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Thursday, June 22, 2006

do you feel led to read this?

This is probably my favorite article of any ever written. Please leave a comment, pro or con. I'd like to discuss it.



No Voices In My Head

God may or may not have told me to write this.

by Bill MacKinnon billatclarksondotedu



I’m a lousy Christian.

There. I’ve said it. People say that admitting it is the first step. What makes me a lousy Christian you ask? Hidden sin? Lukewarm commitment? Worldliness?

I wish.

At least if it were one of those, I could do something about it. No, what makes me a lousy Christian is something I don’t seem to be able to do anything about. You see, God isn’t speaking to me. He won’t give me assignments. He didn’t tell me who to marry. He was obstinately silent when I had to decide whether to take my current job. He doesn’t give me secret knowledge about other people or situations. In short, He isn’t doing for me what seemingly the rest of the evangelical church claims He is doing for them.

Why not me? What have I done wrong? Why this slight? Everyone else has all this extra revelation straight from God. They’ve got intense feelings, and power, and special instructions and don’t have to make any of their own decisions. God tells them what to do and when to do it. In fact, some of them claim they don’t do anything until it is clear what God wants them to do. If I waited for God to tell me what to do, I would never get out of bed. All I’ve got is a Bible and the Holy Spirit within me. (at least, I hope He’s there. I can’t feel Him moving about, but the Bible says He’s there)

I’ve done quite a bit of study on this issue and I’ve gathered quite a few theories and teachings. God seems to be telling different people different things, but perhaps we can sort them all out and come to some conclusions.

First is what I like to call the Ham Radio teaching. I’m sure you’ve seen people fiddling around with the dials on a ham radio. They twist and turn and adjust until the voices become clear. The voices were there all along; they just couldn’t hear them until the right adjustments were made. Some people say God is like that. He’s always speaking. He just can’t get through to us until we make the right adjustments in our lives. As soon as these adjustments are made, His voice is loud and clear! The adjustments generally involve getting rid of all sin in your life. How lucky for the really good guys in the Bible like Cain and Jonah to get it right the first time. Oh wait…

Second is what I call the Walkie Talkie theory. If you have used a walkie talkie, you know that as long as you are speaking, the other party cannot be heard. You can only hear them when you stop speaking and listen. I naively thought that prayer was generally one-way communication with God. But I’m told it is really two-way communication, and that I can’t hear God until I stop talking. Then I’m supposed to listen. How long I wait to see if God is going to say anything is directly proportional to my faith. I apparently missed this part when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, but I’ll go back and look.

Next on the list is the Easter Bunny theory. God’s will is mysterious and he hides it carefully and then asks you to find it. People are always saying that they are “looking for God’s will for my life.” Things like strong feelings and coincidences are clues. God wants you to do things, but He won’t tell you what. But evidently He will hold you responsible if you don’t do what He wants you to do but won’t tell you. Hold on, I’m looking up the verses that support that now….no, no, just a moment…no, not there. Well anyway, I’ll find them later.

There’s the Bull Ring theory. Have you ever seen a ring in a bull’s nose? It’s not there because he’s rebelling against his parents. It’s there for people to pull on. When someone pulls on the ring in a northerly direction, the bull “feels led” to walk north. When the person pulling the ring changes direction, quite remarkably the bull does as well. I have probably heard the term “I feel led” or “I felt led” from other Christians more than any other phrase. But when I ask them what “feeling led” feels like, they are at somewhat of a loss to explain. From what I can gather, it’s a kind of strong desire or impression. Well, if you can’t trust strong desires what can you…uh, never mind.

One of my favorites is the Paxil theory. Paxil is a drug that calms you down and gives you a feeling of peace. I’m told that if I’m wavering between a number of options on an important decision, I should kind of semi-decide upon one, and see if I have a “feeling of peace” about it. If not, move on. Now the thing is, I don’t get stressed or nervous about much of anything. So if “peace” is my main decision making criteria, most of the decisions I’ve made in my life have been correct. Woohoo!

