In some cases, God told me is shorthand for a process the Christian has undergone wherein they have read the bible to determine God's will, have prayed, have submitted to Him and to church leadership, have counted the cost, and then have made a decision. Sometimes we're guilty of saying "God told me...
--to join this ministry
--to become a missionary
--to leave this church
--to adopt a child
as shorthand for all the above. It is a poor use of the phrase however, and we shouldn't say it. More on that in a minute.
More often it means that the Christian hasn't heard from God but wants to elevate his decision into something inviolable, wherein the Christian's decision can't be held to account. After all, it was from God.
Other times, the Christian has received a supposed revelation and encapsulates that revelation by saying "God told me." Many times they have received a dream, or a 'nudge' or have heard that 'still, small voice' and are basing their decision on this personal revelation from God on those things instead of the word and then trusting to providence.
The 'still, small voice' is permeating Christianity, with the result that now most conversations among Christians are peppered with "God told me" as a result. This is partly thanks to Henry Blackaby, who opened the door to personal revelation in his "Experiencing God" workbook and series of lessons published in the 1990s. Baptists especially who had not been prone to mysticism prior to this, fell hard for the method the Baptist Blackaby was promoting. One reviewer of Experiencing God said here,
"many readers will nevertheless find great encouragement in hearing a still, small voice among a vast number of everyday experiences."
Blackaby taught: God Often Speaks in a “Still, Small Voice” (I Kings 19:11–13). Sometimes God will speak through “the wind or an earthquake or a fire,” but most often He speaks in a still, small voice. Be attentive!"
'Most often'? Where is that in the bible? Blackaby went on to sadly teach:
If you are not hearing God’s voice, examine your heart.
It is crushing to be told by an elder that we should be hearing from God, and if we aren't we may be the problem!
Of the Mystical, Princeton theologian of yore BB Warfield said
There is nothing more important in the age in which we live than to bear constantly in mind that all the Christianity of Christianity rests precisely on "external authority."Relying on small voices, impressions, and God told me revelation diminishes the sufficiency of the bible by virtue of the fact that someone is adding to God's revelation. The bible isn't enough for them. In His book Things that Go Bump in the Church, Mike Abendroth along with co-authors Byron Yawn and Clint Archer explained in their theological decoder, that when you hear people say "God told me, it really means,
I really think I should do ______ but I'm forgetting that the canon of scripture is closed and there is no need for further revelation. I want confirmation for my precarious decision, and I'm mistaking intuition for God's voice. I'm forgetting to follow Proverbs 3:5-6.So we know that the still small voice is a twisted use of scripture ripped from its context, and the God Told Me phrase could either be shorthand meaning a biblical process a person has gone through or a short cut from reading the bible and a cover for their poor decision making. So here is the question I was asked:
How do we respond when someone says "God told me..."
It was a great question. Let's get practical. I thought of a few responses, gleaned from the very good articles, sermon, and audio lessons linked below. Some of the responses below are mine, and some are a mixture from the articles below which are excerpted and reworked. They are not inclusive, or may not even be appropriate for you or your situation. But they may provide a start in your own thinking. Please search the scriptures for relevant verses which speak to this issue.
I recently wrote a serious piece about the Third Commandment, taking the Lord's name in vain. One way to take it in vain is to trivialize it, to be swift or short. We have to be careful never to ascribe to Him thoughts He doesn't have or things He never said. "God told me" very often does just that though, trivializes His name by ascribing things to Him He never said. It is a serious thing to say "God told me"!
I find that asking questions initially is the best way to begin. Be sincere in asking questions. Perhaps the person truly is using the phrase out of habit because everyone else does, or simply hadn't thought about its use in light of the Third Commandment before.
- I thought that the biblical canon is closed, that God has already told us everything we need for life and godliness.
- I’d be too wary of the risk of introducing error to our lives and to the church to depend on a whisper voice.
- I don’t believe God needs to give us special revelation to reaffirm what he has already told us to do in his word.
- Did an angel deliver the news to you, like in the bible?
- How did you test it to see if it is really of God?
- How can I test to see if it really from God? (special implications for married couples, business partners, or others in different kinds of partnership or ministry)
- How do you know it's not your intuition?
- The only time I’m ever 100% sure God is speaking to me is when I am reading the Bible.
- I can’t trust my heart or mind to speak to me because of Jeremiah 17:9 which says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
- I’m too mindful of the scripture in 2 Corinthians 11:14 which says "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" to trust whether inner impressions are from God. I just make my decision if it is within the biblically revealed will of God and trust Him top providentially work all things to the good for those who love Him (Rom 8:28)
- What scripture were you reading, I’ll look it up (I wasn’t reading scripture). Then how do you know it’s not your own idea?
- I’d be too scared to say ‘God told me’ because of the seriousness of the 3rd commandment, not taking God’s name casually, just in case He didn’t say what I thought He said. I usually just say “I have decided to…please pray for me”.
- Do you think that that believers have access to “personal revelation” from God that equals/trumps the revelation of scripture?
- Do you think that your subjective, personal experience of a word from God is in authority over the objective truth of scripture?
- Do you think that your revelation minimizes the role of scripture in personal experience and the need for the faithful interpretation of scripture?
Does God give us personal direction through a still small voice? 2-min audio lesson
The Still, Small Voice (sermon by Phil Johnson)
God told me...really?
Why Do We Say...'God told me'?
The Danger of God Told Me reflections