So if my impression isn’t from God, then where is it from?

Back in the late 70’s, I joined the increasing waves of people who believed that Christians receive daily guidance from God through impressions, independent of Scripture. I was taught that this was essential to personal intimacy with God. Wanting to be spiritual like those around me seemed to be, I followed their example. As I practiced listening “in my heart,” I became more sensitized to feelings and intuition and believed that God was “talking” personally to me.

Later, someone challenged my practice. I didn’t like that. I knew could hear God in my mind! It felt warm, exciting, spiritual. I was one of those who have real intimacy with God. It felt so right that it must be biblical! I thought, “But I know it’s true because I experience it. I can’t deny my experience.” In essence, I was unwittingly basing my defense not on the Bible but on my own interpretation of my personal, subjective experiences. (The post “But I have impressions (nudges, dreams, and amazing coincidences)” makes the point that personal experience is unreliable as evidence for the claim. It is impossible to unerringly know that an impression of personal guidance is from God.)

What was my surprise when my friend reasoned against my practice from the Bible. Through continued study I saw that the Bible opposed my position. Written truth contradicted personal experience. Which would I believe? If I chose the Bible, then I would have to deny my experience, or at least my interpretation of my experience, and that probably without an alternate explanation.

One of my next questions was,

So if my impression isn’t from God, then where is it from?

Before we consider options it is important to emphasize that while understanding is desirable and of interest, in the end it is not necessary to make sense of an amazing experience in order to live a joyous life with Christ and have intimate fellowship with Him. What matters is that we believe and obey the Bible whether or not we have explanations. Believing the Bible, even if we can’t explain a particular experience, is what faith does. That said, here are some possibilities.

Sensations, impressions, and dreams can be influenced or generated by medications, foods, amount of sleep, what we have been listening to or watching, and what we have been mulling over either intensely or for a long period of time. A woman once insisted to me that she could hear God speak to her most clearly when under the influence of peyote.

Expectations play a role; we tend to find what we expect to find. Trends and fads affect cultural expectations, similar to the way group dynamics can influence mob behavior or individuals in group counseling. For example, the ancient Eastern practice of contemplative prayer has become a modern trend. So if a book tells you to practice contemplative prayer or sit pen in hand listening to God and you follow this advice, then in your anticipation of the predicted results you will likely feel impressions or have words come to mind that seem like “hearing” God.

Habit is a strong factor. Situations, locations, smells, sights–all can be habitually tied to certain feelings and thoughts. Feeling-oriented people who have practiced responding to impressions will probably notice more impressions and the “feel led” sensation than command-oriented people (those who practice ignoring senses in order to obey Bible verses regardless of what their feelings tell them).

The Word of God trumps experience.

It is true that experience can teach us. But, as R.C. Sproul writes, “Sound argument trumps experience. This is particularly true when the debate concerns personal experience versus a sound understanding of the Word of God” (“The Role of Experience,” TableTalk, August 2017, p. 5).

Our hearts are deceitful (Jer. 17:9). Therefore, our impressions are not trustworthy messages. The Word of God is absolutely trustworthy.

This discussion continues in Divine guidance by impressions is not Christian.

Resources:

Are Mental impressions Divine Revelation? (One of a series on hearing from God and discerning the will of God)
When Fancy Is Mistaken for Faith
Subjectivity and the Will of God
Regulating Special Revelation

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Visit the Sick – What Not to Say

When we visit the sick or shut-in, we want to empathize, encourage, and comfort, yet even with good intentions we sometimes say things that we don’t realize actually carry negative implications. Fear of saying the wrong thing can be a hindrance to putting yourself into a situation like visiting the sick. But withdrawal is not a biblical option. We are to encourage one another. That means learning to use words that edify and give grace (He. 10:25; Col. 3:16; Eph. 4:29). Learning requires practice, failure, correction and more practice. I hope this post will help. Launching from what not to say, it offers alternatives for what to say. The intention is to equip you for profitable conversation. Perhaps you’ll think of even better options.

