(Photo by Lee Campbell on Unsplash)
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
This verse has been a key verse for my life for a long time. The whole of our Christian journey can be summarised by this renewal process, and so it has given me a way to make sense of what I am going through and experiencing. Lately though, this verse has given me a deeper appreciation of the process we go through in order to hear from God better.
As Christians it is imperative that we are able to "test and approve what God's will is". Without this ability, we are unable to be certain of what He is saying to us. Without that, we are unable to obey. Without obedience, we cannot truly consider ourselves followers of Christ! I know, this might sound quite dramatic, but comparing this to my relationship with Bec, if I don't pick up the nuances in the way she talks and what she says, I would be missing a lot of what she is trying to communicate with me. I would then probably get on her nerves a lot, and not be able to show her the care and love that I should as her husband.
So how do we know for certain that we are hearing from God? Paul makes it clear. It is only by the renewing of our mind. And this is very much connected to not conforming to the pattern of this world. As I considered what this could mean and look like in my life, I realised that I thought that not conforming to the pattern of this world was simply about giving in to sinful patterns.
Those kind of patterns.
But as I continued to meditate on it, I realise that the pattern of this world could relate to the patterns that we have gotten used to because we live in the world. I started to think about the patterns that I have had to deal with in my life. The pattern of needing to prove myself as proficient at what I do. The pattern of needing affirmation as a person. The pattern of needing all the information possible before making a decision.
These are just some patterns I have observed that have not always helped me journey closely with God. Then there are patterns of thinking and understanding that I have observed as well. My mindset around how leadership works. How relationships should work. What success looks like. The more I journey through my life, and the closer I get to God, it is not so much the sinful behaviours and thoughts that God is dealing with, but the patterns that I have picked up simply to survive in this world.
I put forward that the renewing of our minds, and therefore the ability to hear from God clearly is a process of allowing God to highlight patterns in our thinking that are out of sync with Kingdom truth. And this is a PROCESS, not an event. I find that there are always more patterns that God is highlighting that need to be dealt with. And then there are patterns that I thought I had dealt with that come back up again.
Does this mean that I can never be sure that God is speaking? No! Definitely not. But I believe that we need to be more humble in the way that we approach hearing from God.
Firstly, we need to be humble about where we are on our journey. Am I close to God? Am I actively seeking out His voice? Spending time with Him? If not, chances are there are lots of disordered patterns in our thinking that will stop us from fully being able to hear from God.
Then we need to be humble and bring what we think we're hearing to sources of authority that can help us learn about what God is saying, and what kind of patterns He might be dealing with in our lives. One of those authorities MUST be the word of God. It is written and unchanging. God won't contradict what is in the written word, and we must get better submitting to it. I know there have been times when I have struggled with it, but God definitely has the better plan for my life and learning to trust when I don't know where things are at has helped me grow.
Another authority that you can approach are more mature Christians who know you and who know God well. They will be able to pick up patterns of thinking that you might be leaning towards, and help you discern what God is saying in your situation.
As a pastor I have had many people tell me that they have heard God speak into their lives, and there is something in me that goes, "I don't really think that is God!" Some of the times I have felt that the person allows me to question them about it, and more often than not we discover that it really was hidden agendas (both to me and to that person too!) that they were hearing, not so much God. But more often than not, people say that they have heard from God and don't want me to contradict what they feel they have heard. From what I know, this has often led to hurt and disappointment.
The process of being able to clearly know God's voice is not an overnight event. It takes time and humility. It takes trust and community. It sounds like a lot of work! And it can be (for example, reading the Bible everyday!), but the end result is so worth it. I pray you commit to this journey today.