I received an email this week from a spiritual sib who has struggled for a long time with this question: “We know God hears prayer. But that is one-way conversation. How do believers receive answers from the Lord? It is too easy to say, ‘I felt the Lord’s leading,’ or something similar. This is very subjective. Is there an objective answer?”
This is a great question! “How do we sense the Lord’s leading?” First, let me tackle NT prayer in case I’m missing the point.
I would suggest that the way Jesus taught us to pray, and modeled prayer, was to ask for specifics and allow God to answer through fulfillment. (Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our debt…. Remove this cup from me.) As I search my mind (so this isn’t an exhaustive list), I can only think of a couple of biblical instances where prayer was about choosing. In Acts 1, the eleven remaining disciples prayed that God would reveal Judas’ replacement, then they drew lots between Barsabbas (who was also called Justus) and Matthias. In Acts 15, Paul forced a choice on the council of Apostles when he used persuasion and the Holy Spirit reminded James of OT prophecy. In Acts 16, God used a vision to send Paul toward Macedonia after the Holy Spirit had prohibited him from entering Asia and going to Bithynia. These exceptions aside, most recorded prayers are for God to act more than for receiving answers.
In Acts 16, Luke records pretty direct intervention by the Holy Spirit. However, in much of Acts, and in Paul’s recounting of his life in his letters, you have a picture of a man walking in the Spirit and in wisdom. Scripture gives us some objective parameters, and my belief and experience is that if we walk in them, in the same way we stay in our lanes as we drive, we are being led of the Lord!
- We are instructed to walk in the Spirit as opposed to fleshly lust. (Galatians 5:16)
- The Spirit is never going to lead us to violate the Word He wrote (1 Peter 1:21)
- Don’t violate your conscience. (Romans 14:23)
- Don’t avoid something you know to be right. (James 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:19)
- Align your life (your time) according to God’s priorities. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
- The Gospel
- Loving others
- Make God’s glory your #1 priority! (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Now, having a clean conscience, decide and trust the God of the universe to lead, through prompting (1 Thessalonians 4:19) or closed doors (Acts 16:7) or even your wisdom and experience.
P.S. “Simple” is not the same as “easy,” especially given that our flesh, this world, and the adversary are all working against us. So start each day in the Word and continue each day walking as closely to Him as possible! For example, I like to pick a song or a verse I can rehearse. (Psalm 1:2)