You’ve heard it many times and so have I, “The Lord told me . . .” And that response is supposed to quiet the critics or explain some bold (or crazy) leap of faith.
“The Lord told me I married the wrong person and that I am to divorce my wife and marry so and so.”
“God told me to quit my job and start an Internet business.”
“Jesus is calling me to Bora Bora as a missionary.”
Despite the fact that the Bible is clear about how God feels about divorce, what they “heard from God” trumps everything in their opinion.
Regardless of the reality that the guy starting a new business has zero financial savvy or business experience, because “God told him” we’re suppose to smile and jump on board.
Because “God has called them” we’re expected to get behind the people wanting to go to the mission field and ignore the truth that they have no formal training. We’re supposed to disregard that fact that the only experience they’ve had as a missionary was a short-term trip to Mexico.
Now read this next part carefully, I do believe God still speaks. I know the value of that “still small voice” of the Spirit. Many times, I have personally “heard the Lord” in my heart giving me direction. Biblically and historically, those who’ve heard God call them to something way beyond themselves have done many amazing things.
So let me be clear: I believe in listening to and following the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
But I also know that many foolish things have been done in the name of the Lord. I’ve seen lives, families, and ministries destroyed because something unwise and wrong was executed under the “Thus Saith the Lord” banner.
So are there any guidelines we should challenge people to follow when they think they’ve heard from God? Are there some Biblical safeguards that we all should exercise when we think the Lord has spoken to us? And what can you say to someone who pulls the God card as if that’s the end of the conversation?
Good questions. Great questions!
Here are some things to consider:
1. Is it Biblical? What does the Bible have to say about it?
We all know this truth: God is never going to contradict himself. He doesn’t say “I hate divorce” or “No one should seek a divorce except in adultery” and then tell you, “It’s okay, your current wife is not really who I had in mind for you, so go ahead and marry your secretary.”
God’s never going to tell us to lie, cheat, steal, or abuse. If it’s clear in the Word of God, then that always trumps anything anyone thinks they’ve heard.
2. Is it wise?
God is a God of wisdom. He’s given us his Word that is full of truth and wisdom. An entire book of the Old Testament (Proverbs) is pretty much dedicated to helping us operate in godly wisdom.
Yes, there are times when what God asks us to do will contradict the wisdom of this world, but functioning in his wisdom is always wise. Simply put, God might ask us to do something completely out of the ordinary and apparently extreme at times (like Gideon reducing his army from 30,000 to 300), but it will not be unwise (like starting a business when you’ve got a track record of financial mismanagement).
3. Is it confirmed by godly elders and pastors in the Body of Christ?
Any one of us can find friends to support our crazy ideas. Some of us are master salesmen who can talk our wives into just about anything (been there, done that!). It’s fairly easy to surround ourselves with people who like us enough to back us up.
In 1 Kings 12, there’s the story of King Rehoboam. He made a huge mistake in “rejecting the advice the elders gave him (as he) consulted the young men who had grown up with him and who were serving him” (1 Kings 12:8). In the end, things didn’t end so well for Rehoboam because he only listened to his friends and pals.
Every major decision I’ve made in my life and ministry that ended well came in the context of wise and godly counsel from my pastors. They are people who know God, know me, and know wisdom. They have worked with me, and they know my strengths and my weakness. And they are unafraid to speak the truth in love to me.
The writer of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 13:17 (NIV), “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” The Bible expects people to submit to godly authority in their lives.
So let me wrap this up by urging you to encourage people to listen to God. Expect him to lead and direct them by his Spirit. It’s good to be bold and to trust and believe in him. Absolutely!
But don’t let folks simply pull the “God card” as an excuse to do whatever they think they should do. If it is God, it will line up with Scripture, it will be wise, and those in Biblical authority who know them best will confirm it.
Here’s my prayer for all of us found in Ephesians 1:17: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
It’s always best when we move in “wisdom and revelation.” Not either-or, but both-and.
When God speaks—remind your flock to check the Word, to check their hearts, to check for wisdom, and to check with their pastor before they do anything involving a major life change. That is God’s way, and it will protect them from error and foolishness.