10 Ways To Know If An Idea Is From God
Precondition: It doesn’t contradict God’s Will, Word and NatureI assume that the idea you are considering to be God’s will is in alignment with His standards outlined in His Word. Meaning, it’s not contradicting His law, moral standards and His general nature but lies within the boundaries of His timeless will for us. Every idea that stands in opposition to His commandments is necessarily not conceived or communicated by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-15). Thus, checking whether an idea or its implications contradict specific commandments or His general standards outlined in the Bible should be our first and most basic test. (I always thought that this was a total no-brainer. However, I have seen too many cases where Christians defended plain disobedience with “God told me to”. Whoever it was, it definitely wasn’t God.)
10 Ways God Confirms An IdeaBeforehand I want to underline the fact that the following 10 points might or might not be good indicators for discerning God’s will in your specific case. They should be taken with a grain of salt and considered from a posture of prayer. Neither of them should stand alone or be taken as the ultimate sign that God is behind an idea. Most certainly it’s the mix and the number of them that make the difference. The more of these you can check off, the more likely it is that it's actually God's will for your life. Still, it’s impossible to really discern it apart from personal, prayerful interaction with the Lord. Those 10 signs should serve you as guidelines. They shouldn’t keep you from actually talking with God about it. Also be aware that although I tried to make this list as comprehensive as possible, it’s certainly not complete (if other signs come to your mind that are not in this list, feel free to add them down in the comments).
1) Support from other PeopleThe general support and encouraging attitude from those around you is an indicator God often uses to let you know He is behind a path you intend to take.
There are two sides to it: First, we see this pattern in the Bible that often God’s will is met with misunderstandings and criticism from other people, and that the path of obedience is usually a narrow road. So whether friends and family support your endeavor shouldn’t be a major indicator whether or not God is leading you to do a certain thing. And yet, especially when it comes to people of maturity and spiritual authority (like a mentor, pastor, spiritual father or mother) who know you pretty well or are familiar with the path you want to take, their counsel can be pretty significant.
When God impressed on my heart to study theology, the opinions of pastors about whether or not that path would be something for me was one of the most helpful and encouraging ways in which God confirmed this plan. Those pastors had walked that road themselves and know the specific challenges and requirements it takes. It’s often those people that God uses to confirm a path you are wanting to choose.
Personally, every time I had a plan that actually turned out to be from the Lord, I experienced surprisingly consistent support and encouragement from the people around me. Sometimes that even went so far that other people started treating my plan as a definite future. Like when I shared with a few friends my plans to become a missionary to Japan, they started treating me like a future missionary to Japan. Whenever Japan was mentioned they would look at me and smile. They would randomly pray for me about it, even financially sow into me. They didn’t just see it as a possible future of mine but as part of who I already was, so to speak. That’s a dynamic that God sometimes uses to encourage us to pursue a certain route.
A little disclaimer: Your parents being supportive of your plans may or may not be an indicator. Often I found that a lack of parental support didn’t mean it’s not the will of God (although mine always supported me). You honor the people who brought you into this world most not by doing everything they want but by becoming everything God made you to be. Also we must recognize that Jesus’ “Follow me!” (Mt 4:19) always includes the call to forsake father and mother to cling to only Him (Ps 45:10-11; Eph 5:31-32).
2) You Catch Yourself DaydreamingIt’s not just other people who begin to naturally picture you on the road you plan on taking but the same happens to yourself as well. You start having mental pictures of yourself a few months or years down that road. You find yourself being surprised that you treat a future possibility more and more as a future reality, you begin taking it as a given. It’s the moment when idea becomes identity - something that is more deeply ingrained in who you are than just a mere idea - that you can know that God is encouraging you on your journey.
I often know that it's really something the Lord wants when I often catch myself daydreaming of a certain course and it feels very natural for me to imagine myself in that new place or position, etc. Along with that comes a deep sense of purpose, and vision starts to build. I could say, the idea mentally develops and there start to be more and more facets to it, also it feels more and more certain it will happen.
3) It’s Actually Possible and Not Too Far Out ThereAnother sign is that there is a certain feasibility and likeliness to your plan, and the realization of that idea would not require tons of supernatural miracles that are just a little bit too extreme.
This indicator might be easily misunderstood and might sound like unbelief to some, but stay with me a little longer and let me explain:
First and foremost I want to underline that I believe in an omnipotent, supernatural God who does miraculous things, and who hasn’t changed since the days of the Exodus or the Book of Acts. We know from the Bible that God is more than able to do the impossible and that He likes to do it (just imagine the people of Israel on the shore of the soon to be parted Red Sea). We can expect them and should trust God, especially if we feel a clear call and His witness in us that that's what He wants to do. I also believe that there’s much more available to us today than any part of the worldwide Church currently walks in (John 14:12).
