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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why do we say: "God told me"?

A very helpful article by Nancy Guthrie on the motives behind this phrase and some elaboration on how we can have consistent confidence that we are hearing from him.

Three broad points in response:

1. Prioritizing difference over depth. 
Nancy Guthrie rightly reminds us of a common experience of thinking how various characters in the Bible heard from God and wanting likewise for our own relationship with Him (even though such speaking were part and parcel of God's special outworking of His grander salvation plan across history). She notes that this is often because "many of us want something more, something different." That's a important point worth expanding. As Christians we must recognize we live in a world addicted to prioritizing difference. What's new (and thus different) is automatically assumed to be better, improved, and thus desired. New technology, new ways of learning, new diets that will finally make us feel/look different, new philosophies of parenting, even God doing a "new thing" to use the oft-quoted Isaiah 43:19 (whereas, as Pastor Bill Mills points out, if God does have a plan then He is actually doing old things and working them out in time - indeed there is very little that's truly new...and not heresy). New can be very good - indeed God often calls us as a church to do old things with new 'clothing.' However, it is important to recognize our cultural propensity to idolize the new and different and how that might greatly influence how we would prefer to relate to God. Such that experiencing God to feel something different becomes a higher priority than relating to God to grow something deeper. This is an encouragement to prioritize going to the Scriptures primarily for hearing from God and for growth - indeed He promises growth only here (Isaiah 55:10-11 - note the focus on growth imagery).

2. I only partially agree with Guthrie's assessment on hearing from God. I had never before considered that nowhere in Scripture do we see God speaking to His people through an inaudible voice - and Nancy is right to point this out especially as such are the terms by which hearing from God is most often couched (eg., "I sense God is saying to me/us"). However, I do think God speaks through people brief messages that are not directly, word-for-word, from Scripture (1 Cor. 12:8-10) but are always reflective of Scripture and are often saturated with Scripture. And so we hear Paul say in the same breath: "

[19] Do not quench the Spirit. [20] Do not despise prophecies, [21] but test everything; hold fast what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).

Listen and consider but also weigh. Weigh by not only asking: "Does this contradict the Bible?" but more and more so: "Do I hear the Bible in this?"

3. The Most trusted 'prophets' are ones steeped and saturated in the Word of God.

I served in a local church that regularly practiced the use of prophetic giftings and was, at times, blessed by the use of this gift. In my experience, there were only a handful people in the church whose impressions or words consistently applied to my life and/or edified me as a Christian. In each case (and I have saved those words given to me as they were written down), each person was someone I knew to be steeped and saturated in the Word of God. That doesn't mean others didn't "hear from God" occasionally but those experiences were all-over-the-map and seemed to reflect, by-and-large, a lack of regular submission to the Word of God. I once observed in a small group setting someone giving a 'picture' involving a fire hydrant, a red-wagon, and a dalmatian. The impression given was bizarre and uncomfortable - and you can imagine the reaction of the person to whom it was given (they never returned to the small group...and likely never bought a dalmatian). Yet the person kept on going with such 'pictures,' impressions, and 'words.' 

When someone continues to claim to be hearing from God but seems to be slightly (or greatly) missing the mark as they express it, an often overlooked argument from Paul seems applicable:

[36] Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? [37] If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:36-37 ESV)

Someone who claims to semi-regularly "hear from God" will quickly recognize the commandments of the Lord because he or she is steeped in reading, meditating, and cherishing God's Words to them in His Scriptures. You can envision the likely circumstance to which Paul is writing. "I think God is telling me this." Paul: "Really? Good thing you don't have a monopoly on what God is saying. Let's look at the commands of the Lord found in the Scriptures and compare." Not only should any potentially "from God" statements not contradict the Bible, my opinion is that they will more often than not be very reflective of it and in some case even mirror it (containing the very statements/verses of God's Word).

Consider for a moment how one nourishes & grows their spiritual gift: Those I know who are gifted in mercy usually look to the cross of Jesus for mercy and are touched by the mercy of Jesus' ministry. Those like myself who sense God's gifting in teaching, usually are fed by the teaching ministry of others - listening to good sermons of other pastors, etc. Those who are gifted in leading, are good sheep being led by the great Shepherd (1 Corinthians 11:1). Those gifted in making people feel comfortable through hospitality, themselves derive comfort from the ongoing presence of God and so abide in the Vine (John 15:5). In other words, that which God has given you to serve and feed others, you yourself tend to be nourished with from God Himself. Similarly, a dear believer who senses the Spirit does want to speak profitable words through them is himself nourished by the Word of God. Not surprisingly then, in my experience, I haven't found someone whose words consistently speak to me and stir my soul who is not also someone I know to be steeped and saturated in the Word of God.

I should also note: I know I'm much more likely to even trust someone's wise counsel who is steeped in God's Word but doesn't necessarily claim to be having a supernatural experience of "I think God is telling me/us." Their lives, however, are so saturated with God's Word that the outworking of how they live and make plans is wise, profitable, and brings great glory to Christ Jesus.

Two points of potential application:
1. If you want to be someone who hears from God or believe God has given you some degree of prophetic gifting, steep and saturate yourself in the Word of God. Here alone will you find the nourishment needed the grow in depth as opposed to difference. Through feeding on the Word you can consistently step out in faith and with confidence for wise decisions that bring great glory to Jesus.

2. When someone says: "I think (a) I might be hearing from God; (b) I have a 'word' from God; (c) God may be trying to tell us something," it is okay and even recommended to ask: Is this someone I know to be regularly steeped and saturated in the Word of God? Not that God doesn't occasionally speak through a donkey (Numbers 22:28), but that donkey is normally going to speak like...well...a donkey.

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