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"God told Me!"

Blessings & Dangers of Hearing God's Voice

Listening

by Dennis Pollock

One of the most important issues new Christians must struggle with is discerning God's will and hearing His voice. While the world questions whether there is a personal God, and whether He would ever speak to ordinary folks, we who have tasted the grace of Jesus Christ pretty much take it for granted that God can and will speak to us from time to time. We know He has spoken through the Scriptures, but we instinctively feel that He will speak to us directly at times. When I was in college my abnormal psychology professor said that one of the trademarks of a truly insane individual was when he claimed that God speaks to him. That may sometimes be, but if all who have ever made this claim have lost their minds, all the major characters of the Bible were insane, from Adam right down the line.

The Christian and Jewish religions rest on one man hearing the voice of God. There was no Bible at that time; there were no preachers, no television or radio ministries, no Christian books or gatherings of believers, or knowledge of the true God at all, anywhere in the earth. Out of nowhere the Creator of heaven and earth sovereignly revealed Himself to one man: "Now the LORD had said to Abram: 'Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing'" (Genesis 12:1,2). The man we know as Abraham heard the voice of his Creator. Believing what he heard, he acted upon the instructions given him, and became the father of the Jewish nation, from whose lineage Jesus Christ would eventually be born.

God's Friend, Moses

Of all the men who ever lived, apart from our Lord Jesus, Moses was perhaps the man who heard God in the clearest manner and the most often. When Miriam and Aaron criticized their brother Moses for marrying an Ethiopian woman, God responded with a lecture about the way He speaks to men:

Then He said, " Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?" (Numbers 12:6-8).

What about the New Testament? Did the early believers ever hear God speaking to them? The inspired Scriptures assure us that they did. Philip heard the Holy Spirit tell him to overtake the chariot in which the Ethiopian official happened to be reading the book of Isaiah, and led the man to Christ. A man named Agabus warns Paul by the Spirit that the Jews would imprison him and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. Peter receives a vision in which God assures him that salvation through Jesus Christ is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Jesus tells Paul to leave Jerusalem and minister to the Gentiles. The early pillars of the church would have laughed at you had you suggested that God never speaks directly to His children.

To hear the voice of God, warning us, encouraging us, and directing us is one of the great privileges reserved for those who are in Jesus Christ. This should not be an exception only for great church leaders, but a blessing for all who name the name of Jesus. Some would suggest that the Bible is all we need. Certainly the Bible is all we need for matters of theology and morality. If we are trying to decide whether to rob a bank or not, we do not need any particular impression from God, or dream or vision. "Thou shalt not steal" covers the situation very nicely." But the Bible says nothing about whether we should become a pastor or a plumber, whether we should marry Debbie or Danielle, whether we should buy a pickup truck or a compact car, and scores of other decisions that may be facing us. This leaves us to either a) believe that God never speaks to His children, and hope that we are lucky in making smart choices, or b) pray about the choices that are before us, believing that God is able and willing to lead us as we look to Him in faith. It does not take a lot of theological brilliance to recognize that "b" is the proper answer.

With all this being said, there are some very real dangers associated with attempting to hear the voice of God. God speaking to us is not a problem, but us hearing and interpreting what He is saying, or what we think He is saying can be very much a problem. Even with God's written word there are huge differences of opinion. Some people are obviously mistaken. And if we can be wrong about the words that appear plainly on paper in front of our eyes, how much more can we be in error over subjective perceptions which we believe are from God.

Arrogant manOne major danger involves a lack of willingness to receive any counsel: "God told me and that's that!" Having convinced ourselves that we have heard the word of the Lord, we can become obstinate and stubborn, refusing to listen to anyone's counsel. "Why should I listen to you? I've heard from God! Are you smarter than God?" This attitude reeks with arrogance and runs contrary to passages such as: "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14). Such a person is a Christianized version of the know-it-all. He doesn't say "I know it all," but says instead, "God has told me all." He refuses all warnings and counsel. Even when you try to show him some cautions from the Scriptures, he wants none of it. He has determined his course, feels sure that God is behind it, and will listen to no one.

This is a "me and Jesus" mentality that is both unhealthy and unbiblical. Such a person submits to no one. The Bible says, "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment" (Proverbs 18:1). It is much easier to take this "I've heard from God, thank you very much" approach than to deal with questions and concerns from people that know and care about us.

