Feel free to watch my video teaching on this, or simply scroll down to read the full-length version of this post.
There are a million voices clamoring for attention in your mind.
So how do you pick out God’s voice from all of the others?
I have been asked this by countless young people (we older people think we know everything and so we don’t ask as often).
One in particular comes to mind every time I talk about this.
She was a quiet, shy, and pretty girl.
At 16 there seemed to be a huge burden weighing down her shoulders as she asked me this question.
You could see it all over her face. She didn’t know what to do and she was tired of getting it wrong.
She was tired of carrying the weight.
She had a fire in her that was being robbed of its oxygen.
She loved God. She loved people. She just wanted to live for something more.
But her parents wanted her to live for volleyball.
They expected her to work night and day to be the best on the court. They expected her to be good enough to get a scholarship.
In other words, they wanted her college to be free for them.
Her education and their bank account were more important than her love for Jesus and people.
So she approached me one day and asked,
“How can you tell if it’s God’s voice or someone else’s?”
It’s a beautiful, and painful question that all of us are asking.
It’s illuminates the burdens each of us carry. When we long to love God and live for others, the voices we so often hear are those with expectations and demands.
We hear our parents’ voices.
We hear our teachers’ voices.
We hear our pastors’ voices.
We even hear our own voice, doling out judgment like candy at the 4th of July parade.
“You ought to…”
Beneath the judgmental voices there’s still a million more saying,
“Serve at the soup kitchen.”
“Love your classmates or coworkers.”
“Write a book.”
“Go to college.”
“Give up your dreams.”
So which voice is God’s?
I can’t answer that for you,
but I can give you some ideas of what is NOT God’s voice.
Jesus used fruit as object lessons all the time.
He spoke of a fig tree that had no figs, making it a worthless waste of space.
He also said you can tell a tree by the fruit it produces. If it makes figs, it is a fig tree, not an olive tree (Matthew 7:16-20).
But speak to any large Christian group and say the word “fruits” and I can almost guarantee you I know what comes to mind…
The Fruit of the Spirit
The fruit of the spirit refers to a scripture in Galatians. It is well-known and commonly cited.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”
Every time I have heard this verse referenced growing up, it was used as a lesson on how we as followers of Jesus should act.
It was a litmus test for “true faith.”
If you loved God, then you would be
(This lesson was often accompanied by some accusing glances my direction whenever the last one was mentioned…I have no idea why!)
But I think they’re wrong.
I do not believe this verse is a verse about the kind of people we ought to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that the deeper your intimacy with God goes, the more these attributes will infect your life from the inside, out.
But, I do not believe that is the primary intent of this passage.
The point is much simpler than that.
These are the fruits of God’s Spirit,
and if you can tell a tree by it’s fruit,
then this passage is telling me what kind of tree…I mean person…God is.
In other words, God is:
So without overstating this and making it more complicated than it really is,
when it comes to learning to pick out God’s voice from all the weeds, one of the very best tools you have is the Fruit of the Spirit.
Is the voice you are hearing shaming?
Then it is not God
because it is not kind.
Is the voice you are hearing in a hurry (“Go now! Go now! GO NOW!”)?
Then it is not God
because it is not patient.
Are the things you hear when you talk with or think about God accusing, condemning, hurtful (not the same as painful), demanding, guilt-ridden, or upset?
Is the voice you hear a voice of someone that is disappointed in you or in who you are?
Then listen to me closely…
It is not God’s voice.
Anything he says to you, though it may be convicting, correcting, or even painful to hear at times,
it will NEVER be mean, shaming, accusing, impatient, or carry the burden of unrealistic demands. God’s love is NOT conditional on your ability to get it right.
He is loving, joyful, peace-giving, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.
Don’t mistake him for all the other voices you’e heard your whole life…including your own.
Consider practicing this filter in one very simple way.
Next time you pray or listen to God or meditate, have a pen and paper nearby.
As you begin to hear or think thoughts in your mediation, try to focus on one at a time.
Then, pay attention to the spirit of that thought.
Does it fit the fruit of the spirit?
Then write it down.
Is it kind and loving?
Write it down.
Is it patient and gentle?
Write it down.
But if it does not line up with those characteristics,
simply let it pass through your mind and move on to the next voice or thought.
This way, when you are finished, you will have a shorter list of voices to sort through that you can keep and return to later. A list that is not rife with the voices of the accusing, shaming, hurt-filled people that have hurt you in the past and gotten into your head.