Posted in bible, god told me, personal revelation, still small voice

How to respond to a "God told me" comment

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In Christianity today, we have a major epidemic of use of the phrase “God told me”.

In some cases, God told me is shorthand for a process the Christian has undergone wherein they have read the bible to determine God’s will, have prayed, have submitted to Him and to church leadership, have counted the cost, and then have made a decision. Sometimes we’re guilty of saying “God told me…

–to join this ministry
–to become a missionary
–to leave this church
–to adopt a child

as shorthand for all the above. It is a poor use of the phrase however, and we shouldn’t say it. More on that in a minute.

More often it means that the Christian hasn’t heard from God but wants to elevate his decision into something inviolable, wherein the Christian’s decision can’t be held to account. After all, it was from God.

Other times, the Christian has received a supposed revelation and encapsulates that revelation by saying “God told me.” Many times they have received a dream, or a ‘nudge’ or have heard that ‘still, small voice’ and are basing their decision on this personal revelation from God on those things instead of the word and then trusting to providence.

EPrata photo

The ‘still, small voice’ is permeating Christianity, with the result that now most conversations among Christians are peppered with “God told me” as a result. This is partly thanks to Henry Blackaby, who opened the door to personal revelation in his “Experiencing God” workbook and series of lessons published in the 1990s. Baptists especially who had not been prone to mysticism prior to this, fell hard for the method the Baptist Blackaby was promoting. One reviewer of Experiencing God said here,

many readers will nevertheless find great encouragement in hearing a still, small voice among a vast number of everyday experiences.”

Blackaby taught: God Often Speaks in a “Still, Small Voice” (I Kings 19:11–13). Sometimes God will speak through “the wind or an earthquake or a fire,” but most often He speaks in a still, small voice. Be attentive!

‘Most often’? Where is that in the bible? Blackaby went on to sadly teach:

If you are not hearing God’s voice, examine your heart.

It is crushing to be told by an elder that we should be hearing from God, and if we aren’t we may be the problem!

Of the Mystical, Princeton theologian of yore BB Warfield said

There is nothing more important in the age in which we live than to bear constantly in mind that all the Christianity of Christianity rests precisely on “external authority.”

Relying on small voices, impressions, and God told me revelation diminishes the sufficiency of the bible by virtue of the fact that someone is adding to God’s revelation. The bible isn’t enough for them. In His book Things that Go Bump in the Church, Mike Abendroth along with co-authors Byron Yawn and Clint Archer explained in their theological decoder, that when you hear people say “God told me, it really means,

I really think I should do ______ but I’m forgetting that the canon of scripture is closed and there is no need for further revelation. I want confirmation for my precarious decision, and I’m mistaking intuition for God’s voice. I’m forgetting to follow Proverbs 3:5-6.

So we know that the still small voice is a twisted use of scripture ripped from its context, and the God Told Me phrase could either be shorthand meaning a biblical process a person has gone through or a short cut from reading the bible and a cover for their poor decision making. So here is the question I was asked:

How do we respond when someone says “God told me…”

It was a great question. Let’s get practical. I thought of a few responses, gleaned from the very good articles, sermon, and audio lessons linked below. Some of the responses below are mine, and some are a mixture from the articles below which are excerpted and reworked. They are not inclusive, or may not even be appropriate for you or your situation. But they may provide a start in your own thinking. Please search the scriptures for relevant verses which speak to this issue.

I recently wrote a serious piece about the Third Commandment, taking the Lord’s name in vain. One way to take it in vain is to trivialize it, to be swift or short. We have to be careful never to ascribe to Him thoughts He doesn’t have or things He never said. “God told me” very often does just that though, trivializes His name by ascribing things to Him He never said. It is a serious thing to say “God told me”!

I find that asking questions initially is the best way to begin. Be sincere in asking questions. Perhaps the person truly is using the phrase out of habit because everyone else does, or simply hadn’t thought about its use in light of the Third Commandment before.

  • I thought that the biblical canon is closed, that God has already told us everything we need for life and godliness.
  • I’d be too wary of the risk of introducing error to our lives and to the church to depend on a whisper voice.
  • I don’t believe God needs to give us special revelation to reaffirm what he has already told us to do in his word.
  • Did an angel deliver the news to you, like in the bible?

