example, I could pray to God and tell Him I’m planning to steal something, and I need Him to “close the door” if it’s not His will, but I already know stealing is against His will from what the Bible says. To keep planning to steal when I know it is wrong is presumptous.
The third way God reveals His will to us is through the Holy Spirit speaking to our consicences and impressing us with the right direction. However, the devil can also give impressions, which is why we must always test everything by the Word of God. God will not impress you to go contrary to His Word.
Another important thing to consider is the text that says “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” After you have sought God’s will through prayer and study, ask the advice of people you know are spiritual. They may have insights that you don’t.
Often times (but not always) the thing God calls us to do is not on the top of our list of things we want to do; we typically want to choose a way that’s easier, more comfortable, or more secure – something we know more about it, or we can figure out financially, etc. God will make His will plain while He may not make the way plain. For example, Moses and the children of Israel knew God was calling them to cross the Red Sea, but they had no idea initially how He was going to accomplish it.
When all is said and done, you must make your plans and go forward, trusting that God has heard your prayers and opened the way, and will continue to guide you. Continue to ask Him to divert your course if it is wrong, then put your trust in Him. He won’t let you down! The more experience you have with Him, the more you will begin to know His voice from that of a stranger.
Thanks for writing, and remember, there's never been a better time to share Jesus!
Your friend, Pastor Howard