September 15, 2019

The Return of “No Voices In My Head”

voices.jpgI’m tired of small potatos. We might as well get to the big dog of these “hearing voices” post. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome Mr. Bill Mckinnon to the stage for tonight’s main course, “No Voices In My Head.”

Mr. Mackinnon may, or may not, respond to your comments. If he does, just remember that he attends a Southern Baptist Church on the New York/Canada border. That tells you about all you need to know.

Continue reading “No Voices In My Head.”

Comments

  1. Actually, Bill wrote something that I’d like to toss out for comment. He wrote: “Is that a picture of the God of the Bible? Does the God of the Bible try? Does the God of the Bible fail? Is the God of the Bible limited by the failures and foibles of His creatures?”

    I want immediately to say No, but the words of the Angel of the Lord in Daniel 10:12-13 are bothering me: “Then he continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.'”

    So the Lord sent an angel to talk to Daniel, but the angel was delayed three weeks.

    Anyone have any thoughts?

  2. Mr. Mackinnon,

    This is a wonderful essay. Thanks.

  3. Just curious if this essay is aimed at any manifestations of the Holy Spirit, or just people hearing voices. In the 20 years I’ve been a Christian I’ve never spoken in tongues or had an out of body experience or anything like that, but I’m quite sure I’ve felt impressions as an answer to prayer, felt confirmations as I was doing “the right thing”, and felt the love of Christ on occasions when I needed it most. I thought that’s what the Holy Spirit was supposed to do, and that is something found in the bible. I’ve felt strong impressions as I’ve read the bible that certain passages were true and applicable to my life. Do I need to seek professional help?

  4. Bob: I think you can save your therapy money! What you’ve experienced seems normative enough. My only objection is if you took those feelings, impressions, etc, and translated them into “God told me” language. Nine times out of ten, “I feel led” really means “I want to”. Nothing wrong with wanting, just don’t assign God’s stamp of approval on it.

  5. Very thought-provoking essay, and I will definitely give it a lot of consideration. One example that came to me, though, (and the example from Daniel was another good one that I hadn’t thought of) that may apply to some of the ways people claim God speaks is in the book of Acts.

    Acts 15:28 says that it “seemed good” to the church leaders to lay no greater burden than a handful of things mentioned upon the Gentile believers.

    Also, when Paul says to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”, does that come into play?

    Again, great essay, great thoughts, and much to ponder.

    steve 🙂

  6. There’s nothing in Scripture about God trying and failing to get His message across? Obviously someone hasn’t read the prophets. ‘Cause in those cases you’d see a very frustrated God complaining that He’s reached out to Israel and Judah time and again, and yet they’ve played the whores, and God has no choice but to use Assyria and Babylon as a more obvious manner of speaking to them.

    Why did God choose this way instead of choosing a more obvious method, like a burning bush or thundering mountaintop? Because He DID that already and it didn’t work. Forty days after He did the mountaintop thing, the Hebrews were sacrificing to a gold calf. Thus God prefers subtlety to obvious; but it seems to me that some won’t accept anything but obvious because subtlety appears too flaky.

    I can’t help what sorts of people claim to hear from God. I can’t speak for them, except to say that I probably find them more annoying than you do. They give REAL prophets a bad name and guarantee that nobody will listen to them. They’re the sort that plagued Jeremiah till the day he died. Nobody listened to Jerry because the false prophets were more showy, prophesied nicer things, and didn’t wander naked through town. But when the Babylonians invaded, who wound up being right? …The guy whose book we kept.

    I can’t also help when people claim there’s a technique to hear from God. I don’t know of any. I just hear Him. I have no formula for it. I refuse to derive one from Scripture because I don’t think Scripture offers any such paradigm. I wouldn’t be so foolish as to attribute it to any lack on ANYONE’S part. I certainly don’t claim any special holiness; hearing from God only makes me feel inadequate. I also don’t see any special benefit in it because half the time His answers to my questions are “That’s in Scripture already; look it up” and the other half of the time He doesn’t say anything, which is His way of saying “That’s up to you” or “You already know what My answer would be.” (Maybe THAT’S why people don’t hear God — He likely doesn’t answer stupid questions, and sometimes that’s the only sort of question we humans ask.)

    But don’t give me any of this “God can’t fail to get His message across” junk. If that were the case than His prophets wouldn’t have needed to proclaim that message over and over again to a stiff-necked people.

  7. KW: You are confusing hearing with obedience. When God speaks through a prophet, the message is heard. God does give people the option to obey or not. Why do you think God used Babylon and Assyria to punish them? Not because they didn’t hear, but because they didn’t heed. If you are comfortable with a God who fails, then there is no more to be said. I don’t think the Scripture presents that kind of God.

  8. Jay: In the Daniel example, God sent someone to Daniel with a message, and Daniel got the message. No trying, no failure. Why God let some angels duke it out in the clouds is beyond me, but that’s His business.

  9. Jay-

    As a rule, I think people are pretty hazy on how angels fit in with all of it. We know they exist because we read of them in the Bible. Demons are generally believed to be fallen angels. But, really, why would God need angels in the first place? I don’t have an answer to that. However, we do know that angels are not all-powerful and they come to do the will of God, or to deliver messages from Him.

    So, all I take from that passage in Daniel is that Angels are in some ways like people. They can certainly do things we can’t, but they also have some limitations. Perhaps a person can even prevent an angel from doing its job. (Jacob wrestled with a man who we believe to be an angel. A human man was able to physically hold that angel all night.) Angels are beings of spirit. Humans are embodied spirits. Most of us are aware of how to use our bodies, but not really our spirits. Can it be that the Persian king was able to fight spiritual battles directly? Or did he have as allies some form of ungodly spirits? In either case, we are talking about spiritual warfare. For whatever reason, God does not choose to do all of His miracles by irresistable acts of power. Some are performed simply by making sure the right person is in the right place. When an angel is sent, we can resist, apparently.

