As a pastor I receive many “words from God”. I thought I would take the time to share the process I use to sort through these and attempt to find God’s best. I don’t offer it as the “final” word but I hope it is a place to start. My guess is that if you are serving God you get these too so I hope this helps.
Step 1, The scriptures tell us two things that are a good place to start from, don’t despise prophecy (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21) and discern the spirits because not every spirit is from God (1 Corinthians 12:10). So I don’t discount words I hear, neither do I automatically assume the words are from God.
Step 2, There are at least three parts to the “words”. The first is the message itself, the second is the delivery system the person uses which includes the timing and the third is the application of what to do with it.
I’ve experienced times where one part was on and the other two were off or any other combination. So by the way, if you deliver a message to me don’t expect a quick response because I’m trying to do Step 1 and 2 well. This takes time and prayer. I usually won’t react much at all in the moment.
Step 3, I check it against what the scripture says, if it doesn’t line up with the scripture I have the answer I need.
I also check it against what the Holy Spirit is saying. This is more subjective, of course. I consider how this matches up against what I believe I’ve heard and what others have said. In some cases it is new so I start fresh. In any case, I take time to lift it before God and invite Him to say what He wants to say to me about it. I read the scriptures, pray and I journal about it. I share it with Belinda and in some cases I invite others to consider it with me. This is especially true if it involves others or the church.
Step 4, I consider the source. I work hard not to judge anyone but I do believe the Bible encourages us to inspect (test) the fruit (Matthew 7:16). There are two parts to this. One is the fruit of message—does it line up with reality. The primary test of a prophet in the scriptures was whether what they said came true or not.
The other part of fruit inspection is the fruit of the life of the person speaking the words. Does their life give evidence of full surrender? Do they love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength? Do they love people—and the people perceive it as love. Do they live out and leave those they serve with the sense that “God is here at work in this person.” I give weight to the fruit when I consider the message, the way it is delivered and the application they are suggesting. I carefully weigh whether the message, delivery and application appear to be purely motivated or if the person has an agenda. I also consider whether the person delivering the message is living in good standing with the community of Christ (an active and fruitful part of a church body) and whether they are living under authority (are they submitted and in good standing at home, at their job and in their church). Again, this is subjective, but worthy of consideration.
Step 5, I pray about the words and offer this whole process and myself to God. In the end I know I will one day stand before my Savior and Lord and give an account for my life and my leadership of others. I take this part very seriously. I must choose to live by what the scriptures say. Sometimes there are different interpretations of the scripture and I must live up to what I believe the scriptures and the Spirit say.
I realize I am accountable for the applications I make. I will submit to God and I will submit to the leadership of the governing body where I serve. If I can’t because of their decisions, I won’t serve there. I’m not in that position presently. This part isn’t a democratic process. I won’t be hurried, pressured or manipulated. If I feel that from the person giving the message it is a concern to me and I take that into account in weighing the words.
I’ve learned that the enemy of our soul wants our attention. He will attempt to manipulate and dominate us and our time. He wants us to live in fear. He wants us on His agenda instead of God’s. In listening to the words and the messenger take careful consideration of the overall effect on you of the process. You may need to draw boundaries like Nehemiah did when he refused to stop working on the wall (something God told him to do) versus stopping to go meet in the desert with those who were accusing him of being out of God’s will. You can read the story in Nehemiah 4-6. When they couldn’t stop the work on the wall they turned to distracting accusations. Don’t let anyone but God set the agenda for your life and mission. If you are serving a body like a church you will of course need to be submitted to the appropriate governing leaders.
After walking through the steps I filter what I hear and make the appropriate choice(s). I pay a lot of attention to what brings “the peace God gives and the peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7 and John 14:27). I believe if I make generous times to listen to God and I’ve surrendered everything I won’t miss what God is saying. My life is in His hands. My goal is to please Him, obey Him and glorify Him. I know I will make mistakes at times and at times will be off on the timing of what I hear. And this is true of others too so I give grace to the presenter. I believe God has grace for us when we are doing the best we know to do. Of course there are consequences to our choices and we individually and in some cases corporately own those. In the end, God has great ways of making things simple enough that even a child can understand and follow.
I hope this helps,