Here are a few more:

  • How did you test it to see if it is really of God? 
  • How can I test to see if it really from God? (special implications for married couples, business partners, or others in different kinds of partnership or ministry)
  • How do you know it’s not your intuition?
  • The only time I’m ever 100% sure God is speaking to me is when I am reading the Bible.
  • I can’t trust my heart or mind to speak to me because of Jeremiah 17:9 which says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
  • I’m too mindful of the scripture in 2 Corinthians 11:14 which says “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” to trust whether inner impressions are  from God. I just make my decision if it is within the biblically revealed will of God and trust Him top providentially work all things to the good for those who love Him (Rom 8:28)
  • What scripture were you reading, I’ll look it up (I wasn’t reading scripture). Then how do you know it’s not your own idea?

This next batch are reworked from the Cornestone link below, a piece taking Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church to task some years ago by declaring God speaks to him. These are a little edgier.

  • I’d be too scared to say ‘God told me’ because of the seriousness of the 3rd commandment, not taking God’s name casually, just in case He didn’t say what I thought He said. I usually just say “I have decided to…please pray for me”.
  • Do you think that that believers have access to “personal revelation” from God that equals/trumps the revelation of scripture?
  • Do you think that your subjective, personal experience of a word from God is in authority over the objective truth of scripture?
  • Do you think that your revelation minimizes the role of scripture in personal experience and the need for the faithful interpretation of scripture?

Those are some ideas…please let me know how you react when someone in conversation says to you “God told me”, or if you have said “God told me” and were reacted to.

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Further reading

Does God give us personal direction through a still small voice? 2-min audio lesson

The Still, Small Voice (sermon by Phil Johnson)

God told me…really?

Why Do We Say…’God told me’?

The Danger of God Told Me reflections

Posted in hearing God, still small voice, whisper

What is the ‘still, small voice’?

This was an answer to a question posed to me on a comment stream. I am expanding it to a blog entry.

The Still Small Voice is not a voice of God nor is it a personal experience, intuition, or a word from the Lord (or word of knowledge). Revelation has ceased, the canon of the bible is closed. In these last days He spoke to us by His son. (Hebrews 1:2).

People who believe they have heard or seek after a voice, through prayer, or a labyrinth or contemplative practices or whatever are actually rebelling against the authority of God’s word. People who wait on a whisper from God are actually elevating themselves to a position equal to the throne.

Do you not think that God can orchestrate events He desires to come to fruition whether we ‘hear’ His voice or not?

What if you’re doing voice-listening and it said “Kill your children”? What then? Or “Leave your wife”? Or worse, “Is the bible really true? Hath God said?” We cannot trust the voice, the whisper, the process of osmosis whereupon God plops truth to your brain via voices.

GotQuestions.org discusses the still, small voice
The point of God speaking in the still small voice was to show Elijah that the work of God need not always be accompanied by dramatic revelation or manifestations. Divine silence does not necessarily mean divine inactivity. Zechariah 4:6 tells us that God’s work is “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” meaning that overt displays of power are not necessary for God to work.”

The still, small voice misuse has thus been ripped from its context as a demonstration of a narrow point to Elijah about Israel, to apply to all New Testament believers as expecting personal words from God. Not so.

That said, one of the Holy Spirit’s ministries is to reveal scripture to us. He brings these things to mind. (John 14:26). He develops fruit in us for the name of Jesus. (Galatians 5:22-23).

And this:

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:13)

He is our teacher. Does He teach us scriptural truths via an audible or an inner voice? No. But He does clarify scripture for us. Here we have MacArthur explaining the difference between a voice from God about scripture and the Holy Spirit clarifying scripture:

The line between clarifying Scripture and adding to it is indeed a thin one. But Scripture is not clarified by listening to someone who thinks he has the gift of prophecy. Scripture is clarified as it is carefully and diligently studied. There are no shortcuts to interpreting God’s word accurately (cf. Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15).”

That was from a 4-part article series called “Does God give personal direction through a still, small voice?