Statements to avoid include the following:

“I understand.” Because problems in living are common to man (1 Cor. 10:13), another person’s difficulty might remind us of a similar difficulty in our own lives so that we think we know how this person feels. The desire to empathize is commendable but the fact is that no one but the Lord truly understands each person’s heart. Proverbs 14:10 says, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy.” We might understand that the person is suffering, but not exactly how it feels.

Therefore, rather than “I understand,” draw attention to the compassionate understanding of Christ. An alternative might be: “That must be difficult for you. I cannot know exactly how you feel, but our Lord does. You can pray to Him confident that He knows all things and loves you. He can comfort you in ways beyond what any human can.” This kind of statement considers the feelings of the other, not yourself. It connects with where she is and opens the door for your friend to share more if she wants. What she says may reshape your understanding of her feelings. Most important, it points the other person to the One whose understanding is most effectual.

“I had that (ailment), too, and I just gave it time and it got better.” I’m sure you’re trying to encourage by suggesting that improvement is on its way but do you really want to infer that your friend used poor judgment in seeking medical help?

An alternative might be: “I had that, too, and I’ll pray that you and your doctor will have wisdom and your body will heal.”

“Everything will be okay.” The intent to reassure another is commendable. The trouble is, you don’t know that everything will be okay because you don’t know the future. This statement promises what you haven’t the power to deliver. Perhaps this patient will never be able to return to her previous lifestyle. Perhaps her stroke was too severe for full recovery or it will be found that she has a chronic illness that has no cure. What if you say this in pre-surgery and then the surgeon finds inoperable cancer and just closes the person back up? What if in surgery an organ is accidentally perforated and she dies? What if there is post-operative pneumonia or sepsis or internal bleeding? So many things can happen. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow for you do not know what a day will bring forth.”

An encouraging alternative might be to inject the sovereignty and love of Christ into the situation. While everything might not be “okay,” everything is in His control and directed by His love. He ordains all of our trials for our good as well as His glory (Rom. 8:28-29).

“God will heal you.” How do you know God will heal? What if God will receive more glory by not healing?

This statement is a cruel one because it sets up false expectations through false advertising. If the expected healing doesn’t happen the person may grow disillusioned with God. God didn’t deliver! This devastating effect is the exact opposite of building the sufferer’s faith in the goodness of God. God never promised that problems would always be solved on this side of death. The hope a Christian has for heaven is certain. The hope he has for healing on earth is only tentative. It should be held loosely in the open palm of a hand submissive to the will of the loving Father who ordains suffering for our welfare.

An alternative might be: “We don’t know the future but we do know that God loves you and if you aren’t healed the grace of God will be sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12).

“God wouldn’t have given you such a challenge if He didn’t know you were strong enough to handle it.” How do you know what God was thinking? The intent of this evaluation of the case may be to bolster resolve, but it is actually patronizing, setting the sufferer up as some special Christian for God to pick on. It elevates human ability rather than the strength and sufficiency of Christ. How is this encouraging to the patient who feels like she is dying inside, has lost hope, and is longing for someone to take her weakness seriously so as to help her know how to deal with it?

The reality is that while two of God’s purposes for trials are to prove the genuineness of our faith and to strengthen it (Jas. 1:2-4), no trial is about showing that we are strong enough to handle it. In that case, we deserve the credit. Rather, because of our sin nature we actually are not strong enough to respond with all godliness, and were never intended to be. It is God who is strong. God purposely made us limited and dependent. His intent is that in our weakness His power will be on display (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

An alternative might be to shine the light on the power of the Holy Spirit. He enables us to think right thoughts when in our own strength we would not (Eph. 5:18). By His strength, a sufferer can respond to trials in a way that glorifies Christ (1 Cor. 10:13). His grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

“This is a blessing in disguise.” There are blessings that God works in His children through suffering, but He doesn’t play play games with us through disguise. This statement undervalues the pain of the other and can come off as unfeeling.

