God speaks to us in at least three primary ways: Through his word, through the Holy Spirit, and through our life circumstances. Most Christians know at least a little about hearing the voice of God by studying the Bible and by listening to the Holy Spirit in prayer. The circumstances of our lives, however, is often a way God speaks that many Christians do not know as much about.
So what does the Bible say about hearing God and knowing his will through the circumstances of our lives?
The Bible Does Show Us That God Speaks Through the Circumstances of Our Lives
Before we can really dive into “how” we hear the voice of God through the circumstances in our lives, we first need to establish that the Bible does teach that God communicates to his people through the events in their lives.
For example, in Acts 16:6-7, Paul was trying to travel to different places, but when his way was blocked they concluded that God was the one who had directed them not to go:
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”
Another biblical example of God using the circumstances of life to direct us towards where he wants us to go is found when Jesus was sending out his disciples:
And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10:11-14)
So how were the disciples to know which house they should stay at on their missionary journeys? Jesus said try to find out who is ready to host you, enter their house with a greeting, and then see what happens. If the household shows you they are ready to help, then stay there. If the household turns out to not be willing to help, then leave it. Jesus didn’t say, fast and pray until you receive a dream about which house you should stay in. He said let the circumstances that unfold in your life lead you.
The same was true about which town they should do their ministry at. If the town received the word of God, they were to stay and minister there. If the town was not willing to receive the word of God, then that meant God wanted them to move on from that town. God was speaking to them through the circumstances in their lives.
Circumstances Reveal God’s “Yes” or “No.” Circumstances Do Not Reveal God’s Pleasure or Displeasure with Us
It’s important not to stretch this method of hearing God and knowing his will too far. God does speak through the circumstances of our lives, but we still have to be careful how we interpret “what” God is saying through the circumstances. I believe this method of hearing from God should be used to help you answer yes or no questions and not questions about God’s pleasure or displeasure with you.
For example, if you said something like, “Lord, please reveal to me if you want me to date Dominic,” it would be appropriate to then look at what happens between you and Dominic to find answers. If you send him a text and he ignores you, this is probably a sign he is not interested. If he responds and then asks you out on a date, perhaps this means you should proceed further. Of course one date request does not mean God wants you to marry this man. But it would seem that the circumstances in your life are pointing you to proceed further.
But if you asked, “Lord, if you love me please let me date Dominic,” and then Dominic dates and marries someone else, it would be unbiblical to then say that God must not love you. Or even if you prayed that prayer and then Dominic did ask you out on a date, this too is not proof that God loves you. What happens if you start dating and then breakup? Does this mean your relationship did not work because God does not have enough love for you? Obviously that is unbiblical.
God does not always show his favor through material possessions. Everything good is from God (James 1:17), but the Bible does not say that everything good from God is because he is pleased with your behavior. As Jesus said of his Father in Matthew 5:45, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” So we should never assume that good external blessings are a sign that God is pleased with our behavior or that a lack of external blessings are a sign that God is mad at us.
This is why this method of hearing God’s voice and knowing his will for your life through overserving the circumstances that happen in your life should only be used to answer yes and no questions and not questions about God’s love for you. Sometimes God does not bless us with what we want because he loves us too much and he knows that prayer request is not what’s best for us right now.
You Should Assume the Best-Case Scenario Until the Circumstances Clearly Prove Otherwise
Again, knowing the will of God through your circumstances in possible but it requires us to properly interpret what God is saying through the details in our lives. Just because something is happening and God is saying something through these events, we are still the ones who are responsible for interpreting things properly.
Since it is easy to error in this process, I believe the wise thing to do is to start with the most favorable interpretation and work out way down to the most unfavorable interpretation. For example, recently on John Piper’s podcast, he was asked by a missionary couple what it meant that their funding had dried up. Was God saying that it was time to move back and no longer be missionaries because their funding was no longer coming in like it once had?
John Piper’s counsel to them was that first, God is saying something through this event but they should be careful when determining what that is. To him, there were three likely interpretations of this event: 1. It was a test of faith, 2. It was a sign they needed to change their fundraising strategy, or 3. It was time to move on from this season of ministry as God was calling them elsewhere. To the last point Piper stated, “I would simply say that that interpretation of ending is something you should be very, very slow to take up and conclude that’s what God is doing.”
I agree with this method of interpretation. Look at the circumstances of your life, lay out the possible outcomes, and then faithfully walk with God through each possible interpretation to see which one emerges as the true will of God for you right now. Start with the most likely and favorable interpretation and then test it. If it turns out not to be God’s will, do the same thing with the next possibility until the will of God becomes clear.
For example, let’s say you really like Rachel. You both have been friends for years but now you have developed romantic feelings for her. You both are adults and ready to pursue marriage in a godly way. You wonder, “Does God want me to ask her out to see if he wants us to be married one day?” You may pray and pray for an answer, but most likely you will not really know what God’s will is until you actually do something in real life so you can then interpret the events that happen in response to your action.
So you ask her if you could talk to her and you share your feelings with her. She’s surprised and tells you she needs time to think about it. She didn’t say no and she didn’t say yes. Now you are wondering what is God’s will? What does God want?
Rather than assuming she does not like, you should start out by assuming she might be interested. You could call her to see how she’s going and ask if she has had time to think about going on a date with you. She says yes, she would like to explore a relationship with you. Now you two begin to date and you begin to wonder if God is leading you both to get married one day.
A year goes by but you begin to have some disagreements. You wonder, is this a sign God does not want us to get married? Rather than starting there, you should could first see if this is just a test and an opportunity to grow as a couple. You talk through the issues you are having and through it all you actually grow closer. Six months later you pop the question and she says yes.
Throughout your dating experience you were able to use the circumstances in the relationship to see what God’s will was for you both. You started with the best case scenario in each situation and observed what was actually happening in real life to see what God was saying.
The examples are endless, but the point is you can try out the different interpretations of the events to see which one is actually God’s will.
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