Jesus said His sheep hear His voice, but I sometimes feel like He must have made a mistake. Sometimes I wonder whether I have heard His voice, do hear His voice, or will ever be sure that I hear His voice.
I’ll tell you why. It’s because my life can often look infuriatingly opposite to what He said it would be.
Maybe you’ve experienced something like this for yourself. You’ve encountered God, whether powerfully or subtly, and He’s spoken to you. Or you’ve received a prophetic word that lit up all the best secret desires of your heart, the ones you never thought possible.
Then, what happens? Life gets crazy? The stuff hits the fan? Your world begins to look even more opposite the word God spoke than it did before He spoke it?
I know, I don’t like it either, but guess what—THIS IS NORMAL!
And because my region just had an incredible prophetic conference where tons of people got powerful words, this is a great topic to pull out right now (yeah, it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with me needing the reminder myself).
We might not like the answer at first, but it’s actually really simple. Our answer starts with James 1:2-4, which says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Do you see what the trials we face are all about? They are a testing of our faith. Now, according to Hebrews 11:1, faith is being confident of what we can’t see. This means there is a process here:
First, God led you somewhere or told you something. After all, you’ve got to have faith in something, right? When God spoke to Abraham, we are told Abraham believed God. He put faith in the words God spoke that God would fulfill them. This whole process of having faith God can test assumes we believed God when He told us something, just as Abraham did.
Second, persecution arises because of the word God spoke to you. Jesus makes this clear when He explains the parable of the sower. He says the seed is the “word of the Kingdom” (Matthew 13:19). More than just the gospel of salvation, this word of the Kingdom is anything God speaks to us intending to grow His kingdom in us, which is basically any time He speaks to us. Then Jesus drops the bomb—persecution arises because of the word God spoke to us (13:21). This is when it looks like hope is gone and God’s word won’t come to pass. You don’t see the happy ending.
Now there’s a small, but important clarification I need to insert here, because a lot of people say every difficulty they face is a trial from God. They think anything hard, from an overbearing boss to cancer to the loss of a child, is a storm sent on their life by God to refine their character. There are two problems with this and they both have to do with not realizing that God’s trials are trials of faith. First, a trial of faith will be specific, directly opposing the word God spoke to us. It’s not general hardship and suffering. Second, it’s a trial of faith, not of character. God’s intended fruit is endurance, leading to our being perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Clearly, these are ingredients to victorious, powerful living, not suffering, oppressed living—no matter how righteous that oppressed life is.
Some difficulties we face are because we have a living, but defeated, enemy who hates us. This is an attack we overcome by clinging to and declaring the victory Jesus won for us and standing firm in who He says we are. Some difficulties we face are because we sowed bad choices and reap painful consequences. This is the school of hard knocks, not the judgment or discipline of God, and the good news is we can graduate by learning wisdom and not repeating mistakes. Either way, it’s not a trial of faith and we shouldn’t treat it like one. If we do treat it like a trial of faith then we can empower either the enemy or our own stupidity to continue wreaking destruction in our lives.
Third, in a genuine trial of faith, you face a choice: endure or move on. If you choose to hold fast in faith, to say, “I know what God said and I will remain in Him!” it will produce endurance. The strategy to do this, almost every time, is to change what we believe. In the parable of the sower, persecution rises against the word only when it falls on rocky ground and is received with joy, but finds no place for deep roots. The rocks in this ground are symbolic of strongholds like Paul references in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5—patterns of thought that war against the knowledge of God. The only solution for these strongholds in our own belief systems is to renew our mind until it conforms to God’s truth.
Fourth, the endurance we chose has a perfect result, making us perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Not coincidentally, the next verse says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach” (James 1:5). Wisdom is defined as knowing what to do. If you’re in the middle of a trial, that’s exactly what you need. Mercifully, there’s never shame in needing, asking, or receiving wisdom.
However, we should pay attention to an important distinction. Our request for wisdom most often isn’t, “God, should I stay here?” Usually, it’s a, “God, this is a tough situation. What am I supposed to do?” We approach this viewing ourselves as overcomers who are capable and powerful to bring change to hopeless situations.
Let’s come back then to your life and mine, where we may experience real pain from time to time as we wait on our Lord’s faithfulness. What do we do when we are in a trial of faith?
First, hold on to the word. Recite it. Declare it. Pray it back to God. Find anything, even ridiculous things, in your day that can be a sign circumstances are turning around for you.
Second, ask God what you need to believe differently. If you have thought habits warring with your promise, those thoughts have to change. Asking God helps you define the target and the steps just above will help renew your mind. One more thing—you have permission to be just as ridiculous in finding encouragement about your promises as you used to be in finding discouragement about your life.
Third, keep at it. Follow this process and wait on the Lord. “Let endurance have its perfect result.” Allow time for the roots of promise to grow as you remove the strongholds, surrounding your seedling with healthy soil to grow into all God told you it would be.