3 Ways to Avoid the Danger of Following God’s Voice (when it’s not Him speaking)

On my farm and in my life I am realizing more and more the need to get clear direction from God. I don’t want to waste my time on things that distract me from being fully used by Him. This past year my desire to let God direct the specifics of my farm and family have resulted in some major changes.

These changes have included:

  • Totally handing over all of our farm’s commercial animal production to my cousin.
  • Sharing our house for the season with my cousin and his wife and four children
  • Limiting myself to an eight hour work day and setting up an office
  • Not hosting a Redeeming the Dirt conference but taking time to invest in individuals
  • Developing a new ultra-relationship-based marketing model and shifting away from selling at farmer’s markets.

All these changes have come as a result of seeking God and following what I felt like He wanted me to do. But making these changes were not easy. They were often risky and out of my comfort zone. And it is easy to question myself, “How do I know that this sense of direction is really from God and isn’t just my own idea or a distraction from Satan?” And this is an important question.

There are two main ways God tell us what he wants us to know.

  1. One way is through the Bible. In His Word God has revealed to us who He is, what He has done, and what He requires. It contains everything we need to know in order to live a life pleasing to Him. It answers life’s big questions like “Who am I?”, “Where did I come from?”, “What is my purpose in life?” etc.
  2. The second way is through the direct voice of the Holy Spirit. This is how God gives us specific direction for our life. We see one example of this when the Holy Spirit directed the Apostle Paul during his missionary journeys and called him to some areas and kept him from others.

It is important to be careful that we don’t say that God has said something when he hasn’t. We can fall into this error with Scripture by pulling verses out of context. But we can also fall into it by saying the Holy Spirit has given us specific direction for our life when he hasn’t. So how can we guard against following what we think is God’s voice when it isn’t actually Him speaking? Here are three things I learned earlier this year that have helped me and I hope may help you.

3 Ways you can discern whether the voice you are hearing is God.

  1. Make sure that what you are hearing is consistent with God’s Word.

    • Is the thing that you hear consistent with what God tell us in the Bible? Is what you feel Him calling you to do going to help you be more obedient to what is plainly said in Scripture, or cause you to be less obedient? For example, if I feel like God may be telling me to pursue a particular job I need to evaluate whether that job is going to help or hurt my ability to perform my basic responsibilities of disciple-maker, husband, father, steward, etc. There have been a lot of interests I have pursued over the years that I thought were what God wanted but ended up taking away from my ability to be focus in other areas of clear responsibility. Sometimes evaluating a felt calling according to the Word of God requires us to have to take time to study because we may not know what God’s Word says about that area.
  2. God’s voice will not be a changing ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

    • If what we are hearing is changing back and forth between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ then it is probably not God speaking both of those. If we feel tossed back and forth between really thinking we should do something and really feeling like we shouldn’t we should probably stop and take some time to reevaluate. God is not a god of confusion. God often gradually reveals and clarifies direction in our life and many times we may not be hearing accurately from him because we are seeking specific direction too far ahead. Many times we need to listen to the immediate things he is telling us and trust him to make things clear as we move on. For example I could be wresting with asking God whether he want me to eventually quit my job and start farming full-time. I may find myself experiencing conflicting emotions because He is waiting for me to obey what he has already told me about my current garden and occupation.
  3. What is the tone of the voice that I am hearing?

    • Is it characterized by the fruit of the Spirit? Is it based and rooted in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Or is it characterized by the fruit of the Flesh? Things like lust, anger, envy, strife, selfishness, and all the opposites of the fruit of the Spirit? I may think God wants me to buy a certain tool right now but if I honestly examine myself I may find that that desire is really rooted in envy, greed or laziness and not patience and faithfulness. We may find emotions like fear when God calls us to radical acts of faith, but I have found that when they are from Him they are always accompanied by a ‘peace that passes understanding’.

Final Thoughts

We need to hear from God. And I would encourage you to keep seeking Him. He can definitely take you on quite the adventure! Here are a few parting thoughts as I wrap up this blog post and head to lunch.

  • Be faithful with what you do hear, then God will speak more. In Acts 5:3 we are told that God gives the Spirit to those who obey Him. If you want to hear more from God, start obeying what you already know he wants you to do.
  • Spending time with God and investing in your relationship with Him is one of the best ways to learn to recognize his voice. Just like the way you recognize the voice of a friend or family member over the phone even if you couldn’t tell someone else how you know it’s them. You recognize their voice because you have spent time with them.
  • Be encouraged! God is patient and want us to hear him. And even when we aren’t listening He shows grace and can redeem the times we stray for His glory and our good.

What about You?

These are just a few thoughts about learning how to listen to God. I would love to hear any insights or experiences you may have! Has there been a time when you thought you were following the voice of God, but looking back realized it wasn’t? How have you been able to determine whether God is speaking to you?

