Thursday, June 26, 2014

How to respond to a "God told me" comment

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In Christianity today, we have a major epidemic of use of the phrase "God told me".

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.
EPrata photo

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?
Here are a few more:
  • 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?
This next batch are reworked from the Cornestone link below, a piece taking Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church to task some years ago by declaring God speaks to him. These are a little edgier.
  • 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?
Those are some ideas...please let me know how you react when someone in conversation says to you "God told me", or if you have said "God told me" and were reacted to.

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Further reading

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


19 comments :

  1. I'm guilty of this. I have come to see the serious implications of saying, "God told me..." Before my husband and I came to serve as missionaries in a foreign country, we were in considerable debt. We were not in over our heads, but rather living within our means from paycheck to paycheck. We had been missionaries at the beginning of our marriage, some 9 years before. However, we got caught up in the "American Dream" which later we realized had become a prison. Because of our lifestyle, we were not free to be in full time ministry. Our friends in Nicaragua were having difficulties on the mission field and needed help. The wife was recovering from chemotherapy and needed help homeschooling her children. We wanted to help but was tied to our bills. We prayed that if it was the Lord's will for us to move to Nicaragua to help them, then may He allow our house to sell. This was in 2009 when the housing market was in poor shape. We also agreed that we would not advertise it for sale and trust that if God willed it, He would send us a buyer. I did not even tell my mother what we were praying about. Less than a week went by when a friend mentioned that she was looking for a house in our school district...and then she described the specifications (price and size) that matched our house. She was a real estate agent and I told her to show the couple our house. That couple bought our house. I could go on and on about how mountains of debt evaporated within less than 5 months...and then we were off to a foreign land with our 3 children. I did homeschool my kids and the couple's 2 children for 1 year. We have been in Nicaragua ever since. I want to believe that it was The Lord directing and giving guidance, yet I worry that maybe I'm misrepresenting Him or these events in our lives. I worry that in some way I was "testing" The Lord by the way in which we prayed about our house selling. I worry that people will feel like they lack faith because their life doesn't match ours in some way. May The Lord mature us and help us to rightly represent and speak of Him. April

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  2. I think a simple "can you explain what you mean when you say 'God told me'?" Is a good way to open the door.
    Jennifer

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    1. Exactly! I personally liked best "How do you know it's not your intuition?"

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  3. I don't care who you are. Unless you were there with the person and actually received the same message...you don't know whether or not our Father has actually spoken to "them". Instead of what "scholars" say or what so called "experts" say...GO TO THE WORD OF OUR FATHER FOR TRUTH.

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    1. Anonymous,

      Every person I've ever read who claims "God told me," and every person who has ever told me, "God told me," have all contradicted the Bible! I guess if they contradict what the WORD already says, we can pretty much KNOW that they are deceived.

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  4. If a person is confused by what they hear or what they have seen...it is not from our Father. It's very simple.
    "satan" is the father of confusion.

    STOP LISTENING TO THE TRADITIONS OF MEN AND GO TO SCRIPTURE...do the research for yourself so that you are not deceived. Remember that when one is deceived...they know it not.

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  5. Very helpful essay. You are right on the money when you said that it can be crushing to have someone make you feel like something is wrong with you because you aren't hearing God's voice. I need to see if you have written on the subject of providence in any other essays because I found your explanation of that concept to be really eye-opening. I didn't grow up hearing words like "sanctification" and "providence" and "sovereignty" but I like what I'm learning about these things. :)
    The idea of personal revelation is exactly right. It is where I agree that a lot of people I know are with their brand of Christianity. Recently someone told me, "God told me" that she was was supposed to take a certain job. Then, a week later, she actually said, "God changed His mind." Bizarre!

    Melissa

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    1. Hi Melissa,

      You're welcome! Gods providence is fascinating and wonderful to learn about. It is just about my favorite doctrine. The link below discusses Providence a bit but the main reason I share it with you is that in the piece there is a link to Phil Johnson's sermon on Providence. It is amazing, one of my favorite sermons ever. I hope you enjoy it too.

      http://the-end-time.blogspot.com/2013/11/gods-providence-in-face-of-mega.html

      Also here is a short essay explaining Providence
      http://www.gotquestions.org/divine-providence.html

      Providence is seen in a verse like Romans 8:28.

      Bible Study Tools describes Providence like this-
      "Providence, then, is the sovereign, divine superintendence of all things, guiding them toward their divinely predetermined end in a way that is consistent with their created nature, all to the glory and praise of God. This divine, sovereign, and benevolent control of all things by God is the underlying premise of everything that is taught in the Scriptures."

      YOU described providence like this:

      "As for me, I read the Bible almost every day, pray that we will make a good decision, consider our options, think about it, talk to people, read and learn and do what I want to do because homeschooling seems like it will be a good fit for our family this year."

      "I have had people insist that homeschooling is "a call" or whatever but can't it just be ok to decide to do something because we want to and it's not sinful? Is it bad to just do something because we feel like it?"

      That's you relying on God's providence! If you're not doing something forbidden in scripture, and you're doing something consistent with His will but is not specifically described, and have prayed and submitted to God and husband, and you go forward with a decision, it means you're providentially relying on His outworking of His plan for you and He will make it to the good.

      We don't rely on signs to make every little decision, we rely on either the specific commands or the concepts outlined within Christian liberty (like whether to start homeschooling, or buy a house, or move to another state, etc.). Seeking signs and failing to trust the Lord is a fearful way to live because it means we somehow think we have a partnership in His plan and that something WE do will interrupt it.

