Some time ago I was watching American Idol with my wife. A woman stormed out angrily from the auditions when the judges didn’t pick her. She was certain they were all wrong and she was destined for fame and fortune. Because God told her so. (It seems like every season has someone like this.)
A couple of teenagers start dating. They’ve got great potential but they refuse to receive counsel. There’s already cause for concern in the way they treat each other. People offer their time and assistance but they don’t take it. Why would they need it? They say God told them to date and that they don’t need other people. (This is a pretty repetitive pattern too.)
A few months ago, I preached in Victory Alabang. After the message an eighteen year old came up to me. I asked him if he needed prayer, but he shook his head. “I want to pray for you. God told me to,” he said. He prayed a prayer for me that was very encouraging and insightful for what I was concerned about that time.
These people were all convinced that God had spoken to them. And they’re just a few examples of billions throughout history who were sure they had heard from the divine.
What do we do with these people? Or what do we do if we’re that person? There are two extreme responses to this situation:
OPTION 1: God doesn’t talk to you! / God doesn’t talk to people! / No one hears from God!
It’s tempting to say this because it’s just too weird, difficult, or strange to process that thought of God, the Almighty, speaking to an individual.
But that would be a mistake because God does speak with people. And when He does, it’s unmistakeable. While watching the recently aired Bible series by the History Channel, my wife and I commented on how well the show depicted the strangeness of Abraham in saying he heard from God. But as strange as it was, the effect on his life and on the succeeding generations was unmistakably good. He really did hear from God.
So let’s not be closed to the possibility that you or other people can hear from Him. The Bible says that we can know the thoughts of God by the Holy Spirit which He gives to all who have believed in His Son Jesus.
OPTION 2: Everyone who says they hear from God is right! / Everyone is hearing from God right now. / It’s about what you feel.
In effect, this no longer focuses on what God is actually saying. It’s just a way of saying that whatever you hear and feel is right. People can easily abuse this perspective by claiming their own fantasies as God’s will. As a minister, I can’t count the number of times people have flashed this card only to have to retract later on what they were “absolutely sure” was from God.
But more concerning than the potential of being wrong, is how casually people throw around the name of God. I believe that God can speak to anyone and through anyone. But with this ability to hear from Him comes the responsibility to communicate it correctly.
God will not allow people to take His Name in vain. The Bible is full of warnings and judgments from God against people who claim to speak from Him but speak falsely. They do it to make themselves famous, take advantage of others, or get away with what their wicked hearts wanted to do all along. We say things like, “I’m sure this is what God would want for me,” when really we’re just looking to justify our own desires.
Honestly, I get very concerned for people who don’t take this seriously because God will not let His name taken for granted like that. For every time that we say, “God told me this…” we’ll have to give an account. He is very jealous about His name. And if He takes it seriously, we would be wise to do the same.
Both of these extremes are wrong. So what’s the remaining option then?
OPTION 3: God speaks and we must test and see which words are really His.
Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Don’t disregard that God could be talking. Don’t ignore what the Holy Spirit is saying.
Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. But don’t just swallow things without thinking. Test them and see if they are right.
There are at least four tests we know from the Bible that we can use.
1. Godly counsel – Other people hear from God too. If we’re wondering if a particular insight, plan, or course of action is from God, other godly people in your life will probably hear it also.
2. Word of God – God will never say anything that goes against His written word, the Bible. If we really want to know it’s God speaking and not just the burrito you had for lunch, read the Bible.
3. Will be confirmed – If God says something’s gonna happen, it happens. Until there’s confirmation, then we should remember to keep open the possibility that we might be mistaken. You think you’re destined for American Idol stardom? Other people will confirm that in you. You think God has shown you who your future husband is? It’ll happen if it’s really from God.
4. Good fruit – If something is from God it produces good fruit. If something is leading you to sin, error, lying, acting without love, then we should check if this is really from God. I’m not saying God’s will never has any difficulty, but even when it’s difficult God gives us the grace to thrive in it.