When–and How–God Guides

It’s a question that dominates the thoughts of believers worldwide: How can we know if this thing, this opportunity, this action or whatever, is God’s will? How can we discern His voice among all the other “voices” bombarding us each day? I believe learning to discern God’s voice is a process that comes from drawing close to Him, saturating our minds with Scripture, and following with surrendered obedience. I believe the more we respond obediently to God’s voice, the more we’ll be able to hear Him in the future, and the more we disobey or disregard His leading, the more dull our hearing becomes.

But He does speak to us and guide us, because as my guest, Mary Bowen reminds us, “God wants to lead us even more than we want to be led.”

A Door Wide Open

By Mary Bowen

“He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all his own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow him because they know His voice” (John 10:3-4 NIV).

Our Florida rental had been trashed! In shock I clutched the phone tighter as my stomach turned. The realtor’s words hit me hard; something precious had been desecrated. Our classy little ranch with the screen porch and landscaped yard. . . for eighteen months our cozy nest during my pregnancy, then home for our beloved baby daughter. After moving back to Atlanta, we had rented it out for two years.

Before I could fully process what all this meant, the realtor who told us this devastating news gave us hope. She said she was looking for a “fixer-upper.” I caught my breath. We had just finished praying together on the sofa for a buyer! After accepting her offer in a happy daze, my husband and little daughter joined me in another prayer. “Oh, God, thank you, thank You!” We were free now to consider a job opportunity in Virginia.

It was part of His go-ahead.

Soon after that, God floored us with another confirmation. A young man taking a course in Atlanta the next week “happened” to visit our Sunday school class. He’d come from Abingdon, the very location we were considering! Over lunch he told us all about this charming historic community and the church he loved so much. It was as if God had sent him to confirm again where He wanted us.

A third reassurance was our leading in house-hunting. Though we had several weeks in which to look, I felt an urgency to go one particular weekend. We found out why when the realtor told us that desirable rentals were disappearing fast. She showed us a house that fit us perfectly.

Our prayers for guidance were answered with multiple confirmations. There was no doubt where we should move. We fell in love with Abingdon’s friendly, relaxed culture, absence of traffic, and especially Abingdon Bible Church. Our four years in Abingdon, Virginia were among the happiest of our lives.

Looking back now, I can see why God worked so dramatically. I liked being back in Atlanta after all the challenges in Florida two years before. Another out-of-state move seemed as much fun as climbing a mountain barefoot. Because He is gracious and kind, God wanted to reassure me with all those signs pointing the way.

We may not always get so many clues about the next step. Nevertheless, God wants to lead us even more than we want to be led. (Prov. 3:5-6).

When facing a decision or attempting to discern God’s will, four indicators can help us discern what to do:

The Bible

Advice from other Christians


and the Holy Spirit.

The psalmist compared Scripture to a lamp that illumines our path (Ps. 119:105). He declared, “You guide me with Your counsel” (Ps. 73:24 NIV).

Other people’s godly counsel also guides us. “Wisdom is found in those who take advice” (Prov. 13:10 NIV). “Plans fail for lack of counsel” (Prov. 15:22 NIV).

God used providential circumstances to guide my family to move, along with promptings from the Holy Spirit. Called “the Counselor,” He guides us into all truth (Jn. 16:13).

We’re most receptive to God’s guidance when we’ve surrendered our will to His. We can trust God to lead us step by step.


Mary Bowen writes and edits for Grace Ministries International in Marietta, Georgia. For many years her articles and poetry have been published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She has worked as a reporter and freelancer, and served as an editor with the North American Mission Board.

Let’s talk about this! What steps do you take when trying to discern God’s will? First, can I ask–are you taking time to listen? For me, this is often the biggest issue. It’s hard to hear God’s voice when my mind is racing from one thing to the next, when I’m wrapped up in my to-do list. Intimacy with Christ takes time, time of listening, of quieting myself in His presence. This is one of my favorite verses, and may God help me to live it out:

“My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘LORD, I am coming.’ (Psalm 27:8 NLT).

Am I Listening?

Oh, the messes I get myself in, all because I speak before I think. Often, before listening, which leads to a fair amount of miscommunications and relational tension. To listen, truly listen…

That’s the call of a great friend, right? And a good wife and mother?


