By Elizabeth Prata
I’m presenting a series of essays and podcasts that scripturally rebut the notion that God is still speaking to people individually today. Despite the glut of people, many of them women Bible teachers, who claim He speaks to them, dispenses life advice, or just whispers sweet assurances all day long, He is not speaking now.
Now, for the past two parts in this series, I have been firm on the notion that God is not speaking to individuals today. I looked at where the Bible says He is not, at why He is not, and if this voice is not from God, then who is speaking? Today I want to look at the difference between God speaking audibly to people versus the Spirit’s inner work of sanctification, versus intuition and promptings.
4. What is the difference between hearing audible voices and claims that God “spoke to your heart?”
God speaking to my heart, or as often heard, “God laid it on my heart” is another shorthand like “God told me.” But it’s often an unwitting shorthand for a true doctrine- the doctrine of Providence. Just because God is not speaking directly to us today, does not mean He isn’t working in our lives. He is. How? Providentially. God is at work personally and intimately in each and every thing that happens on earth and in each person’s life, even if He isn’t telling us His business directly and even when He isn’t personally answering life questions like where to get a job or who to marry. God speaking today is not a question of His voice and how to hear it, but a question of HOW He works in our lives. We can read the definition of providence from Phil Johnson,
Providence is God’s continuous involvement with his creation whereby he preserves and governs all his creatures (from the greatest to the least)—so that in accord with his perfect will and design, he sovereignly orders everything he has made to accomplish everything he intends for his own glory. (Source)
Phil Johnson then goes on to speak about our intuition. It’s a tricky business to attribute our hunches and intuitions to God speaking to us directly, He doesn’t, but it IS true that He is working in our lives. We just cannot say that since an intuition turned out to be correct that it was direct revelation that prompted us. Phil Johnson goes on to explain.
[W]hat about those rare occasions when our intuition proves correct? Something we dreamed about seems to correspond to something in real life? A sense of foreboding motivates us to change plans, and it turns out to be a good thing?
Most of us have had experiences like that. Everyone has unexplained thoughts that seem to leap from nowhere into the mind. Most people likewise have hunches and instincts. Sometimes you just feel like you know a thing is true, but you can’t give an account for how you arrived at that knowledge rationally.
But how do we understand that inner sense, especially when God seems to use it to prompt us to pray, or witness, or duck and run at precisely the right moment? Because let’s be honest: that kind of thing does happen to most of us from time to time.
Here’s the point: I do believe that God might providentially use a spontaneous thought in my head to accomplish something wonderful. But that’s what it is, and no more. It’s a remarkable providence, not a prophecy. As I have been saying, God ultimately controls and uses everything providentially.
Here’s the problem: that’s as true of my sins as it is of the thoughts in my head. God can and does use them all for His own purposes. The fact that He uses an idea in my mind to achieve some good purpose doesn’t make the idea itself inspired. It also doesn’t make a bad idea good, just because God uses it for good.
Now, think this through with me: Since intuition is fallible—and almost everyone agrees that it is actually far more often wrong than right—we shouldn’t make much of it. Furthermore, since intuition is fallible, it cannot be considered “revelation,” even when it happens to be uncannily right in an instance or two. And if one or two of your guesses happen to prove accurate alongside a gaggle of dozens of failed prognostications, you should still be wary of granting your premonitions the status of a supernatural “spiritual gift.”
People who think moments of intuition are God speaking with a private message invariably become extremely superstitious. They foolishly order their lives by their feelings. They commit the sin of trusting too much in their own hearts.
Now, the ‘God spoke to my heart’ phrase could just be a casual shorthand for someone saying, “I have read the pertinent Bible passages and I now have a settled conviction that my decision to do X is consistent with God’s will.” But usually that is NOT what people mean when they say it.
Usually people mean it as a shorthand way of saying “God spoke to me and this is what He said I must do.” The latter is a way to escape accountability for their decisions.
Assigning to God the catalyst for your personal life decisions is a dangerous thing because it puts words in His mouth He didn’t say and pridefully indicates you know God’s mind at any given moment.
Phil Johnson, Shepherds Conference 2002, “Super Seminar: Private Revelations” said-
Now, does the Spirit of God ever move our hearts and impress us with specific duties or callings? Certainly. But, even in doing that, He works through the Word of God. Experiences like this, impressions and all, are not in any sense prophetic or authoritative except as they echo what the Word already says. They are not revelation. Those sensations, those impressions, those feelings you get are not revelation, but they are the effect of illumination. When the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our hearts, and opens our spiritual eyes to His truth. And, we need to guard carefully against allowing our experiences and our own subjective thoughts and imaginations to eclipse the authority and the certainty of the more sure Word of God. This is a very practical application of the principle of Sola Scriptura. Think about this…to what ever degree you seek private messages from God outside His Word, you have abandoned the principle of Sola Scriptura.
Part of decision making is trust- trusting God, trusting that He is in control of our lives, and trusting providential out-workings from our decisions. You will not ruin His plan if you make a life-decision. So go ahead and turn left instead of right, marry that person, go to the college you want to go to, take the job in another city. As long as you are adhering to the general, biblical principles outlined in the Bible, you can safely fill in the blanks with your own decisions. God knows how to merge our decisions with His fore-ordained plan.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:6)
Judas decided freely in his own will to steal from the purse, to betray Jesus, to reject His miracles. Yet all was consistent with foreordained scriptures and was fulfilled exactly. God maintains that balance and we don’t have to know how.
In 2006 I decided to move to Georgia. I could have decided on Columbus Ohio, Honolulu Hawaii, or Anchorage Alaska, and it would have been the same. He established me in a church, found me a job, knit some friends into my life, gave me a dwelling place, and continued to sanctify me.
The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all. (Psalm 103:19)
God does speak to our heart, because the Spirit dwells in us and transforms the evil desires of our heart to holy desires of God. But we can’t and don’t know at any given moment that this particular idea or thought is God’s. What we do know is that Romans 8:28 is true:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).