Audible Voices & Scripture – Some Thoughts

September 13th, 2008

People talk about “hearing the voice of God,” in a personal, subjective sense.  I definitely believe there’s a reality to that.  The Holy Spirit definitely ministers in various ways, and I think people are often having real experiences.  But I’m not sure about using those terms.

I have some concerns about when we can say that we “heard God”.  I can articulate some of them… And I may post about them more in the near future.  For now, I want to share a question that someone asked over at TeamPyro, and my response.

Barbara asked,

There have been two instances in my (still relatively new) Christian walk where I have had what seemed like direction to specific scriptural passages come into my head. As an especially baby Christian, one time I had been praying at length about a particular concern (hardheadedness, hard places in my heart) and then I finally began to settle in for the night. My head no sooner hit the pillow than I heard in my head, “Turn your light back on and get your Bible.”

Figuring it to be my own imagination, I almost ignored it – but I didn’t. Not knowing where I would go in the Bible once I picked it back up, I began to reach for the light.

“Psalm 114.”

Figured, Okay, I’m game. Hadn’t read Psalm 114, didn’t know what it would hold. So I turned there and I read it…and my jaw began to drop. Right there in those words, particularly the last two verses of Psalm 114, was the encouragement that I needed at that time – that He had everything under control and that if rocks and flint aren’t too hard for him, then my head and heart aren’t either.

On another instance I was praying earnestly in need of some assurance and comfort – and just as clearly, at the end of the prayer, I was “audibly” led to Psalm 121. I turned there, read the words and the promise contained therein, and found myself reduced to grateful tears.

So…since you bring this up about these different kinds of revelations, I’ve been meaning to ask somebody about this. I have pretty much figured that if something is leading me into the Word that it’s safe, at least. Professional opinion? Am I nuts? Or will the Holy Spirit “audibly” prompt us to specific passages of Scripture as a means of communicating some comfort and assurance?

I replied,

Barbara,

I can only answer for myself, of course.

It certainly becomes a problem if you start to:
1.) Expect that you should be getting “messages”–and either start inventing them, or feel depressed & abandoned because you’re not getting them.
2.) Seek out them instead of seeking the voice of God in Scripture.
3.) Depend on your subjective experience as a message in an of itself. In other words, any hint of the following: “God told me this, so I don’t need to listen to your counsel or Biblical arguments that I’m doing the wrong thing,” or “I know this promise isn’t found in Scripture, but I felt it in my spirit, so I’m going to depend on it.”

To answer your question, we have no Biblical reason to think that the Spirit will audibly lead us to particular passages. But at the same time, I do not see any reason to tell you, “No, that wasn’t God. It was just random thoughts that you were having, and it was coincidence that the passages seemed applicable & comforting.” That seems unlikely to me.

My advice is this: Don’t stress yourself trying to figure out if you’re nuts. And don’t stress yourself trying to figure out if those “promptings” were really God. Don’t worry about “interpreting” them at all. Don’t depend on the “prompting” itself as a message. Instead, rejoice in the teaching of Scripture that you found as a result. Ensure that you are depending on the promises of God in Scripture, through the work of the Spirit. You should be fine, that way.

Since I wrote that, I’ve thought some more.

I don’t particularly doubt that God led her to those passages.  But… Well, maybe there were many, many passages throughout Scripture that God would have used to comfort & teach her in her situation.  Maybe “Psalm 114″ was just a random thought that she had… I don’t know. [Update: See comment below.]  I can speculate and question.  But I don’t think I’m supposed to know what actually happened with her.  I certainly don’t need to… And as far as I can see, she doesn’t need to either.

I don’t want to lose sight of what’s important:

  1. God’s promises in Scripture, however we find them, are sure and reliable.  We should seek them, and depend on them.
  2. The Holy Spirit is active in our lives–teaching, convicting, comforting, empowering believers to help each other and build each other up.  Through all kinds of means–including fallible experiences and immature thoughts that we have.  If we know Him through Christ, God is working all the events of our lives to shape us and grow us and make us more like Christ and help us in our weakness.  (I love, love, love Romans 8.)
  3. We should not base our interpretation on an experience like this.  We should never say something like, “This passage must mean what I think it does, because God led me to it when I was having this struggle.”  That’s not good.  God helps me through my experiences–even if it turns out that I was being a bit of a turkey at the time, and I needed some correction.  Trust in God and his objective Word and his work and his promise to be working in us–not in your perception of your past experiences.

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7 Responses to “Audible Voices & Scripture – Some Thoughts”

  1. “Instead, rejoice in the teaching of Scripture that you found as a result. Ensure that you are depending on the promises of God in Scripture, through the work of the Spirit.”

    I think this was some of the best counsel I’ve ever heard. Barbars’s experience mirrors my own. I have been awakened at 3am with only one thought: to get my bible and read. At other times with the singular thought: read such and such verse chapter, et cetera.

    When it comes to how or what the Spirit is doing at any particular time we can as you said, depend upon God and not our own understanding in all ways acknowledge him and rest in the promise that he will lead the way.

  2. Tim says:

    Thanks, Thomas.

    I haven’t experienced anything like that, myself. That I can recall. But I’m reminded of another principle, that probably applies here. 1 Cor. 12:11 says that the Spirit gives spiritual gifts “to each one individually as he wills.” The Spirit also knows what each of us needs. So our experiences may differ… But we can rest content regardless.

  3. ... entry will mostly be copied from the same comment section as my recent entry on audible voices & scripture.  (Both came from Dan Phillips’ post on general & special revelation. We also started ...

  4. Tim says:

    I crossed out a couple sentences above, where I said,

    Well, maybe there were many, many passages throughout Scripture that God would have used to comfort & teach her in her situation. Maybe “Psalm 114? was just a random thought that she had… I don’t know.

    I was challenged on that by a friend, and I realized that I’m not happy with what I said. Not those sentences, anyway–they almost come across functionally deist.

    I don’t believe that God is separate from any moment of our lives, or any thought that we’re having. If she had a “random” thought to look up a particular passage, and that passage taught something that she needed to hear, then of course I’m going to think it was God leading her to that passage. So where was my caution coming from?

    1.) If someone tells me a story about being spontaneously led to a particular passage, I can’t automatically say, “that was God”. And I wouldn’t want to tell Barbara to expect that every time she feels the spontaneous urge to read a passage, it is necessarily God telling her to go there.
    2.) Instead, I’ll want to ask: How are you taking that passage? What meaning, what promise are you getting from it? If you’re getting something that’s really there in the Scripture, then I’ll affirm it as God’s direction. If you’re getting something that seems to twist Scripture, then I can’t affirm it as God’s direction.

    So, it comes down to, “How do we judge & discern these kinds of impulses?”

    And that’s a big topic. I’m still wrestling with the various aspects of that problem. I don’t remotely have it figured out as much as I’d like. But I know that we have to start with this kind of core principle: Test & discern everything, cling to what is good, abstain from what is evil (1 Thess. 5:19-22).

  5. Tim says:

    One more clarification:

    God is always involved in the processes in our minds, in our feelings and intuitions. And I do believe that he may lead & guide & shape us through them–but he is also involved when we’re getting things wrong. He is involved in shaping us & growing us to be like Christ, even in the circumstances that we look back on and say, “I was mixed up.”

  6. ... I went back and added a couple comments to my earlier entry on audible voices & ...

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