    Wow, heady thoughts. And a bit off-topic, I’m afraid. More on-topic follows:

    I do believe in private revelations. I have been the recipient of at least one. However, if we descend into thinking that God feels our choice of breakfast cereal is important enough to comment on, I think we are making a terrible error.

    Regarding how we live, a Muslim friend once told me a story about a man who asked Mohammed “how will we know how to do right when you are gone?” The answer was: “read the book.” In reply, the man asked “what if it is a situation not in the book?” “Follow my example.” Finally, the man asked “and if it is a situation you never encountered and could not give an example for?” Mohammed answered something that I think too many Christians ignore. “Use your common sense.”

    -Patrick

  10. Jeremiah Lawson says

    I’ve met Christians who would say, in all seriousness, in reply: fallen man does not have common sense and can’t use it. What makes us think we have common sense?

  11. “Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have” (Luke 8:18).

  12. Bill,

    Good post and good defusing of the “don’t put God in a box” ruse.

    I think that God can “lead” people and probabally does so on occasion. The problem comes when you start treating it as normative, start seeking after it, and start treating it as some sign of spiritual superiority.

  13. Jeremiah-

    We know in part and understand in part, that’s true. However, if we have no sense, then it doesn’t really matter what we do, we can’t be held responsible for our actions. Just as I don’t hold my kids responsible for things they don’t understand, I don’t believe that a just God will hold people responsible for things they don’t know to be wrong.

    We may not be perfect, but we are pretty darned good as far as creations go. We have reasoning ability (or why would we debate?) and we are given the right and responsibility to use that reason. Common sense is the application of reason to everyday problems.

    I know people who think that because of the fall, we are nothing but worms in the eyes of God. God did not become flesh and die on a cross to save worms. False humility is an insult to the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. Though part of a fallen world, I am still wonderfully and fearfully made. I am still so valuable to the Creator of the universe that He would suffer death for me. Not for a worm, but for a beloved child.

    We are made in the image of God, but that includes the ability to think, reason, love, have faith, and to hope. I don’t think that the image of God is primarily physical, but spiritual and rational.

    Okay, you got me monologing. Sorry. Just hit a bit of a hot button, there. Denying that we have sense is like saying that God didn’t give us the abilities that we are called upon to use when we seek greater understanding and a deeper faith.

    -Patrick

  14. I agree with the point made, but there are some fuzzy edges that are ignored as illustrated by these interesting verses:

    Acts 16
    6Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

    Acts 21
    4Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way.

  15. Saying “God’s leading me” really is an easy way out. It’s the ultimate out because no one can argue with you, and it saves face for everyone. Consider the following example:

    Person: I’m going to switch churches.
    Pastor: Why?
    Person: Because your preaching is becoming seeker sesnsitive, the music is crap, and I hear you just unloaded a bunch of snakes for us to all handle on Sunday.
    Pastor: Sniff. So you don’t like me?

    vs

    Person: I’m going to switch churches.
    Pastor: Why?
    Person: God’s been telling me that it’s what I need to do.
    Pastor: Well, if that’s what God’s been telling you, then you’d better do it. We’ll miss you.
    Person: Thanks.

    For people who aren’t confrontational, it’s normally easier to just pass the buck off to God so they don’t have to stand around trying to justify their actions.

  16. Brian: I had this all typed up and we had a brown out before I could post it. You said that God does lead occasionally. I say that God leads all the time. I think He’s always molding and shaping our walk and lives. I think that is consistent with scripture. But I don’t know what “feeling led” feels like. Spiritual people assure me that I’ll just know. Thanks. Very helpful. What people are doing is taking desires, and ideas and translating them into God language (I call it Churchspeak). It is meant sincerely but it sends a mixed message to other (usually more honest but less mature) Christians. The message is this: “Hearing from God (extra-biblically) is normative in the Christian life, and once you attain the proper level of maturity and discernment, you will hear from God too”.

  17. Anthony: I don’t think those verses in Acts are fuzzy at all. I never claimed that God doesn’t speak to people extra-biblically. What I maintain is that when God speaks, people hear. And the message is clear. I think those verses in Acts fit that pattern nicely. I also believe that God can act through giving people ideas, desires, and impressions. But that’s not what I call speaking, and my objection is with that language.

  18. Bill : “You said that God does lead occasionally. I say that God leads all the time. I think He’s always molding and shaping our walk and lives.”

    I absolutely agree with you. I used “lead” in the sense of “nudgings” or “impressions” – which is how it’s used within much of Evangelicalism today. Sorry for the confusion.

  19. Anthony,

    Greg Koukl does a survey through Acts looking at the various examples of divine direction and decision making. You(and others) might find it interesting.

    http://www.str.org/free/studies/directio.htm

  20. Brian Pendell says

    >>He doesnÂ’t give me secret knowledge about other people or situations.> Everyone else has all this extra revelation straight from God. TheyÂ’ve got intense feelings, and power, and special instructions and donÂ’t have to make any of their own decisions. <<

    Now you and I are on the same wavelength. God never gave us the Holy Spirit to short-circuit the brains he gave us.

    Case in point: One time I was asking God whether I should apply for a job or not. I heard in my spirit the answer: “Look at your resume”. So I did, and my qualifications matched what was wanted for an applicant.

    I had my answer … in a word, DUH! Sometimes it’s wise to spend a little less time praying and a little time actually THINKING about the answer to the question. God never promised to give prophecy or fantastic spiritual gifts to everyone. But he DID promise, unconditionally, to give wisdom to anyone who asks for it (James 1:5).

    Speaking as a charismatic, I would say the greatest part of my walk in the past twelve years has been learning over and over again, in often bitter ways, what was and was not God speaking. I have found “God speaking” to be my emotions, or the pizza I had for dinner last night, or my own desires, or my own feelings. In fact, I have a hard time hearing anything from God because he has a very quiet small voice and my self uses a megaphone.

