Prayer and Knowing the Will of God

One member of a missions team who decided to go on a missions trip arrived at her decision this way: she said,” I prayed about it. And when I pray, I don’t talk to God, but I listen to him. And through prayer he told me to go.”
This person believes she has received special revelation either audibly or via “the small still voice” method. Also, If God told her through prayer to go, then it’s a command for her to do so. This is akin to Abram leaving Ur for parts unknown except in his case it was a command and her case it is not.
Psalm 46:10 is often used to justify this perspective. “Be still, and know that I am God;I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
What it really says is found in the NASB: “Cease striving and know that I am God”
The first idea is very entrenched and hard to dislodge. Author Dave Swavely notes a typical Christian song that teaches we’re suppose to listen to God’s directions through prayer:
“In stillness and simplicity, I hear the spirit silently…Is the reason we’re not still to hear him speak because we don’t believe he will.”
Couple of further comments on this as I think what I’m saying can be easily misunderstood.
In my early 30’s I spent a ton of time studying the Bible. Our Women’s Ministry leader had taken me under her wing and was training me to be a leader. I was asked to give an opening introductory talk at a women’s event and it happened to be the year Hillary Clinton spoke at the UN Conference on Women. I was very fired up about this and gave a speech that stole the show. This was not intentional on my part but I discovered a very passionate part of me that night and from that time on I began to pray about what God would have me do in ministry. I thought maybe God would allow me to be a leader one day so I began taking theology classes and praying about these things in the form of asking for guidance and so forth. The prayers though were broad and had to do with other life decisions as I still had young children at home. Nevertheless, I knew early on that God was preparing me for something. And so when the day arrived and our Women’s Ministry leader moved on to another city I had the distinct impression in my head that said “you can do this.” I had not been thinking of it and it just kind of popped in. Clearly, it was a not so still voice from God encouraging me. Or was it?
I used this very story when I was installed as Women’s Ministry Director as a type of verification of my “inward call.” My, how spiritual I was. At the time I honestly thought it was what the Charismatic's might call a “word of knowledge.”
Listen my friends-it’s impossible to argue with a person’s personal experiences because they are subjective and not subject to any type of objective analysis.
Years later I was chatting with a friend who had a heavy charismatic background. We got on this subject of hearing God’s voice in prayer. She told me she had no way of discerning between her desires, God’s voice or the devil’s. In other words, how do you know when your desires are responsible for your thoughts whether they just “pop in” or were floating around in the back of your skull all along.
Being quiet in Scripture meditation or just being quiet in prayer does not mean you are going to get a message or thought confirmation right from God. That is real risky business especially if its night time and the pepperoni pizza you just ate is hard at work.
So then, how do we know God is communicating through His Word?
First, do not separate the Word of God from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture and does not trump it in revealing extra stuff.
“To the degree that a person allows the Word of God to fill his heart, the Spirit fills his life.” (Lou Priolo, Dir. Of Biblical Counseling, Eastwood Presbyterian Church) Compare Eph. 5:18 with Col. 3:16 to see how being dominated by the Holy Spirit is the same as letting God’s Word dwell in you richly.
Second, pray for a greater understanding of Scripture (Psa. 25:4)
Third, pray for more wisdom in applying it (Ja. 1:5)
In God’s providence He will bring into your life circumstances and the scriptural principles to think through as you study His Word in an effort to rightly divide it (2 Tim. 2:15)