“Maybe God allowed it to happen because…” This is speculation, merely a human interpretation of an experience. You don’t know why God ordained this adversity in this particular person’s life; neither does she. Even when citing the Bible’s reasons we must be careful because we don’t necessarily know which of several biblical purposes for suffering applies to this person.

Furthermore, our reasons tend to be man-centered. In contrast, the man born blind suffered for years not primarily for himself but so that one day “the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 19:3), i.e., that when Christ was on earth the people might recognize that He is God. Lazarus suffered sickness that ended in death not specifically for his own good but “for the glory of God” (John 11:4), that Christ might be recognized as God.

Generally, people want a reason for what we deem a senseless adversity in order to justify it. If there is a good purpose it is easier to accept. A sense of purpose also engenders an illusion of control. But it is God who has control and He doesn’t need our justification for bringing adversity into our lives. It is not for us to figure it out or nod approval after we assess it as worthwhile. What the hurting person really needs is to trust Christ. She needs to obey His Word without having to identify a reason for the adversity.

A possible alternative might be: “I don’t know the purpose God has in mind for your particular trial and I’m glad that our faith does not depend upon knowing it. In faith, we know that any purpose He has must be a good one. By His grace you can love and trust Him. What can I do to help?”

“One day you’ll be able to comfort someone else in your same situation.” Due to the vicissitudes of illness and accident, we don’t know if the sufferer will have a “one day.” “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1).

While it is true that 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 teaches that one purpose God has for comforting sufferers is to equip them to comfort others, the present sufferer is in pain now. Turning the attention onto some unknown “other” in an uncertain future minimizes this person’s present, known suffering. It is commendable that you are attempting to find a rainbow at the end of this person’s storm, but the sufferer needs to know how to deal with the present winds and floods in her life.

Summary

  • A stronger emphasis on the relief of suffering than on pointing the person to Christ will more likely produce deficient responses.
  • A greater focus on wishes for the future than on realities of the present will more likely produce deficient responses.
  • We ought not speak what we don’t know. What we do know is:
    • God is sovereign, so He has ordained the present suffering.
    • God is loving, so any suffering of believers in Christ is intended for their good.
    • God deserves all glory, so when we suffer it is more important that He receive glory than that we receive relief.

Persevere

If gracious speech is difficult for you, plan and practice. “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer” (Prov. 15:28). Plan ahead what you believe would be the most fitting to say in the visitation situation you are entering. Let the summary principles above guide you.

Practice what you’ve planned. You can even gather samples of gracious speech you read or hear someone else say. Then in a private location practice those samples daily for a few weeks. This exercise has helped me.

Isn’t it encouraging that gracious speech can be learned? The learning process includes failure. That’s no fun! There are even times to ask for forgiveness from others. Keep going. The growth in Christlikeness is worth it.

