When someone begins a sentence with “God told me … ,” I have to admit, a silent alarm goes off somewhere inside me—unless the phrase is followed by a verse of Scripture.
I know that many see this as the way the Christian life is supposed to work—that if we are really in fellowship with God, we will be able to sense him speaking to us through an inner voice. But I’m not so sure. And it’s not because I think God is incapable of or uninterested in speaking to his people today.
In fact, I resist this language precisely because God is speaking to his people today. He speaks to us through the Scriptures.
When we read the Scriptures, we are not just reading a record of what God has said in the past.
God actively speaks to us in the here and now through the words of this amazing book. The writer of Hebrews makes this point clear when he quotes Old Testament passages and presents them, not as something God said to his people sometime in the past, but as something God is currently saying to his people (Hebrews 1:6,Hebrews 1.7″ data-version=”esv”>7,Hebrews 1.8″ data-version=”esv”>8; Hebrews 2.12″ data-version=”esv”>2:12; Hebrews 3.7″ data-version=”esv”>3:7; Hebrews 4.7″ data-version=”esv”>4:7). He writes that “the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12). It is exposing our shallow beliefs and hidden motives.
This word is personal. You and I hear the voice of God speaking to us—unmistakably, authoritatively and personally—when we read, hear, study, and meditate on the Scriptures.
Something More, Something Different.
But many of us want something more, something different. We read the Scriptures and witness God speaking to individuals in amazing ways throughout the history of redemption.
Job heard God speaking from the whirlwind. Moses heard him calling from the fiery bush. Samuel heard him calling in the dark. David heard him speak through the prophet Nathan. Isaiah felt the burning coal and heard assurance that his guilt was taken away and sin atoned for. Saul and those traveling with him on the road to Damascus heard Jesus asking why Saul was persecuting him.
Prophets and teachers at Antioch heard the Holy Spirit tell them to set apart Barnabas and to send out Saul. John felt the glorified Jesus touch him and heard his assurance that he didn’t have to be afraid.
Many of us read these accounts and assume that the Bible is presenting the normal experience of all who follow God. But is it?
Graeme Goldsworthy speaks to this question in his book, Gospel and Wisdom. He writes, “Every case of special guidance given to individuals in the Bible has to do with that person’s place in the outworking of God’s saving purposes.” He adds, “There are no instances in the Bible in which God gives special and specific guidance to the ordinary believing Israelite or Christian in the details of their personal existence.”
Are there instances in the Scriptures in which people describe a sense of God speaking to them through an inner voice?
We read accounts of God speaking in an audible voice, through a supernatural dream or vision, a human hand writing on a wall, a blinding light, or a thunderous voice from heaven. This is quite different from the way most people who say that God has told them something describe hearing his voice—as a thought that came into their mind that they “know” was God speaking. One prominent teacher who trains people on how to hear the voice of God writes, “God’s voice in your heart often sounds like a flow of spontaneous thoughts.”
But where in the Bible are we instructed to seek after or expect to hear God speak to us in this way?