Question: By what means can I test my feelings and impressions? What are the steps necessary to prove the will of God?
Answer: The best answer I've read for those questions was written in 1892 by Martin Wells Knapp. In his timeless little booklet entitled, Impressions, he described those impulses and leadings that come from above (from God) versus those that originate from below (from Satan). Just as the Holy Spirit may tell us by impressions what His will is concerning us, so also can our spiritual enemies tell us by impressions what their will is. And unfortunately, there is often a striking resemblance between the two kinds of messages. According to Knapp, one of the objectives of Satan is to get the Christian to lean totally on his impressions, accepting them uncritically as the absolute voice of God. When this occurs, "the devil has got all he wants."
When seeking God's will Knapp recommends that each impression be evaluated very carefully to see if it reflects four distinguishing features:
Scriptural. Is the impression in harmony with the Bible? Guidance from the Lord is always in accordance with the Holy Scripture, and this gives us an infallible point of reference and comparison. If this test had been applied by the young couple that was contemplating sexual permissiveness, mentioned earlier, they would have known that the "approval" they obtained was not from the Lord. Furthermore, the numerous religious movements which obviously add to Scripture or contradict its primary concepts would not have been born if the Bible had been accepted as the ultimate and complete Word of God.
The most important aspect of this first test is that the entire Bible be used instead of the selection of "proof texts" or "chance texts." A reader can find support for almost any viewpoint if he lifts individual verses or partial phrases out of context. We are commanded to study the Scriptures, not toy with them or manipulate them for our own purposes.
Right. Knapp's second test if impressions involves the matter of rightness. "Impressions which are from God are always right," says Knapp. "They may be contrary to our feelings, our prejudices and our natural inclinations, but they are always right. They will stand all tests."(1)
I am acquainted with a family that was destroyed by an impression that could not have passed the test: Is it right? Although there were four little children in the home, the mother felt she was "called" to leave them and enter full-time evangelistic work. On very short notice she abandoned the children who needed her so badly and left them in the care of their father who worked six and seven days a week.
The consequence was devastating. The youngest in the family lay awake at night, crying for his mommy. The older children had to assume adult responsibilities which they were ill-prepared to carry. There was no one at home to train and love and guide the development of the lonely little family. I simply cannot believe the mother's impression was from God because it was neither scriptural nor "right" to leave the children. I suspect that she had other motives for fleeing her home, and Satan provided her with a seemingly noble explanation to cover her tracks.
As Knapp said, "Millions of impressions, if compelled to answer the simple question, `Are you right?' will blush and hesitate and squirm, and finally in confusion, retire.
Providential. In explaining the importance of providential circumstances, Knapp quoted Hannah Whitall Smith, writing in THE CHRISTIAN'S SECRET OF A HAPPY LIFE: "If a leading is from the Holy Spirit, the way will always open for it.' The Lord assures us of this when he says: `When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice' (John 10:4). Notice here the expression `goeth before' and `follow.' He goes before to open the way, and we are to follow in the way thus opened. It is never a sign of divine leading when a Christian insists on opening his own way, and riding roughshod over all opposing things. If the Lord goes before us he will open all doors before us, and we shall not need ourselves to hammer them down."
Reasonable. The apostle Paul referred to the Christian life as a "reasonable service." Accordingly, the will of God can be expected to be in harmony with spiritually enlightened judgment. We will not be asked to do absurd and ridiculous things which are devoid of judgment and common sense. Knapp said, "God has given us reasoning powers for a purpose, and he respects them, appeals to them, and all of his leadings are in unison with them."
Perhaps, the most common violation of this principle is seen in the pressure some people feel to force every chance conversation into a heaven-or-hell confrontation. Such individuals believe they must witness in every elevator, preach to any available group of four or more, and turn every routine encounter into an altar service. Of course, each Christian should "be prepared to give an answer" when the opportunity is provided, but the gospel should be shared in a natural and tactful manner.
Another frequent disregard for the test of reason is seen with impulsive behavior. It was Knapp's view, and I heartily agree, that God deals with us as rational beings and He rarely requires us to act on sudden suggestions or impressions. G.D. Watson stated it similarly, "The devil wants you to be in a hurry and rush and go pell mell and not wait for anything; whereas Jesus is always quiet and He is always calm and always takes His time." Likewise, the psalmist David instructed us to "wait on the Lord."