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.”
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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.”
Hearing God saved my life when I was a teenager. Was on a road trip and heard a voice say “buckle up” so I asked my friend if he told me to buckle up. Nope- wasn’t him. I told him to buckle up and we did. 10 minutes later we hit a drunk driver. Hearing and obeying saved our lives.
In Iraq I was about to shoot a car that I believed was a suicide bomber. Heard a voice say “second look” so I obeyed. Hearing and obeying saved me from killing a mother and her three kids.
John 10:27 “my sheep hear my voice..” is my favorite verse because of the above examples. Through these experiences I developed a reliance on hearing God and taking it serious. People could have died by my actions if it wasn’t for Gods intervention.
I believe hearing God is abused because when reliance isn’t developed so its easy for some to abuse and manipulate this concept for their gain. Their lives don’t rely on hearing God so they don’t value it. What we don’t value is often used for personal gain or abused.
We are all amazed and humbled at God’s work in your life. Thanks for sharing.
This was the first book on prayer I had read that openly shared how to hear God’s voice. Usually, I hear Him thru His word. But a few times He has clearly revealed Himself apart from the Scripture. And it was an unforgettable experience! And yes, you could probably “sense” God is speaking to you when, in fact, it is your desires speaking. But when it is really Him, it is indisputable. Thank you for this book. I had thought I was somewhat alone in this experience.
Yes, God DOES speak personally and directly (like when God tells Paul to go to Macedonia). But Satan can also appear as an angel of light.
So let’s not reject his speaking personally, but let’s be so grounded in the truth in his Word that we aren’t deceived by false words.
This is really good, Sam. Here’s an analogy of the inherent dangers that might be helpful.
Diving into the deep can be dangerous. You’re in over your head.
But, diving into the shallows can be disastrous.
Respecting the water, learning to swim and to dive over time and through experience, and learning from others are some of the ways we learn to enjoy the depth and wonder of the sea.
Great analogy. Thanks.
I bought this book and found it very helpful. Learning about the obstacles to hearing God is great information to those who are struggling. I used this to book to do a teaching on hearing God.
The enemy uses fear to immobilize believers from living by Faith. It is not an option not to hear God, as it is required to life by Faith. Thinking your safe by saying only from the Word of God or Scripture is fraught with issues too. First, we have to realize that Jesus is the Word of God and Jesus only did or said what the Father told him to do or say. So aligning to the Word of God is to intimately follow the voice of God. Second, the scriptures as the source of hear is good, but also has its many difficulties. John Chapter 10 has 5 or 6 references to hearing Jesus voice. In Acts 9 Ananias was told to go seek out Paul by God. Annaisis questioned the voice he heard as this seemed like a death sentence, but God told Ananias he would lead a blind Paul to his house, where he would pray for him and he would regain his sight. So going by the Scripture leads us right back to needing to hear God’s voice and being able to discern even question God to make sure we are hearing Him well.
Thanks for sharing. Yes, if we really believe and rest on the Scriptures, how could ever deny God speaks outside the Scriptures, since they are filled with examples of God speaking.
However, the Scriptures are the final word on salvation, etc. If someone tries to add to a revelation of God or salvation by “adding” to the Scriptures, we are to reject them immediately.
I have occasionally been led by the “Rhema Word” of God and often by the “Logos Word” of God. Sometimes BOTH.
For instance, when I was going through my second divorce in a marriage of 23 years and four adopted children, I kept hearing “James 1”. Radio programs mentioned it, my pastor, in his Sunday morning sermon to the church did a lesson on it. Friends mentioned it.
Finally, I said, “Lord, I get it… I should “count it all joy…” even though circumstances certainly don’t seem to warrant it!”
God was encouraging me is a very discouraging time in my life. He will do that and we should always listen to His words of encouragement… Don’t make Him repeat it so often, like I did. Be like the Prophet Samuel when he was a boy. He thought the priest Eli was calling him and went to Eli three times before Eli discerned it was a Word from the Lord. And, as it turned out, it was a prophecy against Eli’s family, which Samuel might not have shared with Eli, if it had not been repeated. Discernment….
As always, thanks for sharing with us so faithfully.
I just ended a relationship with a wonderful 7th Day Adventist.
As I read the denomination’s history I was shocked at how much of their theology is based on one woman’s visions, much of which in my opinion was unbiblical.
And to this day there are big rifts between that denomination and other evangelicals precisely because of theologies they have that came from visions that weren’t scripture based.
God does speak directly to us. (He convicts me of sin as often as he guides me in decisions.)
But he never adds to (or subtracts) from the truths in Scripture. God repeatedly commands us this way:
Sorry, brothers and sisters, I have seen too much abuse and disunity around hearing God’s voice. My wife was nearly destroyed by a board of pastors who claimed God told them to take actions that broke the law and hurt many people. I understand that the Christian life can be dangerous, but consider that those pushing a formulaic approach to hearing God’s voice (and their followers who embrace it without question) are all too often duped into the schemes of Satan that turn people away from the faith. Don’t get me wrong, I have at times heard from God absent Scripture, but I’m pretty sure it has always been God showing me stuff about me or those I love. I can’t recall God ever speaking to me in any way that might be dangerous for other people. So please stop it, or at least take a step back and rethink this.
All our hearts go out to you.
I agree we need to exercise discernment, and we especially need to guard ourselves against the self-deceit that accompanies the lies from Satan.
It’s just that we have to exercise the same discernment when hearing people teach from Scripture. EVERY heresy in the church has come from people choosing a few verses over others, elevating certain truths and discarding others.
In reading Scripture AND in hearing God outside, we need to rely on the “whole counsel” of God first and foremost are our guide.
Some of the comments reminded me of the book of Acts.. imagine if the disciples had stuck to the notion that God could only speak through His Word!
The book of Acts makes it sooo clear that the Holy Spirit is real and active in the lives of those who are willing to listen and obey! I have heard God primarily in His Word, but there have been numerous times when I heard Him in whispers and ideas, and probably in many more occasions where I didnt even notice it was Him.
Me too. When I look back at my life, I often see God’s fingerprints all over it, although I might not have in that moment.
Sort of like David reminiscing in Ps. 144. He says, “You trained my hands for war and my fingers for battle.” David saw God’s grace in leaving him (as a boy) out with the sheep while his older brothers were getting trained in Saul’s “West Point” equivalent.
At that time, David may have been jealous of them. But later he saw God’s perfect guidance.
I see a lot of scriptures alone and taken out of context with little exercise of discernment mentioned. I also saw no mention of “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26 He’s also called “the Spirit of truth . The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him or knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” John 14:17 If the Holy Spirit goes wherever you go, God can speak to you anywhere. I guess the question is, How big is God to you? Is He able to meet you in every circumstance, or are you limiting Him in some way? Danger abounds in this life, but if you belong to Him, then you’re in His hands and He will see you through every danger!?✝️?
Great point. God sent his Holy Spirit primarily to reveal to us (and remind us) of His Word.