God said this." "God said that." Respected Bible teacher Joyce Meyer isn't always buying it. "God wants to talk to us," she says. "But He doesn't necessarily communicate the way we do." In her latest book, How to Hear From God, Meyer offers practical advice on listening to the voice of God.
Whether they're in the secular world or in the church, people long to know what God has to say. "That's why psychics do so well," she says. "Even though they're not telling anybody the truth about anything, people want some kind of supernatural information."
A former pastor, Meyer recently sat down with Ministries Today and shared some principles for church leaders desiring to instill in their congregations an awareness of God's voice--and a discernment to know when it's just the flesh talking.
"Ministries Today: In the book you talk about creating an atmosphere where people can hear from God. How can pastors do that for their congregations?
Joyce Meyer: Hearing from God entails sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, so you can tell when He's convicting you of something or when you're getting ready to take an action but you don't have peace about it.
It's very difficult to be led by the Spirit and to have any kind of discernment in your life if you're in a hurry all the time--in our society, almost everybody is. As someone in ministry, I've found that's something I have to guard against daily. When I do, I can get short with people, sharp with people, not be walking in the fruit of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit may be trying His best to convict me, but I'm not going to hear from Him if I'm already so full of myself that I don't know what's going on. So, I think that creating that atmosphere is learning how to slow down enough so that you are sensitive and developing that sensitivity.
Second, to hear from God you have to stay out of strife. So many people are angry and upset. The Bible tells you that God's not going to hear your prayers if you're angry. Developing an ability to really pay attention to what's going on inside of you, rather than just being so overly concerned about what's going on around you all the time.
Ministries Today: As one who was once a pastor, how can pastors slow down the pace of their congregations?
Meyer: The anointing comes down from the head. So, if the pastor is in a hurry all the time, he can hardly teach somebody else how to calm down. It's about teaching these principles and teaching people that no one person is called to do everything. One of the reasons why people have so much to do today is because they're doing a lot of things God never told them to do.
People do a lot of things out of obligation, they do a lot of things out of people- pleasing, they do a lot of things because they're letting somebody else control them or manipulate them, or they care too much about what people think.
We have to learn what Paul prayed for the church in Colossians--that you have to learn to choose and prize what is excellent and of the greatest value, because good things are not always the best things for you to be doing.
You have to be able to say "no." You have to not be overly concerned about what people think. You have to realize you cannot do everything yourself.
Leaders sometimes are not good at delegating--they want to be involved way too much. Just because you're anointed by the Holy Spirit doesn't mean that God's given you the job to save the whole world. We all have a part as a member of the body, and we have to do our part.
Ministries Today: Do you get a lot of people telling you that God told them they need to work with your ministry?
Meyer: "God told me that you're suppose mentor me." "God told me I'm supposed to work for you." "I'm supposed to be your writer." God tells people a lot of things about me. The sad thing is that you have to be so careful, because you don't want to hurt people, and you don't want to destroy their ability to hear from God. But--as much as they love God--people just don't use common sense.
Ministries Today: How does this apply to pastors who deal with similar people with good intentions but little common sense?
Meyer: You have to say: "I know that you mean well, and you probably really think that you heard from God. But I can't take action on what you think you heard. I have to hear." Or, you can tell them, "You're hearing something that's not for right now."
Sometimes that helps--when you tell them they may be right but out of timing. At least then you're not saying, "You're not hearing from God."
But the people who are the hardest to deal with are people who are actually operating under a spirit of error.
Not everybody is like that, but those are probably the hardest people to deal with. There's always somebody the enemy is going to use to steal your time. Somebody that's going to be used by the enemy to suck the life out of you.
Ministries Today: In your book you talk about how sometimes staff members come to you for advice, hoping that you have a word from God for them. You say that it's important to hear God for yourself.
Meyer: People want a word from God, but they don't want to take the responsibility to hear Him themselves. So, they will tell you, "I want to hear from God," but they want somebody else to confirm it. Or, they're so afraid they're not hearing from God.
I was part of a church years ago that was involved in the shepherding movement. The leaders were trying to hear from God for everybody--"You shouldn't start your house now," or "No, it's not time for you to go to Bible college."
The Bible says every person should be lead by the Spirit of God individually. Every person has an anointing. It's not that you don't take advice from anybody, but you can't run somebody else's life, nor can you let somebody else run your life.
Ministries Today: What if a pastor hears from God, but the board isn't behind him--doesn't support him in something. Should he press forward in those instances?
Meyer: Part of that depends on the denomination and what their rules are on how the church can be run. If the pastor runs the church and has the authority to do that, and he really feels he's heard from God and the elders don't agree with him, then I would say he has to go ahead and do what he feels God told him to do.
Some denominations are not really run by the pastor. The board actually has more authority than he does. In which case if he's agreed to that setup, he would have to come under their authority.
Ministries Today: What's the biggest mistake that we as believers make in trying to hear from God?
