I received an email with that title from NT scholar and missionary Dr. Wilbur Pickering. He was asked that question and wrote a short article in response.
I am writing my own response, without referring to what Dr. Pickering wrote.
Many think that we are to seek impressions from God. The problem with that is that we get many impressions that are bad ideas and many impressions that are sinful. You might feel impressed to steal someone’s unattended cell phone. You might be impressed many times over the course of a year to quit your job. Impressions are thoughts, and all thoughts need to be evaluated.
How do you decide which impressions are from God?
While God may cause a thought to cross our minds, we cannot know that any particular thought is from God. We do not hear the Holy Spirit by looking for impressions.
Some think that the Holy Spirit literally speaks to us, either out loud or in our heads. The problem with following this path is that we open ourselves up to all sorts of problems. One middle-aged woman in my former church told me she battled with unwanted voices in her head for months after she started asking God to speak to her. She finally prayed and begged God to make the voices stop.
Contemplative spirituality is false spirituality, and it is dangerous.
So, how do we know when the Holy Spirit is speaking to us?
The answer is simple. We know He is speaking to us when we read His Word. The Holy Spirit speaks to us from the pages of Scripture. Paul said that in 2 Cor 3:18 and Rom 12:2.
I realize that is not the sort of miraculous answer people want. But the work of the Holy Spirit in opening God’s Word to us is indeed miraculous. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus said, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).i Maybe we need to reappraise the role of the Holy Spirit in opening the Scriptures to us.
He gives us pastors and teachers to help us understand. But we are each responsible to study the Scriptures for ourselves (Acts 17:11).
I just looked at Dr. Pickering’s conclusion. I will borrow a few points from him. He says that “we must be willing and ready to obey” and we must be “open to change.” That is true. God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6). Jesus did not commit Himself to the new believers of John 2:23 because He knew that they were unwilling to confess Him before men (John 2:24-25).ii
Don’t look for your feelings or thoughts to guide you. Look to God’s Word to show you the way to life and peace: “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom 8:6).
i While they were speaking about the Lord Jesus, it was the Holy Spirit who took what Jesus said and opened their eyes.
ii See this article for a discussion of John 2:23-25.