    So you have a very good point .. a lot of what evangelicals or charismatics call “God speaking” is nothing of the sort. It is laziness and irrationality given a religious garment. But this fact does not mean the real does not exist.

    ” God tells them what to do and when to do it. In fact, some of them claim they donÂ’t do anything until it is clear what God wants them to do.”

    That isn’t my experience. If I waited until something was “clear”, I’d never get anything done at all.

    IMO, God is not a micro-manager. If you ask his advice, he will sometimes give it… if you can stand to hear it. He doesn’t tell you what kind of breakfast to eat or what kind of job to take or any of that. He has given us a great deal of freedom to choose. Unlike most evangelicals, he’s not a neurotic controller. That said, there are extraordinary circumstances when he WILL reveal that a particular job, or a particular thing, IS his will.

    So IMO, it’s a balance. If he told us what to do all the time we couldn’t think for ourselves .. we’d be robots, and not the sons of God we were made to be. Equally, he doesn’t abandon us and NOT tell us when we really need to hear it.

    [quote]
    Some people say God is like that. HeÂ’s always speaking.
    [/quote]

    I have found that He’s more like the Emergency Broadcasting System … it doesn’t broadcast often, but when it does it’s important.

    Equally, I would say there’s a lot of jamming from other things, from our own worries and concerns and of course from the devil. Putting these things aside and listening for the “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12) is one reason for the discipline of meditation.

    If you want to hear from God, you have to listen. And if you’re going to listen, you have to stop talking and be quiet in turn.

    Of course he can override any of your noise and make himself so loud you HAVE to hear him, the way a parent can always outshout a child. But I think a person will have a much more meaningful relationship with God and “hear” more (even if that hearing has nothing whatsoever to do with practical day-to-day life) if they can be quiet. After all, it’s much easier to talk to a kid if he’s willing to listen, then if he’s talking all the time!

    ” I apparently missed this part when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, but IÂ’ll go back and look. ”

    He may not have, but Habakkuk certainly knew what it was to watch for God’s answer (Habakkuk 2:1). Daniel also knew what it was to wait on God for an answer (Daniel 10:1-2) Not for nothing are we told to “be still, and know that I am God”.

    Besides which, silence has been the constant practice of monks, saints, and wise men from the time of Abraham. Catholics do it (http://www.domlife.org/friars/commonsilence.html) Protestants like Corrie Ten Boom do it. Perhaps you are wiser than they, but for the moment I will take the universal received opinion of Christian mankind over yours.

    “One of my favorites is the Paxil theory. Paxil is a drug that calms you down and gives you a feeling of peace.”

    This I agree with completely. My emotions are often in turmoil over any decision. If I waited for peace, I’d never do this either.

    For me, “peace” is not a gooey emotional feeling. “Peace” is the calm , settled rational belief in my mind that what I am doing is right, and if I have any twinges of conscience, that I understand where they’re coming from and have answered them.

    “Peace”, IMO is Oprah-ized in the church. Too many people, when they talk about “peace in their hearts”, merely mean emotion and feelings .. in other words, they’re making decisions not with their hearts or their minds, but with their stomachs. Nowhere in the Bible is that an acceptable answer.

    ” IÂ’m told that if IÂ’m wavering between a number of options on an important decision, I should kind of semi-decide upon one, and see if I have a “feeling of peace” about it.”

    While that may not be God, it’s actually not terrible advice. Sometimes we pick up on things subconsciously, and said subconscious will then start screaming it’s head off. When that happens, we know there’s a problem.

    Doesn’t mean that subconscious prompting comes from God. It could come from ourselves, from previous experience, or even from evil spirits. But only a fool ignores it entirely.

    “Last but certainly not least is the Back to School theory. Put simply, you canÂ’t hear GodÂ’s voice until you learn how. Somehow, without it being recorded, it is known that all the folks God spoke to in biblical times had learned how to hear GodÂ’s voice. How they learned it or what is involved in learning it has never been fully explained to me.”

    The answer to that is obvious.
    Practice.

    It’s the same way you learn to ride a bicycle or the way you learned to drive a car. Book theory and study helps a great deal, of course, but in the end there’s simply no substitute for simply DOING it, and failing, again and again and again.

    No, the Bible doesn’t discuss “how” people learned these things. It also doesn’t discuss how they learned carpentry, or riding horses, or going to war, or any of those other things. All of those things are skills, just as hearing from God is a combination of skill and talent, which is why some people were/are prophets and some people are not.


    So now I have a question. Is that a picture of the God of the Bible? Does the God of the Bible try? Does the God of the Bible fail?”

    Obviously the God of the Bible fails to communicate. If He did, everyone would hear the message of salvation and get saved, would they not?

    The fault is not his, however. The reason people do not hear is because they choose not to hear. In our arrogance, we think we know it all and we shut out any possible information other than what we already know. Thus, we not only not hear from God we don’t hear from ANYBODY, even our fellow humans.

    This is why one of the first qualifications for hearing from God is and always has been childlikeness — God can speak to humble people who are willing to consider the fact they might be wrong. But no one can speak to the arrogant and self-assured unless God is willing to blast their minds, and he doesn’t do that.

    “Did Abraham “feel led” to go to the land of Canaan or did he hear God speak loud and clear? ”

    How do you know? Were you there?

    If Abraham and Jonah heard God, it is because (IMO) they had spent a lifetime cultivating that relationship and knew his voice intimately. I note that nearly everyone in the Bible who was a prophet of some kind was also an old man. There are exceptions (such as Samuel) but they are not common.

    ” And (hopefully) we can agree that our teaching authority and doctrine comes from the Bible, not the voices in our heads.”

    I would say rather that our ultimate authority and our ultimate teaching come from the Holy Spirit, the being whom Jesus said would “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13).

    The Bible, of course, is a priceless treasure, because it is “God-breathed”, containing the utterances of the Holy Spirit in the past, and anything the Holy Spirit says today will be consistent with that book. It is our canon — our measuring stick — against which all prophecy and all teaching must be measured. Nor, IMO, should we add to it, because we’ve seen in the pre-Reformation Catholic Church just where that road leads. But the Bible is a product of the Holy Spirit. It is not the Spirit itself. Jesus said he would give us the “Spirit of Truth”, not write a book.

