Modern evangelicals seem desperate to believe that God speaks to them personally. The moment anybody challenges that possibility, hackles rise, claws come out and defensive arguments commence. A mere 50 years ago, claiming to receive messages from God signaled mental illness, but today those of us who don’t believe God speaks outside of Scripture are considered unbalanced by our brothers and sisters in Christ.
How can we determine whom to marry, which job to take or what car to buy unless the Lord speaks to us? After all, He spoke to Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and Paul. We have the same Holy Spirit that they did, making it perfectly reasonable to assume that He can also speak directly to us. We can measure our thoughts, impressions, dreams and/or visions against Scripture. If they’re from God, His Word will confirm it. Right?
Before we discuss the problems with interpreting our experiences as messages from God, I’d like to relay an actual story. I personally knew the couple involved. but obviously need to hide their identities. The woman has given me permission to share their story.
I knew a man who announced to his girlfriend that Jesus told him they should get married. They had been struggling with sexual temptation, but by the grace of God hadn’t fully consummated their relationship. The woman, to a greater degree than the man, wanted to save sex for the wedding night, causing her boyfriend to realize that he couldn’t have her unless he put a ring on her finger. They opened the Bible, eagerly looking for confirmation that Jesus had indeed told the man that marriage was His specific will for them. I didn’t take long to find something.
But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. ~~1 Corinthians 7:9 (NASB95)
So they announced their engagement, looking forward to having sex without feeling guilty.
Not long afterwards, the man called his fiancee, again telling her that Jesus had spoken to his heart. A week earlier, mind you, the woman (in her 40s) had talked with her doctor and agreed that childbearing was highly unadvised. The man knew, before asking her to marry him, that she didn’t think pregnancy was a route she should pursue, but his disappointment clouded their conversations until he informed her that Jesus didn’t want the marriage to take place. Again, the Bible confirmed that he had heard from the Lord.
32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. ~~1 Corinthians 7:32-34 (NASB95)
Interestingly, the confirming Scriptures came from the same chapter! But the man ignored context, as well as the general counsel regarding Christian marriage. He molded verses to substantiate his thoughts that Jesus had spoken to him. In reality, of course, those thoughts were nothing more than a way to make his lustful desires palatable to his girlfriend. Over time, it became very obvious that his claims were fraudulent; Jesus never contradicts Himself. If He had really spoken the first time, He would not have changed His mind.
Finding verses to back up his claims that Jesus had spoken successfully convinced her (at least the first time) that he had heard from God. It never occurred to him that 1 Corinthians 7 is a complete section of the epistle, not a buffet meal allowing Christians to pick and choose according to taste.
So thoughts that seem to be specially sent from God may find Bible verses to support them, but we can’t always trust that the Lord actually inspired them. Using a handful of Scriptures to confirm a thought that seems to come from the Holy Spirit isn’t necessarily the most responsible way to discern God’s will.
If you have a thought that seems particularly strong, of course you must examine it in light of Scripture. But beware of comparing your experiences to those of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah or Paul. God spoke to these men as they shaped redemptive history and developed the Canon of Scripture. Through them, we have His Word, which He finalized in the Word made flesh.
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. ~~Hebrews 1:1-2 (NASB95)
Scripture reveals the Son, and everything He wants us to know this side of heaven. Therefore, it is sufficient for everything we need to know about living godly lives. It didn’t tell me, “You shall married John,” but it showed me the character qualities to look for in a husband. John has those qualities. In that respect, Scripture was definitely sufficient to help me decide to marry John.
Scripture gives marvelous principles we can use in walking through life. Maybe it doesn’t tell you whether to buy a Toyota or a Ford, but it counsels us to use money wisely. If you’re deciding between colleges judge their curriculum through the lens of Scripture. The more we know God’s Word, the easier it is to make decisions that honor and glorify Him.
2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. ~~2 Peter 1: 2-4 (NASB95)
Waiting for personal words from God can be frustrating, if not paralyzing. During my days of expecting Him to speak directly to me, decisions terrified me. I feared misunderstanding Him and stepping outside of His will. Looking back, no wonder I usually felt insecure!
God speaks to me daily as I read Scripture and learn more about Him. As He reveals His character through His Word, I grow in wisdom and discernment, thus learning to conduct my life in ways that please Him. What more could I need?