Wrap-up

For now, this ends a series of posts on visiting the sick. (It began at Visit the Sick.) I hope it has encouraged you to visit the sick or others who need encouragement. Of the Lord Jesus, Matthew records, “And seeing the multitudes He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast….” (9:36). When we visit the sick or suffering, we can be like Christ by exercising compassion for the distressed and downcast. It is a privilege to serve His body this way.

~~~~~

Sources: See end of this post.

Posted in Christian Living, Suffering, Adversity | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

But I have impressions… 

The post God Still Speaks – Discussion After Josiah’s Fire used the book review of Josiah’s Fire as a springboard to a series discussing the claims that Christians today subjectively hear from God outside of Scripture (extra-biblical revelation). Answering two challenges, I made the point that such a practice contradicts the foundational Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura. Also, it does not actually happen because God is not giving personal, private communications extra-biblically to anyone today. The Bible is called “Word” of God for a reason. When Scripture speaks, God speaks. If we want to hear God, we must read His Word. To continue with another challenge:

But I have impressions (nudges, dreams, amazing coincidences).

There’s nothing especially Christian in that. People from many religions boast of impressions, dreams, and amazing coincidences. No one can prove such came from God, least of all by an appeal to anecdotal experience. According to Deuteronomy 13:1-3, even in cases when an impression or dream proves true it does not mean that God did it.

Despite the warning in Deuteronomy, many Christians confidently credit God for their impressions and sensations, using phrases such as “God told me…” or “God is leading me to…” They “listen” to God “in the heart,” listening for that “still-small voice,” believing that their feelings and ideas are direct guidance from the Holy Spirit. Usually the message is summarized, but sometimes the impression is actually translated into words that, for example, “came into my heart.” So God is quoted, “I’m not askin’ you to witness to him. I’m askin’ you to brush His hair” (Beth Moore: The Hair Brush, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xtk5WgzZcYA).

The practice of listening to God “in the heart” is so pervasive that Gary Gilley writes, “So many are claiming to be hearing directly from God these days that one has to wonder why the Holy Spirit even bothered to inspire the sacred writings to begin with.” (http://tottministries.org/why-definitions-matter/)

Hearing from God subjectively is a practice of mysticism. Mysticism is the seeking of knowledge or guidance from God apart from the Bible and often apart from the intellect. These Christians mistakenly equate their sensations with the Holy Spirit.

The role of the Holy Spirit is illumination, not revelation. By inspiration, the Holy Spirit superintended the transmission of God’s Word (revelation) until it was completed by the book of Revelation. With the canon complete, God is not giving new revelation. Now, the Holy Spirit’s role is illumination. He gives to the believer understanding of His written Word and faith to obey.

Assigning false credit to God is presumptuous. Deuteronomy 18:20 says, “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name [‘God impressed/told me…’], which I have not commanded him to speak…shall die.” If God didn’t really say what one claims He said then it is presumptuous to claim that He did. It uses God’s name in vain. False prophets in Jeremiah’s day credited God as the source of their special information. God didn’t take it too kindly because it misrepresented Him (Jer 23:25, 28-29, 31, 32, 34-40). I know that Christians sincerely want to know God’s will and please Him, but to attribute to God, without qualification, a message that could be from another source is to risk misrepresenting God. What could be worth that risk?

Coincidences are not revelation. Coincidences are outward experiences. Should we take them as guidance? First Samuel 24 records the amazing coincidence in which King Saul entered alone the same cave where David and his men were hiding from Saul’s army. How did those involved interpret it? David’s men concluded that God was delivering Saul to be killed. In contrast, rather than interpret the circumstance, David remembered and obeyed the command in Deuteronomy to respect his authorities. The circumstance was an opportunity to obey the already given Scripture, not a situation by which to interpret God’s will. We ought not presume to know God’s purposes for circumstances, even if amazingly coincidental. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is death” (Prov. 16:25). In other words, it might seem right from our perspective but in reality it isn’t.

Experiences are not self-authenticating. Impressions, dreams, and feelings are experiences, experiences typically realized in non-verbal bodily sensations. People of all worldviews then interpret them according to their individual perceptions and belief systems. Each religion stamps the authority of their divine upon the supposed truth. Christians, too. I felt an impression, I am a Christian, so God must have given it to me. But experiences are not self-authenticating, and our feelings and perceptions are not trustworthy (Jer. 17:9).

David, a man after God’s own heart, felt impressed to build a temple for God. Put in modern vernacular, he “felt led.” He even received confirmation by the godly man, Nathan, who viewed David’s intention as of the Lord. Alas, even King David, a prophet and author of some of Scriptures, who enjoyed deep intimacy with God (seen especially in Psalms), interpreted his feelings and thoughts wrongly. It was not God’s will that he build the temple (2 Sam. 7:1-13; 1 Chr 22:6-10). God’s inspired revelation to him was inerrant and authoritative (1 Chr 22:8ff). His own intentions in thoughts and feelings were neither revelatory nor inerrant (1 Chr 22:7).

Eve was the first human to trust in her experience (Gen. 3). She observed that “the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes.” Based on her experience and perceptions, she made a conclusion, then acted upon it by eating. Big mistake! Instead of trusting her perception of the experience, she should have interpreted her experience by what God had said no matter what her senses told her. If a sinless person in a perfect environment can arrive at a wrong conclusion, how much more can we, whose hearts are deceived (Jer. 17:9), also make erroneous conclusions! Experience is not self-authenticating. Experience is subjective and can be deceiving. Our perceptions are fallible and frequently inaccurate. Illusionists make a lot of money based on that fact.