    “How could they not? Were they more powerful than God?”

    Yes, they were. Because God limits himself. For the same reason not everyone gets saved, not everyone hears from God. CAN God override people’s will not to hear him, or their will not to be saved? Of course he can. WILL he? No.

    “All-powerful” is a tricky concept when applied to God. God could cure all evil, heal all sickness, and open everyone’s ears. But CAN do is not the same thing as SHOULD do or WILL do.

    “Read those in context. To “hear”, as Jesus was employing the term didnÂ’t mean to hear, as in perceive with your auditory appendages.”

    Now I’m going to turn this back on you .. if you acknowledge that “hearing”, does not necessarily mean “hearing with ears”, why did you earlier insist that the only way the people of old heard from God was through hearing with ears? Is it not possible that they could have heard in their or their hearts, as great saints like Corrie insisted they did?

    How do you know — except in the cases where it explicitly says there was a voice — that a person like Jonah DID “hear” God. Perhaps he also simply “accepted and obeyed”.

    “It is curious to me that if someone in a typical evangelical church stood up and said an angel spoke to him and told him that God wanted him to be a missionary to Africa , we would be very skeptical at best. Yet if that same person stood up and said that he “just really feel led to go to Africa to be a missionary”, the “amens” and applause would be deafening.

    Yet the former is biblical and the latter is not. ”

    And how often have you spoken with angels…?

    I don’t want to go into this, because we’re getting off into very weird territory, but I will say this: spirits .. and not just the Holy Spirit .. don’t necessarily speak with voices that you hear with your ears. When I was a missionary to Pagans on Exwitch ministries, both staff and subjects often had to deal with … um, “visitations” that were not audible.

    “What we should do is read our Bibles. You want to hear God speak? If you have a Bible, you have thousands of years of God-inspired instructions, messages, exhortations, rebukes and praises right at your fingertips.”

    Absolutely. God doesn’t speak in the spectacular ways very often. If we want to hear from God every day, reading the Bible is the most reliable way to do it. I can’t think of a single prophet or wise man in the Bible who was NOT a master of scripture. I note that one of the key ways God revealed himself to Samuel was through his word (1 Samuel 3:21).

    ” Why do we think we need more than that?”

    Because both Old and New Testament people had more than that. Paul and Jesus were both Rabbis, both knew the scriptures backwards and forwards, and for them it was not enough. They also had visions, dreams, and had occasional conversations with angels. Are we better than they? Are we so wise that we can read a book and trust ourselves to make the right choices and lean not at all on the Spirit he promised to send us?

    ” GodÂ’s will for your life is written there. GodÂ’s instructions for living are there.”

    His general revealed will for the human race is there. But general will is not specific will in a given situation. There are times when you really need to know, major life changes, when you want to be sure that what you’re planning isn’t going to frustrate God’s plan for your life. And that’s when you need to listen to the Spirit.

    Can God’s plans be thwarted? Maybe not, but life can be much more comfortable if you’re working according to his purposes instead of against them. The Isrealites successfully thwarted God’s will to lead them to Canaan, and wandered in the desert for forty years until that entire generation died.

    Can God’s will be thwarted? In a specific life, yes. Because God desires that none should perish but all should be saved (2 Peter 3:9), but clearly many will perish. God’s will in general cannot be thwarted — Canaan WILL be occupied one way or the other, by you or by someone else (Esther 4:14). The question is, will you be one of the occupiers? Or will you wander in the desert?

    “To want them piped directly into your brain is just foolishness and laziness. Worse, it opens you up to the worst kind of doctrinal errors. ”

    I would say 1/2 correct. Yes, going directly to listening to God without actually putting in the effort to get to know him through the word is the worst kind of folly and laziness.

    But relying solely on the word and ignoring the fact that He is NOT solely contained within the pages of the book but is a living, active Spirit who wishes to talk to you is cutting you off from a lot of enjoyable life. Like deliberately handicapping yourself. One may choose to do this — it is, after all, your life and not mine — but I can’t say it’s optimal.

    “But my inability to hear GodÂ’s voice isnÂ’t one of them.”

    Correct.

    ” I have a Bible, and God speaks to me whenever I open it. ”

    Absolutely true. And that puts you ahead of many Charismatics who can’t be bothered to put in the labor. But I suspect that you will find that you’re unnecessarily limiting yourself, all the same.

    God bless, brother. And thank God he’s big enough for disagreements of opinion :).

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  21. Brian Pendell says

    Wanted to add one thing to the whole preternatural knowledge thing that got wiped in the previous post:

    I have three times in my life had Christians tell me things that they could not have known with natural knowledge — in one case the person was in England, and had never met me face-to-face.

    All of them, without exception, did so on the basis of the “impressions” you’ve spent multiple paragraphs deriding.

    I myself have experienced this, and one time only an actual audible voice.

    Does this mean you’re a “bad” Christian because you didn’t experience this? No. It may mean nothing more than God determined that you had a good enough head on your shoulders to puzzle it out without extraordinary intervention. IMO, God wants to produce confident sons, not mindless robots. A parent who wants a kid to walk has to take away his hand at some point.

    The people I have known who received supernatural guidance generally did so when they were in over their heads in some way and needed extraordinary guidance to deal with an extraordinary situation. The fact that God has not provided this in your case may only mean that He believes that the tools you have were adequate. You didn’t need to be told who to marry because He figured you could solve this one yourself. You didn’t need to be told what job to take because your own reasoning is perfectly adequate.

    Sometimes receiving supernatural knowledge is NOT A COMPLIMENT. That’s why prophets in the NT were only one of the many gifts, and not the pre-eminent gift that ruled all the others.