How Praying in a Chicken Coop Changed My Farm Business

Praying in a Chicken Coop

I don’t normally pray in a chicken coop. Of course it’s great to pray wherever you are as you go about your work on your farm. But late last winter I was actually trying to spend a purposeful hour in prayer. And I went and sat in the chicken coop to do it.

Now there were legitimate reasons I was praying in my chicken coop. In late winter the predators seem to get particularly bold and I had begun to lose chickens left and right (or is it right and left?).  In Alabama everything seems like it has chicken at the top of the list of favorite entrée’s. Coyotes, raccoons, opossum, dogs, hawks, owls, crows, and even snakes have all been known to kill our chickens. So after the normal precautions of checking the electric fence and moving the flock failed to work I felt the need to find out what critter was the culprit. Since the kills were happening during the day I decided to wait and observe from a discreet location. And I determined the best place to hide and watch was actually right inside my mobile chicken coop/wagon. But it feels so unproductive to just sit for hours waiting for something to come along and attack your chickens. So I decided to multi-task and do something productive while I sat there.

Praying for a whole Hour?!

Just a few weeks earlier I had attended a week-long disciple-making training at MetaCamp taught by Curtis Sergeant. It had been life-changing. One of the many tools we had learned was a Christian prayer wheel (not to be confused with some of the pagan ones), which divides up an hour into 5 minute segments.. It turns an hour of prayer from what seems like an eternity into, “Done already?!”. After the training that was one of the things I had committed to practice using in order to invest more in my relationship with God. This particular week I decided to do my prayer hour in my chicken coop while I watched for predators. So after breakfast I took my notebook with my prayer wheel description in it and settled down on a 5-gallon bucket and tried to focus while my hens milled curiously around me.

Learning to Listen

With the prayer wheel each 5 minute segment is assigned a prayer topic or activity. Like “Thanksgiving”, “Repentance”, and “Praise”. Or “Pray through a Psalm” and “Sing a worship song”. These things were pretty familiar to me. But something that was new to me were the times where I was supposed to “Listen”. I have to admit that listening was not a normal part of my prayer time in the past. But I actually began to enjoy it. And often God would clarify my thoughts on what was going on in my life or bring to mind something I had not been paying attention to like I should. Nothing like a vision or anything, but I definitely found the time spent very profitable even if God didn’t always show me something particularly revelatory.

Not what I was Expecting to Hear

While I was in the chicken coop this particular day I was praying about my farm and meditaing on the next year. During my listening time I was trying to reflect on the areas that I needed wisdom in. As I was trying to see if there was anything God wanted to make me aware of I suddenly had a strikingly clear thought where I sensed God say,

“Chickens are great, but I don’t want you to do them anymore.”

What?! It startled me at first. This was not a confirmation of something I had already been exploring or contemplating. It was not even close to what I had been thinking about. This was out of the blue and radical if it really was God speaking. For the past eight years of our farm chickens have provided our main source of income. So the thought of giving them up was shocking and not a little scary.

“Is that really You God?”

Now I am very cautious when it comes to saying for sure that ‘God has spoken’. It is often abused by people and can be dangerous when not guided by the solid truth of Scripture. But since I was actively seeking to hear from God when this thought came to me I couldn’t just discredit it. Especially since it definitely wasn’t something I wanted to hear.

So I began thinking, “If this is God, what exactly does He mean by ‘not do chickens’?” We have a lot of customers who depend on us for eggs and meat chickens, but I had to admit my real passion is growing vegetables. We have also had a heart to teach the poor how to feed themselves and vegetables is a better place to start than with animals since most people can grow plants when few can have animals. I began to realize that the biggest hinderance to getting better at growing vegetables was the time taken away by our chicken operations. So maybe it would make sense that God wanted to free us up to focus on gardening. But it would be a big step of faith to walk away from the income we had always had from the poultry side of our business.

As I finished my hour of prayer I eased down out of the chicken coop and decided to talk to my wife about what I felt God had said. What happened next is a story for my next post. But it was beginning of big changes for our farm.

The biggest lesson I want to share from this story is the importance of taking time to hear from and listen to God. It has made a big difference in my life and I am sure will in yours. Here are four brief reasons why you should consider spending some time hearing from God, whether in your closet, garden, or chicken coop.

4 Reasons to take time to hear God.

  1. Jesus set us an example by listening to his Father. Even Jesus, who we would agree was one with God the Father, took time to pray. He even looked to the Father for specifics regarding what he was to do and say. “Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:50)
  2. We are totally dependent on God for direction in every area of life. We tend to look to God for direction only in the big things of life, but look closely at what the following verse says. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, emphasis added) ‘Nuff said.
  3. If we are really children of God we will be seeking to be led by Him. To be a Christian means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus. How can we claim to be a follower if we don’t look to him for direction? The following passage is very sobering. “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:47) Wow. If we aren’t hearing anything from God then we need to check our faith in Him.
  4. The more we can hear God’s direction for specific, not just general direction the better our time serving Him will be spent. We don’t want to waste our time on things or in ways that aren’t consistent with God’s plan. If chickens aren’t necessary for what he wants me to be doing right now they will only be distracting me from what I should be focusing on. Jesus said. “I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12:49) Jesus said that he looked to his Father not only for what he was to say, but the specifics of how he was to say it.

