I'm traveling today, so I thought I'd re-post this piece from January 25, in light of some recent conversations I've had.
“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”
- Susan B. Anthony
There are two things that make me feel out-of-place among my fellow Christians.
The first is my tendency to ask a lot of questions.
The second is the fact that God doesn’t speak to me—at least not the way he seems to speak to other people.
We’ve talked a lot about the first. But until now, I’ve been afraid to talk about the second. I guess I’ve been afraid of being judged, afraid of being told I need more faith, afraid of getting kicked out of the club, afraid of spending another sleepless night worried that I’m not among God’s chosen after all.
I probably would have kept quiet were it not for the nagging feeling that maybe I’m not alone. Maybe there are others out there who are trying to follow Jesus without the advantage of play-by-play instructions.
In Funeral for a Stranger, Becca Stevens put it this way:
To be honest, I am not sure how people have conversations with God, where God has an actual voice. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but it’s always awkward for me to listen as people report these conversations…There have been beautiful and faithful people who have said God tells them what to get at the grocery store, whom to date, and what to wear. That God has a voice different from theirs is hard for me to grasp. The God of their understanding is much more detailed than the God of my understanding. Sometimes the stories leave me feeling as though God is less than God and not the author of life and love. I am a little cynical and skeptical about it all. (p. 12-13)
Like Stevens, I know a lot of good, godly people who believe that God tells them where to live, who to marry, what jobs to take, what books to write, and which people to serve. I love these people dearly, but sometimes I get frustrated with them because, in claiming God’s calling, they often close themselves off to the wise counsel of friends. When questions about a particular decision are met with “God wants it this way,” dialog shuts down and the community is stifled because no one wants to come across as arguing with God.
I’ve watched in dismay as people have made terrible decisions with terrible consequences, all in the name of God’s calling. Often these dear friends express confusion and anger upon realizing that maybe they were wrong, maybe God didn’t tell them to this specific thing after all. It’s sad because God comes across as looking like a bad communicator at best, and fickle and unreliable at worst.
This may be one reason why, like Stevens, I have trouble swallowing the idea that God has a different voice from our own, giving us real-time directions about what to do next.
For me, it works more like this:
I already know what God wants me to do. He wants me to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8). He wants me to love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:36-40). He wants me to go and make disciples of every nation (Matthew 28:19). He wants me to imitate Jesus (Ephesians 5:1).
Remaining faithful to this broad calling seems challenging enough on its own without having to read tea leaves about the specifics. So when I pray, I generally pray for the wisdom to apply these principles to my life, openness to opportunities that may come my way, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, which convicts me of my sin and provides peace when I obey.
Aside from that, I guess I just assume there is a degree of freedom and choice when it comes to decision-making, and I’ve never had a burning-bush experience that resulted in a more specific calling. I can think of maybe one or two times in my life when I have felt a strong, perhaps supernatural, pull toward something…but even then, I did not announce it to be God’s will, mainly because I am distrustful of my own motives and I want to remain open to input from others.
And yet, there are many wonderful people in my life who seem to have a different kind of relationship with God—one in which he gives them very specific orders about what to do. They enthusiastically tell me about how he led them to buy a certain car, take out a certain loan, attend a certain church, go on a certain mission trip, even get a certain parking space.
Part of me wants to dismiss the phenomenon as little more than the human tendency to project our image upon God and read into things. But part of me wonders if I’m missing something, if I’m supposed to hear God the way that so many of my friends and family hear God.
Sometimes I wonder if something’s wrong with me.
Does God speak to you? How?
And how do you respond when someone tells you God told them to do something that you think might be a bad idea?
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