When Guidance is Confusing

Fallacies Exposed

Recognizing the Voice of God

(Part 2)

By Grantley Morris

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Is it God?

    You might be tempted to feel spiritually inferior to those who confidently and repeatedly say ďGod told me . . .Ē and yet the only difference might between you and them might be their confidence Ė or even over-confidence.

    In the previous webpage we made the astounding discovery that our biggest problem in hearing from God is that it is usually as easy as breathing. Just as for most of the day we donít pay conscious attention to our breathing, so we usually hear from God without analyzing what we are doing. The Almighty speaking into our lives is such a common event that it is almost beyond belief. In addition to God, however, many other voices are seeking to speak into our lives, including supernatural intelligences that are eager to deceive. Our challenge is to determine which of the many voices impacting our lives is from God.

    To grapple with this, letís first plunge into a deeper understanding of how God communicates and why he chooses those methods. Trends in human communication help provide insight into Godís ways. When a man phones his wife at work or has flowers sent to her, he is not being standoffish, even though in these types of communication he doesnít speak with her face to face. He is using his ingenuity to broaden the range of his expressions of love. Likewise, God communicating through things he has made, in no way implies he is a little cool toward us. He is already so intimate with you that he is one spirit with you and lives inside you. He is simply being creative in the way he shares his thoughts with his loved one.

    The more loved or powerful a person is, the more options he has in finding willing messengers. The more access he has to messengers or ingenious methods, the more he is likely to at times communicate through such means, rather limit himself to face-to-face communication.

    In the light of this, it is not surprising that the mind-blowingly intelligent and powerful Lord chooses to communicate through his own creations. He has an enormous range of options, from laws of nature, right up to humans and angels. So if, in seeking to detect the hand and voice of God, we ignored everything but direct visitations from God, we would miss almost everything he wants to communicate to us.

    Even if we expanded our search to include things said and done by his willing subjects Ė angels, Christians and even nature Ė we could still miss God, because he is quite able to use those who hate him.

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    The Almighty Can Speak Through Anyone Or Anything

    My first guess would be to expect the character of the messenger to be a critical factor in determining whether a message is from God. The Bible proves me wrong. To my surprise, the critical factor is the character of the message, not the character of the messenger. This sounds so radical that you have every right to demand strong Scriptural proof, but letís start by investigating rational objections to this biblical fact.

    Despite my initial presumptions, I am forced to admit there is no logical reason for supposing God would only speak through spiritually perfect channels. We donít even operate that way ourselves. For example, although the pure in heart are hardly aware of it, the Internet is essentially evil. Almost its every use feeds off its popularity, and at the heart of the Internetís popularity is pornography. Yet no matter how evil the Internet usually is, whenever holy people use it to communicate, the result exalts the Lord Jesus and promotes virtue. So it should not surprise us that the Holy Lord occasionally chooses to speak through godless people or other channels that, when he is not speaking, are unclean. In fact, if it surprises us, we are close to hypocrisy because if God were to limit himself to using only spiritually perfect messengers, he could not use any of us. If the channel is usually godless it is no hindrance to God. For the brief moment that God speaks through an impure channel, evil is silenced and what is said is true and pure. When God stops speaking, what comes through that channel will revert to its usual godless chatter.

    Being the all-powerful One in whom we all Ė even anti-Christians Ė Ďlive and move and have our being,í God can speak through anyone. Our magnificent Lord is so intellectually superior Ė so able to outwit every other intelligence in the universe Ė that he repeatedly uses as his own instruments, humans and spiritual beings who passionately hate him and are doing everything they can to destroy his purposes. We see this throughout Scripture. In the previous webpage we mentioned Josephís brothers, whose evil intentions God used as instruments of his love. Godís power to use his enemies is stunningly displayed at the opposite end of the Bible, where it speaks of the ten horns who serve the beast that emerges from the abyss. They are so violently anti-God that they Ďmake war againstí the Son of God. Scripture declares that the Almighty will put into the very hearts of these evil, God-hating beings the desire to do something that serves Godís purposes (Revelation 17:12-17). Such is the genius of the Almighty Lord that, in the blind fury of their venomous hate for Jesus, Godís enemies end up furthering Godís plans.