Does God clarify scripture by delivering a whisper to your brain, or by reading His word, where He said he revealed Himself? The ‘voice’ is the Word, given to us via scripture (John 1:1-5). Look at this comment about when John received his vision in Revelation,

And John hears this voice and it sounds like the smashing surf in the midst of a storm. And it indicates to us that the Lord is not only interceding in His church, He’s not only purifying His church, but He’s commanding His church. He moves in His church with authority and He brings to bear commands in His church. He’s not making quiet suggestions. He’s not any longer speaking in a still, small voice. He is speaking commandingly in His church. And the commands that He speaks come through His Word, which is Scripture. He is bringing His people under the authority of His word.” (Christ’s role in the church today)

Any word we hear that is outside His word is outside His authority.

Scripture teaches us, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

The WORD trains us in righteousness and equips us, not a small voice. For training and equipping, one has to study.

As for me personally, the practicalities of the situation are that I approach the bible in various ways. Sometimes I just read it, like a book. I might read a chapter with nothing else in mind but to simply read. During sermons I have the bible open and read along with the pastor. Other times when I prepare to study deeply, I pray first. I also repent. I spend some quiet time. When I get ready to study, I have a notebook and a pen handy. I use my study bible. Then, I read it, stopping frequently (like every verse or even within a verse) to ponder. I check cross references. I might look at parallel verses to see how it is said in other translations. As you can imagine, it’s painstaking.

But when I study, and all is quiet and I’ve prepared my mind, then the Spirit brings to mind connections to other verses I have read. Or He deepens my understanding of the one I am reading now and perhaps have read before. THAT is the voice, not something audible but the Spirit working in me to knit together an understanding of a passage that I had not had before. It is called illumination and it is a work of the Spirit. it is how He transforms my mind. But I have to work at it by cracking open the bible myself, first.

As for this “still, small voice” it is from 1 Kings 19:12. Barnes Notes explains, “A still small voice – literally, “a sound of soft stillness.” The teaching is a condemnation of that “zeal” which Elijah had gloried in, a zeal exhibiting itself in fierce and terrible vengeances, and an exaltation and recommendation of that mild and gentle temper, which “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Barnes Notes)

Obviously, the verse from 1 Kings is not about dwelling quietly and tuning out the world’s noise. It is not akin to another verse that is ripped out of context, “Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) which doesn’t mean ‘be still to hear from God’. It is not listening for a voice in the quiet to speak personal direction to you.

Then how does God guide us? Well, in the ways above via the Spirit, and through Providence.

He works all things together for the good.

Also we know that all things work together for the best unto them that love God, even to them that are called of his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

What you do is submit to God, turning your life over to Him. You diligently study His statutes and learn what He expects. And you go forth and live your life. I’ll give two examples.

First, I have read in the past of a missionary who was converted and after a while of training and study, decided that he had felt God’s call upon his life to be a missionary. The man was convinced he was to minister to the French. He had a history in Paris, he knew French, he had a love for the French.

So he trained up in missionary school or whatever, and the time came when he was waiting for his orders. He didn’t get Paris. No France. No Europe. Initially the man was crestfallen, thinking that this whole time he had missed what he felt God was putting into him. But when his orders did come, it all made sense. He was to be a missionary in French Canadian Quebec. The man had it right, but just the details wrong.

In another example that is not even so dramatic and more properly applies to us regular folk living a non-radical life, John MacArthur was answering a question in one of his Bible Q&A sessions about the voice of God and how to know what to do in life. He said that he just lives his life, not waiting for voices or bells or dramatic circumstances to direct him. He gave the example of when presented with a list of speaking engagements he is invited to. There are always more engagements than he can attend. So he simply goes down the list in matter-of-fact form, checking off the ones he can do or not do. He looks at what is doable and God exalting and goes from there.

Later, he said, he sees the magnificent Hand of God’s Providence in his life. At a conference he met a man, and that man was just the man he needed to collaborate on a book. Or the speech led to another event which cemented a certain thing. Later he can see how all things were working to the good, but often we cannot see it at the time. But later, we can.

Actually, waiting for a still, small voice means we may miss the Providence of God in our lives. Or we become dependent on the voice and when we do not hear it we wait and do nothing.

