Christmas Epiphanies: How we know we’re hearing from God

“And Joseph arose from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took (Mary) as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son, and he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).

“Papa,” the little girl said,”How do we know when it’s God speaking to us and when it’s just us talking to ourselves?”

Her grandfather, a longtime pastor friend of mine, said, “Honey, that’s one of the great questions we have to struggle with throughout our whole lives.”

I’m confident the family asked Joseph that question and a hundred more.

“What do you mean you’re going ahead with the marriage, Joseph? Can’t you see Mary is pregnant and not by you? Doesn’t it matter to you what people are saying and how this looks? You say you heard from God? What does that mean?”

They thought Joseph was being “used,” that his “hearing from God” was his own wish fulfillment, that he wanted to marry Mary so badly he was willing to put up with anything, that the voice he was hearing originated in his own libido.

Poor Joseph.  He did two of the toughest jobs anyone will ever do who is determined to follow the Lord…

1) He was willing to end a relationship that he wanted out of a dedication to do the will of God. Ask any pastor. Once the couple sets the wedding date and start their series of visits to the pastor’s office, nothing can deter them. No amount of testing and counseling and prayer can keep the typical couple from following through, even though you show them a dozen ways in which this is not right and they are wrong for each other.  Joseph was an exception.

2) Joseph was then willing to obey the Lord and take Mary as his wife against the wishes and counsel of his friends and family.

And all of this was for one simple reason: He had heard from Heaven.

How to know this is God.

I was 21 years old, a college senior, and loving my life, when God called me.  This epiphany (“appearance” or “revelation of God”) took place on a Tuesday night in April during a revival in our church that lasted two weeks. Hundreds came to Christ during that event, and the church was forever changed.  That night, I was singing in the choir–“Jesus Paid It All”–when suddenly a curtain was pulled back and something not there one moment was there in full force the next.

“I want you in the ministry.”

That’s what the voice said.

Was it audible, something that could have been heard by someone nearby or picked up by a recording? No. It was stronger than that.

While everyone in the choir around me was singing, I was having a conversation with God.

“If this is God, this will still be here tomorrow and I’ll go forward tomorrow night and make it public.”  I wanted to give myself time to reflect on it, to make sure it was not something done in the flesh, impulsive.

Just as clearly, the Voice replied, “This is God and you know it is, and there is no need to delay.”

I said to myself, “That’s true,” and stepped out of the choir to walk to the pastor.

You just know.

Somethings you know and you know that you know. And this was one of them.

1) The Voice is from Outside. This was not something I was projecting, something emanating from inside my own mind.

2) The Word is unexpected.  It was a surprise in every sense of the word.

3) The Voice is insistent. It will not be ignored.

4) It is the Voice of a Friend.  It’s not alien, not intrusive.

5) The Message fits.  It “felt” right.  Like a tongue-in-groove joint, like the correct piece of a jigsaw puzzle, when it’s right you know it.

6) Subsequent events bear it out.  Nothing in the future ever contradicted this.  In fact, friends surrounded me at the altar that night to say they had been expecting this. The only one surprised was me.

7) You never doubt it thereafter. I’ve heard pastors say, “I’m sometimes doubted my salvation, but never my call.”  It sounds wrong, but it’s right.

We have told here how our young friend Monica Skiles was praying in Washington D.C.’s Union Terminal for the Lord to confirm to her His leading that she was to travel to Tanzania for a two-year assignment as a Journeyman, a post-college stint as a “junior missionary.”  Monica had her degree from McNeese State in Lake Charles, LA, and was one of 160 youths appointed by the SBC International Mission Board to similar positions around the globe. In Tanzania, she would be teaching kindergarten in a Christian school under the direction of our career missionaries.

The entire group was in the midst of a six-week orientation to prepare them for life overseas as missionaries. This particular day Monica’s group had been dropped off at that wonderful railroad station/tourist destination/shopping mall a few blocks from the U. S. Capitol, given three hours to complete four assignments: observe internationals, talk to internationals, eat some international food, and bring someone closer to Jesus.

Monica is a reserved person and two hours into the assignment, she was about to panic. She pulled aside for a moment of prayer. “Lord, I’m not doing so well.  I’ve seen the internationals and I’ve eaten their food, but I really have not talked to any of them, and I certainly have not brought anyone closer to Jesus. You’re just going to have to help me, Lord.  You are going to have to confirm to me that you want me to go to Tanzania.”

Down the corridor, Monica noticed a display of tables on which was an array of hand-carved arts and crafts. A dark-skinned woman stood behind the table. Monica started in that direction.

Seeing something she recognized, Monica picked it up and examined it. The woman told her it’s African name. “It’s Swahili,” she said. And added, “It’s from Tanzania.”

Monica said, “Oh? I’m going to be moving to Tanzania.”

“Where?” the woman asked.

“To Dar Es Salaam,” Monica answered. The capital city.

The woman said, “I live in Dar Es Salaam. What will you be doing there?”

Monica said, “I’ll be teaching kindergarten in the Haven of Peace Christian Academy.”

The lady said, “My two granddaughters go to the Haven of Peace Academy.  They’ve come home telling me about Jesus, that He loves me, and that I should call on Him if I ever get in trouble.”

Monica was now having industrial-strength chill-bumps up her spine.

An hour later, when they parted, they had prayed together and Monica carried with her two letters the lady had just penned to her granddaughters. Monica would be seeing them before the woman did.

When she got to Tanzania, Monica became the teacher of one of those two little girls.

This answer from God was nothing like what she was expecting. It was so perfect and felt so right. Everything that happened later confirmed that this was of God.

Three or four years later, I was on a shuttle bus in Indianapolis returning to my hotel from a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. A man on the bus read my name tag. “You’re Monica Skiles’ pastor.”  I said that I was.

He introduced himself. “I’m a missionary. I was Monica’s supervisor in Tanzania.  God did an amazing work through that young lady during her two-and-a-half years with us.”

I’m not surprised.  His call on her life was so strong that we knew He was up to something special.

Jesus said, “When (the shephed) puts forth his own, he goes before them and the sheep follow him because they know his voice…. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me” (John 10:4,27).

The voice of the Shepherd is strong, from outside, insistent, clear, and perfect.  When the flock arrive at their destination, as well as at various points along the way, they see how wise is His leadership and how right they are to follow.

We admire Joseph who surely must have paid a price for his faithfulness to God. Perhaps that’s why when the law ordered him to Bethlehem for an enrollment just as Mary’s time was nearing, the two decided she would go with him: there was no one else either of them could trust sufficiently.

When God is leading and you are gladly following, you know.

You just know that you know, and there are few things in this life better than that.


2 thoughts on “Christmas Epiphanies: How we know we’re hearing from God

  1. It was similar with God’s calling to me. It was almost unbelievable how he spoke clearly to me about pursuing the lady who became my wife. God has spoken to me several times in my life and every time, events proved it was his voice, not my own mind talking to myself. We must learn to trust the Lord. He once asked me,”Don’t you trust me, Ted?” I did and I do. As my Dad taught me, one has to listen clearly and if all we hear are our own ideas, it is probably not the Lord, but if it is the Lord, we’ll keep hearing Him until we say yes or become deaf to his voice.

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