Let’s admit the plain fact that most of us want to hear God’s voice for one simple reason: Guidance. We’re looking for an answer or some formula that will provide us with a clear choice between competing options.
But God rarely limits his guiding voice to a formula. Rather, like a master painter, he uses an artful mix of brushstrokes and palette, sometimes speaking, other times orchestrating, oftentimes through counsel, and frequently even in his silence.
God’s primary purpose is to deepen his relationship with us. He doesn’t give us a paint-by-number scheme for guidance. Each of our lives is his masterpiece, and each masterpiece is painted with different colors and varying brushstrokes. Let’s not limit God’s guidance to dime-store paint kits.
Let me walk you through a bit of God’s guidance in my journey. As you see God’s painting of my life, I hope you will recognize his brushstrokes in yours as well.
In 1982, after serving overseas in missions, I thought I heard God say, “Not now,” to missions. Until that moment, I had always imagined a life of mission work; no other idea had ever been considered. I felt clueless. (This was not my only clueless moment in life; just ask my family.)
My university studies did little to prepare me for a career. My degree in seventeenth century European intellectual history attracted few employers, and studies of philosophy and Hebrew opened even fewer doors. My bank account had enough cash for about six weeks, so I found odd jobs to keep me afloat as I looked for a professional occupation.
Sometimes God guides us with words (“Not now” to missions) but not always. Not even mostly.
As I began my career search, I read this proverb: “Trust in the Lord, not your own ideas; acknowledge him in all your plans, and he will direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5–6 par). Meditating on this proverb produced my paraphrase above and these steps for getting God’s guidance:
- After prayer, counsel, and wisdom: make a plan.
- Then: commit that plan to God.
- Finally: Let God direct your path.
But committing plans to God also means recognizing that he might guide us down paths our original maps never envisioned. Trusting God to direct us means we simply trust who he is, not anything else; especially not our own plans.
Plans are just nice starting points to get us moving.
God’s silent guidance
Alas! When God gives me direct words of guidance, I often just march down his given path alone, like: I’ve got this covered, God, thanks for the tip.
So instead, God’s most common guidance is done through nonobvious means. The hiddenness of his guidance means we will take risks, learn through trial and error, and continue to be alert to God’s gentle nudges. This is perfectly fine. It means we must remain in conversational contact with God; he invites us to walk with him.
After leaving missions, I put my three-step breakdown of the proverb into motion. I talked with a career counselor, enrolled in a job search program, took aptitude tests, networked with scores of contacts, and read books on resume writing and managing the interview.
I even read Dress for Success. (Don’t laugh. It helped me more than my history degree.)
In other words, I exercised wisdom, in order to create a plan, so I could commit it to God. I found God’s guidance through wise reasoning, advice from friends and counselors, examination of my skills and personality, extended prayer, and trial and error.
He took me places my plans never imagined
My [limited] wisdom made my first professional job seem like an excellent fit. But after starting it, I hated it. Eight months later, I was hired by a rapidly growing video company that needed internal organization. It was a great job, and in it I learned to program computers for a variety of business operations.
Sadly for me, a year later the company moved to Hollywood, and I lacked the looks to be a star.
But a local software company soon hired me because of the computer skills I had inadvertently gained organizing that video company. I remained with that software company for the next two-and-a-half decades. It was a terrific fit for my skillset.
God directed my path to an industry—software!—that I had never imagined, my schooling didn’t prepare me for, and that my plans failed to envision. He orchestrated my life through the silent word of his command.
In other words, God guided me through a mixture of methods: a direct word (telling me to leave missions), meditating on a couple of proverbs, counsel, reasonably wise plans that I committed to him, and risk and trial and error.
Don’t imagine I was peaceful!
Trusting God is scary. When I re-read my story above, I realize I left out my dark nights of the soul, my fears of an impractical degree, being laid off from a job I loved (unless I moved to Hollywood), and harsh bosses and difficult clients. All I can say is: God’s plans are better than ours.
If sin is us substituting ourselves for God, and the gospel is God substituting himself for us, then the silence Jesus got on the cross must mean that God wants to speak into and orchestrate our lives.
Even if you are as clueless as this seventeenth century intellectual historian.
This article includes material from my upcoming book Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere. It will be released in mid-July.