Meyer: Probably following your own flesh, hearing what you want to hear. If you really want to do something, you have to be extra careful, because we're always going to hear God tell us "yes" if it's something we really want to do or "no" if we really don't want to do it.
It's very easy for a woman, for example, who wants to marry a man to hear God tell her, "Oh, yes, this is going to happen."
Ministries Today: How do you weed out these false words?
Meyer: I think a lot of times hearing from God is a result of stepping out, and getting experience and learning that you have to be very careful about voices.
People hear a voice--and I'm not even talking about an audible voice. We hear voices within ourselves, in our heads. Is it the devil? Is it God? Is it me? Most of the time it could be us. We're very good at telling ourselves what we want to hear.
It's amazing how differently you feel about something when you're right there in all the excitement of it. Hearing from God is just a lot about experience. It's being willing to admit you've made a mistake. It's being willing to say: "You know what? I missed God."
The people who scare me are the ones who can never say that. No matter what you say, they've heard from God. If it doesn't work out, they've always got another reason it didn't work out. It's never that they didn't hear from God.
Ministries Today: So if a pastor does something and skips ahead and it really isn't God it's better for him to just admit it?
Meyer: People respect leaders for that. If a minister is willing to get up in the pulpit and say, "I really thought I was hearing from God, but I just didn't," that doesn't mean people won't respect him the next time.
If you're hearing from God, God will give His own confirming signs. What God's in is fruitful.
You're not going to hear from God if you don't know the Word. Because God's not going to tell you to do things that don't agree with His Word. Second, you're not hearing from God if you're doing things you don't have peace about.
If I'm trying to do something and my husband, Dave, and I are in strife about it, then that's not God. It's either not time or it's not God.
Ministries Today: Many would say that your advice is merely common sense. Where does common sense come into play in all this?
Meyer: It has a lot to do with it. For example, common sense says if you're already in debt and God has told you to get out of debt, then you're not hearing from God to go out and buy a big car.
You're not hearing from God to go out and get another charge account, just because something is on sale and you'll never get it that cheap again. I don't care how cheap it is, you're not hearing from God.
If He already told you to get out of debt, then He's not now telling you to get another credit card and make debt.
You're not hearing from God if you think you're supposed to marry somebody else's husband.
You're not hearing from God if you're a believer and you think God is telling you to marry this unbeliever, and how you're going to rescue them and they're going to become this great Christian.
Actually, I believe wisdom is sanctified common sense. My definition of wisdom is to do now what you're going to be happy with later on--and later on always comes.
And so many Christians, to be honest, especially with this whole realm of hearing from God, they don't use common sense. It's not common sense for me to take on more than I can handle. To physically think that I can just go and go.
Ministries Today: You talk about dreams and visions and you said that they're usually unstable in giving direction. Could you just comment on that?
Meyer: There are people that God speaks to in dreams. That's a gift with them, so I'm not saying that doesn't happen. But, I think the average person has to be very careful about making decisions based on a dream or something that they think they saw.
It's one thing if I had a dream, and I think, well, God was saying this and I keep it to myself, and God confirms it. The people I have trouble with are the ones that constantly go around saying, "I had this dream, and it means such and such," and "God showed me this, and God told me that."
They're getting themselves out on a limb and making themselves look foolish. I definitely believe that God speaks to people through dreams and visions, but I don't think that you can make that the major way that you hear from God.
I have a friend who is an intercessor. I've known her for more than 20 years, and probably only five times in our relaship has she come to me and said, "I had a dream about you." God does use her that way, and every time she's been right.
God confirms it. The big mistake that Christians make is they want to tell everybody what God told them--"I have a word that says you need to do such and such." A lot of times it's just out of pride or excitement.
I've learned if what I think God's told me is just a little bit on the edge, then I'm going to preface it by saying, "I think I'm hearing from God, but time will prove that." Because a lot of times we ruin our reputations and we even hurt the reputation of Christianity at large with all this "God said; God told me."
Ministries Today: What advice would you have for Christian leaders and ministers who know they've heard a word from God, but they just know that it's going to be hard. They've had it confirmed; they know they need to take the step, but they're scared to do it.
Meyer: You never, ever fulfill your destiny if you don't have courage. People have to have courage--not only a dream and a vision, but also courage. If I look back at my life, I stepped out and did a lot of things that I'm sure a lot of people felt were really foolish, but I really felt in my heart that it was God, and I always say, step out and find out.
Step out and find out, and don't be afraid to say I was wrong. I think if a person does all they can to hear from God, ultimately, you have to find out if you're right or wrong. If I really believe, for example, that I'm supposed to do something and I never do it, then I'm always going to feel like, what could I have done if I wouldn't have been a coward.
God told Joshua: "I'll be with you. This is what I'm calling you to do. The only thing you have to do is, don't be afraid and be very courageous." So, you just have to keep taking those baby steps and you'll eventually get to where you need to be.
You can't be afraid to be wrong, yet at the same time, you don't want to be wild and just jump out in the middle of everything that comes down the road.
Robert Andrescik is the editor of New Man magazine and magazine manager of Strang Communications.