A Tool for Spending an Hour in Prayer

Below you will find a link to the Christian prayer wheel tool I used that day while praying in my chicken coop. I would encourage you to set up a time in the next week that you can use it. But feel free to spend it any place quiet!

When you follow the link it will take you to the MetaCamp student guide. You will find the prayer wheel exercise on pages 31 and 32. Just print them out so you can keep them in your Bible.

Christian Prayer Wheel for Spending an Hour with God

Have you ever had a time you felt God spoke to you? How did you know it was Him? Has there been any resources or tools that you have found helpful regarding hearing from God? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.

Why I am Resuming my Blog When I’d Rather be Starting a Podcast

I have always loved learning new things. Probably my schooling experience taught me to love researching new things and tackling new projects (thanks Mom and Dad!). Maybe some of you are like that. Many farmers are because we have to be adaptable and proficient in so many areas. But I have found that my eager interest also presents some challenges. Especially when it comes to sticking with things when I lose my interest.

As many of you have probably noticed my blog has been lacking new regular content for like . . . years. The few posts I have done continue to get traffic since there is not much else out there on Christian Agriculture. My passion to encourage the Body of Christ involved in gardening or farming has remained and grown. In the past several years I have primarily focused on in-person trainings and a few conferences. Which I believe is where most of my time investing in those outside my own family should be spent. Face to face. However I still feel called to share some of the things God is teaching me with the larger body of Christ.

I am not in a season of life where I can travel much to speak so I have been praying for some time about starting a podcast. I know a lot of Christians in the world of agriculture who have some great stories to tell and I would love to use the podcasting medium as a way to share them for the encouragement of all.

But . . . my wife has been hesitant to say that she has a peace about it yet. Which is a BIG red flag for me since I know that God so often speaks to and through my wife in ways I don’t hear. So I have put it off and focused on learning to be more faithful in the little everyday things with my farm, family, and community. Which has been great! Guys, take the time to listen to your wives. Your are still responsible at the end of the day but she will so often see things you don’t.

Lately as we have been talking about our goals for the next year we were talking about what ways I can continue to use my gifts and experiences to share about God-glorifying agriculture. I then listened to a podcast by Michael Hyatt about why every leader should have a blog and was convicted that I needed to start there, rather than starting a podcast or beginning to develop some other resource. When I shared this with my wife she was very encouraging and said she had a peace this was what God was telling us! So the following are three reasons I am resuming my blog when I’d rather be starting a podcast:

1. If I can’t faithfully write a blog post every week, what makes me think I would stick to a podcast?

This reminds me of what I say to people who want to buy land and start a homestead. “Have you successfully grown an amazing garden where you live now?” If they haven’t done this then I encourage them to start there first. Somehow Satan seems to convince us that it’s ok to be unfaithful in small things, since when something comes along that’s important or big enough we will obviously take that more seriously. But I find that even when I do my dedication is short lived since I haven’t developed the character needed. Which would probably be the case with the podcast. Which brings us to my next point.

2. If I only work on projects when they are easy I will never get lasting results.

I’ve done blogging just enough to know it is hard. Just sitting down here and doing this is hard. But I know that even though starting a podcast sounds exciting it will be hard too. Worthwhile things cost. Our salvation was hard-won and costly to Jesus. So I want to practice discipline for a season investing in this blog so I can learn to be faithful to invest what it takes for God to bless my efforts.

3. In God’s economy, he invests more in people who have proved themselves faithful with what they’ve already been given.

God is a shrewd investor. He invests where his investment has proven fruitful. I want to grow in my impact and ability to serve God. But if I get greedy and jump ahead to new things without showing myself faithful with what I have already been given he will take it away from me. God wants me to show faith through obedience in hard things. He adds to faithfulness, not random zeal.

4. A blog is still a great tool to communicate ideas.

While a blog is not as attractive to some people as a podcast or YouTube channel it is still a good way to clearly communicate ideas. I believe the written word will always have a special ability to speak to us. It can also be a great way for me to learn and flesh out ideas that can help me be more obedient and communicate what God is teaching me more clearly. And it can be a launching pad or home base for other communication mediums and social media.

My blogging Goal

To help set a habit of creating new content on a regular basis and provide accountability I have set a goal of writing one blog post per week for 20 consecutive weeks. You can hold me to it. They may be short or messy but I want to be consistent in sharing things God has been teaching me in my life that I think may be helpful to you.

What about you?

I want to challenge you to think about your own life. Pray about whether there is an area where you are trying to run ahead when you aren’t being faithful where you are right now. See if there is a measurable goal you can set to make progress in that area. Deciding on a reward for when you complete it can be helpful and motivating and is something I have had fun doing. Even Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him”! If you feel led share it in the comment section to help with accountability. I would love to hear from you!