Pre-order it now by clicking on the link or on the image. Topics include:
- Learning to recognize the sound of God’s voice
- Hearing God in his silence
- How to Brainstorm with God
- Hearing God in Scripture
- Hearing God for guidance
Gary Wilkerson (pastor, author, and son of David Wilkerson) said this:
A key longing in every human heart is to connect with God, to actually hear his voice. Sam Williamson has written a remarkable book that teaches both how to hear God’s voice in Scripture, and then to hear his voice in every avenue of life. It’s filled with humor, insight, practical tips, and sound theology. I can’t recommend a better guide than Hearing God in Conversation.
This is a good read! For a man who is in the middle of mystery, your words offer guidance and hope. And for the record, Hollywood would have been lucky to have you! 🙂 Thanks for the glimpse inside brother.
I would have done well in Jaws, maybe, as shark bait. Or maybe in Alien with a creature coming out of my stomach. Texas Chainsaw really wanted me, but I couldn’t fit it in my schedule.
I hope this was helpful for. This is a great time of change and re-alignment.
We men especially find it hard to put our lives & trust fully in God’s hands.Thanks for sharing your story Sam.
So Allen, in essence, you are saying that we men are . . . idiots.
I couldn’t agree more!
I wonder if we’ll ever learn to walk with God instead of alone. Fortunately, he keeps coming after us.
I love how you have come to “seeing” with such great balance Sam.
When I was young I wanted with all my heart to be a missionary in Africa.
Instead I went through damaged family, broken life, immense suffering and finally healing. I didn’t understand why. But, a few times I heard, when you are healed, feed my sheep. It was a whisper, but now I hear it loud and clear.
Through my writing, God is using that to help others know that even though we can’t change the past we can trust the future with a Father who cares. Even if only one person is helped that’s all that matters.
I am that one person God has spoken to because you were listening.
But, I need to ask you one question. How’s that dress for success working for you?
The dress looks just fine thank you! But I prefer, Kilt for Success.
I think it was Lewis who said (more eloquently than I can remember) that we trust God for who he is, not for what we want. He takes us on paths we never would imagine. Only looking back can we see his graceful guidance.
You really “kilt” that one Sam.
You crack me up.
By the way, I thought the book was out already and thought you played a trick on us when I couldn’t find it on Kindle or Amazon.
Hurry up! Ship!
Anne, I’ve traveled some common ground With you …sounds we have shared in our journeys together by kindred spirits.
Hey Janelle, long time no see. Yes, we do have kindred spirits.
Thank you!!! Only the Lord knew I was going to be here in this blog to hear His voice in between the words written and not. Thank you. This morning…I heard the Spirit speak “it’s your turn”. Committing, trusting, and listening here. Thank you for sharing your consistent guidance!
Excellent! It is your turn!
Did you write this post just for me? I’m not joking, God knows how much I needed to read it and He used you to speak to me, once again.
I can’t wait to read your book.
God bless you more and more.
Excellent! The best readings are when we feel it was written for us personally.
Who knows? Maybe it was.
Hi, this is one of the hardest things in my walk with God. I feel like God has guided me precious few times and I have a hard time hearing Him, maybe because I fear Him.
I have always assumed He would want me to do all the things I did not want to do.
Things such as never marry, be a missionary, not pursue my passions.
I have lived like this since I became a believer. I do remember as a young believer asking for His leading on which college to attend, and only received silence. So I chose on my own.
From then on, I chose to only rely on circumstance, as long as it did not contradict the Bible. I did get a job in the automotive field in a way that seemed almost miraculous. And remained there to this day.
Still single, not by choice, but I still fear God and am still frustrated by His silence.
I think I need some supernatural healing of my view of God. As I still see Him as being disappointed with me and quite willing to torment me until I do what He wants. Not a pretty picture.
One of the things I always enjoy about your comments is your terrific honesty. You are honestly self-reflective, and share authentically too.
Do you know how rare that is?
I sense the pain of your fear of God and fear that you disappoint him. I wish I could wave a magic wand to remove those fears and misconceptions of God. But I can’t. And maybe if I could, I wouldn’t.
I still believe that God wants to speak to you personally about his love. Remember how Jesus got the word at his baptism? (This is my beloved son who delights me.) If Jesus needed to hear that, how much more do all of us.
I think God wants to reveal to you his delight in you as his son; the son he chose to have by adopting you. Adopting you when he knew all the things that you would do. Everything. Yet he chose you. And loved you enough to make you a new person.
I hope we can meet someday, and I pray that God speaks to you clearly, even this week.