I did a search on Google today and typed in the phrase “God told me.” Here is what I got for the search results. This is not for the squeamish.
- An article about a murder suspect who may have killed his 5-year-old son because “god told him” to save him from the Antichrist.
- A story about a man in the eighteenth-century who “god told” to start a new religion based on the teaching of Jesus, transcribed from Egyptian hieroglyphics which would reveal another testament of Jesus Christ for America.
- A blog response to a confused and upset woman seeking advice regarding a weird man who approached her at church and said, “god told me you are my future wife.”
- A post about Pat Robertson (shocker!) claiming that God told him there would be a terrorist attack on US soil sometime in 2007 that would result in mass killing.
- An article about pastor from Texas whom god allegedly told to paddle—yes, I said paddle—eight adult women.
- A story about man from New Zealand who told authorities upon being captured that god told him to behead two women and shoot a man.
- An ironic bumper sticker/button for sale which simply reads “god told me to hate you.”
- An article about a man who stalked Jewel because “god told him to.”
There were many more, but these were the high(low) lights.
I learned a lot from this random search. In fact, it turned into a bit of an all-day study affair. And I found some good insight out there on the subject of God’s communication with us via prophetic words.
It’s no secret that there are countless numbers of people who are using God’s false endorsement as a means to manipulate people. But there are also many people who have had experiences with fulfilled prophetic words, and still others who are waiting for a word of direction from above.
But how do we know where God’s voice stops and our own voices begin?
As Christians, communication with (and from) God is a part of our daily lives. But there is a big difference between feeling like God is moving you in a particular direction and claiming he is telling you something audibly.
For starters, here are some thoughts regarding this issue, from J. Michael Feazell (D. Min Azusa Pacific University):
"1. When God spoke to people in the Bible, there was no question that it was a message from God. It usually was delivered in person by an angel, and it usually scared the chicken gravy out of the recipient of the message.
2. When God had to tell people what he wanted them to do, it was usually something they did not want to do.
3. Sometimes, our prayers for God’s blessing are really our prayers to get our own way despite what God thinks …
4. God is pretty clear about what he "tells" us to do: "The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ " And for what it’s worth, we don’t have to go half way around the world to find our neighbors."
These are good general guidelines, but the Bible doesn’t tell us which road to take at each fork in the road of our lives. So this is where things get sketchy. In fact, It seems that it is regarding life direction that we find the most prophetic activity in the church: Who am I supposed to marry? Where am I supposed to live? What am I supposed to do for a living?
Wouldn’t life be easy if God just opened the clouds and told us the answers to these questions every time we were stressed? But most times we don’t get an audible answer. Other times we receive the answer we don’t want to hear, not through a “word” but through circumstances.
The fact is, we want to believe God is speaking many times when he isn’t. And our desire to hear Him speak allows us to be easily convinced by those who would use God to advance their own agendas. The next thing you know, a weird member of the opposite sex is coming up to you at church, claiming that you are “the one.” And it messes with our heads … Well, what if God is truly speaking?
When I think of someone who desperately needed an answer from God, I think of Paul. He had a mysterious thorn in his side, and he pleaded with heaven to take it away. What was the thorn? No one knows for sure. But what if it was loneliness? What if it was was fear? What if it was anxiety over a big decision? And what was God’s response? My Grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.
Many times God doesn’t give us the clear responses we seek. Why? Because in the process of wrestling with the answers to our questions we become more like him. To God, the process is the outcome is the goal.
Consider these words from R.T. Kendall the next time you think God has spoken:
"How do we misuse God’s name when we claim He told us something? With our intent. Most often we mention Him for one reason: to elevate our own credibility. It is not His name we are thinking of, it is our reputation. Adding the weight of God’s name to our words gives us authority and respectability. But the truth is, we’re not thinking of God’s name and glory when we do this—we’re thinking of our own.
"Likewise, if I truly have a word from the Lord, I can say it without mentioning His holy name. It will speak for itself. And if people don’t recognize my authenticity because I don’t include God’s name, that is not my problem."
Or consider the words of Tim Miller:
"One problem with any ‘God told me’ statement is it becomes immediately divisive. Someone says that God told then that you’re not doing this or that right. Well, if you disagree then you are immediately placed in opposition to God; or at least that person’s view of what God’s will is."
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 14 that prophecy is for the purpose of edification and instruction of the church, that it is to be orderly, subject to the group setting. If the “word” in question does not serve this purpose, and presented in the context of community, then be very, very careful. If there is division and confusion as the result of said “word” then the prognosis is probably not good. And if you are wondering about God’s will regarding a relationship, be very, very patient. The answers will become clearer with time.
The conclusion I came to after reading a bit about the topic and considering the rash of false prophetic statements out there is this: We should pray He gives us direct answers and direction for our lives. And if the answers are not clear, we should use our common sense, prayer, discernment and good advice to make the best educated decision on a matter. Regardless of the outcome, God is most concerned about our character throughout any circumstance.
Now, let me say this, in conclusion: I do believe that God can speak to us. He can do anything he wants, of course. I just don’t think it’s nearly as often as people claim, as evidenced by all the misuse and failed prophetic claims.
If you feel like God is speaking something to you or through you, again, allow common sense/discernment to be your guide: What do you lose when you hold back the phrase “God told me…” when sharing something that you are convinced is from above? Nothing. You lose nothing. Because if it is truly from God, the “thing” in question will happen any way. What do you risk by saying “God told me…” when the clouds do not part, an angel does not appear, and you do not hear an audible voice (in other words, when all you are going on is a feeling)? A lot. You risk confusing other people. You risk embarrassing other people of faith. You risk looking foolish. Not to mention misrepresenting God Himself, which, last time I checked, is bad.
And what if you think God may be speaking but you are not sure? Wait. Pray. Or try the honest approach and say, “I think God may be leading me in this direction. But I am testing it and continuing to get advice and counsel about it. I encourage you to do the same.” These are reasonable responses to your feeling or intuition which do not officially proclaim that God spoke.
And finally, what do you have to lose by questioning the person who is proclaiming “God told me…”? Nothing. Pray. Study. Get some good advice. You risk nothing when you use your God-given discernment and wait it out to see if the “thing” in question is really divinely inspired. There is no risk in questioning those who claim to have a word from God. The Bible tells us to test the spirits. And if the person in question has a problem with your doubt, chances are good that they are using God to manipulate you.
It seems to me that problem is not the wackos claiming God said this and God said that. There will always be wolves and false prophets. The problem is with the people who believe them, who follow them.
Let’s push each other to question, test, and make educated decisions regarding these matters. That’s why prophecy is meant to be a communal excercise, so one man’s false or uninspired words cannot lead people astray.
We lose nothing by exercising discernment. And we just might avoid a lot of unnecessary pain …
Andrew Schwab is an author, journalist and the frontman for the band Project 86. Join him on Facebook where you can check out his new book, Fame is Infamy.