A longtime friend recently met with me to correct me for writing my book, Hearing God in Conversation. She said, “Any kind of ‘hearing God’ outside of Scripture is dangerous and probably wrong.”
She recounted numerous abuses of people “hearing” God:
- During college, two different women told her future husband that God said that he should marry them. My friend observed, “Outside of Scripture, people usually just ‘hear’ only what they want to hear.”
- She recently attended a conference that included a session on hearing God. The speaker promised they would hear God’s voice if they followed his three steps: (a) Turn off your critical mind, (b) Pick up and pen and paper, and (c) Write down whatever intuitive thoughts come to you. My friend said, “I don’t believe God follows our formulas.”
- A member of her church once told its board of elders that they should delay the start time of their service so that more young people would attend, and that “God said this in a prayer time of mine.” My friend said, “Too many people manipulate others, forcing them to adopt their own agendas by claiming, ‘I heard this from God Himself.’”
What do we say? I completely agree that hundreds of thousands of believers—probably millions—frequently abuse “senses” from God. Hearing God is dangerous.
But so is not hearing God.
Because the Nature of Christianity Is Danger
Every significant truth of Christianity is pregnant with peril:
- Grace itself is so startlingly hazardous that Paul must warn us about it lest grace encourage us to sin: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1)
- Righteous living is so self-esteem building, it can lead us to pride: “I thank you God that I am not like other men, sinners.” (Luke 18:11)
- Christian ministry is so fulfilling it can lead us away from God: “Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not do many mighty works in your name?’ I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me.’” (Matt. 7:22-23)
- Generosity can fool us into thinking we have the love of God in us: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:3)
- Studying the Bible can be a substitute for knowing the real God: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have life; but they are about me, and you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)
But should the inherent hazards of gospel truths keep us from submitting to grace, obeying the Ten Commandments, pouring out our lives in service, impoverishing ourselves to enrich the poor, or reading Scripture?
You could even argue that the Bible itself is dangerous, since every heresy is based on Scripture; it’s just that the heretics pick and choose their passages. Paul’s orthodox (right belief) promise was to declare the “whole counsel” of God.
Everything about Christianity is dangerous. Let’s not refuse God’s gifts simply because people abuse God’s gifts. It is much riskier to ignore grace and morals than to practice them, just as it is far more dangerous to disregard hearing God than to learn how.
On the other hand, if we aren’t hearing God in Scripture, we have no business thinking we can hear him elsewhere. God implores us, over and over, to treasure his Word. If we don’t value his written Word, how arrogant are we to believe that we can discern his truth from a demon dressed as an angel?
Live on the Edge
Hearing God is dangerous, but so is faith in that God: Abram followed God’s call, “not knowing where he was going;” Gideon battled an army of tens of thousands with his weaponless three hundred; and Esther risked her neck with her frightening declaration, “If I perish, I perish.”
From Abram to Gideon to Esther, God calls his people to live without safety nets. Not to mention Jesus himself, who said, “When I perish, I perish.” Are we willing to enter the heart of Christianity, a life of risk, peril, threat, and adventure?
What dangerous call are you hearing from God? Let us never abuse it; but neither let us ever refuse it.
My book about hearing God is written to help all of us develop a conversational relationship with God: to hear him both when he speaks and when he acts.
If you want to nurture a personal, intimate relationship with God, may I suggest you buy Hearing God in Conversation.
Eugene Peterson said, “I picked it up out of curiosity, and I couldn’t put it down.”
Gary Wilkerson wrote, “This is a remarkable book that teaches both how to hear God’s voice in Scripture, and then to hear his voice in every avenue of life. It’s filled with humor, insight, practical tips, and sound theology. I can’t recommend a better guide than Hearing God in Conversation.”