Back when I was a boy, there was a movement sweeping across the country, beginning here on the West Coast. It was largely made up of a bunch of hippies who had found Jesus, thus earning the label Jesus Freaks. It was basically a counterculture, hippie version of non-denominational Christianity, aka the Jesus Movement, where many of those young adults shared all that they had, met in parks instead of large, stained-glass church buildings, and replaced church organs with rock guitar riffs in their worship music.
One of my all-time favorite musicians came out of this era – singer/songwriter/pianist extraordinaire, Keith Green. I grew up hearing his music, his messages, his controversial and sometimes confrontational lyrics playing loudly on our family record player, and I remember thinking, someday, I’d love to play, sing and speak as boldly as Keith!
Yet, what I also remember very vividly about Keith was the day that he, my musical hero, died. My parents told me that somehow, miraculously, Keith knew that he might not make it home that day. As I understood it, God spoke to Keith and told him that He was bringing Keith home – to his eternal home.
So, when you combine that indelible impression with the lessons I was being taught on the flannel graph boards at Sunday School: Moses hearing the voice of God from a burning bush; Noah learning what a cubit is and how to build an ark from God, Himself; Jonah being told by God to go preach to the terrifying Ninevites… the list went on and on of amazing, Godly heroes hearing God’s voice and responding to Him.
All of this made me wonder on a regular basis: What’s it like when God talks to us?
And yet, here we are, thirty plus years later and people all around the world are still asking the same question.
Well, my dad was at a men’s ministry breakfast just recently and this very question came up yet again. I found Dad’s answer very interesting.
Now, some say that God speaks through His Word – the Bible. Which is 100% true. In fact, no matter how many times my dad reads the Scriptures – there are verses that he has read literally hundreds of times – there are still moments when a perspective on a passage pops out and reveals truth to him like never before. How is it that a verse can leap off the page and speak to him differently than it had the dozens of times he read it before? It’s not the version or translation, but it’s the end result of the Bible being God’s Word.
So, firstly, God speaks through the Bible – His Word. He speaks through the Bible differently at different times, as our minds and hearts are opened to hear from Him.
Secondly, God speaks through His people. Many people refer to this as “wise counsel”. The key to this method of hearing from God is that the people that we consider “wise counsel” must be wise, Godly people. You won’t likely receive wise counsel regarding your marriage from a buddy who has been divorced three times. Nor will you receive wise counsel about how to discipline your kids from a guy who is divorced and his kids live half-way across the country. The Bible says multiple times that wisdom comes from God, so if you’re looking for wisdom, draw near to people who draw near to God.
Thirdly, my dad says that God speaks through “words of knowledge”, or a spiritual gift as listed in 1 Corinthians 12, pertaining to understandings, wisdom, discernment or messages directly given from God. And fourthly, my dad says that God speaks (yes, even in the 21st century) through visions.
However, we need to be very careful with what we may understand as “words from God” or “visions from God”, because many times, when you start a phrase with “God told me…”, people will write you off immediately.
In fact, one pastor told my dad, “I have met three people who all believed that they had been given a word from God saying that they would be the two witnesses described in Revelation 11:3-12.” Your math is right – he knew three people who claimed with all sincerity that they would be filling two positions. Never mind what Biblical scholars have said across the centuries who John was writing about in his Revelation – just by going by the math alone, at least one of these guys (if not all three) were wrong in their understanding what God had told them.
The truth is that we all make mistakes. We make them at home, we make them at work, we make them driving, we make them cooking… and we make them in understanding God.
It’s for this very reason that, in order to hear and understand correctly from God, we need to have a couple of things surrounding us. Firstly, we need to have a steady diet of Scripture in our life. Words from God will always line up with what the Bible says, so if you’re not clear with what the Bible says, it’ll definitely be hard to understand anything else He may be saying.
Secondly, time is important in understanding God. The test of time will always prove one way or another how accurately we are in tune with any messages He may be sending our way or how much “static” or “noise” we have introduced into the communication line between us and God.
Finally, it’s absolutely critical to have Godly, wise people around you to help hear from God by bouncing your understandings off of them. And, it’s important that they not just be sounding boards that are going to agree with everything you say to make you feel good, or even that they be people that are at the same season of life as you; but they need to be wise people with a track record of hearing from God through His Word and have seen Him in action in the world around them.
Now, if we write off any of these methods of “Divine Communication”, saying “God doesn’t speak through dreams, or words of knowledge, or that the Bible should change for today’s world, or that He doesn’t speak to the 21st century through 1stcentury (or older) documents…” If we minimize any of these, we won’t stand a chance at hearing what it is that God wants for us in our lives today.