But what I hear from God isn’t new truth.

For example, listening to God in the heart isn’t the seeking of extra-biblical revelation like in Mormonism. It isn’t new revelation; it is daily guidance based on what God has already said in the Bible.

If it isn’t new truth, if it simply echoes the Bible, then it is superfluous, unnecessary.

As to it not being extra-biblical, if the source isn’t the Bible then it is, by definition, extra-biblical.

As to daily guidance not being new truth, if this refers to remembering a Scripture that applies, yes. But then we give credit to God’s use of His Word by citing chapter and verse, not drawing attention to one’s personal conduit to God.

However, what is usually intended by “daily guidance” is nudges or “feeling led” to particular decisions or actions. In these cases, this argument just doesn’t follow logically. If daily guidance is not new, how not? Is this day a repeat? Every day is a new day with events that have never happened before, so if God is telling someone what to do that day in “daily guidance” then He is revealing something never before revealed. That fits the standard definition of “new.”

Basic Principle: If some truth is not in the Bible then it isn’t needed. If some truth is already in the Bible, then it is superfluous. The Bible is the necessary, sufficient source of truth needed for life and godliness. Instead of trying to supplement the Word of God, study and obey the Word by faith that the Holy Spirit is at work in His use of the Word without your feeling it.

 This discussion is continued in the post So if my impression isn’t from God, then where is it from?

Resources:

ACBC Podcast, TIL 086 : Is God Speaking To Me?: https://biblicalcounseling.com/2017/04/til-086-god-speaking-feat-keith-palmer/

Subjective impressions and providence, with examples to distinguish how it applies: http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2011/08/subjective-impressions-esp-and-reverse.html

The Problems with Personal Words From God: How People Become False Prophets to Themselves, http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue98.htm

Contemporary Christian Divination: The False Claims and Practices of Christian Mystics, http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue83.htm

Posted in Discernment | Tagged , ,

Visit the Sick – Prayer and Music

When we visit a patient in a hospital or a shut-in at home, how do we draw prayer and music into the experience? Note I did not ask “Should we?” Music and, especially prayer, are important ways to minister to the suffering. (Click here for the first in this series on visiting the sick.)

Prayer during a hospital or shut-in visit

Christians want to pray about visits to those who suffer because we want to minister in the Lord’s strength and not our own, to the Lord’s credit and not our own. In addition to daily prayers for the patient, pray shortly before your visit. That might mean before you leave home, in the car on the way, or before you exit the car to walk into the facility. I’m sure that all three would be fine, too. Ask the Lord for wisdom to assess the situation so that you are sensitive to the need of the moment, that the Lord would guide the conversation and your own words, that He would use you to encourage this person.

During the visit, ask the person for prayer requests or be alert to identify needs or troubles on her mind. Keep these in mind or even write them so as to remember to pray about them. If you include them during your prayer with the patient it communicates that you listened and that you care.

Ask permission to pray. Besides demonstrating respect it prepares the other person for a time of prayer.

Don’t use the prayer to preach or it won’t really be a prayer.

Pray specifically. Instead of “God, undertake for Fred” make it, “Lord, You care about Fred and control all things. Please encourage Fred to stronger hope in You by bringing Scriptures to his mind, by moving people to say what will encourage him, and by providing grace by Your Holy Spirit.”

Pray realistically. Rather than, “Lord, heal Janet,” make it, “Lord, although we ask for immediate healing, we know that You have a purpose for Janet’s present state. Please give wisdom to everyone involved, make the treatment effective, and while he waits for healing remind her over and over of how much You love her.”

Keep it short. The patient may be tired. Even if he isn’t, an interminable prayer by one person demands extra effort from others to listen.

What do I pray?

You can pray the gospel. Admit our human frailty and God’s holiness and goodness. Confess our sinfulness. Thank God for His compassion and mercy, for Jesus who took our penalty and then rose from the dead so we could have His righteousness.

You can praise God for His character. Sovereign, He is in control even in our afflictions. Omniscient, He knows all that we suffer, knows more than the doctors do. Omnipotent, He can provide what we need and nothing can harm us without His permission. Omnipresent, He never abandons us. Faithful, He keeps all of His promises. Loving, He cares for us with compassion. Trust in Him is well-placed.

You can thank God for His promises. His promises are priceless jewels, valuable for comforting those who suffer. He promises that nothing can separate us from His love (Rom 8:39)! God promises strength and protection. He often describes Himself as a refuge, a place of safety and strength in difficulties (Ps 46:1; 59:16). He promises to supply all that we need to live godly amidst our trials. And God is not a minimalist. He supplies not just the minimum required for spiritual subsistence, but “according to His riches in glory” (Phil. 4:19).

Music during a visit

Music is a wonderful gift from the Lord. It lifts the spirit. It comforts. It expresses thoughts and emotions for which we don’t always have words. It leads us into thanksgiving and praise even in the times when we don’t feel like praying.

Choose a song or hymn full of solid doctrine. The use of music in a visit is not just for fun; it should minister to the mind as well as the emotions, to renew and build faith.

Choose a song or hymn that the person is likely to know. Many people enjoy singing along. Even if he can’t sing he may be cheered by listening.

Can’t carry a tune? Carry some music on your electronic device specially selected for your visits. Ideas include: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “Alone Yet Not Alone” sung by Joni Erickson Tada.

Be considerate of roommates.

