Part 13 of series:
How Does God Guide Us?
In my last post, I related the Old Testament story of Elijah who, after confronting the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, retreats to the wilderness where he hears the “gentle whisper” or “still, small voice” of God. I suggested that we too can hear that quiet voice as the Spirit of God speaks even today.
Unfortunately, a multitude of contemporary Christians have trivialized this ministry of the Spirit. “God spoke to me” has become a virtual replacement for “I thought,” except that by saying “God spoke to me” a person avoids having to take responsibility for his or her actions. After all, if God told me to buy a new computer that I really don’t need, who are you and who am I to question God’s command? Claiming God’s authority for my own thoughts not only appears to protect me from being corrected, but it also gives an added punch to my own preferences.
While recognizing that the Spirit will speak to us, we must also acknowledge our tendency to misinterpret what we hear, or to mistake our own inner voice for the voice of God. My friend Dave was a pastor to young adults in a large church. Energetic, handsome, godly, and obviously single, Dave found that many of the women in his group were interested in more than just his Bible teaching. Every now and then, one of them would approach him with exciting news, “God has told me that we’re going to get married,” she’d announced happily. At first Dave didn’t know quite what to say to this unwelcome and unlikely bit of divine direction. But over time he developed an appropriate response: “Well, that could be great news. Thanks for sharing it with me. Now, just as soon as God tells me that we’re going to get married, then we’ll do something about it.” Oddly enough, God never told Dave what his young fans had purported to hear from the Spirit. He ended up marrying a wonderful woman who, ironically enough, hadn’t heard God whisper Dave’s name in her ear.
Stories like this make it easy for those of us who are more intellectually oriented to discount hearing from God altogether. I’ve known a few Christians even deny that the Spirit still speaks to our hearts in any direct way. But this extreme view opposes both the biblical record and the testimony of thousands of wise, balanced Christians who are not inclined to conjure up divine voices.
I have another pastor friend whose experience of the Spirit’s guidance for his marriage was quite unlike Dave’s. Greg, a scholarly Presbyterian minister, was teaching an adult Sunday school class one day. In the midst of his lecture, a woman entered and sat in the back of the class. Greg, who had never seen her before, barely took notice of her entrance until he heard an inner voice say distinctly: “You are going to marry that woman.” Not one to have such experiences, Greg just about fell over on the spot. Somehow he managed to finish his lesson. Many months later he did in fact marry that woman, but not because he clobbered her with a claim to spiritual guidance. First, he introduced himself to her. As a friendship developed, they both began to sense what Greg suspected from the beginning. Along with their Christian community, they discerned God’s guidance with all the tools available to them. Indeed, they did marry. Once again, a skeptic could chock up Greg’s experience to overactive libido or simply good luck. But as one who knows his spiritual integrity, I believe that the Holy Spirit spoke to Greg’s heart in order to accomplish God’s will in his life.
The possibility of the Holy Spirit whispering to us may lead us to wonder: How can I develop a wise, appropriate sensitivity to the Spirit? I’ll address this question in my next post in this series.