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How Can I Tell If It’s God, the Devil, or My Imagination?
How Can I Tell If It’s God, the Devil, or My Imagination?

by | Jul 16, 2023 | Pastor

In 2016 I attended a conference on real estate investing and the presenter mentioned that he took $50 from his tenants’ rent and put it aside as a gift toward the down payment on their future home.  I thought:

I love that. I could do that for inner city renters.

I had few handyman skills, and the only time I’d rented to poor people it had gone badly.   But this idea thrilled me.  I felt it could really help a neighborhood I’d ministered in for several decades.  So I talked with Nancy, and we cashed out most of our retirement savings and started a housing business.

Was I an idiot?  A naïve do-gooder?  A faithful disciple?  A dupe for the devil? I have felt like each of those in the six years since I bought my first abandoned house.  This brings up a good questions: how do you know if it’s God, the devil, or your own imagination speaking when you get an idea like I did?

Test #1: Does it square with scripture?   Scripture is a radicalizing document.  It speaks from a mindset wholly different from that of the greedy and prideful world.  So even if from a worldly point of view it seems foolish, a desire to house and empower poor people does indeed square with scripture.  But the decision may still be naïve, so additional tests are needed. 

Test #2: Is your ego involved in the decision?   Wisdom is easier to find when the ego is tamed.  Unfortunately, someone who is submerged in ego lacks the perspective to answer this question.  As Proverbs 12:15 states,The way of a fool seems right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.   So it’s imperative to surrender the outcome of the decision to the Lord.  As we learned from out study with Henry Blackaby, we must pray energetically about the matter but be detached from the outcome.  God’s will, not our own wishes, must be our prevailing desire. 

Test #3:  Are you contemplating this decision because you’re aimless?  If you’re recently retired, or recently graduated from college, or coming off a recent loss, it’s natural to be a bit aimless for a while.  Instead of hoping your latest bright idea will save you from aimlessness, I suggest another path: be intentional about research and experimentation.  Talk to people in the career you’re considering; read articles on the investment your considering; volunteer in the mission your considering.  And set up a reflection process with your pastor and friends.  They will help draw out the wisdom.   

Test #4: Are the key people in your life on board?   If you’re not sharing the discernment process with others, stop right there.  You’ve gone off the rails.  In my question about starting an inner city housing company, my wife was willing to move ahead – but step by step, one house at a time.  Her wisdom was helpful, which is why we need to ask input from the key people before we make a decision.  Of course, sometimes one must forge ahead without support; if your tribe doesn’t know God, or is immature in their knowledge of God, they might hold you back unnecessarily. For example, parents often counsel their young adult children to play it safe.  But a young adult often must take a bold faith step if they are to grow and  be useful in God’s kingdom.  So that’s an exception.

Test #5:  Do you have a track record?  Plunging into a costly decision when you don’t have experience in an endeavor is foolish.  Usually it’s better to take a only single step and wait to see what develops.  Take the example of the young person I mentioned above: undertaking  a long-term mission in Cambodia would command more credibility if the young person had first been on a short-term mission trip to Appalachia or inner city Rochester. 

Test #6:  Where will the money come from?  While often we have to move out in faith before the resources arrive, sometimes financial realities help mold the shape of the decision.  Passionate enthusiasm is served through a budgeting process.

Test #7:  Are you getting confirmation of the decisionIf the desire fades, it’s either because your character is not able to sustain a commitment or because the desire came out of fear or ego.  Confirmation is usually accompanied by peace, or if not peace, then a sense of “rightness”.  That doesn’t mean you won’t feel nervous; a kingdom decision usually entails risk and generates some electricity in the gut. 

1 Comment

  1. Barbara Barg

    It’s a tall order to have the clarity and insight to meet all the tests outlined. Especially when it’s something that excites us. Good advice!
    Sometimes, God makes it easy. Sort of! Have you ever found yourself participating in something that was not at all on your radar, to begin with? Where things just seem to pull you along, on God’s plan, not your own? That entails a whole other set of anxieties. In 2006, I was sitting in church one day, only sux months after I began attending regularly. The pastor asked for a show of hands if anyone had an interest or felt called to go on a short term missions trip to Africa. Like an out of body experience, my hand went up. My daughter turned to me in shock. “What are you DOING?! You don’t even like hot weather!” Which was true. I’d never had Africa on my bucket list, at all. I was in my mid-fifties, and had no idea why I felt I was supposed to go. I was new to that church, I wasn’t even a member yet, nor had I been baptized (as an adult). At the pre-selection interview for the team, I was honest about my lack of useful knowledge. I confessed I wasn’t comfortable praying out loud, and my Bible knowledge was pretty superficial. Somehow, I was one of the six people chosen to go. 10 days in Senegal. Totally out of my comfort zone. It was awesome. God had a plan, he put me in it. And as a novice believer I just went with it. Despite nightly wrestling with thinking I should back out. I was crazy to do this. Etc. So I think the biggest test of all is trust. Trusting that sense of rightness, even when it makes no logical sense. Trusting the peace that says, “This is from God. Just do it.”


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