Testing by Trusting
Keys to Testing the Voice of the Lord and Prophetic Words
[The following article was originally written as a letter to a reader in response to the question, “How can we test for the truth of what we are hearing?”]
The Need for a Certain Measuring Tool
The key to testing spiritual things depends on our having some other certain spiritual reference point that needs no testing. Is there such a thing, and if so, what is it?
Many say the Bible is our ultimate reference point for testing the voice of the Lord. It’s often said, “If it doesn’t line up with scripture, it is not from the Lord.” This is a true statement. But it has a problem. This statement doesn’t recognize that our approach to scripture may be tainted by our own prejudices.
(The pharisees used the scriptures to condemn the One that the scriptures testified to. They “tested” the Lord by the scriptures, but because their own approach to scripture was tainted by unbelief, they erroneously judged Him to be false.)
So, while it’s true the prophetic voice must line up with scripture, we must first know that our own approach to scripture is untainted by unbelief. This calls then for a yet deeper reference point for certainty. We have to have a knowing of something deeper than our knowing of the scriptures.
We have to have a knowing of something that 1) is self-validating, meaning it needs no testing, and 2) gives us a knowing of ourselves as well as of scripture so we can be sure our approach to scripture is true. What can this be?
The scriptures do testify that there is such a spiritual knowing—a spiritual knowing of something deeper than both ourselves and scripture, such that by this knowing we can prove every other spiritual word, revelation, and manifestation for its validity in God—as well as certify that our own appeal to scripture in testing is valid.
Two Dimensions of Knowing
Paul clearly teaches that there are two kinds or dimensions of spiritual knowledge. The first knowing is the “knowing of the love of Christ.” It refers to a spiritually relational knowing of inward being-to-being. The second knowing, which he simply calls “knowledge,” refers to spiritually informational knowledge that passes through a process of understanding for belief and application. The two kinds of knowing are seen in the following scriptures:
Eph. 3:17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
I Cor. 8:1 Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 13:8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
This difference is at the heart of the issue of testing the voice of the Lord. Deeper study of these dimensions in John’s teaching and Christ’s words will show us that a) the inner knowing of Christ is self-validating and b) the ability to certify the truth of spiritual knowledge is directly related to our state of inner knowing of Christ.
John’s teaching and gospel record show us that the inner knowing of the Lord forms the basis on which we have certainty about knowing all other spiritual information that must pass through a process of understanding. Listen to the certainty in these words:
I John 2:27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
Jn. 10:4 "When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, 17:3 "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
15:9 "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.
14: 26 "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. 27 "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
16: 13 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 "He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 "All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.
The ability to test the “voice” of the Lord as it manifests through forms of spiritual knowledge and revelation (such as prophecy) is keyed to the inward knowledge of God Himself. The inward knowledge of God is self-validating. It cannot be proven and needs no proof. This is because knowing of God is a matter of being-to-being, not a matter of information that must be processed through understanding.
Our state of inner knowing is called “abiding.” This state must be preserved and mature. This is why we are commanded to abide or “remain” in Him.
The inner awareness of God carries a sense of authority. This sense imparts unmistakable senses of conviction to the conscience, whether or not understanding is involved. And that sense must be obeyed.
The state of abiding (inner knowing) and of all conviction related to it carries a certain quality Jesus describes as peace, “My peace I leave with you.” This peace found in Him becomes the objective reference point for proving of everything else for consistency with the inner knowing of Him. This all is summed in the statement Jesus makes that “My sheep know My Voice.” (At the end I have offered a commentary on fear related to this.)
As we abide in the knowing of the Lord we already have, and yield to all senses of conviction associated with that knowing, we gain in the ability to evaluate all spiritual knowledge and phenomenon that presents itself to our spiritual understanding, whether it be thoughts that come to us in our own head, or prophecies and manifestations and teachings through others.
Words can fool. So can manifestations. Words and manifestations can be hijacked by false spirits. But the inner knowing of God cannot be fooled. Everything either lines up with that inner knowing or it does not. Ultimately, it is impossible to test the informational prophetic voice of the Lord without knowing, abiding in and inwardly obeying the relational Voice of the Lord.
The Growth Factor in Testing
Does this mean that we always have the immediate capability to prove every thought, prophecy or manifestation that presents itself to us?
No. Our ability to test and prove spiritual validity depends on the depth and degree of expanse of our inner love-knowing of Christ with its length and depth and breadth and height.
Many prophetic words, teachings and manifestations are outside of our developed expanse. In such cases, we have to wait and cannot pass judgment. Further abiding is required until, over time, our capacity to evaluate the flow and the prophecy against that inner knowing is increased.
I have had this happen to me many times. I have had to sometimes wait even years before my inner knowing of the Father was developed sufficiently to pass true evaluation on something I watched take place in the church or something that a certain stream is teaching.
Another facet of testing we must understand is that we are not only evaluating whether a spiritual thing is from God, but even if it is, to what degree does it apply? What are its conditions or “parameters” of application? A thought or a word can be from God but applied with false parameters, or it may cross legitimate parameters to become a false word.
