“Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string…” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Emerson meant well. But boy, did he ever miss it by a country mile.
Your heart can do crazy things to your guidance system. Giving it free rein to set the direction of one’s life can be risky.
“Trust yourself” is good advice for some people in some situations. As a blanket rule for all people in all situations, no sir. Not even close.
The letter came from a minister of music in the next state.
I see that your church is looking for a minister of music/worship leader. I serve (name) church in (town, state) and am enclosing my resume. Not long ago as I was in your city, the Lord told me I was to become your next minister of music. I look forward to hearing from you.”
That hit me like some woman saying God told her she was to be my next wife.
It just doesn’t work that way.
I wrote him back: “Thanks for your letter. As soon as the Lord tells me the same thing, we’ll be in touch.”
Since that was decades ago and life has gone on, one wonders if he is angry at the Lord for misleading him, disappointed in me for not listening to God, or perhaps reconsidering his reception of heavenly messages.
It’s always in order to scrutinize whether the voice we are hearing is God’s or someone else’s.
Little Leigh Anne asked her preacher grandfather, “Papa, how do you know when it’s God talking to you and when it’s just you talking to yourself?”
Pastor James Richardson hugged her and said, “Honey, that’s one of the hardest things any of us have to learn in this life.”
Have you ever started to board a plane and had a premonition that this plane would crash? I have. I went right on and boarded it and arrived safely. My “premonition”—if that’s what it was—was wrong. And yet, how often we hear of people who obeyed that impulse and canceled the flight and were spared certain death when that plane went down? We hear those stories, but what we do not hear are the countless instances—like mine—where people had the premonition and went against it and arrived safely.
So much for premonitions.
I had one that is almost too embarrassing to tell. In fact, this will be the first time I’ve told it, some 23 years after the fact. When you see what it is, you’ll understand why I kept it to myself.
In 1996, our seminary in New Orleans was looking for a new president to succeed Landrum Leavell. They called Charles “Chuck” Kelley Jr., who did an outstanding job for all these years and is now retiring. He was so clearly God’s man for the position, as evidenced in a thousand ways. I’m one of his biggest fans.
But earlier that year, I had a sudden impulse that God wanted me to be the president of the seminary. And yes, I thought that was as crazy and as unlikely as you the reader are thinking. But there it was.
The sensation stayed with me. I was pastoring a church on the western edge of metro New Orleans, owned a couple of degrees from our seminary, and had been president of the national alumni. None of these qualified me to be president of such an august educational institution of course. I was a lifelong pastor and happy to be so. Church pastors and seminary presidents are different animals, although they serve the same Master.
And yet, what was I to do with this constant impulse, this inner awareness, that God had planned for me to become president of the seminary? The answer is: Nothing. I did nothing because it wasn’t up to me. (I can tell you for a fact that I did not want to become president. It was not a subliminal desire. I dreaded the thought. And yet, there it was.)
You can believe that I was relieved when Dr. Kelley was introduced as the nominee of the seminary’s search committee. As I say, he has made an outstanding president, leading NOBTS through a historic time.
The heart is fickle. That’s the essence of Jeremiah 17:9. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world…” (I John 4:1)
The next time a television preacher tells you God has told him to heal you, save you or empty your bank account, remember those words. Or any preacher, for that matter.
Or anyone else. Con men and scam artists come in all varieties and disguises.
Know the Word. Surround yourself with godly and mature men and women who can give you counsel on matters that may perplex you. Do not run after the person who says “God told me to tell you.”
Here are a few verses from Jeremiah 23, where God is rebuking the false prophets among His people who are scamming Israel in exile…
–“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless. They speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord.’” 23:16
–“I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they would have turned them from their evil ways…” 23:21-22
–“I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed. I have dreamed.’… The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream. And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff (compared) to the wheat?” 23:25-28
Preach the word, friend. And keep your guard up.
This article originally appeared here.