In his teaching on Experiencing God, Pastor and writer Henry Blackaby describes ways that God communicates with us. According to him (Reality #4): “God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways.” I believe that I have experienced God speaking to me in each of these ways many, many times. But, in each of those times it was more of a nudge or sense than a direct audible communication. I confess that when I hear claims by others of having heard God speak to them in very clear and unmistakable terms I tend to be skeptical and ask for discernment in how to receive such claims. For this reason I found the following article by Bob Russell instructive on the issue of God’s communication with us. I hope you will enjoy it.
A bit about Bob’s background: At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, the church where our pastor Brett Andrews as well as others who have served on New Life’s Staff interned. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches and conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups. An accomplished author, Bob has written over one-dozen books. This article appeared first at: www.bobrussell.org as: How to respond to a claim of a “Special Revelation” RMF
How to respond to a claim of a “Special Revelation”
“God told me.”
“The unmistakable voice of the Lord spoke in my heart.”
“God eventually got my attention and spoke very clearly.”
“The Lord said…”
Those claims of divine revelation are taken directly from a recent best-selling Christian book. Those assertions of a popular preacher are not uncommon. Some who lead prayer sessions will at times say, “God will reveal to me what your needs are.” Or, “God’s spirit is prompting me to pray for your low self-esteem. ” “I sense in my Spirit that someone here is troubled with family issues.” These statements leave an impression that God speaks directly to the leader either by audible voice or by the inner prompting of His Spirit.
Let me say upfront that while I have never heard an audible voice from God, I believe that God can and has spoken to people audibly. Let me also add that while I sometimes have a difficult time discerning between a nudge from the Holy Spirit and my own personal desires, I believe the Holy Spirit guides and directs His people. (see Prov. 3:5-6) However, when I hear seemingly flippant claims by people who appear to receive divine directions more frequently than Abraham, Isaac and Jacob combined, I’m skeptical. I’ve sometimes asked, “When you say, ‘God spoke to me’, is it an audible voice that you hear? If so, would you tape it for me?” The answer is always, “No, it’s not like that. God speaks in a silent voice in my inner being”.
I then ask, “Then how do you so confidently determine between the prompting of the Holy Spirit and your own random thoughts or instincts?” Generally, if pressed, people will say something like, “If you walk with the Lord long enough you come to recognize His voice within.” Or, “If you listen for the Holy Spirit long enough you’ll sense His prompting. ” And I’m left feeling like a second-class Christian.
One evangelist recently said, “God told me there is someone in the audience who has cancer…and you’ve just been healed!” Later, when asked how he knew the message was from God, he responded, “God wouldn’t have put that in my head if it weren’t true!” It’s difficult to argue with that kind of circular reasoning.
I feel it’s wise to remember several passages of Scripture when we hear these claims of “God’s special guidance.”
“Therefore,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. Yes,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” declares the Lord. “They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the Lord.
Hananiah, a false prophet, insisted the Lord had revealed to him that the Babylonian captivity was only going to last two years, not the seventy years that Jeremiah had predicted. Jeremiah rebuked him saying, “Listen Hananiah, The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded the nation to trust in lies. Therefore the Lord says, “I am about to remove you from the face of the earth”.
Take the time to read the entire section of Jeremiah 23:30-40. It makes it clear that it’s very dangerous to claim, “The Lord gave me this message”, if He didn’t do so. Claims of special revelation better be true or we risk a severe judgment from God. Jeremiah cautioned, “If a prophet or a priest or anyone else claims, ‘This is a message from the Lord,’ I will punish them and their household” (34) …“But you must not mention ‘a message from the Lord’ again, because every man’s own word becomes their own message. So you distort the words of the living God, the Lord Almighty, our God.” (v. 36) “…you must not claim, ‘This is a message from the Lord’.” (v. 38)
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”
God did speak in an audible voice to patriarchs such as Noah, Abraham, Moses and Samuel. God spoke in a variety of ways to others – through a handwriting on the wall, storms at sea and a still, small voice. Once, God even spoke through the mouth of a donkey. But in these last days God has spoken perfectly through Jesus Christ. The life and teaching of Jesus are communicated clearly in the Bible. The inference is that we should not expect God to give frequent, additional revelation since Jesus is the ultimate message from God.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
If the Bible is sufficient to, “thoroughly equip us for every good work”, why should we expect much additional information? Martin Luther established a principle of, “sola-scriptura”, insisting that the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. That means every modern claim of divine Revelation should be measured by the infallible Word of God. Jesus prayed, ‘Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.”
1 John 4:1
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
The most dangerous counterfeit bills are those that most closely resemble the authentic ones. The most dangerous false prophets appear as legitimate representatives of God and use Biblical quotations to establish credibility. Christians should not be gullible. It’s not unspiritual to question or investigate those who claim divine revelation. Jesus warned, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” (Matthew 24:4)
Harold Camping insisted the Lord revealed to him that Jesus was going to return on May 32, 2011. The fact that Jesus didn’t return makes Harold Camping a false prophet and believers who got sucked into his ruse were naïve.
Jim Jones, a charismatic preacher convinced hundreds that God had told him to move everyone in the church to Guyana. Most of the hundreds who followed Jim Jones’ claim wound up dead in a mass suicide.
Last week I read about a megachurch preacher who insists that the Spirit of God moved on his heart, causing him to reconsider his stance on excluding practicing homosexuals in his church. Thus, according to this preacher, this new revelation contradicts what God had already written clearly in His Word. Since God is the same yesterday, today and forever, He is not going to speak with a forked tongue.
Nothing is impossible with God. But believers have a responsibility to test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Is the doctrine of the teacher consistent with orthodox truth? Is the life of the teacher above reproach? Are the prophetic proclamations coming true 100% of the time? Do they communicate a substantive message that merits divine intervention?
Most importantly, “See that what you heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us – eternal life.” (1 John 2:24-25)