God Is Speaking: Confirming the Leading of the Spirit

In the most recent previous posts, I probed how we can be intentional in hearing the Spirit, how we can live our daily lives in the Chronos while awaiting the Spirit’s Kairos, and how we can step more intentionally into God’s purposes. In this blog post, I will explore some practical strategies for confirming the Spirit’s leading.

We are humans, comprising mind, body and spirit. The Spirit is divine and transcendent, living within us, but existing in a different dimension than the tangible and physical. So by definition, hearing the Spirit or sensing the Spirit’s leading is going to be a challenging exercise. How do we discern what is of the Spirit? What is just our own internal voice? What’s just noise?

For minor life decisions, where the risk is relatively small, we can follow what we believe to be the Spirit’s leading and if things don’t turn out, the consequences are generally minor. Perhaps some wasted time, a modest financial loss, or some hurt feelings. However, for decisions of more consequence – a marriage, a significant business partnership, a career choice, a relocation, having children – it would be prudent to seek the Spirit’s guidance – and to attempt to confirm the Spirit’s leading.

Confirmation generally involves time. God is seldom in a rush, contrary to our presumption that “if we don’t act fast, we could lose out”. Be prepared to receive confirmation of the Spirit’s leading over a period of time – it could be weeks, months or even years. Personally, I’m easily frustrated by this simple fact -- the Spirit’s time table is usually different, often meaning longer, than what I’d prefer.

Sometimes the voice of the Spirit can seem a little “out there” – perhaps suggesting something you hadn’t thought of, or something that seems contradictory to conventional wisdom. A quick story from my own life. In 1983, I was faced with the decision of choosing the city and firm where I’d begin my career. After an intensive and thoroughly enjoyable internship in Chicago, every fiber of my being wanted to accept the offer from that firm -- one of the world’s largest and most successful accounting firms. I wrestled for days with this decision. Ultimately, I opted to go with a smaller, Champaign (Illinois)-based firm because it was what I sensed the Spirit was telling me to do. Fast forward, and I now recognize it was one of the best and most life-shaping decisions I’ve made. After making this difficult choice, the Spirit confirmed my decision in several ways, not only with positive experiences, but with a general sense of peace and confidence.

Confirmation should usually involve reaching out to others and seeking their counsel. God designed his Body of Believers to complement one another, to work together toward common purposes, and to encourage one another in the pursuit of his larger purposes. This means that the Spirit’s direction for your life is invariably linked to what he’s doing in the lives of others. So, reach out to your spouse or significant other, reach out to your family, to your co-workers, to a mentor or coach. What do they have to say about the direction you’re sensing from the Spirit? Is there an emerging consensus?

Confirmation also generally involves variety. By that I mean that your sense of the Spirit’s leading should be affirmed in different ways. Perhaps a vivid dream. A passage of scripture that seems to speak to you in a certain way. A chapter from a book you recently read. A sermon or TED Talk that aligns with your thinking. As a rule of thumb, particularly for the major life decisions, I like to receive at least three or four diverse confirmations.

Assuming the elapse of time, reaching out to others for their counsel, and receiving some variety of “yes” answers to your sense of the Spirit’s leading, you ultimately need to take a risk – a step of faith – by making a decision to “just do it”. Your risk-taking should come with some measure of inner peace, though the process may not be entirely comfortable! You’ve ultimately got to trust the Spirit to walk with you on the journey – and if perchance you “missed it”, trust that the Spirit can help you navigate Plan B, C or D. He’s actually pretty good at that.

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