Last but certainly not least is the Back to School theory. Put simply, you can’t hear God’s voice until you learn how. Somehow, without it being recorded, it is known that all the folks God spoke to in biblical times had learned how to hear God’s voice. How they learned it or what is involved in learning it has never been fully explained to me. If I ever do learn it, I will gladly teach it to others, but only if they call me “sensei”…

Well, that was fun. There’s a whole lotta teaching goin’ on out there about God speaking. They all seem to be a bit different but perhaps we can find a common thread among all or most of them. I think I’ve spotted it. Have you? The common theme among most of these (which although I’ve presented them in a tongue and cheek manner, are common and serious teachings) is that God is trying to speak to people and often failing to get His message across.

So now I have a question. Is that a picture of the God of the Bible? Does the God of the Bible try? Does the God of the Bible fail? Is the God of the Bible limited by the failures and foibles of His creatures? Did Abraham “feel led” to go to the land of Canaan or did he hear God speak loud and clear? Did God hide Jonah’s mission to Nineveh ? Was all the sin out of Job’s life when God spoke to him from the whirlwind? Did Moses have to learn to hear God speak from the bush? In short, where the heck did all these ideas come from? Certainly not the Bible.

If you email me and tell me I’m putting God in a box I swear I will hunt you down and kick you in the shin. This isn’t about what God can do. This is about what we can teach. And (hopefully) we can agree that our teaching authority and doctrine comes from the Bible, not the voices in our heads. God can do whatever He wants. But we can’t teach whatever we want.

What does the Bible teach about God speaking? Well obviously God spoke to people in many ways: the burning bush, angels, a voice, writing on the wall, etc. Notoriously absent are things like impressions, feeling led, and feelings of peace. When God wanted someone to do something, He told them and they heard and understood. Period. They didn’t always like it, and they didn’t always obey, but they heard. How could they not? Were they more powerful than God? Are you? Is there anything within your power or imagination that can keep God from getting a message to you? Who do we think we are?

God may choose not to speak to you, but if He does speak, you will hear.

Please don’t come back and quote me the “if you have ears to hear” verses. Read those in context. To “hear”, as Jesus was employing the term didn’t mean to hear, as in perceive with your auditory appendages. It meant to accept and obey. Obviously the crowd “heard” him in the sense that I’m talking about.

It is curious to me that if someone in a typical evangelical church stood up and said an angel spoke to him and told him that God wanted him to be a missionary to Africa , we would be very skeptical at best. Yet if that same person stood up and said that he “just really feel led to go to Africa to be a missionary”, the "amens" and applause would be deafening. Yet the former is biblical and the latter is not.

So, should we be looking for angels or burning bushes? No. Moses wasn’t looking for one. We shouldn’t be looking for anything. What we should do is read our Bibles. You want to hear God speak? If you have a Bible, you have thousands of years of God-inspired instructions, messages, exhortations, rebukes and praises right at your fingertips. Why do we think we need more than that? God’s will for your life is written there. God’s instructions for living are there. To want them piped directly into your brain is just foolishness and laziness. Worse, it opens you up to the worst kind of doctrinal errors.

So in conclusion, a lousy Christian I may be, for many reasons. But my inability to hear God’s voice isn’t one of them. I have a Bible, and God speaks to me whenever I open it.

13 Comments:

Blogger sajini said...

Ok, so im not feeling led to read this!! How you doing dued? What you upto these days??

Thu Jun 22, 04:50:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Laur said...

nice article. 2 questions: 1) what about testing the spirits? what does that mean, and how do you know? 2) how does the Spirit sanctify our hearts?

joe novenson over at lookout mountain pres. came to ruf summer conference 2004 and spent his teaching time talking about this stuff. it was really good. i think you can listen to it at the ruf website.