    So in our search to hear from God we can mindlessly exclude nothing Ė not even the most vile, anti-God forces in the universe. This is so startling that despite having just quoted from the Word of God Ė the book of Revelation and the divine account of Josephís life Ė it still sounds almost beyond belief. So letís add a particularly clear Scriptural example. The Holy One spoke through Caiaphas while this enemy of righteousness was in the very act of persuading others to join him in plotting the murder of the Messiah. For a few moments he was both Godís spokesman and the man who, above everyone else, was guilty of Jesusí crucifixion.

      John 11:51-52 Now he didnít say this of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but . . . the children of God who are scattered abroad.

    The king of idolatrous Egypt sent a message to godly King Josiah, ĎGod has commanded me to make haste. Beware that it is God who is with me, that he not destroy you.í The Bible declares that this heathen king was actually speaking Godís message to Josiah. Ignoring this paganís claim to be delivering Godís Word, Josiah went to war and was slain (2 Chronicles 35:20-24).

    On the other hand, a commander of another heathen army sounded very spiritual when he addressed another godly king, Hezekiah. ĎHave I come up now without the Lord against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, ďGo up against this land, and destroy it.Ēí (Isaiah 36:10). This time what was said was the exact opposite of Godís message.

    Discerning Godís voice is starting to seem disturbingly complex, but there is no need for concern. In just a few paragraphs it will begin to become surprisingly simple.

    If God can prophesy through someone while that person is arranging Jesusí murder, it is obvious that our Lord could seek to speak to us through non-Christians. Clearly, we need prayerful discernment before accepting anything that comes from a non-Christian. Nevertheless, we need prayerful caution even when godly people speak.

    It is staggering to realize that the devil can speak through revered Christian leaders and trusted Christian friends. The Bible records the tragic incident in which an old (and therefore experienced and respected) prophet claimed to speak the word of God to a younger prophet. What he said in the name of God was a lie. The young man died as a result of heeding the old prophet (1 Kings 13:1-24).

    Our need to be constantly alert to the possibility of the Evil One speaking when least expected, is vividly displayed in Peter the apostle. On one occasion, what he said to Jesus seemed so loving and yet was so much from the Evil One that Jesus had to say, ĎGet behind me, Satan!í Peter was sincere. He loved God, and Jesusí welfare was paramount to him, but still he got it seriously wrong. Just a few verses earlier, this very man had received Christís high praise for hearing from God (Matthew 16:17-23).




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Hear God



Godís Guidance

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Not So Difficult

On the surface, the possibility of our Lord speaking through God-haters, and the devil speaking through esteemed Christians seems alarmingly confusing. Nevertheless, we usually instinctively recognize the source. Weíre not infallible, but each of us usually gets it right because no matter how strongly one part of us might long to sin, God lives inside us.

Letís examine how this works in practice. Suppose you were about to sin and a God-hating skeptic mocks, ĎI thought Christians werenít meant to do that.í Even though you might want to sin so much that you ignore the warning, you would have recognized those words as godly truth that should be heeded. Or suppose you are strongly tempted to commit adultery. You are finding almost irresistible the allure of a highly attractive person in your church. Your trusted, godly pastor asks you to work on a church project that will involve long hours alone with that person. Almost your whole being might seem to cry out, ĎYes!í Nevertheless, you would know that this is one of those rare moments when your pastorís suggestion is too spiritually dangerous to be from God. The pastor was simply using human wisdom, deciding on a course of action without knowing your vulnerability to this person.

When Peter, in all sincerity, said the wrong thing to Jesus it was because Peter didnít understand Godís plans. Jesus, however, had heard from God about this matter and so, though Peterís words were enticing, Christ could immediately recognize Peterís love-motivated reaction as not being from God.

The young prophet mentioned earlier who made the tragic mistake of accepting the old prophetís invitation, knew that no matter how enticing the old manís words, they contradicted what God had already told the young prophet.

The heathen commander, who in part of his message to Hezekiah seemed so spiritual, in other parts of that same message said things that were totally contrary to Scripture (Isaiah 36:7; 2 Kings 18:4,5).

So even in these deceptive cases, discerning what is from God is not as perplexing as it seems.

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When is God Likely to Speak Through Non-Christians?

Just before moving on, letís examine the most likely scenario in which God might speak to you through a non-Christian. Scripture emphasizes that it was because of the office he held that God chose to speak through ungodly Caiaphas. Ď. . . being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation . . .í (John 11:51). We cited God speaking through a heathen Egyptian. He was a king. This reminds me of:

    Proverbs 21:1 The kingís heart is in the Lordís hand like the watercourses. He turns it wherever he desires.

Strong indication that God often chooses to speak through people in authority is found in a Scripture so significant that I feel the need to quote quite a bit of it.