Safeguards

There are certain fundamental safeguards which will protect us from getting into error as we seek to hear the voice of the Lord. The first safeguard is the simple recognition that you are not Moses, nor are you an Old Testament prophet. "Thus saith the Lord" worked fine for Jeremiah and Isaiah, but for folks with names like Bob, Mike, Susan, and Lisa it just doesn't fit. It is right that we should see ourselves as precious and beloved children of our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, but when we start to think of ourselves as God's special agents, who have a unique hotline to heaven, we can get in big trouble. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).

We must recognize that we are fully capable of being deceived, and that includes deception in this business of hearing the voice of God. Believing the Bible is always safe; any other voices and impressions we get are fraught with danger. They may be from God but again they may not, and must be viewed with a critical eye, and weighed and tested to ascertain their legitimacy. In the 1970's Charles Blair, the pastor of one of Denver's largest churches had a dream where he saw a large high-rise building. Later that day he saw the very building as he was driving around Denver. It was an abandoned chiropractic center, now for sale. Blair immediately concluded that God wanted him to buy that building and turn it into a home for the elderly. His plan was challenged by several people, as was the fact that the project teetered on the verge of insolvency almost from the start. He sold securities to elderly parishioners to finance the center, but one problem followed another. This project turned into a nightmare. The church lost money, the investors lost money, Blair ended up in court and he nearly went to jail. His noble ambition to provide housing for Christian seniors became a huge scandal that Charles Blair was associated with for the rest of his life. In his latter years he wrote a book, detailing the mistakes he made and the lessons he learned. At the end of the book he writes, "The Bible tells us to try the spirits to see if they are of God (1 John 4:1). To this day I am confused as to whether that original vision for Life Center came from God or from my own ego. Seen as guidance, it appeared to have lots of confirmation. But there were persistent Christian voices challenging this."

George Whitefield, a contemporary and friend of John Wesley, was one of the church's greatest evangelists of the 1700's. He had one son, and upon the boy's birth, George became sure God was telling him that his son was destined to become a great leader in the church and a preacher of the gospel. He shared this freely with others, but within four months the boy died, and Whitefield's impressions turned out to be no more than a father's ambitious desires for his son. Whitefield was embarrassed by his predictions, admitted that he had missed God on this, and was not nearly so quick to speak openly about his spiritual impressions from that point on.

Check Your Record

This brings us to a pragmatic but very useful tool in keeping us from being too quick to assume our every impression comes straight from the counsels of heaven. Looking back at our own track record should move us to a more conservative and cautious attitude toward words we hear and impressions we receive that we think to be from God. Nearly all of us can look back to some pretty major failures in this area – times when we were sure God was saying a specific word to us, only for us to learn that we were in fact decidedly wrong. This is one reason that young people are more gullible than older folks when it comes to believing that everything they feel, dream, sense, or imagine is directly from heaven. They haven't had enough failures to create a healthy recognition of their own capacity to be deceived.  In my own life I can say that there have been times when God has indeed spoken to me, and time confirmed the truth of those words. But there have likewise been times when I was nearly positive God was speaking, and discovered the painful truth that it was merely my own imagination, mixed with some ambition and ego. These failures have made me much slower in telling others what I think God may be saying, or even assuring myself that I have heard God rightly. If God is the One who is speaking, you can be sure He will confirm His word, and time will prove it.

I know this is a little messy. It would be so much neater if we had some definitive formula for testing whether a word is from God. But this is the way of humanity. We "see through a glass darkly," and "we walk by faith and not by sight." It is somehow right that we test the spirits, that we weigh the evidence, and that we patiently allow God the time to confirm His word to us. Above all we look to Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who makes sure that His sheep will hear His voice. Our ears may not be so keen, our hearing may be dulled by the incessant whistling of hopes, dreams, ambition, and lust. But as we keep our eyes on Jesus, patiently trusting Him to make His mind clear to us, He will not fail us. He will lead us to the still waters and the green pastures. His words will encourage us, His guidance will protect and direct us, His rebukes will correct us, and His peace will comfort us.

Even with thick-headed, dull-hearted, hard-of-hearing sheep, our Lord is a Master at communicating His mind and will. His sheep will hear His voice.

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