Thu Jun 22, 05:25:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Screaming Pirate said...

.......I am "feeling lead by God" to say that you are quickly becoming one of my favorite bloggers. I feel in to that trap early on in my chirstian walk. The whole I am feeling lead to do "X" thing. Ill never for get having it confirmed (to me at that time)by a book by Henry Blackaby(Called and Accountable). And honestly this is a spot on assessment of that whole way of thinking. I have had some friends do some preaty stupid stuff in the name of "God told me to do this" only to find out in a major way he did not. Its funny how many "cestationalist" hold to this. The kind of people that would croak if they saw some one lifting their hands in a worship service. May be they just need a "Word from the Lord" that they should lift their hands.

Thu Jun 22, 08:33:00 PM PDT  
Blogger iconoclasm said...

Saji -Is the spirit leading you to change the subject?

Thu Jun 22, 11:41:00 PM PDT  
Blogger iconoclasm said...

Laur -I'm not quite sure how you mean that so tell me if I'm on the wrong track.
Q.1 Testing the spirits -
You feel like a spiritual entity wants you to commit a certain action or someone tells you God told them to tell you to do something etc. To "test" this would be to see if the action is consistent with scripture. I think you should also test it with a little common sense.

This passage in 1John 4 that you are refering to indicates that there are evil spirits confusing people into thinking it's the Holy Spirit; we can't just trust any spirit like this and that the problem was significant enought to warrant John's correction.

Just for the sake of explanation I'll use something obvious. I feel I should leave my family to be a missionary. The Bible says to support your family, cleave to your wife, etc. So I know that feeling is wrong.

As for common sense if the suggested action is break that glass or buy this necklace, how do these build up the church, grow a believer, or glorify God since we know those are some purposes of the spirit. Maybe you could posit a scenario if you were thinking something different Laur.

In Acts 16:16 a "damsel" (gotta love KJV, it beats being called a "slave girl") was held by a spirit of divination. She calls out that they are servants of the most high God and are there to proclaim the way of salvation. I've heard that a gentile would understand this a Zeus and a Jew as God. It sounds like the statement is true to me and I think the reason Paul is greatly annoyed and allows it to continue for many days is that it was not an outright lie. If she had said "They are from Zeus" (or Hera, etc.) one would think he would have wanted to correct that sooner. I can't remember if he had been around exorcisms yet at that point in the narative so perhaps he was unaware of that power but I doubt it.

The problem was probably that they had a weirdo demon girl making them look like a freak show. It seems like she repeats the same thing over and over so as to be annoying but I'm not sure. I think the main idea is that God was using the situation to show his greater power with the Philipian jailor and over the spirit.

For our purposes we're more interested in the spirit. The girl's owners were making considerable money off of her fortune telling capacities. It doesn't say but I would think that means that either it was predicting a thing or two right or deceiving people into thinking such. The Bible says that satan is an angel of light and it would have been advantageous for this demon to get in with the Christians and mess things up. God does not need a messenger of evil to proclaim his truth it should have no part in the church even if everything it says has been true so far. The girl's words sound very much like something that would be the right thing to say. Notice that (if I am right in saying that the girl's words are true) Paul does not wait for the girl to say something incorrect to cast out the spirit.

Q.2 Spirit Sanctifying our hearts
I'll apeal to Question #35 of your denomination's catechism: "and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness." Sanctification is not becoming more and more emotional or charismatic but being transformed by the renewing of our minds. I'm not sure if that's what you were asking though.

Fri Jun 23, 01:07:00 AM PDT  
Blogger iconoclasm said...

I know what you mean Alan. Everyone does this stuff. I think a lot of times it’s an excuse to avoid the responsibility of making a wise decision through bible study, research(pros&cons), seeking wise council, and discernment and to take the easy road of making decisions based off of emotion.