    The whole thing smacks of human pride — people who have the gift, or think they do, have to brag about it and put down others who don’t. Those who don’t feel it necessary to deride or decry as nonexistent the gift of those who do. All of it revolves down to the petty desire to be as good as or better than someone else. It isn’t appropriate, IMO, for God’s children.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  22. Loved this piece since its first go-round. Thank you.

    (And Brian P… isn’t there some kind of netiquette against writing a comment that’s longer than the piece being commented on?)

  23. Brian Pendell says

    Sorry ’bout that :(.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  24. Just as a point of clarification, which I’ve had to make time and time again, I don’t consider only audible voices as “speaking”. I include visions, handwriting on the wall, angels, dreams, etc in that category. I do this because that is what is presented by scripture. I have never denied that God works through other means, including desires, impressions, emotions, etc. But that’s not speaking. Do I have to bring Webster in on this?

    I’ll add one comment to this thread that is not directed at anyone in particular. In the interest of full disclosure, this is Greg Koukl’s comment, not mine. He is a far more knowledgable and articulate critic of the “God told me” theology than I am.

    “When discussing this topic with someone, invariably people relate their experiences, and I use scripture, and experiences always trump scripture.”

    If someone wishes to live their life by hunches, coincidences, feelings, nudges and impressions, that is their business. But I can’t teach that, because scripture doesn’t teach it.

  25. I’m sick of people thinking every action we take has to be supernaturally justified. Sometimes you just have to do what is the right thing, not because God told you to or led you there in a particular way.
    Yet, even if we’re just making good decisions after being immersed in Scripture and prayer, we feel the need to say that “we’re led” or “called”.
    When Christians are doing things right, our will becomes that of God. If that is the case, why can’t we just say, “I want to…” Why does saying that have to be a selfish thing? I want to spread the Gospel. Is that a bad thing? Does God have to “call” me? I better keep my line free. I wouldn’t want God to get a busy signal.

  26. Brian Pendell says

    “I do this because that is what is presented by scripture. I have never denied that God works through other means, including desires, impressions, emotions, etc. But that’s not speaking. Do I have to bring Webster in on this?”

    I suppose we could say “God communicated to me”.. but that’s five syllables when “speak” gets the same idea across, even if it’s somewhat less precise.

    “”When discussing this topic with someone, invariably people relate their experiences, and I use scripture, and experiences always trump scripture.””

    Experience can sometimes reveal flaws in our interpretation of scripture.

    Example: A teacher believes that God always heals. Said teacher gets sick, and stays sick no matter how much he prays. If he’s smart, he recognizes that experience has revealed his Biblical reading to be in error.

    Humans have an amazing ability to read all kinds of bizarre doctrines into the simple teachings of scripture. Part of the way we dispose of them is by rubbing them against the harsh reality of life, and disposing of the ones that obviously don’t work.

    “If someone wishes to live their life by hunches, coincidences, feelings, nudges and impressions, that is their business. But I can’t teach that, because scripture doesn’t teach it.”

    I don’t believe anyone here has advocated living a life solely based on intuition. But while it should not govern the believer’s life, it’s input should not be ignored either.

    Perhaps I owe you a bit of an apology .. I thought you were proclaiming the “Bible is the only way God speaks today” idea, and I see now that is a strawman.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  27. Brian: You’d be surprised the response I got the first time this article was published. One gentleman (after he questioned whether I was a believer at all) proceeded to tell me how God helped him pick out cars. He would go down the lot, and place his hand on the hood of each car and wait for God to give him a yea or nay. Then when God told him which car to buy, he would go in and God (and I can’t remember quite how)would see to it that he paid the exact price he had in mind. He also told me he had pretty much finished with the bible. He had learned all it was going to teach him. Extreme case? Sure, but I think it is indicative of a trend I see in evangelicalism (and by no means limited to Charismatics).

    My objections have less to do with people’s experiences than it does with their way of relating their experiences. It is sloppy (and usually) misleading language. An urge is not a message. An impression is not an instruction. God can use all of them, but they are very different things. The formers are ways that God MIGHT be employing to lead you down a certain path, but are subjective and prone to error. The latters are very specific and amount to divine revelation, a very serious thing to claim.

    Instead of saying “I feel led”, wouldn’t it be more accurate, honest, and helpful to say “I’ve had an idea”? Instead of saying “God has laid something on my heart”, wouldn’t “I’ve thought of something” be better?

  28. I often wonder what the difference is between Christians “being led” by God and a new ager “responding to the good energy” in the same situation.

    Great post Bill.

  29. After reading your essay, I “felt led” to write a response. 🙂

    I agree with most of what you have written, but have some questions. Would you mind helping me think this through?

    BILL: I have never denied that God works through other means, including desires, impressions, emotions, etc. But that’s not speaking. Do I have to bring Webster in on this? Â… An urge is not a message. An impression is not an instruction. God can use all of them, but they are very different things. The formers are ways that God MIGHT be employing to lead you down a certain path, but are subjective and prone to error. The latters are very specific and amount to divine revelation, a very serious thing to claim. Instead of saying “I feel led”, wouldn’t it be more accurate, honest, and helpful to say “I’ve had an idea”? Instead of saying “God has laid something on my heart”, wouldn’t “I’ve thought of something” be better?

    Why is it necessarily more accurate, honest and helpful to say “I’ve had an idea” than to say that you feel that God is leading you to do something? If God works through other means, then what language do we use to describe this? If I use language like “I feel led”, that does not seem to be any claim to divine revelation. I’ve said it’s how I feel. But, if I understand you correctly, the point is that if God wanted me to know, then there wouldn’t be any doubt – he would make his message clear.

    The struggle for me is to try and find appropriate and correct language to describe myself or others “thinking of something” that seems contrary to what we might ordinarily do. Maybe it’s just that I want to believe that God’s Spirit is working in my life and making a difference in the decisions I make and the things that I do. I feel a desire to stop and talk to someone in the store, and it leads to a significant spiritual conversation. Did I think of that all on my own? Or did God lead me? I have a job earning $75k a year, and I quit and become a pastor for a lot less. Was that “I thought of something” or did God lay something on my heart?