Today author Cynthia Toney, author of Bird Face, talks about her tendency to listen (or not) and what she believes this says about her witness.

Read her thoughts then share yours, but first, I wanted to announce the winner of Shannon Taylor Vannatter’s give-away from two weeks ago. Shelia, congrats! You won a copy of Rodeo Song. I’ll contact you soon to discuss how to get this novel to you. 🙂

Am I listening by Cynthia Toney

Last month for the first time in my life, I read Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret. I didn’t know what to expect. The title was so old, no one was talking about it any more.

If you’re familiar with the story, you know little Margaret has a personal relationship with God. She believes God listens to her, even if her family members don’t seem to. But the story got me thinking, because not everyone has such a close friendship with God that they have the confidence Margaret does.

We encourage our children, family members, and friends to pray. Whether something goes wrong or right, or a favor is needed, God will listen, we tell them. But do we? Really listen to them, I mean.

“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish” (Proverbs 18:13 NLT).

The urge to inject our own emotions, opinions, and related experiences into the conversation when someone confides in us and asks for our help is so strong. Sometimes we think about our response when we should be listening. We’re eager to say, “When that happened to me…”

But when we’re speaking, we’re not listening. When we’re multitasking, we’re not listening. When a friend is pouring busy-woman-1070268-mout her heart to me, but I interrupt her to take a call, am I listening? And if my child or sibling doesn’t believe that I—perhaps the one person he trusts—am listening, will he believe God is? After all, I’m right in front of him in the flesh or on the phone or Skype.

Fortunately, I’m now a Margaret. I know God listens to me even if no one else seems to.  Wendy, the main character in my novel Bird Face, is often like Margaret but sometimes not. Like many of us at different times, she loses trust that God listens and cares. Why? Because some of the people she trusts to listen and show they care, don’t.

Jesus was a great listener, and He showed us that we can trust Him and the Father to listen always. He set the example I want to follow, to reassure my loved ones that they will be listened to.

I’m reminded of a scene from the TV sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Raymond and Deborah visit their priest for pre-marriage counseling. The priest asks what they plan regarding children. Deborah says they want children. Ray says he hasn’t thought about it. She says, “We talked about it.” He says, “That doesn’t mean I thought about it.”

BIRD.FACE.FC.tinyBird Face

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

At the end of eighth grade, Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like her good-looking classmates Tookie and the Sticks—until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even her best friend, Jennifer, is hiding something and pulling away. But the Spring Program, abandoned puppies, and high school track team tryouts don’t leave much time to play detective. When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer, will Jennifer still be around to support her?

Using humor and offering hope, this story for ages 11 to 14 delicately addresses issues of bullying, eating disorders, imperfect families, and teen suicide.

Buy it here.

Let’s talk about this. I hate to use a cliché, but time LivingbyGracepictruly does fly, and if we’re not careful, relationships will slip away. I’ve seen this in my marriage and with my daughter. Prior to getting sick, I spent a great deal of time doing–always writing, editing, checking or responding to emails, on my phone… I missed out on so many opportunities to connect with my family because I chose to stay home or in my office, working, instead.

Then I got sick, and for a chunk of time, it really laid me out. I won’t go into detail because much of it is embarrassing, but suddenly, I wasn’t able to join my daughter and husband on family outings. I’m not sure I can quite explain how that felt. Each time they left to go to a movie, to the mall, out to dinner, whatever, I remembered all those times I could’ve gone but chose not to. And oh, how I regretted them!

Praise be to God, I’ve since improved greatly in stamina and health, but more than that has changed. My view–my priorities–have also shifted. Now, I’m determined not to waste a moment. I’m determined to be fully present, to engage.

I believe that’s one of the greatest blessings of living with chronic illness. It clears away the fluff and distractions and reminds one of what’s truly important and to grab hold of each moment, whatever it holds, with both hands.

What are some ways, today, that you can be fully present?

What can you do this week to connect, to  listen, to engage?

What about you? Pause to consider your relationships–with others and with God. Are you fully engaged? Time flies. Don’t let it depart without you!

Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.