Providence is how it worked with me. I was saved in Maine, but my career in journalism was concluded, having sold the newspaper I’d started. I wondered what to do next. I was tired of the harsh winters and longed for a gentler climate. I had done a lot of traveling in the decade previously and I liked Florida. But when it came time to move, FL was too expensive for me. So I chose Georgia. The cost of living was lower, the climate was better, and I could make the fresh start I’d wanted.

Later I realized that the hills and pastures in this rural area were just the wonderful balm I had needed for my quaking soul, but had not known it. That the Godly people here were also the strength this new Christian required if I was to thrive. That the Lord would bring me around to working in the educational system again, with children, the lack of which in my life was slowly draining it of professional joy (I see now, but not then). He knew all that and more. His providence worked to the good in my life and to those around me whom I fellowship with. He nestled me into a berth that is perfect.

Could He have done that if I’d moved to Tuscon, or Houston? Sure. But he worked it out providentially here in GA and I am so grateful. I trust Him to work in me. Trust. I pick up my cross every day, and follow Him. Picking up the cross involves trust to be led whether I hear a voice or not.

How do we know that ‘voice’ we think we hear isn’t our flesh? An unconfessed desire? Or satan’s voice? I often hear a voice inside my head. It says “Eat cake!” but I don’t follow it. (OK, I do). If it says “Eat broccoli” I tend to trust it more. LOL.

The point is, did I pray contemplatively and walk a labyrinth and do centering prayer and wait for a whisper? No. I just live my life in submission to Him and amid the practicalities of my every day life.

So that’s the still, small voice. Now go eat some broccoli.

Posted in language of god, still small voice

The Language of God: Still small voice

Here is a series you might enjoy: The Language of God. In the bible, God spoke in a number of ways to His people, or to announce His presence, or His displeasure. Weather was one of the ways He spoke. Since God is the same today, yesterday and forever, it stands to reason that He might be speaking in some of the same ways today. But do we hear Him through the clutter? Do we listen for Him to speak in these same ways? The world has changed, but He has not. Here are previous entries in the series-

The Language of God: Thunder
The Language of God: Earthquakes
The Language of God: Lightning
The Language of God: Fire & Brimstone
The Language of God: Hail

Today we will examine the Language of God: The Still Small Voice!

It is a given that God is powerful. He has spoken in a number of ways that are loud! Thunder, hail, lightning, earthquake and fire are very noisy. You can’t miss hearing those! In addition, Psalm 29 shows us from His own Word more ways He speaks:

Psalm 29, various verses–

The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; The God of glory thunders, The LORD is over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful, The voice of the LORD is majestic.

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; Yes, the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
The voice of the LORD hews out flames of fire.

The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; The LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everything says, “Glory”

The cedars of Lebanon were sturdy trees up to 130 feet tall. It would take a mighty voice to break those!

But then there is this voice: “Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

The LORD breaks rocks! He topples cedars! He quakes the earth! The LORD is mighty, there is no doubt about that. But He is a personal God, too. He is not remote, dwelling on Olympus remotely and capriciously messing up men’s affairs for their own entertainment’s sake.

He is with us, that is His name: Emmanuel, God with us! When He wants to speak to our soul, to our heart, He speaks in a still small voice. He is loving of all humanity and He seeks to speak to us in the quiet of our hearts via the scriptures. To “hear” Him when you study, a person should be quiet themselves. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

Though we pride ourselves these days on multitasking, we are really overdue for a de-cluttering. God comes in second oftentimes.

All that noise drowns out God’s still, small voice by distracting us from His word. When we start listening to other things besides God then the still small voice that penetrates the clutter will be satan’s, hissing, “Hath God really said…?” Once our ears are plugged up with secular, pagan noise, then our eyes are taken off God and we drift away from the straight and narrow path.

Get your attention away from the tumult of the natural and unnatural world, and carve out a quiet space to listen to God by reading your bible. One way we do that is in the prayer closet. When you pray, you talk, but then how much do you listen for a response? Do you stay in a pose of quiet contemplation, focusing on the attributes of God while you wait on Him? Or is there music going on in the background? Television? Is your cell phone on?

Another way to hear His still, small voice is by reading the Word. Again, make sure the tumult is off. Read, and when you feel an impression, or when it seems that you want to ponder a verse for a while, it may indeed be the still small voice of the Holy Spirit calling attention to a deeper truth He wants to impart to your mind by conforming you to Christ from what He has already revealed on the page.

