Let’s admit that most of us want to hear God for one simple reason: we want God to tell us what to do. We’re looking for a clear answer—writing on the wall sounds excellent—or some formula that provides a clear choice between competing options.
But God refuses to limit his guiding voice to a formula. Rather, like a master painter, he uses an artful mix of brushstrokes and palette, and light and shadow, sometimes speaking words, other times orchestrating circumstances, and frequently speaking even in his silence.
God’s goal is to deepen our relationship with him. He doesn’t guide us with a paint-by-number schema. 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 morning prayer time, I had never considered anything else. I was scared: what should I do with my life apart from missions? I left the missions clueless.
My university degree in 17th Century European Intellectual History attracted few employers. I had enough cash for about six weeks, so I found odd jobs to keep me afloat as I looked for a new profession. I sought God for a clear word of direction, and I felt I got silence.
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 will guide us down paths our original maps never envisioned. Plans are just nice starting points to get us moving.
God’s silent guidance
When God gives me direct words of guidance, I often just head down his given path alone, like: I’ve got the map, 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.
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.
He took me places my plans never imagined
My “wisdom” made my first professional job seem like an excellent fit. But I hated it. Eight months later, I was hired by a 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 hired me because of the computer skills I had inadvertently gained organizing that video company. I remained with that software company for twenty-five years. God had orchestrated my life through the silent word of circumstances.
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, risk and trial and error, and the orchestration of circumstances.
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. All I can say is: God’s plans are better than ours.
Even if you are as clueless as this 17th century intellectual historian.
This article includes material from my book Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere.
You can order a copy 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.
It’s interesting to me that I probably get something out of your posts that may or may not be what you originally intended. But it’s all good. You say “remain in conversational contact with God” and I flash on the email marketing firm Constant Contact. I need to be more diligent about spending time with God, can’t here the quiet voice if I’m not still and attentive.
Your posts are God’s gentle nudges.
Thanks, Sam for that very practical story. Especially as I am job-hunting myself right now. What your story made me wonder, though, is how that 25 years at a software company addressed your desire to be in missions. Did you feel that that dream was over, or did God use your “missions” heart in your software job? Twenty-five years is a long time. There must have been fulfillment to some degree for you to stay that long. Or do you feel that the job was just a softening and shaping season for you, preparing you for something better? God said “not now,” so I assume there was a “later.”
Sam…Great job…I love and can relate to the artist perspective of our relationship with God. Elroy