We all want tangible answers to prayer — something we can point to as being a definitive, miraculous answer. Some make the mistake of looking for signs from God so often that they get discouraged when they don’t see what they think is a sign. Does the Lord send us signs of His will or answered prayers? If so, what do they look like?
What Is the Meaning of Signs?
First, we have to understand that looking for signs is not a healthy spiritual thing to do. There are many sects and movements out there that are caught up in signs and wonders, only to find themselves falling headlong into false teachings and outright apostasy.
In our desire to experience God in a way that goes above and beyond the normal range of human experience, we can do much spiritual damage to ourselves. Keep in mind that our Adversary is capable of producing phenomena that would appear miraculous to those with less-than-optimal discernment.
We see this fairly frequently in valid cases of demonic possession. Seemingly “miraculous” occurrences such as levitation, objects materializing out of nowhere, knowledge of hidden or distant happenings, superhuman strength, and movement of remote objects are all common experiences in exorcism ministry.
Yet, we know these aren’t at all miracles, since the supernatural is the action of God alone. Miracles are God acting in the natural world in the suspension of material laws. Demons are not producing miracles but are merely manipulating matter and our senses to confuse, mislead and strike fear into us.
We even see this in the actions of certain false teachers who gather large followings due to claims of healing, but upon closer examination, you find their teachings are at variance with Scripture.
Keep in mind that the Adversary disguises itself as a good, holy being at times, seeking our demise (2 Corinthians 11:14; 1 Peter 5:8). Christ did not have much good to say about those who are always looking for signs.
In fact, he referred to them as wicked and adulterous (Matthew 16:4). So, let’s not get caught up in looking for signs and wonders, but rather be dedicated students of Scripture. Anything we suspect might be a sign must conform to the witness of Scripture.
Should We Recognize Signs?
With that warning said, this does not mean that God never gives signs of His will, judgment, or answers to prayer. Sometimes He does. Knowing what some of these common signs are helpful in avoiding the errors we have already mentioned.
While receiving a message from a prophet is not likely today, receiving a message through fellow believers is fairly likely. Oftentimes, when we have been praying earnestly about an issue, someone at church will come up to us and say something that quite literally answers the petition.
Sometimes they are aware of this, other times not. Or the sermon for that Sunday will address the very issue we have been struggling with, providing clarity.
Keep in mind that good pastors pray that they teach what their congregation needs to hear, and God responds, giving them the right words at the right time.
2. Dreams and visions. Scripture tells us that as we near the End Times people will experience visions and dreams. This does not mean that every dream you have is a sign from God. Nor does it necessarily mean that any dream you have of a spiritual nature is a sign or message from God.
The human mind is capable of producing many fanciful images and themes that are quite apart from God’s intervention. Again, one of the keys to discerning anything we consider to be a sign is whether it conforms to the whole witness of Scripture since it is our only infallible, divinely inspired source of information.
So, if I have a dream that God wants me to abandon my family and go alone into the rain forest to preach to a small tribe there for the rest of my life, the chances are that dream is just the product of my fallen imagination. However, God does sometimes communicate through these means (Matthew 2:12; Acts 10:9-23).
3. Intrinsic meaning. This is perhaps one of the most common ways God speaks to us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is meant to be communication. All too often we view it as something akin to the drive-thru at the local fast-food restaurant.
We give God our list of wants and needs and then move on, expecting Him to fill our order. That is not communication. Communication is a two-way thing. It requires that we not only speak but that we stop and listen as well. Listening is the hard part for most of us.
It takes practice to listen for God’s voice, but once you commit to doing so, the results will amaze you. The Lord will often speak to us as a still small voice in our conscience (1 Kings 19:12). These messages we receive in our conscience are what we refer to as intrinsic meanings.
These are messages meant just for you. They will speak to your hurts and fears, encourage you in holy living, and rebuke you when you are in sin and rebellion. This is the voice of the Holy Spirit in your life (John 14:26).
The Word of God
Indeed, God does provide us with signs of His guidance and presence. It is helpful to know what some of these signs are in order to more accurately notice them when they occur.
However, we should not be seeking signs and wonders, nor focusing on miracles and claims of visions and apparitions. Instead, our focus should be on the Word of God, which is where we will gain our greatest insights into the will of God for our lives.
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.