I couldn’t tell whether you liked Blackaby’s book or not. I avoid anything that is the latest Christian trend or that more than 10 people recommend to me. I assume if 10 million Christians suddenly start liking something simultaneously that it must be some easy cheap way to do things so I just avoid anything like that. I don’t really know anything about Blackaby or Experiencing God except that it has Moses on the cover. I’d be interested to hear a reformed perspective on his stuff.

“Its funny how many "cestationalist" hold to this. The kind of people that would croak if they saw some one lifting their hands in a worship service.”

“cestationalists”? Hu? Wow. That is pretty hypocritical now that you mention it.

Fri Jun 23, 01:24:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Screaming Pirate said...

Oh no, I would not recomend Blackaby on this subject. He is one of the leading advocates on this. He lead me further down that path of feeling God instead of biblical disernment. I almost made a really dumb decision because of that whole way of thinking. I would not be nearly as mature and may have even abandoned any thought of minstry had I done this thing i had "felt" God calling me to do. Shortly after that event I was coming to terms of what I means to have wise councel, and why God puts those people there....

And as far as the hypocracy, you are correct. This kind of philosophy on discerning Gods will is very popular in the indepentdent baptist fundimentalis circles, which are some of the most millitant anti-charismatics out there. The irony is to thick on that one. The very ones that accuse others of mysticism, are just as rooted in it. And make no mistake it is mysticism that we are talking about here. They just change their terminology and that makes it all ok.

Fri Jun 23, 08:09:00 AM PDT  
Blogger iconoclasm said...

Come on everyone let's get him to tell it. *Pounding fists on the table, chanting* Stor-y! Stor-y! Stor-y!

Fri Jun 23, 11:09:00 AM PDT  
Blogger sajini said...

I hear enough of this around where I go to church, so I choose not to comment!!!

Fri Jun 23, 11:52:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Laur said...

ok, try to follow my logic and see if it's logical. (i've been out of it for a while now and am making less sense than normal.) i totally agree with what you said in your response, alastair (lol). it seems to me, though, that the Spirit has got to be doing something in us, right? but what is it, if it's not "telling" us stuff? we are having our hearts made more like the heart of God. we are learning not only what He loves, but to love it too. and of course we learn to love Him best of all. we can use scripture to learn more about Him and what He loves - to draw closer to His heart. but it seems to me that if we're using it to test spirits as well - to make sure we're not being "taken in" by something nefarious - then sometimes it must turn out to be the Holy Spirit. so if, for example, little miss going to law school suddenly feels deeply and uncomfortably convicted to go to seminary and go on staff with RUF (can you tell who we're talking about?), and she prays and prays, searches the scripture and makes sure this idea is kosher, asks for advice from her friends and mentors, and sees increasingly how much it would demand that she be a living sacrifice to do this because she sees it as risky (NOT because it's in any way inherently better than being a lawyer) and requiring more trust in the Lord than she is comfortable with, is she nuts to conclude that seminary is where she should set her sights? and if her heart comes around and she's excited about it, is she just engaging in self-delusion to think she is being obedient?

i'm not all into getting swept up in your feelings, and i don't trust mine, and i don't think that i need to be told what to do. but i think that if i am, and i don't, i'm nuts.

did that make sense?

Sat Jun 24, 02:12:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Screaming Pirate said...

I'll try to get the story off on my blog. But i aint (thats southern for not) promising any thing. And i anit promissing it will be good, or have good grammar.

Tue Jun 27, 08:38:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Yen said...

That was fabulous - I loved that post! It's the first post I've read of yours but I know I like ya already. :)

I can attest to being taught the Ham Radio and Walkie Talkie versions of God-speak when I was little at my old church. Uh-huh, well, thanks for posting that. Good stuff.

Wed Jun 28, 08:54:00 AM PDT  
Blogger iconoclasm said...

Laur's question was kind of personal so I thought it best to respond privately. I'll do another post delving deeper into this if there is enough interest.

Thu Jun 29, 04:31:00 PM PDT  

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