Do not hold back the work of the Holy Spirit. Do not treat prophecy as if it were unimportant. But test everything. Keep what is good, and stay away from everything that is evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (New Century Version)
How does a person who really wants be directed by the Holy Spirit test whether or not it is God’s voice they are hearing? God speaks in myriads of ways. He speaks primarily through the Bible, but also through inner impressions (thoughts and visions), dreams, circumstances and through other people. The problem is that the voice of the devil and self also use those same means to deceive us.
Consider the fact that the Devil used scripture to try to deceive Jesus. In fact Paul in writing to the Galatians warned that even messages from angels needed to be tested for deception. (Galatians 1:8)
And our own hearts can deceive us. The prophet Jeremiah tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (17:9) In other words, it is easy for us to deceive ourselves and to be deceived when we are not crucifying the flesh or keeping strong selfish desires in check.
The simplest approach to determining whether the guidance we are seeking is from God or not is based on an old principle from celestial navigation. You might call it the three point alignment principle. A sailor desiring to determine his location needed three fixed points such as stars, planets or the sun and moon. GPS guidance works on the same principle requiring three satellites to determine latitude and longitude and a fourth to obtain altitude.
So how do we test messages purporting to be from God? The following three check points will always be in alignment if God is truly speaking to us.
1. Does what you are hearing line up with the truth and Spirit of Scripture? God will never violate His own Word or ask us to do something contrary to His name and nature. Whatever He speaks to us will ultimately lead to glorifying His name.
This is why it is so important for followers of Christ to be students of the Bible. The Bible is God’s primary means of guidance and the means through which the Holy Spirit seeks to lead us into all truth. (John 16:13)
2. Does it resonate with and confirm in your heart what God has already been saying or doing? The Bible tells us that “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1) Most prophecies, visions, dreams etc. come as witnesses to confirm things we are already witnessing. If not, it is wise to put some purported words from the Lord on the shelf until they are confirmed in our hearts, or come to pass.
Words that are truly from God typically ignite faith in our hearts, not fear or anxiety. Evidences of that faith are a sense of joy and peace no matter what our circumstances. (Romans 15:13) A good distinction to remember is that the Good Shepherd leads His sheep, but the Devil drives them.
3. Does it bear witness with other Godly people and the faith community of which I am a part? Again the “two or three witness” principle is an important safeguard.
Private guidance and interpretation without seeking wise counsel, especially on major decisions is dangerous. That is why God sets the solitary in families. (Psalm 68:6) He wants to surround us with people who can provide a Godly perspective. Those who can speak into our lives providing confirmation or warnings, are an invaluable protection against deception.
Of course the ultimate test of any message is whether or not it comes to pass. The Bible tells us that even prophets do not bat 1000. “We know in part and we prophecy in part.” (1Corinthians 13:9)
It is therefore no shame or lack of spirituality to put a prophetic word to the test. To the contrary, it is a mark of maturity to carefully weigh everything that comes our way. When God is truly speaking there will be a three point alignment and yes, it ultimately will come to pass.
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