Yet there are a few points I want to make here:
- The fact that only God can do it doesn’t automatically mean He will or wants to do it. What I mean is that the fact that it would need to involve miracles shouldn’t be the sole reason for believing that it’s God’s will. If God actually wants to do something miraculous, He will most likely confirm it in many different ways in order to help you believe and expect you to intervene. The point I want to make here is that if you otherwise lack any other confirmation but your idea requires you to believe for the extraordinary, it’s unlikely (though not totally impossible) that the idea was from God in the first place.
- Look for instance at the parting of the Red Sea incident. When you read the chapters leading up to it, you will notice how saturated the account is with God’s supernatural work. There was much reason to expect God’s miraculous intervention because of it. He didn’t part the sea out of the blue. The story is leading up to it. If your story isn’t leading up to something miraculous, it’s unlikely (again, not impossible) that crazy things will happen out of the blue.
- God will usually lead us and wants us to walk in proportion to our faith (Rom 12:6). He knows what He can expect with our specific level of maturity. Of course there are times when God stretches us for the sake of growth. But He usually doesn’t take you from zero to hero in an instant. The question that is helpful to ask is whether the thing I expect or want to happen is in accordance to my faith. Do I actually have the faith for it? Or do I simply hope for it to happen because it would be cool and a great story to tell? In my own life an idea often turned out to not be the Lord's will when my initial thoughts were a little too crazy and too “out there”.
4) Specific Signs Asked ForI’m sure most of us are familiar with Gideon’s wool fleece (Judg 6), a specific sign Gideon asked from the Lord to confirm that a plan was from Him. This instance is an example where we ask God for a specific, predefined sign, and when it happens we know that it’s a confirmation from the Lord. Even today God occasionally uses this way to show us His will. After all, the Bible clearly affirms that God is behind every cast lot (Prov 16:33).
There are, however, a few things to be aware of:
- First, the specific sign asked for should be very unlikely to happen naturally. Gideon asked for a wet fleece on dry ground and vice versa. Something like this is almost impossible to happen without God’s intervention.
- Second, I don’t think it’s very mature to rely heavily on specific signs. We don’t see fleece-type confirmations being utilized often in Scripture. Especially in NT times, the leadership of God is primarily an internal rather than external experience. They usually are a last resort when there’s a lot of uncertainty, when God isn’t talking in any other way, and when a decision has to be made quickly. Fleeces should not be overused. A strong reliance on external signs is often an indicator that we need to grow in trust in and fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
- Third, if we really go for a fleece we really have to stick with the outcome, which means we should hold ourselves accountable to whatever happens, even if the outcome isn’t what we hoped for. We tend to be prone to only accept that it was the Lord if it's a confirmation and simply assume He isn't responding when the outcome is less desirable. We should only ask for a specific sign if we are absolutely willing to keep ourselves bound to the outcome, no matter what it will be. It’s not a game.
- Fourth, instead of asking for some arbitrary sign I recommend asking for the fulfillment of a requirement to pursue a certain idea or path. For instance, when I thought about moving to the US to study there, I still wasn’t sure whether it was my idea or God’s, even after months of praying for wisdom and confirmation. In order to study in the US as a non-native English speaker, you must take an English test and meet a certain score to proof your proficiency. I decided to go for it and told the Lord that if He wants me to go to the US then He should let me pass the test, and if not then not. It did work out and I got to start one of the most intimate seasons of my life with the Lord.
5) It Suddenly Pops Up EverywhereConfirmations through our environment aren’t limited to certain signs we asked for. On the contrary, an interesting dynamic I observed many times is that when God points me into a new direction, there’s also a surprising amount of weird, suspicious coincidences happening around me. Suddenly, traces of your plan or idea start to pop up all around you. People you never shared these things with suddenly start randomly mentioning stuff to you that’s connected to it. You come across posters, newsletters in your inbox, TV commercials, and many more seemingly random but suspiciously persistent reminders. Suddenly, it seems to be everywhere around you and you can’t really escape it.
This is one of my favorite ways of God’s leadership because it underlines His extensive involvement in the details of my day to day life, and it’s a great way of getting your heart prepared for the next step in a processes. We should, however, be careful not to interpret too much into every single little thing that happens. I would say it’s the amount of these occurrences that makes a difference here.
6) Encouraging Prophetic WordsAccording to 1 Cor 14:3, the purpose of the prophetic is edification, exhortation and consolation. Hence, it’s only natural to assume that God will use prophetic speech (=give others a prophetic word for us) to confirm an idea that He has already given you. That’s the very point of prophetic speech.
