I May As Well Be Dead

by Andy Wood on April 29, 2008

in Tense Truths

Message from God(Note: I’m starting a new category today I call “tense truths.” Truth because it’s, well, true! Tense because it’s often misunderstood or has other balancing truths that need to be considered.)

Tense Truth: God still speaks to those who will listen. True, people sometimes misunderstand, misuse, or manipulate others with “messages from God.” Regardless, God is willingly and faithfully engaged in the pursuit of communicating with His people.

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I may as well be dead.

That’s the way David put it.

Ask anybody on the street about getting messages from God; nine out of ten of them will assume you’re joking or clinically nuts.

Ask George Strait about messages from God, and he’ll sing to you about seeing flowers growing in the sidewalk at just the right time, or in the miracle of seeing his baby girl born.

Ask theologians, pastors, and writers about hearing from God, at least in somewhat-Evangelical circles, and you’ll get two kinds of responses. One is something of a mystical free-for-all – sort of like a friend of mine I’ll call Weird Wally. Carry on a 30-minute conversation with Wally, and inevitably he’ll bring up routine conversations he’s had with the Almighty. Now these aren’t the, “Lord, should I wear shorts today?” kinds of things. But Wally can tell you the paths and conversations the Lord is taking him on with the same tone of voice he uses to describe a trip to the gas station or the refrigerator.

On the other extreme is Cal, the analyst. A man of precision, Cal is all about chapter-and-verse from the Bible. In fact, he is very suspicious of anyone who claims to hear from the Lord. While on his better days he cautiously admits that God still guides and leads His people, most of the time Cal is a bit mystified by all the mystics. God, after all, has given us the Bible. What else do we need?

Now I’m friends with both of these guys. And I listen to both of them and smile and nod a lot. But I get really squirmy when I’m sitting with both of them at the coffee shop. Inevitably Weird Wally will treat us to one of his Deity dialogues, and Cal will whip out his Bible (at least in his head). Me? I just go for a refill. Coffee, that is.

Did I mention I hate arguing with Christians? I know it’s sometimes a necessary thing, but I don’t have to like it.

To Wally, Cal is a legalistic stone – chained to study methods, animated by arguments over theology, and slow – very slow – to give his nod of approval to anybody outside his theological stripe. To Cal, Wally uses his Bible like a voodoo priest uses dolls. He’s seen too many people miss God, misuse “the voice of God,” or manipulate people with “words from God.”

Yeah, they both exaggerate.

What do you think? Does God speak to people? To what degree? In what way?

Consider this. The second verse in all the Bible has God the Father speaking. “Let there be light,” He said (Genesis 1:3). The second- and fourth-last verses in the Bible have the Spirit and the Son speaking:

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come’” (Revelation 22:17, NASU).
“Yes, I [Jesus] am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:20, NASU).

BibleIn 53 of the 66 books of the Bible, some mention is made the Lord speaking to somebody or calling somebody.

In Acts 13:2-3, a team of believers was ministering to the Lord and fasting when the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” What I find remarkable about this is that the Bible doesn’t treat this type of experience as all that remarkable.

One of the most compelling, passionate cries to God in the Bible comes from David in Psalms:

For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who have gone down to the pit (the grave) (Psalm 28:1, NIV).

David says, “If I don’t hear from you, I’m a dead man walking.”

I believe him. I’ve been there.

Cal still gets nervous about this. Wally still gets weird with it. I figure they’re both hearing from the Lord themselves. And at times, they probably miss Him, too.

I ask my wife about all of this sometimes, and she just looks at me funny. She has a very childlike faith that doesn’t have to figure out all this stuff to enjoy it. And she gets frustrated when I do try to figure it all out.

Seems like Jesus said something about simple faith, too. I do know he never set a theologian in front of a crowd and said the Kingdom of God was like this guy. I kinda doubt He’d have put Wally there, either.

In my next post, I want to talk more about hearing God. I will also tell you the story of the Holy Spirit salad. I will mock the Holy Spirit salad lots and lots (not the Holy Spirit, mind you, just the salad). My wife will punch me and tell me to repent. It’ll be lots of fun.

I don’t worry much about Weird Wally or Analytical Cal. Both have a heart toward the Lord and are seeking the truth of God’s word. Let me tell you who I do worry about. It’s Belinda. She’s a believer. She owns several Bibles and attends church regularly. She even believes God speaks to people.

She’s just too busy to notice, and too distracted to care.

God is speaking.