    DAVID wrote: When Christians are doing things right, our will becomes that of God. If that is the case, why can’t we just say, “I want to…”

    Maybe it is an attempt (misguided?) to try and give God credit for making a difference in the way I live my life, and we just do a poor job of expressing it. Maybe when I say, “I feel called” what I am trying to say is that I am doing something now that I wouldn’t have done before because my will is becoming that of God. More examples: I say, “God laid it on my heart to go to Jamaica for two weeks and offer my services as a doctor to the people there.” I don’t mean that God spoke to me directly. What I am trying to communicate is that I have had a strong urge to do this, and that I believe in part that it comes from the compassion growing in my life as a result of God’s transforming Spirit. Or I say, “God has been leading me to spend less on eating out and use that money at the local orphanage.” I could just say that I thought of something. Or, that I am simply obeying what God clearly spoke in the Bible about caring for the orphans. But, what I am trying to communicate is that God commands me to care for the orphans, and with His help I am putting to death the sinful nature that makes me want to spend the money on myself.

    My post is getting lengthy Â… yes, we need to be careful about claiming special revelation. But, what language do we use to describe those thoughts/urges that grow out of our deepening relationship with Christ and putting to death of the sinful nature that comes by the power of the Spirit?

    Shalom.

  30. Carl: I appreciate the dillema you’ve posed. An urge or impression or idea may be from God. Especially if it is something that is out of character from your pre-Christian self. Or it may be a result of the transformation God is bringing about in you through the work of the Spirit, so that it is no less God, but in actuality a change in your Nature. I also understand a Christian’s desire to even have their language transformed, so that “I’ve had an idea” becomes “I feel led by God”.

    The danger is that while your intentions might be good, others, especially young Christians, might be led to a false expectation of what the Christian life is all about. You can’t imagine the letters I’ve recieved from people thanking me for assuring them that they aren’t leading substandard Christian lives (we all are, but you know what I mean) because they aren’t “hearing” from God.

    Secondly, when you assign God’s approval (without specific revelation) to an idea or course of action, you are raising it to an unassailable level, so that it may not be criticized. Not your intent, I’m sure, but it’s there none the less.

    God is always leading you. Never doubt that. My advice? Act in the ways that God is leading (using discernnment, of course). Keep your language neutral when dealing with what you feel, rather than know for certain. And let others, in their observation of you, reach the conclusion that God is working in your life. Matthew 5:16

  31. Here’s an unrelated thought to the last few posts:

    Maybe the reason there are so many of us that don’t hear God is that we are not, after all, part of the elect. Perhaps Calvin was right, and we who are questioning and mocking these seemingly-crazy “voices of God” just haven’t been given enough Grace to decern it as spiritually True.

    Perhaps part of our total depravity is that we *think* we’re Christians. Although, if I can know that and it’s spiritually true, I must not be totally depraved after all.

    I don’t believe that whole approach at all, but it is a neat and tidy way for those who hear God to dsimiss us non-hearers.

  32. I was told once that God had said some things we haven’t gotten yet, and that He can’t (or won’t) say others until we’re ready.

    not sure if i agree completely, but hey, i’m only human.

  33. Brian Pendell says

    “Brian: You’d be surprised the response I got the first time this article was published. One gentleman (after he questioned whether I was a believer at all) proceeded to tell me how God helped him pick out cars.”

    My personal opinion is that the man is doing a very foolish thing. He seems to be expecting God to do his research for him. Divine direction, guidance or leading work best when we’re doing everything we can on our side.

    “Extreme case? Sure, but I think it is indicative of a trend I see in evangelicalism (and by no means limited to Charismatics).”

    Conceded.

    “The formers are ways that God MIGHT be employing to lead you down a certain path, but are subjective and prone to error.”

    ANY form of divine guidance is subjective and prone to error on the human side. The Bible categorically states that God speaks through visions and dreams. Yet dreams and visions are not infallible… they could be from last night’s pizza and not from God. Same with audible voices: How do you know that’s actually God speaking and not the Devil? It’s not like we have a voiceprint. Suppose an angel were to appear to you? Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light.

    All of these are ways God can “speak”. And all of them can be counterfeited or otherwise come directly from the imagination or from a diseased mind. Intuition is in exactly the same category. That is why there’s simply no substitute for knowing the Bible backwards and forwards.

    “Instead of saying “I feel led”, wouldn’t it be more accurate, honest, and helpful to say “I’ve had an idea”? Instead of saying “God has laid something on my heart”, wouldn’t “I’ve thought of something” be better?”

    Because the source of that thought is not necessarily me.

    I have learned this the hard way through first-hand experience — not everything that suggests itself to my mind is necessarily *me*. Consequently, I have come to treat intuition almost as a “sixth sense”. There are impulses and ideas that are purely mine, but they can come from other places — spirits, and not just the Holy Spirit — as well. How can I describe the moment during prayer when you’re talking to God and suddenly you KNOW — as surely as you know your own name — what the answer is?

    However, in light of 1 John 4:1, I make it a point to test any impulse, intuition, or other nonrational thought in light of scripture, in light of common sense, and in light of what my ordinary, rational mind is telling me. Generally speaking, if an impulse does not line up with these things it is not GOd. If the Holy Spirit is really asking me to do something irrational (like drop everything and move to Africa), then I expect Him to provide some really extraordinary proof that it is Him speaking. This, IMO, is the proper use of a fleece. If you’re unemployed, you don’t need a fleece to know you need to get a job. But if you believe you’re being asked to do something really crazy .. like attack a 180,000 man army with 300 men … a fleece is not a bad thing at all. If I can’t trust God to keep a fleece dry on wet ground, I can’t trust him to lead me to overcome 600-to-1 odds.