~~~~~

Sources: See end of this post.

Posted in Christian Living, Suffering, Adversity | Tagged , , ,

God Still Speaks – Discussion After Josiah’s Fire

One of the panelists at the G3 conference in January 2017 said something like, as long as we have church members who profess to believe the doctrine of sola scriptura and yet also think that Jesus Calling is a good book we have much work to do in this 500th year of the Reformation. In other words, far too many Christians profess to believe the doctrine of sola scriptura while simultaneously believing they hear from God apart from scriptura, and don’t perceive the contradiction.

I would say the same about Josiah’s Fire, a book I reviewed here. I think one reason these books are so easily believed and enthusiastically accepted is because of the strong appeal to sentiment and good feelings. Applied to hearing God, what underlies that vulnerability to sentimentality is a presupposition that feelings can be revelatory. It is normal to hear from God in subjective, private revelations through impressions, nudges, dreams, interpretation of coincidences, etc., and these feelings carry actual messages from God. In other words, many believe that we can hear God speaking from inside ourselves. Since the message is inaudible, the way we sense or perceive His voice is primarily through internal feelings. This is actually subjectivism.

I believe that many who accept this premise and heed their feelings love God and want to honor Him. Many sincerely profess that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, authoritative, and even that it is sufficient. Yet, if it were sufficient, they wouldn’t be seeking more, seeking additional personal revelation. Therefore, in practice Scripture is not sufficient for them.

With this inconsistency in mind, I’d like to use my book review as a springboard to discuss this practical abandonment of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Over several posts, I will debate with my own book review using challenges I, in the past, have raised or heard from others.

Let’s start with a definition. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture teaches that in the written Word of God God has provided all of the revelation that we need for knowing and loving Him and for living a godly life, all that He intends people to have for each era of redemptive history. One basis for this definition is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God [God-breathed] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

This passage is very clear that the written Word of God is sourced in God, His words, carrying divine authority. It authoritatively tells us that the written Word holds revelation sufficient to save, teach who God is and how to please Him, rebuke for sin/going the wrong way, correct back to right living, and train to make it habitual–that covers every aspect of living. The Bible is “able to equip for every good work.” “Every good work” covers all God-pleasing decisions and actions in every circumstance. There is no decision, no situation, no relationship that is not adequately covered by what we already have in the Bible. No one needs extra-biblical messages from God.