She’s just not listening.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

carissa April 30, 2008 at 1:15 am

this really puzzles me sometimes (if and when i think about it). i came from a church that basically taught that God ONLY speaks through Scripture nowadays – no voices, no dreams, no hunches or feelings, just the Bible. maybe not in so many words, but that was the idea. then i met a lot of Christians who do get “feelings” about things, or “hear” (not literally, usually) the Holy Spirit’s prompting in a specific situation (things like “leave your homework for a while and come spend time in prayer”), and even a few who receive a “word from the Lord” to exhort others with once in a while.

i don’t necessarily feel that Scripture alone is how God speaks truth to us. i certainly think it’s crucial to knowing God and his will. but sometimes it feels that it creates a new kind of Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Bible – that replaces the Spirit’s leading. i do believe that prophecy and dreams and visions CAN and DO exist today sometimes. still, i’ve never experienced any of these things myself, and Scripture has worked quite well for me without them.

hm.

Andy Wood April 30, 2008 at 7:05 am

Wow! I’ve heard of “bibliolatry,” but that new kind of Trinity idea is strong! And I’ve seen it, too. Sort of goes along with the idea of, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who WAS, and WAS, and is to come.” We often miss God, I believe, because we have a past faith or a future faith, but not a today faith.

I also have to say how refreshing it is to hear somebody say, “I have never experienced this myself, but I believe it can and does happen.” So much of our interpretations of Scripture and beliefs in Christendom grow out of what we have or haven’t expereinced. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

JoAnne Wood April 30, 2008 at 9:48 am

I look forward to your comments on this. I personally believe that the Bible speaks to us and also the HOLY SPIRIT. iT’S certainly been true for me. Sometimes, I have to hear the message many times before It sinks in that it’s from the HOLY SPIRIT and not from somewhere else.

Fran May 1, 2008 at 1:53 pm

I absolutely believe that God speaks to us–through His Word, through gentle nudgings of our conscience (or sometimes NOT so gentle), through truths spoken by other Christians, and through a miraculous sense of actually hearing His (inaudible) voice. In my own experience, God has used all of these to get my attention–and I’m open to any way that He can and will communicate with me. All of us who are parents understand the personality differences in our children–well, I’m one of God’s children that likes to talk and listen to the response. I thank God for his approaches to all of us–sent to us in uniqueness and received by us as uniquely God’s.

Andy Wood May 1, 2008 at 5:20 pm

@Mom and @Fran – Thanks for the insights and ideas. The Lord certainly does meet us where we are, which is actually what I think about “Wally” and “Cal.” God is communicating, even when Cal may call it something different, like insights, leadership, or wisdom.

And boy, do people get hung up on that audible thing! “Well did you hear an AUDIBLE VOICE?” Nah. But just as the five closest women in my life can say VOLUMES with an inaudible voice, I’m sure God can and does, too.

Ivy May 2, 2008 at 6:40 am

Great, thought provoking post, Andy. Yes, God does speak, but as you suggested, we must be cautious. There are nut jobs out there who do all kinds of weird things saying, “God told me.” And like Belinda, there are those that just don’t listen to when he does speak. Primarily, I find him speaking through the the scripture as I read it meditatively and pray. He will confirm things through his people as well.

For example, last night at our Christian Education meeting, one of the women announced she was entering into a time of discernment about ministry. She has visited one of the seminaries and is just waiting on the right time. All of us could affirm her sense of call. God has spoken to her and to everyone else. It’s obvious.

Take care Andy and thanks for addressing this. Peace.

Tree Newt May 4, 2008 at 7:48 pm

I’ve been in churches that were all “spirit” (lowercase-intentional) and I’ve been in ones that are “spirit-less.” I’ve seen guys tell girls that God told them that they should get married, and I’ve seen them bewildered at the response “well, He didn’t tell me!” I’ve seen people squelch an obvious move of the Spirit (uppercase intentional) because they’re afraid of the outcome. In both cases, the common thread is either ignorance of or misunderstanding of God’s Word.

I believe the Word of God is inspired, that it is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16), and that anything we “feel” God telling us to do MUST line up with what we find in the Bible. If God tells you to leave your wife, kid, and job to go to the mission field, I don’t think that jives with “love your wife like Christ loves the church, and gave Himself up for her.”

But God speaks to all His children today. We just have to listen. His Spirit dwells in us, as believers, and if the Spirit of the Living God can’t guide us and direct us, what kind of God are we listening to, anyway?

Andy Wood May 4, 2008 at 9:28 pm

@Ivy – I really appreciated what you said about confirming things through his people. I’m a big believer that God speaks through the Body of Christ to individuals (Scripture bears that out as well, primarily in 1 Corinthians 12, 14). Often people see things in us, as they’re guided by the Holy Spirit, that we often don’t see in ourselves. Thanks, Ivy!

@Tree Newt – Amen, T-N! I think you and I have been in some similar places. We should compare notes. Check out Monday’s post for a follow-up on your reference to God’s Word being the ultimate authority to test what we’re hearing.

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