    Romans 13:1-2, 4-6 Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God. Therefore he who resists the authority, withstands the ordinance of God; and those who withstand will receive to themselves judgment. . . . for he is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid, for he doesnít bear the sword in vain; for he is a servant of God, an avenger for wrath to him who does evil. Therefore you need to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscienceí sake. For this reason you also pay taxes, for they are servants of Godís service, attending continually on this very thing.

Here is a strong hint that God could speak to us through non-Christians positioned above us in the workplace:

    1 Peter 2:18 Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the wicked.

    Ephesians 6:5-7 Servants, be obedient to those who according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as to Christ; not in the way of service only when eyes are on you, as men pleasers; but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men

Here is another type of authority that, even if non-Christian, might speak Godís guidance into a Christianís life:

    1 Peter 3:1 In the same way, wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; so that, even if any donít obey the Word, they may be won by the behavior of their wives without a word

    Ephesians 5:22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

So it seems particularly likely that God will speak to us through those who have authority over us Ė parents, husband, employer, work supervisors, civil authorities, church leaders Ė even when these people are ungodly. Given our tendency to feel spiritually superior to some people, it is a sobering blow to the ego to realize that God could choose to speak to us through non-Christians. It is a blow we should welcome, however, because every spiritual thing we have is due solely to Godís grace, and it is only to the humble that his grace continues (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

As usual, however, God refuses to be straight-jacketed. We can never say God will always speak through those in authority. Clear proof of this is the early Christians finding themselves compelled to disobey a direct command from the highest Jewish authorities, because the leaders were not speaking from the Lord but directly contradicting Jesusí command to preach the gospel (Acts 4:18-20; 5:28-29).

We have a great tendency to think we have God figured out and subconsciously create little rules such as, ĎGod will only speak through Christiansí or, ĎGod will always speak through those in authorityí or, ĎGod will only speak through those in authority.í The moment we put limitations on our expectations from God, we are setting ourselves for a fall. The Almighty has deliberately chosen to be unpredictable so that we can be assured of divine guidance, not by following a presumptuous manmade rule, but solely by keeping close to the heart of God. For this reason, I am regularly on the alert for the Lord choosing to surprise me by speaking through the opposite of someone in authority. It would be just like God to target my preconceptions or pride by speaking through a child or someone intellectually retarded.



Divine Guidance



Knowing Godís Will

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Supernatural Confusion

The Bible warns that there can be times when prophets accurately foretell the future and even though it happens exactly as prophesied, the message is not from God. Again this seems frighteningly confusing but it turns out to be straightforward.

    Deuteronomy 13:1-3, 5 If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ďLet us go after other godsĒ (which you have not known) ďand let us serve themĒ; you shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or to that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. . . . That prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death, because he has spoken rebellion against the Lord your God . . .

As clearly stated in the above Scripture, these miraculously confirmed false prophecies involve the call to worship other gods. You donít have to a genius to conclude that no matter how supernatural it is, if it is a leading to become involved in a false religion, it is not from God.

Davidís life hung by a thread. King Saul had mustered the nationís entire army to hunt him down and kill him. It was a terrifyingly deadly game of predator and prey. By an amazing set of circumstances David found himself not just once, but on two separate occasions, ideally positioned to easily and safely strike Saul dead. In a single stroke he would not only save his own life, but gain the throne, as God had promised. So astounding were these opportunities that on each occasion Davidís trusted friend concluded that it had to be an act of God (1 Samuel 24:4; 26:8). Yet, no matter how supernaturally the circumstances seemed to have been orchestrated, David was not fooled. The Holy Lord would never lead David to murder the Lordís anointed. David needed neither to be Einstein, nor a supersaint to figure that out. What had seemed confusing was not so difficult after all.

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Safeguards Against Deception

Scripture insists that people have entertained angels without realizing it (Hebrews 13:2). The supernatural touches us far more often than we realize, with both God and his spiritual enemies speaking through the most unlikely people.

Since the Bible is uniquely authoritative, one might think that the perfectly safe way of knowing that something is from God is through the Bible, but not even this is true. You will recall that the devil on two occasions quoted from the Bible in his attempt to fool Jesus into sinning. In each case, Jesusí response was to quote another Scripture, thus proving that the devilís twist on the Scripture he quoted was actually inconsistent with divine revelation. The Bible is always right, but this is by no means true for every interpretation of the Bible.