Now, I have met people who were fully convinced, with complete humility and sincerity that God had given them a message, that turned out to be totally and completely wrong. One of which was absolutely certain that he was destined to marry Christen Erickson – the most beautiful and sought after single woman at our church in the late 90’s (thank God he was wrong, since I married her a few years later!).
My point is that there are times when people will see or hear someone saying, “Thus saith the Lord…” and it was nothing but a bunch of malarkey! Or, they may have attended a church service filled with “a bunch of Pentecostal holy rollers going nuts causing complete chaos” which forever taints their perception of even the most solemn of people offering a word of knowledge to God’s people. The second they see someone laying hands on someone, or prophesying, or (heaven forbid) praying in tongues, they are instantly reminded of the “circus act” they had seen or heard about and they disregard any chance that God may actually be speaking in those moments. There seems to be a lot of babies being thrown out with the bathwater out there – and there seems to be an awful lot of dirty bathwater out there.
So, if we were to look closely at the question, “How does God speak to us today?”, how are we supposed to discern what are true messages from God, and what are the loads of garbage being thrown about (even if they are well-intentioned)?
Well, as my dad looks back on the previously mentioned Jesus Movement, he remembers a huge group of people with a real hurt in their hearts. There was something that needed to be filled and out of that, there was a crying from a generation to understand who God was. Now, this left a lot of young people primed for being lead into cults. So, this also led to the perception that anything “out of the ordinary” was simply the effects of crackpot thinking.
But, as mentioned above, time proves things out. And time has proven the true colors of the 1970’s cult movements, as well as the validity of God working through his people in that same era (i.e., the Calvary Chapel churches). Then there are the situations where someone did or said some amazingly out of the ordinary yet Godly things during that era, and then they allowed their life to go sideways. We need to remember that just because they made poor choices in the days or years to follow does not take away from the validity of what God did or said when they were walking with Him.
On the other side of the coin, there is a growing population today that cry out saying, “God does not exist” – yet these very individuals spend so much of their time concerned about God. They are trying to disprove God, but why would anyone spend time trying to disprove something that they don’t believe even exists?
All this to say, over the past 40 years, my dad has seen God speak to and through His people in a variety of different ways: through the Bible, through words of knowledge, through visions and dreams, and thoughts that supernaturally occur that can only be attributed to God. They don’t come all the time, as we wish that they would, but He does speak. There are some that hold that He ONLY speaks through the Scriptures alone. But by doing so, they handcuff His ability to speak directly to His people today into their unique circumstances. And, these same people say, “That’s right. He doesn’t speak like that to each individual person.” These are often people who haven’t seized the opportunity yet to encounter God on a personal level. They may have an incredible knowledge of God, but lack a deep relationship with Him.
You see, Dad and I believe that the Builder of this universe desires deeply to have a personal and eternal relationship with each and every one of us. He wants to bless our lives, individually, as we seek and serve Him.
Now, as we said, it’s vitally important to check any message that we think comes from God with the Bible. An easy example would be if someone says, “God wants me to rob this store in order to get money to provide for my family”, this would go against the eighth commandment and obviously not be an accurate message from God.
But, where this line of checks and balances comes into question is when we Christians hold varying understandings on what the Scriptures say and don’t say. For instance, there are many who believe that the American Church has been too focused on a judgmental God, hell-bent on sending people to hell. Therefore, the current trend is to only focus on the written characteristics of a loving, merciful God who gracefully forgives. This perspective makes God, Christianity, the Bible and our own lives much more “digestible”. Therefore, if we check some “messages from God” with a liberal interpretation of Scripture, wouldn’t this lead to inaccuracy – or at least a different measure – of checks and balances? In other words, if we look at the verses that say God hates divorce, or certain behaviors are non-negotiable sins and measure our own decisions against them, we will get a different standard to measure against than if we only focus on the verses that describe God’s mercy and forgiveness.
So, how do we check what we believe is a word or message from God against God’s Word in the Bible if we have varying interpretations of the Bible?
According to my dad, the key question to ask is not, “What is God saying to me here?” but instead, we should ask, “What is God revealing here?” They sound similar, but at the core these are two very different questions. One focuses on us, the other focuses on God. And, when we maintain a perspective that is God focused, then we will be more apt to correctly understand His word.
The key is to worship God. When in doubt, keep worshiping God. Then, after you understand His message, worship God.
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