It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t mention “guidance” as a purpose of prophecy in the New Testament. It sure was one of the main functions in the Old Testament, and it certainly still is. Yet many think of the prophetic as someone telling me what to do when I have no plan. Yet instead, Paul highlights that the purpose of prophecy in the New Testament - when believers now have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them who will guide them (Rom 8:14; John 10:4), which wasn’t the case in the Old Testament - is not telling someone what they don’t know, but confirming (edify, exhort) something that He has already put on your own heart. With that being said, you should never depend primarily on prophetic words from other people and you should never do something a prophet or prophetically gifted person told you, unless it’s something you also heard from the Lord yourself.
A prophetic confirmation is especially powerful if it comes from a person that knew absolutely nothing about your idea or plan. That’s one of the reasons why in the early days of testing whether something is from the Lord, I would advise you to keep it to yourself and not tell anyone. If it then comes up in a prophetic word, you sure know that God is serious, especially if it’s very accurate.
7) The Idea Sticks With YouIf it's an idea, wish, or dream that has been on your heart for a while already and not gone away, it's likely that it's God's plan for your life. Dreams and ideas that stay with us for long periods of time point towards deep desires of our heart, and are something He cares about and often wants to give (Ps 37:4-5).
This is particularly significant if there had been setbacks and it would have been naturally logical to abandon the thought altogether but it still remains in you. Especially in the early days after having perceived a new idea, it’s natural to go through certain ups and downs related to it. Personally, I welcome these mood swings because they are a good filter to check what remains. I like to think of it as God coming to shake what can be shaken so that only unshakable things will remain (Hebr 12:27).
An idea that really comes from the Lord needn’t be afraid of being tested and tried. It will remain and only end up more purified.
8) Deep Knowing It’s The Right PathMore important than external confirmation is an inner testimony from the Lord that often comes in the form of deep peace. Though we can get stressed out about the specifics (like finances, timing, etc), there is often a sense of peace, like an inner knowing that it's the right thing to do even when at times we can't see yet how God will bring all the specifics into alignment for it to actually work out. In many ways it’s a “peace that surpasses understanding” (Phil 4:7). This is one of the clearer and more important signs.
9) Increased Expectation in His PresenceI often refer to this as the "glory test". We know that the fire of His presence and the satisfaction of His nearness changes our view and priorities. It’s when we are fully satisfied in Him and He is our all that we think rightly about everything else. So one of the most important tests is how we think and feel about an idea when we are in deep worship where we sing or say, "You are my all. You are enough" and mean it. In those moments when I’m willing to lay it all down at His feet, even this very idea no matter how dear, and I find that He doesn’t want me to give up on it but actually find myself being more encouraged and more inspired to pursue it, that I know that the Lord is behind it. When He is your all, but a desire remains, you know it’s pure and it’s very likely within His will.
10) Doors Actually Open UpIt’s with this point that everything stands or falls. If you think God told you something but there's never a door opening up, you will eventually have to accept that it wasn’t Him, no matter how much evidence you have to believe it. He is faithful and He does what He says. He provides doors with the call.
That is not to say that there must or will be opportunities right away (just imagine Joseph's dream to rule over his brothers, or David's prophecy that he would be king - both things took over a decade to actually become true). It’s is a very common experience to the writers of the Bible and to many fervent believers today and throughout history that God usually takes much longer than we want Him to.
In 2007, God placed Japan on my heart. I suddenly wanted to become a missionary to this country, so I started to learn the language and get to know the culture, and tried to find ways to move there. But it wasn’t until 2011, 4 years later, that doors actually started opening and I finally got to move to Japan for a season. Although no doors opened at first, I didn’t lose hope and eventually God made it happen.
So, if it’s really God’s will, eventually He will also make a way for you. But also be aware that not every door that opens is necessarily an invitation from the Lord (for instance, when Sarah asked Abraham to sleep with her maid Hagar to give him a son, it seemed like a step towards the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son, but it wasn’t God’s will).
Waiting in this time frame shouldn’t be passive. He wants us to “always keep praying and never lose heart” (Lk 18:1). There is an aspect of partnering with us in bringing about the Lord’s purposes that is very dear to His heart. He could do it alone, but He enjoys to do it with us.
The Necessity of Trust and Rest in His TenacityHopefully this list of 10 indicators to discern God’s will has helped you get clarity on a specific situation. But perhaps you are even more confused now than you have been before reading this article. No matter which of these groups you count yourself in, there are a few more considerations that we need to make to put everything we have outlined so far into perspective. They will help us further understand the process of God’s leadership and His role in all of it.
There’s No Such Thing As 100% CertaintyIf you hope to be 100% certain that an idea is from the Lord and that everything will work out perfectly, I have bad news for you: Absolute certainty is an illusion, it just doesn’t exist.
