I grew up in a traditional church with organ and piano, no-clapping during the church service, and hymns where the songs are known by the number and not the title. So, when I had the chance to visit another church that is very different it could range from refreshing, interesting, and at times shocking.
I still remember the time I went to a church and the pastor said something along this line, “I was meditating on this last week, and then God spoke to me that … ” OR “I was praying earnestly about this issue and then the Holy Spirit gave me this impression that …” I have to admit that as a young Christian, this kind of statement was not just interesting. It was cool. I wanted it. I wanted to have that experience. I wanted to have the kind of relationship that the pastor had with God. I wanted to reach that stage of spirituality where I could converse with God like that. Furthermore, some well-intentioned Christians described prayer as chatting with friends (which I think a misrepresentation of what prayer is about) whereas my prayers were at best second-rate monologues that I was not even sure I myself wanted to listen to.
I am a bit more mature now and I think I know better than I did then. But, how many Christians, perhaps including yourself, have been led to think that God wants to speak to every Christian verbally just like talking to friends? How many Christians have been frustrated with their prayer life thinking that if only they had had better relationship with God, God would have spoken to their situation verbally and given them the specific direction for their particular issues? How many Christians have been misguided to look and search for God’s ‘whisper’ in every crossroad of life?
I have to admit at times I did use that phrase too. It sounded cool, right? It sounded super-spiritual, and it carries some authority (at least it conjures up that impression). And I have to admit that when I did, I was not clear whether it was really the Holy Spirit or it was just me and my feeling. I used that phrase so that people would not question my decision. At least it sounded like it came from God. Plus it sounded cool too.
Interestingly, the more I studied the Scripture, the more I felt like God was telling me (oops… kidding!!)… the more I learned that the seemingly-verbal or the nudge or the ‘impression’ is not the way God communicates to us. At least it is not the usual or the normal way. Greg Koukl, from Stand to Reason ministry, wrote this:
“Many well-meaning Christians apparently believe God is in the habit of communicating important details regarding His purpose for our lives with speech that is not clear.”
We have been led to think that God is always “trying” to say something. If only we would be still and quiet before God, if only we would direct our heart to heaven, if only we would confess our sins before God, or if only we would whatever, then we would be able to hear God’s still small voice. He desperately wants to “speak” to us. It’s just that we fail to listen because of whatever reason.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking does not have any support in the Scripture. Yes, two-way communication is essential to all kinds of relationship including ours with God. However, the pattern that is provided by the Scripture is that we speak to God through prayer and God speaks to us through the pages of His Word (i.e. the Bible). There are of course occasions in the Bible where God does speak verbally to certain people, such as Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Joshua, the prophets, and also Apostle Paul. However, almost all of them did not seek for God’s Word. God’s Word simply came to them unexpectedly. Furthermore, there is nothing in the Scripture where the recipient of God’s word says, “I felt like God is speaking to me…” God never “tries” to speak. Either He speaks or He is silent. And when He speaks, whether the recipient is ready or not, whether they have “quietened their hearts” (another cliché??) or not, they will hear it audibly and unmistakably. They hear it not because they are mature enough or spiritual enough. They hear it because God has spoken.
Furthermore, almost every (if not every) time God speaks to people in the Scripture, it always meant radical and out-of-common-sense obedience. At times it were even life-threatening. Abraham did not seek God’s Word when God called him. When He did, it meant Abraham had to leave his extended family and journeyed from Ur to Canaan for reasons that only God knew. When God appeared and spoke to Jacob, Jacob ended up limping. The boy Samuel did not even expect it when God spoke to him. Jonah had to go to Nineveh. Jeremiah had to speak to the people who would never listen. God even spoke to the Babylonian king Belshazzar warning him of the coming destruction. In the New Testament, Philip had to preach the gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch. Saul did not even expect Jesus to appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Ananias had to approach Saul who had the reputation of persecuting Christians. Paul had to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles and suffered for Jesus’ Name’s sake. The list goes on.
Not only is this kind of thinking wrong, it is also dangerous. Christians might be deceived into thinking that relationship with God means God will speak to them audibly even though the Bible never promises that. What is even more dangerous is that we end up neglecting the Bible in pursuit of a higher revelation. We ‘train’ ourselves to have this higher revelation while neglecting the study of the Bible, the very thing that God has ordained to use to speak to us.
Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV) 1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…
This verse is clear. In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. The purpose of God communicating to the various people in the Bible was to reveal His character and His grand redemption plan through His Son. When Jesus Christ came, He has completed this, and there is no more ‘revelation’ needed.
Now, I am not saying that God cannot speak to human being audibly today. I believe God is God and He can do whatever He wants to do. I am not going to put God in a box. That said, however, it does not give us a warrant to expect God to do something that He has never promised to do. So, does God still speak today? He does, and He does it through the pages of the Scripture. Everything that God needs to communicate to us has been written in the pages of the Scripture. We would do well as Christians to read our Bible, to study it seriously, and to obey it rigorously. Rather than ‘training’ ourselves to ‘hear’ God’s still small voice (good luck with that), we’d better train ourselves to diligently study and understand God’s Word, and obey it. We have much better chance of aligning ourselves with His heart this way rather than scraping God’s revelation out of thin air.