I’m amazed by the speed and noise of our world today. When I was little, 40-35 years ago, the number one television program was Little House on the Prairie. If you watch it now, it seems unbearably slow and too stodgy and quiet. That is because it isn’t fast-paced, it didn’t have jazzy music and the editing preferred long slow scenes instead of quick cuts. But 35 years ago was not that long ago. Nowadays if something isn’t happening on the tv, DVD, Playstation, Wii, cell phone or Twitter it seems like life has stopped. Our brains have gotten used to faster and when we study the Bible life at that moment should be slower.

Our God is a personal God. He speaks to us in the quiet of our studying the Word. Shhh.

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Posted in elijah, rapture, still small voice

You are not alone: lessons from Elijah

Poor Elijah. He really went through it, didn’t he? He was surrounded on all sides by non-believers. They were vigorous in their false faith and Elijah was vexed to the extreme. It’s really hard to be the only one in a place where you are the only one who knows the truth and proclaims it, yet no one else will listen.

Finally after a time of build-up, there was a showdown. You know the story. Under God’s direction, Elijah set a contest with the Baal Priests and false Prophets and of course God won. Then God told Elijah to kill all 450 prophets of Baal and Elijah did. When Elijah heard how angry Queen Jezebel was to have lost all her Priests, and she said she would kill Elijah, Elijah ran away. He ran and he ran and he ran until he was exhausted. Then he cried out to the LORD-

“And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”(1 Kings 19:9-10).

Commonly when using this story as a teaching example, people will say that Elijah was pouting. His poutiness caused him to sit on his hands and do nothing. It may be. But I take a different interpretation. Remember, these Prophets were men after all. Regular men. They served the LORD directly and were given the charge and the ability to receive His Word and repeat it to the people. But their work was thankless, emotionally draining, and lonely. No one loved a prophet. (John 4:44)

Elijah was not a glorified man, nor a superhuman man. He was a regular person. And he had just gone through a debilitating and lengthy ordeal of fruitlessly trying speaking the Word of the LORD to the people, and they refused to hear. Then he went through an awful but glorious contest where the LORD manifested Himself to all. How would you react if the LORD manifested Himself in front of you? The reaction of the prophets and the apostles who see or hear God’s glory fall down as dead men. (Rev 1:17; Is 6:5; John 18:6; Acts 9:4; 1 Kings 18:39). Not only did Elijah live through a great and powerful manifestation of God’s glory, he had to then go and kill 450 people. Personally.  “…Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there.” (1 Kings 18:40b). The most highly decorated heroes of warfare in our own day receive commendations for having slain fewer of the enemy and most of those were not for hand to hand combat. By now Elijah hides in a cave, and cries out the God that he is finished, he wants to die.

So the guy is tired, spiritually drained, afraid for his life, and alone. Or he thinks he is alone. The first thing God does is send an angel to comfort Elijah. (1 Kings 19:5). The angel gently touched Elijah’s shoulder, and refreshed him with food and drink. Elijah was not alone.

The next thing that happened was the God spoke to Elijah. He told Elijah to listen, and there the LORD sent wind and rockslides and tumultuous earthquakes but He was not in the wind nor the rocks nor the tumult, He was in the still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:12). Elijah was not alone.

God told Elijah that “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18.) Elijah was not alone.

God told Elijah to go to a certain town and find Elisha and anoint him as prophet to succeed Elijah. Just as Elijah was growing weariest, God gave him light at the end of the tunnel, and showed him that his time of service was nearing an end. He needed to train Elisha, and then Elisha will take over “in your place.” (1 Kings 19:16b). He would have a helper for a while. Elijah was not alone.

Elijah was blessed to have the LORD personally tell him he was not alone in his faith. But by that same token, because of its inclusion in the bible, the Lord is telling us today that we are not alone. He sends His Spirit to us. He sends His angels to us. He sends encouragers to us. He sends His Word to us. He sends hopeful doctrine to us so that we have light at the end of the tunnel, hope in the rapture of believers. We may live in a town where there are no other like-minded bible believing Christians within your field of vision, as Elijah had thought, but we belong to a body. That body extends worldwide, and we are part of it. We are not alone, not one of us.
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