If we don’t act until we are absolutely sure, we will wait forever. The first reason for this is that in His Kingdom, faith will always remain a requirement (1 Cor 13:13). Another reason for this is that our “certainty” is very fragile. Consider this: How often have you asked God for a specific confirmation that He has willingly given you, only so that the next day you would come back to Him asking for another one. Now, He doesn’t mind giving us the signs we need and He is very patient with us, so it’s most certainly not wrong to ask for multiple confirmations (take for instance Gideon in Judges 6:36-40). But we also need to realize that our need to get an idea confirmed by God is like a bottomless pit. No matter how often He confirms it, it never really seems to be sufficient. We just end up coming back begging for another confirmation.
We will never have assurance unless we enter the realm of faith, start believing, and take the first step. Just as Peter had to believe he could walk on water when Jesus called him out of the boat, we also have to eventually trust and take the first step. When God called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, God’s idea of a confirming sign to Moses was this: “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). Basically God told Moses that he would know that this plan was from God if he succeeded in doing what He told him to. Moses needed to take the first steps in faith, the sign would be the fulfillment itself (a little delayed this sign, isn’t it?).
The list above isn’t meant to promise or provide certainty. Confirmations are there to encourage and equip us to take the first steps in faith. And isn’t it a sign of greater trust in Him when you don’t really know for sure that everything will work out and you still start walking, believing that He cares about you enough to keep you from evil?
Never Forget: He’s a Good LeaderThe basis for our trust in Him is found in who He is, namely in His faithfulness, goodness and tenacity. Let us consider a few Bible verses that highlight God’s willingness to lead us well.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.This verse underlines God’s willingness to tell us His will. James exhorts us to ask for wisdom if we lack it. And God will generously (not stingily!) provide it. I’m all about praying and even fasting for wisdom and direction from God, but it must be with the mindset that He will gladly give it rather than the supposition that He withholds it from us. I fear that oftentimes we proclaim with our prayers and actions that God is stingy in distributing wisdom to His children, instead of displaying confidence in a caring and generous Father.
The Lord is my shepherd ... He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.For His name’s sake… meaning for His own benefit, for His own good. Sometimes we think that God only cares as much about our life and about us making the right choices as we pray for it (apart from His fervent desire to judge unrighteousness of course). At other times we might fall into this mindset that we are not worthy enough of His attention. This verse is a welcome remedy for these false mindsets. It shows us that there is something personal in it for God if He leads us well. Another way of phrasing it is that God’s reputation is at stake in the way He leads us. It’s not solely to our good, it’s to His as well. It’s in His personal interest to lead us well. Even if we sometimes have trouble believing that God means it well with us or that He deeply cares about our lives, our fears are silenced by the fact that He also leads us well because He cares about His own reputation.
Still we should never lose sight of the fact that He is good to us because He loves us (Jer 31:3), and that in His tender love for us He guides us well. He is a good Shepherd who wants to lead us more even than we want to be led. Or to phrase it differently, we never ever desire holiness (=walking in His ways) more than He does. No matter how much we want to take the right path, He wants it more.
Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left.Sometimes there will be moments when we don’t fully know what to do, when there’s no angelic visitation clearly telling us where to go, no hand writing on the wall telling us which way to choose. There are times when, even after praying and asking, we are left with weighing the options ourselves in the hope of choosing the right thing, without clear guidance from the Lord.
We can know that in those situations He doesn’t give us over to demise. He won’t let us unknowingly run straight into a car wreck. In this verse God reveals His heart to us, that He will tenderly and carefully correct us, should we ever choose a wrong path. Sometimes there are instances in our lives where we need to make the first step, and confirmation is found in the single fact that He doesn’t tell us we went wrong.
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? ... If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.The truths in these verses are staggering. The psalmist asks the question where we could flee, he explores the possibilities of running away from God. Apparently, in this verse the intention isn’t to follow His ways but to run away from them. But now consider the promise included in the conclusion: Even if I attempt to run away, His hand will still lead me. It’s not just a promise that His presence will remain in my life when I run away. It also goes beyond the willing heart presupposed in the Isaiah 30 verse mentioned above. Here it’s about someone being set on willingly rebelling against the Lord. And yet, even in this place “Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me”. This verse for sure isn’t meant as an encouragement to rebel against God’s will. But it serves to underline His tenacity in His leadership over our lives that isn’t easily lost (as we often fear).
The Bible doesn’t leave us with this theoretical thought. The tenacious pursuit and leadership of the Lord even in our unwillingness is fascinatingly revealed in the story of Jonah that further proves how far He is willing to go in leading us well.
The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.Verses like this one encourage us to find rest in His sovereignty over our lives. What better way is there to end this discourse than to again point to His glorious character. He is the purest and kindest person that exists. He is in control of our lives, even if we sometimes don’t notice it until after. Not all the leadership of the Lord is tangible in the process. But He is worthy of our trust. He is a good Shepherd. And His leadership and care aren’t easily lost.