Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Jesus gives us the assurance that when we truly seek God’s guidance and His will, we will receive it. Sometimes the answer will come as soon as we ask; sometimes we will have to search it out; sometimes we will have to keep knocking until the door of understanding is opened.

When we seem to have an answer, the next challenge is validating it. How can we be sure this is God’s answer, and not our own imagination – or worse, Satan’s prompting. Even if the answer seems obvious and right to us, testing is crucial. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

How do we test the leading God seems to be giving us?

First, any answer we’re getting must line up with God’s revealed Word in Scripture.

God’s will doesn’t change with time and trends; His Word stands forever. Anything that contradicts Scripture is not from God. I once talked with a woman who assured me that God had told her to move in with a man who was separated from his wife. I assured her that whoever prompted that thought, it wasn’t God.

Second, an answer from God will promote a right relationship with God and with others. God won’t lead us to stop being in fellowship with other believers, or to reject parts of Scripture because they don’t fit in with what we want to believe. The Holy Spirit won’t prompt us to gossip or promote division in the body of believers. If we have an issue with our brothers and sisters in Christ, Matthew 18:15-17 provides the procedure to address it.

Third, leading by the Holy Spirit will at times convict us of our wrong attitudes, thoughts and behaviors. These leadings will be given in ways that leave us feeling corrected and ready to change; not condemned and crushed by guilt.

Fourth, the work of the Holy Spirit will produce a genuine peace in us and with others. Continued agitation is a sign that we need more leading.

If we do reach a sense of peace, however, that also needs to be tested. It’s important to take a hard look at what is causing our peace: does it come from God or from a sense of relief, from apparent permission to unload an unwanted responsibility, or because it’s what we wanted to hear? Does it make us feel noble or proud? False leadings will produce false peace.

We need to check our motives in both asking and hearing. Are we really seeking God’s will, or to meet an emotional need, a desire for status or personal gain? We have a deep capacity for rationalization; if we want authentic answers, we need to be ruthlessly self-aware.

An integral part of self-awareness means checking the location of our emotional elevator. Are we in the basement of discouragement, distress or depression; at the penthouse of success, romance or exhilaration; or a floor in between? If we’re not aware of our emotions, they can blindside us. Recognizing and taking our emotional state to God will help put our prayers and our decisions into a more accurate perspective. It should also encourage us to seek out a trusted believer(s) to help us discern God’s voice, especially if we’re faced with a major decision.

Part of self-knowledge is understanding our strengths and our limitations – seeing ourselves as we are and not as we wish we were. If we can’t carry a tune, it’s no use asking God if we should be in the choir. Not every situation is as obvious, especially when it involves matching the answer we want with the abilities we actually have. God will help us see ourselves honestly if we honestly want to, and more than that, to accept and love ourselves as He does.

If we ant to be truly discerning, it’s vital to know ourselves, to get to the deep layers of what makes us, us. We might well modify the adage, “Physician, heal thyself,” to “Christian, peel thyself.” As the layers come off, they may produce some tears, but they’ll clarify our vision in the process.

Next: Around the Block