One challenge raised in response is:
But Jesus said, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

I appreciate the desire for intimacy with God, but the John 10 passage has nothing to do with subjectively hearing God talk to you through the day or telling you what decision to make. It is a lesson on the identity of Jesus. The Jews said, “If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus already had and they didn’t believe. Why? “You do not believe because You are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me.” The predestined, hearing the gospel, will repent and obey Christ. (10:24-30)

But “God is the same yesterday, today and forever.” He spoke to people in the Old and New Testaments, so He’ll speak to people today.

We agree that God speaks today. The question is not whether, but by what means.

Unchanging nature does not require unchanging methods. God destroyed the world with a Flood but He never will again. God burned a bush without consuming it, but He’s not doing the same today. God spoke to Balaam through a donkey and donkeys aren’t talking today. God’s character is unchanging but His methods can change.

I think it possible that because in the Bible we see God speaking to various individuals we get the impression that it is normative for all. Rather, the receivers of divine revelation are, naturally, in the foreground of the record. In the background and, therefore, unnoticed are the world population of the era, the local population and family of a main character–a 99% majority of people to whom God did not personally speak. For example, aside from the world’s population at the time, in the family of Noah God spoke personally and directly only to Noah, and very little at that. Abraham lived amidst family and many servants yet to whom did God speak? To Abraham, only a few times, years apart. He spoke to Sarah once and Hagar a couple of times. He didn’t speak to Lot at all except through angels, one time.

If we’re looking for a pattern of God providing personal, direct messages to everyday Johns and Janes as a norm it isn’t there. It is true that 4,000 years ago God audibly spoke to all of the people of Israel–once at Sinai. The purpose was to authenticate Moses so that from then on the people would believe that Moses’ subsequent words from God were indeed from God (Ex. 19:9; Deut. 4:9-13). After that, there walked two million of His followers who didn’t hear directly from God, only through Moses.

After Moses, God spoke personally and directly not to many believers but to Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, and other prophets, who then conveyed His message to the people. Eventually, He spoke only through Jesus. While Jesus walked the earth, no one heard directly from God unless they were in the presence of Christ. If He was in Galilee and you were in Jerusalem, the only communication from God available to you was the Scripture.

Hebrews 1:1-2 plainly states this pattern of using designated spokesmen:

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things…”

God spoke to the ancients primarily by means of prophets and finally by His Son (with the apostles whom He specially commissioned). The vast majority of God’s people have never had the privilege of personal, private, direct revelation from God.

There are also eras when there is no evidence that God spoke to anyone at all, such as between patriarchs, between judges, and between the testaments. So it is quite in keeping with God’s ways that after He founded the church and gave His sufficient Word through validated spokesmen, He would stop speaking directly to people and again work through the Holy Spirit’s use of His written Word and providence.

In all, Scripture records God speaking to very few people in any population of any era, primarily leaders, prophets, and finally His Son with apostles–people key to His plan of rule, redemption, and the provision of written revelation. So, according to the biblical record of how God spoke “yesterday” it is not normal that God would speak apart from His Word subjectively and privately to individual believers today.

This discussion will be continued in the post But I have impressions…

Resources:

Articles on Cessationism:
http://thecripplegate.com/three-reasons-god-is-a-cessationist/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheCripplegate+%28The+Cripplegate%29

https://hipandthigh.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/articles-on-cessationism-continuationism-and-spiritual-gifts/

Articles at Grace To You on Inspiration of Scripture: https://www.gty.org/library/resources/any/topic/1?topic=28&cat=all

Articles at Grace To You on Sufficiency of Scripture: https://www.gty.org/library/resources/articles/topic/1?topic=29

 

Posted in Discernment | Tagged , , ,

Visit the Sick – Using Scripture

In suffering it is so easy to forget to trust God. Focusing on our pain, loss, or troubles, the difficulties loom large. God recedes into the blurred background not because He is any less important but because we turn the dial on our mental lens to focus on the trouble.