    So it may be more honest to say you I this is what I THINK God is saying to me. But accepting a mere impulse or intuition as the Revelation of God is a route to disaster. It needs to be tested with common sense, with wisdom, with rationality, and with friends. For that matter, I never say “God told me” when discussing a course of action with anyone, because it’s unnecessary. I would rather the idea stood or fell on it’s own merits. “God told me” is too often used as a coverup for poor planning. If it’s a good idea, it can stand on it’s own and doesn’t need “God told me”. If it’s a bad idea, I shouldn’t blacken God’s name by blaming him for it.

    SO perhaps we don’t really disagree so much. We both agree that God CAN speak through intuition. We both agree that simply accepting that without testing it rigorously is a recipe for disaster. We both agree that “leading” of this sort is no substitute for rational thinking or for Bible Study. We both agree that people who want to hear from God need to be reading their Bibles every day.

    So what are we arguing about, again? 🙂 Terminology?

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  34. I also enjoyed this article the first time around, and the comments generated with this iteration. Here’s a perspective from the Pentecostal side of the fence…

    First of all, as someone who does speak in tongues and has seen some things that can only be described as miraculous, I think that a lot of what people claim to be God’s direction is just plain silly. I really enjoyed the dialog posted by Derek– it’s so true. What is amazing to me is that the pastor in the rear-view mirror usually accepts it at face value, rather than try to find out what’s *really* going on, so they can address any issues that might have caused the departure. It’s a nice manifestation of denial. But I’m digressing from the main.

    As I said above, I agree that much of what gets claimed as God’s direction is actually just a person’s own desires, will, opinion, or whatever– and they just can’t bring themself to admit it. And most cases recorded in scripture of God’s direction are fairly objective. The problem, though, is that it’s not a 100% thing. Others have mentioned a few examples of a subjective leading, and I’ll just add the Joel prophecy quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost, about dreams and visions. These things are not audible to anyone outside your own head, yet they are examples of God speaking to individuals. Now, if I were to experience something like that, not having any other “ear”witnesses to verify, I would have to take it to scripture for vetting. Ditto any other kind of apparent spiritual leading or direction or whatever.

    In my experience (there’s that word, but it can’t be avoided here), I do believe that God speaks to me on occasion. Here’s how it works for me: Let’s say that I am seeking specific direction in a particular situation. I’ll be doing my prayer thing, and suddenly a thought appears in my head that halts all my trains of thought, nearly always in the form of a rhetorical question– one that points out something that should be obvious to me, or something I had been avoiding. Here’s a for-instance. I was getting pressure from our music minister to get involved in a production the choir was doing, and I had been resisting for what I felt were good reasons. Finally I decided to pray seriously about it. I didn’t want to be in rebellion to leadership, but it just didn’t seem smart for me. So here I am, praying about it, and clear as a bell this thought says, “If you *really believe* that those reasons are right, then don’t you think you should act accordingly?”

    Could something like that be a logical thought process from my own mind? Yeah. And in this case I should have thought that way anyway. But I don’t think so. It was like being reminded of some truth that I’d forgotten. I’m quite sure it was the Holy Spirit. And it gave me courage to stand for what I intuitively knew was the right thing. I’ve heard that voice a number of times in the past. And it’s always saying something that points me to reason, and to the scripture. Never some kind of wacko thing like “Jesus is coming back on Tuesday”.

    (Cool thing was, this time it allowed ME to play the God Card: I’d prayed, I got an answer, it was No, so leave me alone!)

    But IMO when pastors decide to leave because “God is leading them on”, it’s usually because (1) they’ve reached an end of their effectiveness, (2) they’re having a fight with somebody, (3) they’re disillusioned or didsappointed with the response they’re getting, (4) they’re hiding something, or (5) they got fired by the senior pastor. And most church members are leaving because of similar reasons, and just don’t want to make waves. Hey, if the church is falling into error, then it probably IS God telling you to get outta Sodom! And you don’t need an esoteric experience to know that; just read your Bible!

    Getting too lengthy, so I’ll quit here.

    -Jim Bob

  35. Again, the article does not limit “speaking” to audible voices. Dreams, visions, angels, handwriting, all qualify. All scriptural. The point isn’t that Abraham heard a voice, but that Abraham knew what he was being commanded to do. It was clear. Specific. The communications medium is not the point. The message is the point.

    BTW, this has never been about speaking in tongues, but doesn’t the bible characterize speaking in tongues as man speaking to God, not vice-versa?

  36. Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    BILL:God is always leading you. Never doubt that. My advice? Act in the ways that God is leading (using discernnment, of course). Keep your language neutral when dealing with what you feel, rather than know for certain. And let others, in their observation of you, reach the conclusion that God is working in your life. Matthew 5:16

    I had an Army instructor drill into us the importance of using precise language precisely. That is the dilemma here. Unfortunately, excesses and abuses distort language, and at times we are left with no good way to describe something without confusing someone.

    I will be paying more attention to the language I use more carefully.

    Suggestion for the next blog on silly language (or maybe I’ll give it a go): accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior or asking Jesus into my heart. Maybe not at the same level, but it’s language that drives me crazy.

    Shalom.

  37. Michael,
    I’ve only been in the world of blog for a couple of months, but that was the best post I’ve read yet.

    When are Christians going to get back to God given common sense? It seems like more Christians are into Mysticism than the God of the Bible.

    I’ll be back,
    T.E.

  38. When I was a young preacher, I spent one summer as a summer misssionary working with a man who had the reputation of being a great soul winner and a faithful servant of the Lord.
    We had a profitible time together and at the close of the summer he said to me, “I believe God is leading you here. We’ve worked well together and God has blessed our labors. I believe it is God’s will for you to move out here. I’ve had these feelings for several weeks now and they’ve never been wrong before. I believe this is God’s will. Will you come?”
    His influence was strong and I had a difficult time ignoring his plea. I was convinced that it was God’s will because he said, “I’ve had these feelings for several weeks now and they’ve never been wrong.”
    I returned to my home, told my wife we were moving. We sold everything we owned except the essentials that would fit into the smallest u-haul trailer. My wife quit her job, I dropped out of college. On our way back across country to the mission field we stopped at my wifes parents to tell them our plans. They were sick about it.
    I called the missionary from their house to inform him we were on the way. This was one week after I had left there. He told me that he had resigned as missionary and was returning to his home in Alabama to work in a Christian bookstore. The denomination had already sold the property to another group and he was sorry for any inconvenience this might have caused.
    All of that took place 28 years ago. I don’t think I ever fully recovered.