Occasionally, you will have difficulty distinguishing between the devilís voice and your own thoughts. This is because the devil is the deceiver. He often speaks sweetened evil in our minds and tries to con us into thinking it is our own thoughts and desires. If we are likely to delight in what initially seems a legitimate excuse to sin, we are particularly vulnerable to deception. If, however, we are committed to denying ourselves and clinging to Christ, we are safe. Jesus revealed that our willingness to do Godís will is a critical factor in determining whether we are granted the divine discernment to know whether a revelation is from God.

    John 7:17 If anyone desires to do his will, he will know about the teaching, whether it is from God, or if I am speaking from myself.

This is consistent with:

    Psalm 25:14 The friendship of the Lord is with those who fear him. He will show them his covenant.

Ezekiel 12:2 says that it is because the people are rebellious that they have ears but do not hear.

I would hate to be a child again. In what to a little child seemed random fits of selfishness, my loving parents would decide that I must not do dozens upon dozens of things I longed to do. And so many things I vehemently did not want to do, they insisted that I do. What often made it so infuriating and made me feel unloved is that so often there seemed no sensible reasons for my parents asserting their will and apparently stealing from me my legitimate rights and pleasures. Likewise, as adults we do not mind obeying God when we see the love and wisdom in his decisions. It is a very different matter when he asks of us something that seems nothing but a senseless restriction. But whatís the point in having a God if he doesnít guide us away from dangers we donít understand or canít see? And why should God bother to reveal his will to us if we wouldnít trust his wisdom enough to obey him? For him to tell us when we have no intention of obeying would only increase our condemnation. So if we are to hear from God, our eagerness to obey is a critical issue. So if we are to hear from God, our eagerness to obey is a critical issue. At the end of this series is a link entitled Enjoying Godís Will for You. If you have not already done so, I urge you to read it when you come to it.

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Donít you find it astounding that Jews can meticulously study the Old Testament and not realize that in it God is telling them over and over that Jesus is their Messiah? Scripture says this inability to know what God is saying will remain in place until one Ďturns to the Lordí (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). In other words, God can speak to us, like he speaks to Bible-reading Jews and we can completely miss it and fall into deception unless we repent of our sin, dump our know-it-all attitude, and seek God. We earlier mentioned Jesus rejoicing in the way God hides vital revelation from the Ďwiseí and reveals it to Ďlittle children.í Obviously, if they were really wise, they would know. The very beginning of Romans speaks of those who, claiming to be wise, became fools and fell into spiritual deception. When we think ourselves smart or spiritually knowledgeable we are in grave danger.

    John 9:39-41 Jesus said, ďI came into this world for judgment, that those who donít see may see; and that those who see may become blind.Ē Those of the Pharisees who were with him heard these things, and said to him, ďAre we also blind?Ē Jesus said to them, ďIf you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ĎWe see.í Therefore your sin remains.

    1 Corinthians 3:18-19 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ďHe has taken the wise in their craftiness.Ē

ĎDonít be wise in your own eyes. . . .í warns Proverbs 3:7.

    Proverbs 3:5-7 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and donít lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Donít be wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord, and depart from evil.

Again, we read:

    Psalm 25:9 He will guide the humble in justice. He will teach the humble his way.

The proud are so smart that that they donít need God to guide their decision making. They reject guidance. You canít tell a proud person anything.

The humble person, however, even when he or she is definitely hearing Godís word, such as when reading the Bible, has the prayerful, dependent attitude of the psalmist who, not once, but repeatedly, prayed to God for understanding of the Scriptures he was reading (Psalm 119:18,19,125,144,169). A humble person doesnít dare rush off in impatience like King Saul who couldnít wait for Samuel. The humble wait, even when God seems to be taking too long. Neither does the humble person act like the Israelites binding themselves to an agreement with the Gibeonites without bothering to consult God (Joshua 9:14-16). To them, it seemed so obvious that the Gibeonites were from a distant land that there was no need to check with God. The humble might be highly capable but they never forget that in everything God is greater. They trust God, not their own abilities.

Besides the devilís deception, there will also be times when you have difficulty distinguishing between the Lord and your own thoughts. ĎThe heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?í (Jeremiah 17:9). However, there is a further reason for our difficulty and this one is thrilling: you and God are one.

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God Speaks Through Our Desires

Most temptations are evil spirits trying to speak to us through our desires for ease, pleasure, self-preservation and so on. So it is not surprising that we Christians tend to become very distrustful of our desires. Nevertheless, the Holy One lives within us, working to give us godly desires.

