How Do I Know it’s God? Testing God’s Voice in Community

Her voice was shaky and nervous on the phone: “I keep having this dream about you and I think God is telling me to share it with you.”

“It’s ok,” I reassured her, “I can test it. Don’t worry – If it’s from God, he’ll show me.”

Mary went on to share how she’d seen a vision of two doors – one was the door of my college where I’d been working for nearly three years; the other belonged to the church I was pastoring. “Everyone was waving goodbye to you,” she said; “Oh, and you were wearing hiking gear. Are you going somewhere?”

My student intern didn’t know that six years earlier for my first sermon at College, I’d stood on the platform dressed in hiking pants, t-shirt and backpack. She hadn’t heard me preach back then about following God’s call on your life and how it can take you into the unknown. And she didn’t know that earlier that month I’d resigned from my two ministry positions to follow God’s leading.

I knew the dream was from God because I could test it for myself. I could recognise God’s voice because he’d already been speaking to me. Mary wasn’t the only one with the Holy Spirit.

That’s what makes this new covenant so much better than the old.

We Have it Better than Moses

In ancient times, it was far more difficult to test if a word was from God. Back then the Spirit only came on the prophets – those who were called and anointed of God to pass on his messages to the people – which meant you couldn’t always find confirmation from others. For people like Moses, Jeremiah and Amos, there was no equivalent of Mary’s dream. Of course there was still a testing process involved, but it wasn’t always foolproof. One of the tests for example, was to wait and see if a word came to pass. If it happened, then you’d know it was God (Deuteronomy 18:14-22). But sometimes a word could take decades to manifest, and many of its hearers died before it could. That didn’t leave much room for getting it right!

“If only the Spirit would come on all the Lord’s people!” Moses cried while leading the Israelites through the desert (Numbers 11:29). Though he could hear from God, not many others could. Moses knew this wasn’t the best set-up and he longed for a better one.

It’s under the new covenant that we see Moses’ ancient wish fulfilled. Now we can all receive the Spirit when we follow Jesus – and that means we can all hear God speak.

Which also means we all have responsibility to test the words we hear.

Test the spirits we’re told (1 John 4:1). We can get it wrong, so every revelation must be put to the test. Similarly, the Apostle Paul said that when two or three prophets speak, the others would weigh up what was said (1 Corinthians 14:29).

The question is then, who were the ‘others’ Paul spoke of? It appears that here Paul was speaking about prophetic words given to the corporate gathering in Corinth rather than prophetic words given to individuals. But the question still remains. Who is responsible for testing a revelation?

Who Tests What?

Some have suggested it’s the responsibility of those delivering the word to test it or of the church leaders. I find it helpful to think of it this way:

“The responsibility for testing a revelation lies with those who have responsibility for its outcome.”

Thus, if the word is for the church, the responsibility for testing lies with those who have the responsibility for the church (ie. the leaders). If the word is for an individual, the responsibility lies with the individual.

Let me give an example. When God spoke to Peter about embracing the Gentiles (Acts 10), it had major implications for the church. So we see the vision being confirmed not only with Peter and Cornelius, but with the other church leaders at the Jerusalem Council. Together they confirmed it was the leading of God.

Compare this scenario with the word given to the Apostle Paul by the Prophet Agabus. The revelation said that Paul would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:10-15). It was an individual word and therefore Paul carried the responsibility to test it and decide how to respond. So we see that Paul makes the choice go to Jerusalem even when others in the church discouraged him to.

We all have responsibility for the words we receive. You have responsibility to test the words that apply to your sphere of influence and I have responsibility for mine. That doesn’t mean we don’t share it with those who provide advice and add their witness to it. It doesn’t mean that we don’t consult with the leaders in our life who have wisdom beyond our own – that’s part of what it means to be part of a Spirit-led community.

But remember it’s your conversation. It’s your relationship with God you are cultivating. Don’t try to live vicariously through someone else’s relationship with God. And let others fulfil their responsibility to do the same.

What about you? What has been helpful in your experience testing a word from God? Share here!

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