This is what happened with Peter. One moment he was able to declare Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The next he was declaring the Lord would not die. His “flow” crossed legitimate parameters, was perverted, and had to be judged false by Jesus, “Get behind me, satan.” We have to develop in this same capability to test limits of application.
Proverbs 3:5-6 Testing By Trusting
There is another facet of objective proving of the Lord’s word that is accomplished by trust. In this facet, the Lord undertakes to prove something to us Himself when we are without knowledge but must take action or issue decisions. This is testing by trusting. This facet of testing occurs in the gap between what we are able to prove and what we are not yet able to prove or understand.
If we have received the self-evident knowing of the Lord (which is eternal life), if we preserve and mature that knowing by devoting ourselves to developing communion with Him, and if we are obedient to all conviction that surfaces to us in the course of waiting before the Lord (primarily in the areas of confession of sin and issues of forgiveness), then we are in position to immediately prove the validity of some things and to eventually prove all things as our abiding grows.
Meanwhile, in the gap between what we are able to prove and what we are not, we are able to act through trusting of our ways to God. As we act in the faith of trust without knowledge, an automatic further testing of our ways takes place and guidance comes to us. As long as we never act in violation of the inner peace core that He is within us, we can act by trust without knowledge. And as we do, the truth of situations and issues regarding those actions becomes manifest. The Lord proves them for us.
In the end, trusting lies underneath all our proving, both what we are able to prove and what must be proven for us. We really test all things by trusting. And this is what faith is. Faith in Him, with or without knowledge, grows to become the faith to understanding the validity of all things. But if our faith in Him is not grounded through abiding, we are in no position to test or prove anything.
Reckoning with Fear
A final word is in order concerning fear. Fear is perhaps the greatest obstacle we have in genuinely proving the validity of what we are hearing spiritually. Fear is contrary to love, faith (trust) and peace—all the ingredients needed for true testing. It is a handmaiden of unbelief.
Often when we hear something different or encounter a strange phenomenon for the first time, it makes us afraid because, whether by truth or by perception, it does not align with what the Spirit has already confirmed in us is true. Before we can prove if what we are encountering is false or if it is just different, we must overcome the fear that strikes us on first encounter of it.
When the Spirit wants to prove to us the falseness of something, He uses an objective convicting witness against it in our spirits. He stirs against the thing in our spirit. But the Holy Spirit does not use fear to confirm to us the falseness of something.
Fear takes us out of our realm of abiding. It destroys our inner platform of trust in Him which is our basis for proving all things. It quenches our capability for objective hearing of the Spirit’s real witness concerning a thing. For these reasons, we can’t prove the truth of something we are afraid of.
This is important because as humans, we characteristically reject anything simply because our first encounter with it has some kind of fear associated with it. But the fact that something strikes fear in us on first hearing does not necessarily mean what we are hearing is not from the Lord. What it does mean is we should not pass judgment on it, either embracing or rejecting it, until we have first overcome the fear associated with it.
- The Example of Angels
Consider. It was not uncommon for Bible people to be troubled on receiving an angelic visitation. The immediate visitation produced a shot of fear.
Under this fear, people were incapable of knowing whether the angel was from the Lord. For this reason, the angel would oft say, “Fear not.” The angel had to overcome the element of fear before he could bring his message. Angels establish hearers in the peace, certainty and abiding in Christ before they proceed to bring them the Lord’s message.
The same should be true today of all messengers of Christ, whether we encounter an actual angel, or merely hear a new or strange prophetic utterance. All of us who serve as prophetic messengers from God are really functioning like angels.
Therefore, if we know we are bringing a new or strange word to the body of Christ, we are under the same mandate to establish our hearers in the certainty of abiding in Christ before we seek to persuade them that what we are telling them is from the Lord. This demonstrates our own willingness to be proven. Humility on the part of messengers goes a long way to overcome the objections to a word stoked by fear.
But words spoken with indifference or arrogance toward the hearers almost guarantee that they are not from the Lord. Those of us committed to exhort to the (clean) “fear of the Lord,” to conviction of sin, and to speak words of judgment need to be especially careful in this way.
An underlying concern for our hearers must be discernable underneath our words so as not to stir satanic fear. That is a great difference between the fear of the Lord and satanic fear. Satanic fear creates an emotion-based fear for the sake of fear. But the fear of the Lord is a fear marked by a self-validating conviction of the inner heart that leads to loving submission and devotion.
This article presents the concrete spiritual “how-tos” of testing for the validity of prophetic utterances and spiritual manifestations.
In summary, as we faithfully submit to the convicting relational knowing of the Lord in the inner man, we grow in the capacity to prove the validity of spiritual pass-through knowledge and phenomena. Underneath all testing lies the power of trust in the Lord.
Trust in the Lord produces the faith to know the truth of everything else, and is available to all believers, no matter what our level of development in spiritual reality. Emotional fear blocks the ability to trust and so truly verify the spiritual realities. Perfect love casts out this unbelieving fear.
New Meadow Neck, Rhode Island