A: This is an excellent question.
I've always felt that decisions with a deadline attached are among the most challenging and, quite honestly, the most dangerous to bring before the Lord. Mostly because demanding a deadline from God has never seemed like a particularly wise move and you're almost guaranteed of getting frustrated and just doing what you think is best.
The fact is, there are times when life presents us with deadlines and there's nothing we can do about it. A prospective employer needs an answer within a week, or you need to decide whether to have an elective surgery and have two weeks to make up your mind. What do you do when life doesn't give you enough time to really pray and hear from God—or you pray and don't hear anything?
When a deadline is forcing you to make a decision, all you can really do is ask God to guide your decision, and then take a step of faith. Sometimes there just isn't time, but God understands. If you bring your time crunch to Him and pray for His grace to cover whatever choice is made, you can be sure He won't withdraw His providential guidance just because you were in a hurry. Trust the Lord that He's bigger than your time constraints.
But let me address the larger issue of determining the best way to hear God's voice when you're seeking His direction. You might be interested to know that God's people have been struggling with this sort of thing for a very long time. You are certainly not alone and the last thing you should feel is rejected by God.
Essentially there are three ways believers can seek to know God's direction.
1. Hearing directly from His Holy Spirit
2. Hearing through the Scriptures
3. Hearing God's voice through the counsel of trustworthy believers
Let me outline each of these in a bit more detail:
Hearing directly from the Holy Spirit
Hearing from God directly is the most popular means by which people expect to hear from God, but it's also one of the most challenging. Getting quiet enough to hear God's "still small voice" is increasingly difficult in our busy, jam-packed world. God communicates through His Spirit to our spirit, and that takes real practice to be a good listener. This is where FASTING comes into play. You need to remove every distraction and tune into God's voice.
Hearing through the Scriptures
Don't underestimate also determining God's direction through the Word. I have known believers who would sit down and begin reading through the Scriptures determined not to stop until they had an answer from the Lord. You'd be surprised how powerful and effective it can be to seek the Lord's heart through the ministry of the Word.
Hearing God's voice through the counsel of trustworthy believers
One thing Christians often forget is that we were never meant to live our Christian life solo. We are part of a family, and we ought to take advantage of it. That means being able to find mature and trustworthy believers and getting their counsel. God can certainly use such people to speak into our lives. But beware, I am not suggesting you get other people to hear God for you. I'm talking about getting godly counsel that will help you zero in on God's direction for your life by applying God's Word to your situation. life's decisions. But remember, the people you choose as counselors need to have a proven track record of their own and you should be seeing the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
And, let me also share a word about patience. We've lost something special in our modern hurry up society, and that something is the blessing of going slow. We've adjusted our hearts to the break-neck pace of a constant urgency of events and we demand that God meet us in the midst of that pace. Don't be shocked if He doesn't oblige. The eternal God has his own timetable, and you and I would be wise to conform to His pace rather than insisting He adjust to ours.
I don't know if you've ever read the autobiography of George Muller, but the man was an amazing example of patience while waiting for the Lord. He kept a prayer journal of all his petitions and it wasn't uncommon for him to literally pray for years before getting an answer from the Lord. But that never discouraged him. He rarely concerned himself with trying to influence God's timing. He just kept asking. (In case you can't tell, George Muller is my hero and I think you would benefit from reading his book.)
Finally let me say one more thing concerning this matter of hearing from God. Every believer must take seriously the Scripture passages which speak of removing barriers between us and our risen Lord. What barriers you ask? I'm talking about the barriers of sin.
In Isaiah we're told:
Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. Isaiah 59:1-22 (ESV)
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. 1 Peter 3:7 (ESV)
I'm not saying this is what's going on in your case. I don't have that kind of insight to say for sure. But can you afford to neglect the possibility? Ask the Lord to reveal anything in your life that may have driven a wedge between your relationship with God.
And while you're at it, search your heart for any unforgiveness or ungodly attitudes toward others that may be lingering in your heart. This too can greatly hinder when it comes to prayer.
Did you know that Jesus told a parable for the purpose of encouraging us to pray and not give up? (Read Luke 18:1-8.)
Don't stop pressing in!