Does God really have a specific will for everyone?" Doug asked us, "If he does, how does he reveal that will?" Bewilderment was drawn like a curtain across his face. Then he shared his story. As a young man, Doug had been convinced God was calling him to medical missions. He had responded to God's Word by entering medical school. His educational achievements were exceptional, and he soon caught the attention of various medical research centers. As he was deluged with offers from major hospitals, he struggled to reconcile this new career direction with his call to the mission field. Friends and family assured him this was God's blessing. He could serve God at home in America as effectively as he could on the mission field. Maybe more so. Eventually, Doug became the director of immunology for one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the United States.
The years raced by. Doug achieved a life that surpassed most men's dreams. He and his wife enjoyed a loving, solid marriage. Their children were happy and healthy. They lived in a beautiful home. They were loved and supported by a solid church and a wide circle of friends. Still Doug could not deny the persistent uneasiness in his spirit. He was living a good Christian life. He was a faithful church member. Was it possible he was still missing God's will?
What about the call he received as a teenager? Was it real? He was convinced it was. But that was so long ago; did it even apply any more? Now he was a man in a responsible position with a wife and children. Asking them to transplant their lives to a remote, possibly dangerous country to fulfill a calling he received as a teenager seemed reckless and foolhardy. Surely God wouldn't ask him to do that. It didn't make sense. Perhaps he was just going through a midlife crisis. There was a poignant urgency in Doug's manner as he persisted with his questions. He had to know. Was God really speaking to him? Too much hung in the balance to make a mistake.
Does God speak to people today? Doug is one of many, many people we have encountered who are urgently asking this question. In fact, this issue is at the heart of the Christian life. Christians want to choose the spouse God knows is best for them. They need direction with their careers. Baffled parents are desperate for God's wisdom in rearing their children. Every day numerous events magnify the awareness that Christians need a timely, specific word from God. Most Christians acknowledge their need for God's guidance. Many people regularly seek it. The problem is that they are not sure they recognize God's voice. In moments of honest reflection, they may doubt whether God actually speaks to anyone today, except perhaps to a select few.
Life can be aggravatingly complex. The best choices are not always readily apparent. Christians are regularly reminded by their own deficiencies of their need for divine guidance. The Scriptures assure them that God is all knowing and perfectly loving. Passages such as Jeremiah 29:11 talk about God's specific will for others, but does this apply to all Christians? Does it apply to them?
Even a casual perusal of the Bible reveals a consistent pattern of God speaking to people. However, some argue that biblical history does not necessarily translate into modern experience. Talking donkeys and burning bushes are not common, contemporary occurrences. Nevertheless, a closer examination of the Scriptures reveals that while God did indeed speak on matters of great significance through supernatural means, he also clearly communicated with men and women from all walks of life regarding matters of seemingly lesser importance.
What significance does this hold for Christians today? Does God give specific guidance to people? If so, how does he do it? Does he only use the words of Scripture? Does he still speak through dreams and visions?
Theories abound on how God communicates with people. If we were to list every view that has been advocated in books, seminars, and the media, we would need a book series rather than this one volume. However, we have observed at least four broad categories of thought on the subject.