FOCUS – Direct messages from God
I once asked my Sunday school class if God talks to us, and they felt that indeed he does. “But how can we know what he is trying to tell us?” I pressed. One precocious 9-year-old responded: “It’s an instinct, for the Christian.” That was a worthy statement. But I feel it needs some qualification: the instinct must be trained, and prompted by the Holy Spirit.
Most Christians want to obey God’s direction in their lives. The hard part seems to be discerning that guidance, or “hearing” the “voice” of God. Christian recording artist Chris Rice, expresses our frustration in his song “Smell the Color Nine”:
I would take ‘no’ for an answer, just to know I’d heard you speak…a lot of special revelations meant for everybody but me…sometimes finding you is just like trying to smell the color nine.
We want to hear God’s voice. We want him to tell us what to do. Why won’t he speak?
The truth of the matter is, he has already spoken. He has spoken remarkably clearly and permanently through his Word. His general will is obvious, and we know it well. We know we are to treat one another with love, we are not to steal, we are to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, etc. But in his book Decision Making by the Book, Haddon Robinson suggests that many of our more specific questions can be answered by applying normal biblical standards of behavior to immediate, personal decision-making crises. Says Robinson:
“God’s direction is clear and unambiguous. We are to act in love and kindness. We are not to be self-serving. We are to have integrity. We are to be faithful and generous. And we are to operate out of proper motives.” (p. 45)
The first step to answering major life questions may lie in measuring our choices against these guidelines. A man is offered a better paying job, but it will deprive his family of much of their time together. Possibly, in that circumstance, to take the job would be self-serving. The repercussions of the choice for a better job would collide with Scriptural principles, so clearly it is not the choice God would condone (in this example).
There are decisions that require hours of Bible study, prayer and fasting. But then there are times when a Christian knows, as my young sage expressed, by “instinct.” But this instinct is a sense which has been developed. Consider Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The Christian’s mind is transformed and renewed by her constancy in study of the Scripture, whereby she ceases to conform to the pattern of this world. She becomes not only more like Christ, but more in tune with him. With an intimate knowledge of Scripture and a mind that thinks like Christ’s, she will instinctively respond to life’s choices and events in a way that pleases God. Scriptural principles are such a part of her vocabulary that when the Holy Spirit whispers to her, it is not a foreign language.
The bottom line is this: the closer we get to God, the more we understand how he wants us to live. Not only will we be familiar with the obvious will of God, such as his command that we should not commit adultery, but we will be able to know his “good, pleasing and perfect will” in our particular situations.
There are those who look for short cuts. Robinson discusses what he calls “biblical roulette” the practice of scanning God’s Word until a verse catches one’s attention, then assuming that verse is God’s specific message for the moment. This game of chance can also be played by letting one’s Bible flop open, trusting that God will open it to a magical page with the necessary answers. One might also reach into the “promise box” on the kitchen table, believing the verse that is arbitrarily withdrawn will hold God’s special missive. But for those who would truly know the way of God, there is no substitute for the daily discipline of the study of scripture. As with any good letter, intimacy with the writer lies within its reading.
Will God speak to you in an audible voice, as Moses experienced the burning bush? Will he write on your wall with his own hand, as he did in King Belshazzar’s palace? Maybe he will. But with or without those miracles, the Word of God still stands. And it is miracle enough by itself.