“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. - Genesis 12:2
Are you hearing God say "I can" or "I will"? Hearing God's voice can be difficult when we are constantly bombarded with our own thoughts, and those of the enemy. The thoughts that come from your own mind, or even the devil, can be what we want to hear, not necessarily what God is telling us.
So how can we tell which is which? In my quiet time with the Lord, and reflecting on his Word, one key phrase that I have learned helps me discern God's voice is when the thought starts with "I will" versus "I can." If you are hearing "I can", it's very likely not coming from God.
The word "can" means to "be able to or be permitted to", and is used "to indicate that something is typically the case". On the other hand, the word "will" is used to express "the future tense, inevitable events, and facts about ability or capacity."
Our Father is the God of "I will". When He tells you "I will", nothing can stop this promise from fulfillment, because nothing and nobody can stand in God's way to completing the promise. The devil can't say "I will" with authority, because he can't do anything apart from God's permission and/or our agreement.
When I was at church recently, I was listening to the pastor speak in front of hundreds of people, with many more listening live at other campuses and over the Internet. I thought to myself, "wouldn't that be fun to speak in front of so many people?" A thought then entered my head, "Is that what you want? I can do that for you." I immediately knew this wasn't God talking to me, so I rejected the siren call of temptation from the devil and rebuked the thought.
I knew this wasn't from God because I knew from the Bible that God doesn't promise us with "I can", He says "I will." And during my quiet time with God, I have never heard Him say "I can" - I have only ever written things down that started with "I will". Saying "I can" means there's an offer being made, and we have to do something on our end to get it. As we know from God's grace and Jesus' sacrifice, He doesn't require anything from us to bring His promises to pass.
An example is found in Luke 4:6, when the devil tempts Jesus: "And he (the devil) said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to." Notice the devil even tries to use "I will", but it had to be coupled with "I can", because it had to come with Jesus' agreement and willingness to disobey God and worship the devil. This is also confirmed in Matthew 4:9 when the devil says, "All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”.
I looked up the phrase "I can" in my NIV Bible, and could not find one time where God said "I can" when connected to a promise. A Bible search on the Internet shows the phrase "I can" is only found 122 times in the NIV Bible, with most of those coming from a human saying it. On the other hand, the phrase "I will" is found 2084 times! I started to count myself, and stopped at 20 times where God said, "I will," and I had only gotten to Genesis 12!
What is God saying to you through this message? Have you heard a siren call of "I can" in your life? Listen for God's promises of "I will", and you will know you are hearing from God if there aren't strings attached. Of course, test what you are hearing against God's Word and wise counsel, but rest assured that if God is telling you "I will", He will be faithful to complete it!
"All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). - Matthew 1:22-23