  39. Tim,

    I was a Word of Faither and I learned the hard way in my life too. I spent many years naming and claiming things that never came into being, before learning that the faith I had been taught was no faith at all.

    T.E.

  40. Bill, in 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about tongues and interpretation in the context of God speaking to man, so no. It’s not always man speaking to God. In fact, the definition of tongues as man speaking to God (“prayer language”) is actually MORE difficult to defend with Scripture, in my opinion. But a message in tongues that is interpreted by someone with the gift of interpretation is God speaking to man, the way I see it in Scripture.

    steve 🙂

  41. Bill, in 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about tongues and interpretation in the context of God speaking to man, so no. It’s not always man speaking to God. In fact, the definition of tongues as man speaking to God (“prayer language”) is actually MORE difficult to defend with Scripture, in my opinion. But a message in tongues that is interpreted by someone with the gift of interpretation is God speaking to man, the way I see it in Scripture.

    steve 🙂

  42. Sorry for the double post. I got an error the first time, and didn’t see the post, so I resubmitted it. Ugh!! And I should know better!

    steve 🙂

  43. Steve: With respect, I think you are mistaken. 1 Cor. 14:2 clearly states that tongues is speaking to God. I don’t see any other way of interpreting that. Prophecy and revelation are both mentioned in the same chapter and clearly those are messages from God to man and distinct from tongues. This idea is not new with me. I first heard a Charismatic preacher teach this (albeit evidently an atypical Charismatic preacher).

    I don’t mind discussing tongues, but tongues never entered my mind when writing the article.

  44. Well,
    this is a very solid article – and for my $.02 right on. It is difficult to come up with any better advise on knowing God than read your bible and pray every day. 🙂
    My, my how we complicate things.
    Thank you for your clarity.
    Cheers,
    David

  45. Brian Pendell says

    “I had an Army instructor drill into us the importance of using precise language precisely. ”

    With respect to the author of that comment, that is not easy.

    When you’re talking about intuitive insight, your talking about visions, pictures, feelings and so forth, some of which we simply don’t have precise words for. Intuitive/imaginative types aren’t terribly good at precise language.

    As an example of this, look at hymns — generally speaking, the hymns that are precise suck, and the hymns that are singable and get a response tend to be imprecise. Some of the things people put in hymns are enough to make theologians hang their heads in despair. Hank Hanegraeff tried to write “theologically correct” music, and that sank like a rock in the Atlantic ocean.

    Prophecy is — IMO — an imaginative, intuitive exercise. Consequently, it does not lend well to precision. Look at Revelation — a series of pictures, images that aren’t terribly easy to understand and do not necessarily have a precise meaning.

    So asking a prophet to be precise is a lot like asking an artist to do things in a precise way… they can’t easily do that without losing what makes them artists in the first place. Only the very very best, such as Paul, were able to do that.

    This is why the church needs cool, rational teachers as well as warm, vibrant, irrational mystics. Neither gift is particularly useful unless it’s being used in conjunction with the other — alone, it can cause more harm than good. Maybe that’s why the gifts are expected to be used in the body, to build up the body?

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  46. Bill,

    You are absolutely correct about 1 Cor 14:2. I was greatly mistaken in my response. I had been looking at verse 27 and viewing it as something that needed interpreted because it was directed to the church, but you have more correctly interpreted the context.

    I’m not sure how I missed that!! 😉 Admittedly, it’s been a while since I had really dealt with the issue of tongues (it’s not a major issue in my fellowship or personal life), and I guess somewhere along the line, I got some of the charismatic teaching mixed up with the truth!

    Thanks for setting me straight on that. Humbling, but refreshing.

    steve 🙂

  47. A thought on the “let the peace of God rule in your heart” idea. Read that passage in context carefully and ask “How in the world anyone can get a promise of guidance from it?” The context has to do with the hard work of love required to maintain unity and to behave in a godly manner toward each other. The peace of God is to rule in all these situations. I am to behave in a manner that the peace of God rules.

    For many, the unforegivable sin seems to be having the temerity to question the veracity of another’s personal experience, or more to the point, their interpretation of those experiences (e.g. “God told me”, “I feel led”, etc.)

    In Grace,
    Mort Chien

  48. So, to play devil’s advocate a bit, Mort, if you are to behave in a way that allows the peace of God to rule, and the situation in which you find yourself is not addressed in Scripture, then how do you know how to behave?

    Seems to me that some are wanting to draw a line and say “This is the extent of revelation available, and nothing else goes”. So what does it really mean to have the Holy Spirit within us? What does He do inside us? Jesus didn’t limit the work of the Holy Spirit to only illuminating the words of Scripture. In fact, the New Testament hadn’t even been written yet.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing for an open canon, or “anything goes” or any of that stuff. I’m actually quite conservative in my theology overall. I just sometimes think that we build these parameters and try to box things into clean, definitive, pithy statements and then refuse to consider any alternatives.

    And yes, I’m speaking to myself, too. I’m taking all this discussion with an open mind, but am not seeing the point that’s being made by the “God doesn’t speak personally” comments.

    steve 🙂

  49. Steve: I can’t speak for anyone else, but my real point about the “peace” aspect, is that it is a poor and unreliable criteria for decision making. Normally relaxed people might be led into terrible decisions using this criteria and normally uptight people might never make a good decision based on this criteria. I think the “peace of God” is God sustaining and assuring us in our circumstances rather than letting us know we’ve made a good decision.