    Ezra 1:5 Then the heads of fathersí households of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, even all whose spirit God had stirred to go up rose up to build the Lordís house which is in Jerusalem.

    Ezra 7:27 Blessed be the Lore, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the kingís heart, to beautify the Lordís house which is in Jerusalem

    Philippians 2:13 For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.

    Proverbs 21:1 The kingís heart is in the Lordís hand like the watercourses. He turns it wherever he desires.

    Psalms 37:4 Also delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.



Finding Godís Will



Godís Leading

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Why doesnít God Make it Easier?

ĎIf only God would give me a supernatural sign . . í we think wistfully. In reality, such a sign would not be nearly the solution to our guidance problems that we might imagine it to be. We have already seen that supernatural confirmation is not conclusive proof that we should follow what is said. Moreover, almost any act of God can be dismissed as coincidence or given a psychological or natural explanation.

An angel appeared to Gideon.

    Judges 6:21 Then the Lordís angel stretched out the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire went up out of the rock, and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. Then the Lordís angel departed out of his sight.

Yet this merely seemed to increase his dependence upon miraculous signs. After all of this he still wanted a supernatural sign. He thought carefully as to what would remove his skepticism and give him the assurance he craved. He wanted to test God by asking for a sign that could not possibly have a natural explanation. He could have chosen anything. So he devised a test he was certain would satisfy him. The miracle happened just as he had demanded, but not the miracle of changing him from skepticism to belief. So he asked for yet another sign. Even after this sign was also granted, he was still anxious and had to be given yet another sign (overhearing an enemy soldier recount a divine dream). Iím in no position to be the slightest critical of Gideon. What God was asking him to do required enormous courage. The point, however, is that supernatural signs are not the cure-all that we tend to imagine. Maybe the all-knowing Lord really does know best when he doesnít always give us supernatural signs.

Jack Deere, who is far better at hearing from God than me, pointed out something that rang true the moment I read it. And I donít particularly like it. Let me broaden his point to include most scenarios. When God speaks with great clarity, it is usually because we have a great need for clarity. It usually happens when obeying Godís message will prove so challenging or we are already in such distress, that on top of all our other burdens, coping with doubts as to whether it is really God speaking would be too much to bear.

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Not so Envious of Those Who Hear Clearly From God

My fiancťe is one of those people whose ability to hear from God makes me feel very inferior. Iíll give just a few examples.

When Vicki was a young teen she asked God what her last name would be when she married. The Lord told her my last name. At the time, she was annoyed because she knew of no one by that name.

Both as a teen and years later Ė but still very many years before we ever met Ė the Lord gave her a vision of me. Some of my features were partly obscured but this, combined with other influences so shaped her taste in men that she virtually fell in love with me the moment she found my photo on my website. I looked exactly like the man of her dreams, the most handsome man she could ever hope to meet. Given my looks, thatís quite a miracle!

At a time when she mistakenly thought it would be ages before we could marry, the Lord insisted on her buying by mail catalog a dress to marry in. Moreover, he told her to get one two sizes smaller than what she believed to be correct size. It fitted perfectly!

I could cite more impressive examples from the woman I love but perhaps you can figure out why these are my favorites.

I thought that through reliance upon Vicki my difficulties in discerning Godís will were at last over. Though frustrated by my own inability to hear with such clarity, I tried to comfort myself by the example of King David. Despite being highly prophetic (Scriptures) the divinely inspired psalmist deliberately surrounded himself by such prophets as Gad and Nathan to guide him and speak into his life (Scriptures).



Godís Direction



I soon discovered, however, that hearing from God is not the magic solution I had dreamed of. My Bible knowledge, integrity and ability to tune in to God are just as critical as ever in correctly discerning the Lordís guidance. I was amazed at how easy it is to either enthusiastically rush off into presumption, or ever so gradually veer off into what feels right and seems to fit the jigsaw but is not what God means. This should have come as no surprise. After all, in the Bible we have Godís exact words and yet correct interpretation and putting it into practice are still highly challenging spiritually. Our own desires, hypocrisy, worldly influence, and so on, make it disturbingly easy to misunderstand Godís Word (see The Spiritual Essentials For Accurate Bible Interpretation).

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Related Pages

How to Receive More Spiritual Revelation

Help in Finding Godís Will How to Avoid Deception

Enjoying Godís Will for You

When God Seems Far Away

Beginning of this Series

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