One vital reason to visit the sick is to encourage the their trust in God by gently dialing the mental lens to bring the love and goodness of God into crisp focus so that, as much as possible, the circumstances fade into background blur. We want to shift his focus from his pain to Christ. As Paul said,

For we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Since Scripture is self-revelation from God, it is the resource for renewing the mind by looking at what is not seen with the physical eyes.

Using Scripture during a hospital or shut-in visit

So, when you visit the sick, should you read Scripture? Certainly that would be ideal. By the Word of God the person in need will hear the words of his loving Maker and Preserver, trustworthy words of hope and comfort. However, there is no requirement to read Scripture at every visit. You can weave a pertinent memorized verse into your conversation or just speak a Scripture-based truth in your own words.

Two topics important for a sufferer are the character of God and His love for the person. For example, knowledge of His omnipresence reminds the patient that he is not alone in his trial, or the compassion of God that God cares about his suffering, or the sovereignty of God that God is both in control and that even sufferers need to submit to His will.

Direct attention to the love of God for the person. God has given this person life, gifts, talents, family, friends, good times in living and so much more. Most of all, God has given His Son who, even when we hated Him, loved us so much that He gave His life to pay the penalty we deserve and freely gives eternal life with Him. Trials are more bearable when we know we are loved. Love comforts. Love inspires trust. Love leads us to reciprocate love to the Lord even when we hurt.

When you state a verse, use one that is relevant to the situation. For example, is the person discouraged? Psalm 42:11 speaks about discouragement and despair and tells us what to do:

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance, and my God.

When despairing, we need to talk to ourselves and tell ourselves to trust the Lord. Believing in the hope of heavenly joy with Him we can also praise Him now. (If the patient with the help of the Holy Spirit applies this verse even when his feelings tell him otherwise, that grateful attitude will show on his face.)

Another great verse for almost any trouble is Psalm 46:1.

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.

Our only sure hope is in God. Yes, the Lord has granted to men the power to cut and sew flesh, replace joints and organs, alleviate pain, kill germs, and kill or hinder rogue cells in our bodies. These are all mechanical actions or destructive operations, not the power to heal. It is God who causes cells and tissues to actually re-knit in healing. Even if man could make cells, God is the one who gives us each breath that keeps us living, the only one present with us for every one of those breaths, present with us in every trouble. He is the only one on whom to place our whole trust. We can ask Him for strength to endure in a way that pleases Him. We can make Him our refuge.

If you don’t have a grasp of key verses, think about carrying a 3×5 card with a short list. Need some ideas?

  • Gospel Passages: John 11:25-26; Rom 5:6-11; Eph 2:1-10; 2 Cor 5:17-21
  • Anxiety, Fear, Nervousness:  Phil. 4:6-8; Ps. 46:1
  • Comfort:  Ps 23; Ps. 34; Ps. 46; Heb 4:14-16; Ps. 130; John 14:1-6
  • Weary:  Ps. 139; Lam. 3:22-23
  • Disheartened:  Ps 42
  • Hope of Eternity with Christ:  John 10:27-30; John 14:1-3; 1 Pet 1:3-5
  • Pre-surgery:  Ps. 56:4; 138:8; Phil. 4:6-8
  • Surgery recovery: 1 Pet. 5:5-7; Ps. 34:1-3, 8

How much should be read? It depends on the situation. Often, a hospital or rehab setting can hinder a patient’s ability to focus. A long-term care facility or a home environment may be conducive to more reading unless illness or pain is distracting. Generally, keep it short, a verse or few. Better a single sip to savor than a deluge that swamps.

Posted in Christian Living, Suffering, Adversity | Tagged , ,