      How would a parent like it if their 30 year old son called them for every decision, from whether to have pizza tonight to whether to marry Mary or Cindy? Dithered and stressed over it agonizingly, begging the parent for a sign as to which way to go? As parents you raise your children within a Christian construct, showing them how to make decisions, and then trusting them to make them wisely. With God it is even better because He said if we do that, He WILL work all things to the good.

      Providence doesn't mean that every decision we make will ensure an easy result, selling a house is hard, homeschooling is hard, but ultimately He providentially grows us through these experiences and the LAST result will always be good.

      This is one of my favorite sermons of all time, Charles Spurgeon, musing on the Ezekiel angels that had wheels within wheels as THE machinery of God's providence. It's fascinating

      http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/3114.htm

      Enjoy researching about Providence, it is an outgrowth of understanding that God is sovereign, in everything from creation to salvation. We don't decide for Jesus,(we can't, we're dead in our sins) He decides for us, and then He cares for us from then on to forever! How wonderful is that!

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  6. Thanks again Elizabeth for great essays! My comment is for this one and for your next one about reviewing the HBO TV series "Leftovers" when you rightly state that Satan is clever to only portray half the message.

    I listened to a great lecture by Dr. Steven Lawson at Ligonier Ministries entitled, "War on the Word". Such clear teaching, such great examples presented.

    http://www.ligonier.org/rym/broadcasts/video/war-word-june-2014/

    'Hath God said' indeed...

    Dr. Lawson says 'hear the hiss of the serpent when people misquote Scripture'. This means when people 'add, take away, omit or soften the message'.

    Keep your Bible in your hands and more importantly in your heart so you are prepared to clobber the serpent when he hisses no matter what form of light he takes.

    God bless you all this day

    Colette

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  7. Great responses, as well as an overall excellent article!

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  8. We all have still small voices. Even demons can whisper in your ear from time to time. Believing every small nudge or voice is a recipe for disaster.

    I think most of this phenomena is justification to be impulsive in your actions. "No further discernment required. God just told me, so now I do it."

    Thank God for The greatest benchmark of the truth of all time... His Holy Word.

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  9. Small example-- as a writer I see editors and agents post so many cover letters from the pre-published who claim "God told me to write this." I would love to see some of their responses (beyond rejection letters).

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  10. Typical cessationist

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    1. Hi Anonymous, yes I’m a typical cessationist. I’m thrilled that my stance is that clear.

      For those who don’t know what the word cessationist is or what beliefs it entails, it means I believe that the sign gifts have ceased. The sign gifts are tongues, (which were actual languages, not gibberish) interpretation of tongues, miracles/signs/healings performed by people (God still does them directly) and prophecies (new revelations given directly from God).

      Initially before the bible canon was written and codified, the Apostles *were* the bible so to speak. Their preaching needed corroboration and the sign gifts were that corroboration. It was His way of establishing the foundation of the church through the 12 specific apostles (Eph 2:20). There are no more Apostles with a capital A because the resume for an Apostle is laid out in these verses 1 Corinthians 9:1, Acts 9:15, Acts 2:43; 2 Corinthians 12:12. According to those verses Continuationsits believe there are still Apostles directly chosen by God, still performing miracles, and still receiving direct NEW revelation.

      Once the 12 Apostles died, there were no more Apostles occupying that specific office, though in the general sense apostle means “one who is sent” and since the Great Commission was given to every believer, we are ALL apostles in the ‘little a’ sense. The foundation has been laid and there no longer needs to be a continuation of those sign gifts. In this day and age according to Hebrews 1:1-2, God spoke through His Son, the word.

      Continuationists which perhaps the anonymous commenter is, believe the sign gifts never stopped. They believe that since 33AD through every century and every era up to today, new Apostles continue to give new information to us from God, perform miracles as proof of their authenticity, and can interpret actual, known languages without having been trained.

      Cessationists, as I am, believe those stopped when the last Apostle died, and that this is even shown through the bible to have been dying out from the first NT book to the last.

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    2. Not all continuists believe all that you stated, about apostles and so forth. Quit lumping everyone in the same basket. Just cause someone holds to something different than you does NOT mean they hold to what charismania holds to.

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    3. I knew you were going to say that. It's why I phrased it like I did. I did it because the reason for the sign gifts were given to Apostles who had to have a specific resume to even be called an Apostle, given for specific reasons under specific circumstances and the rest flows from there, with commas even. It's why I gave the scriptures also. There were Apostles, who had a specific resume, and given to them were sign gifts, for specific temporary purposes. The reason for the sign gifts was to authenticate Apostleship, one cannot separate from the other.

      But you try. You're saying you are a *selective* continuationist. Sorry, no can do.

      If one is a continuationist one must believe all of it, you can't pick and choose. Otherwise your biblical stance is even MORE shaky than it was before, and before, you didn't have a biblical leg to stand on.

      Here are some links and information for people following the conversation.

      What is an Apostle?
      http://www.gotquestions.org/what-is-an-apostle.html

      An Appeal to Continuationist Friends
      http://www.challies.com/liveblogging/strange-fire-conference-macarthurs-appeal-to-his-continuationist-friends

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  11. SO wonderful joy whe the Lord is speaking to us with voice of heaven and be respond of us in love and obey his message today and sowing self our seed in to reap later big harvest in Jesus name ,thanks and bless,keijo sweden

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  12. I had a Christian come to me saying I have forgiven you of these things, but GOD told me to bring these before you for healing. She then proceeded to bring forth things which were both true and untrue. She refused to back down when I pointed out GOD is Truth, and He would not give you lies. So, what do I say to her the next time she approaches with GOD told me to...?

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    1. You say, "God told you to say those things? Then we should write them on the blank pages of our bible!"

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