But isn’t Scripture a filter?

Unknown-1.jpegOn the farm in my childhood, when Dad wanted especially clean soybeans for seed we scooped harvested beans into  a fanning mill, which shook the beans along a couple of screens to filter out dirt and chaff. Then I would hold the gunny sack while Dad shoveled in the beans for storage until planting season. Now, had I dumped a scoop of oats on the machine and the oats had gone through like the beans Dad would not have been happy that it went through the filters. He would have wondered what was wrong with my understanding of the word “bean.” The oats might have been good grain, but since he wanted beans there was no need to screen oats. Nor would I have dared to claim the oats came from bean plants and would be fine as long as they were filtered.

This post on filtering is part of a series answering challenges to the proposition that Scripture alone is sufficient guidance from God, so God is not communicating to individuals through impressions. Sensations and experiences are not self-authenticating and are not to be trusted. Another common challenge to that proposition is:

But isn’t Scripture a filter?

This challenge appears to be an appeal to Scripture. What it means is that as long as the message claimed to be from God doesn’t violate Scripture it is acceptable to attribute it to God. According to some popular female teachers, this is a key test for discerning whether you are hearing God’s voice. The logic of this argument does not follow. The message “a rose is a rose is a rose” doesn’t violate Shakespeare, but that fact provides no rational basis for attributing it to Shakespeare, nor does it make it acceptable to do so. Just because oats come through the mill screens doesn’t make the oats beans. On anygiven day I have all kinds of feelings and impressions that don’t violate Scripture; that doesn’t justify attributing them to God.

The Bible is not merely a bare minimum. We certainly should use Scripture to filter out lies we think or hear. However, the question of listening for God’s voice in your head is not about false doctrines, though it certainly leads there. The issue is the assignment of a message to God in the first place, claiming a message from God Himself, which in the Bible happened to only prophets and certain people in special cases, not everyday Jane Doe Christian. Therefore, dare we stop with merely “If it doesn’t violate…”? That’s not a screen; it’s an open door.

Apply this logic to Eve at Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:1-3. God had commanded, “…from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” However, Eve told the serpent that God had commanded to not touch as well as not eat. Not touching didn’t violate God’s words. So was her claim legitimate?

In fact, not touching would have prevented the eating. That would be good, right? The problem is, she presumed to add to the words of the holy God! Her addition demonstrated that she did not view God’s command as sufficient. Anything in addition treats the Word as insufficient.

Say someone walks up to you, saying something like, “The Lord told me I need to confess something to you” and launches into her confession. Whoa! Freeze the scene and observe. A confession? That doesn’t violate Scripture. Confession is biblical, right? So using the “Scripture as a filter” test, we could accept her (presumably sincere) claim that God told her to make that confession. But did He? Without objective criteria, how can you know?

On his blog at Grace to You, John MacArthur says,

The quest for additional revelation from God actually denigrates the sufficiency of “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). It implies that God hasn’t said enough in the Scriptures. It assumes that we need more truth from God than what we find in His written Word. But as we have repeatedly seen, the Bible itself claims absolute sufficiency to equip us for every good work. If we really embrace that truth, how can we be seeking the voice of God in subjective experiences? (Blog Post – Looking For Truth in All the Wrong Places)

Scripture is supplanted when it is supplemented. Seeking the voice of God in subjective experiences draws us away from the Word of God. For example, women base decisions on impressions instead of Bible passages. They have to “feelled” rather than take responsibility for their decisions in obedience to the Bible. They think they’re missing some spirituality if they don’t have inner sensations of closeness to God. They learn to seek and obey these supposed communications, in which case they are at some level replacing Scripture.

The filter is replaced. Once revelation beyond the objective Word is accepted no one has grounds on principle to verify the authenticity of the claims. If an idea comes to mind, the person perceives it to be from God, especially if a certain feeling accompanies it. Practically speaking, what happens is that each man’s perception, not Scripture, is the actual functional filter. That is because personal interpretation becomes the filter. Then anything goes. If you can claim that God told you to be a missionary, then church ladies can claim that God woke them at night to pray for so-and-so, and a nationally known speaker can claim that God told her to comb a stranger’s hair in the airport (just a few of many such assertions I have heard). What’s the difference?

What if I think God caused the feeling that influenced me?

Reality and perception are often two different things. Biblical prophets and authors never doubted God’s voice when they heard it. It was real. They knew with certainty, spoke with divine authority, could even write it as Scripture. They also never told of inaudible inner voices and didn’t have to learn how to hear the voice of God.

That is so different from people today. Why? No one today is receiving direct messages from God unless they are reading the Bible. Still, we know from the Bible that God influences our desires through His Word changing our thoughts, through salvation giving us new hearts, and through sanctification and providence (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Cor. 10:6; Heb. 10:16; Ps. 37:5). And we can honestly state perceptions: “I believe my desire to be a missionary is from God,” or “I think God wants me to…” These are tentative and don’t lay claim to a special communication from God. A tentative posture allows for the possibility that we could be wrong.

It would be even better to say, for example, “Since the Bible tells me to love my neighbor, I have decided to take a meal to my sick friend” (Matt. 22:39). Or, “I don’t know if God is the source of my desire for music, but I’m going to use my talent to serve the church and thank Him for my desire, ability, and opportunity.” Taking full responsibility for one’s own choices, we can still give God praise for changing our lives so that we obey Him.

Be content with what God has already given.

The Bible is book-ended with Eve’s addition to the words of God and the warning in Revelation 22:18 to not add to the words of God. Set in that last book in the canon, it implies don’t add to all that went before. Does God short-change us? Is the written Word of God not enough? It is not right that we seek more than the abounding treasure in the Word of God. Oh dear Christian, we should be content!

 This discussion is continued in the post God spoke, just less authoritatively.

Resources:

God’s Will and Christian Liberty: Explaining God’s Revealed Will and God’s Providential Will, http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue75.htm

God’s Revealed Will: Understanding God’s Boundaries, http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue97.htm

The Cripplegate: Spurgeon, Impressions, and Prophecy (Reprise) | The Cripplegate   http://thecripplegate.com/spurgeon-impressions-and-prophecy-reprise/

What about Spurgeon? http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/2005/11/spurgeon-on-private-prophecies-and-new.html

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On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church


Of all the public places in the world, a child ought to be safe from harm in a church building. As news headlines have indicated, it isn’t always so. In fact, many sexual predators deliberately target churches. Christians who take God’s Word seriously want to protect the children in their midst, but they often don’t know the best ways to do so. Deepak Reju has written On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church to teach how.

Informing the reader of the nature of the problem, Reju describes the techniques of a sexual predator. How does he gain access to children? How does he groom them for his goals? What makes church people so vulnerable to accepting sexual predators in their midst?

He describes how churches tend to be vulnerable. Feeling the need for more children’s workers, churches sometimes fail to screen the volunteers and fail to practice policies that increase the safety of children. Smaller church assume they are immune because they know everyone in their congregation. Predators perceive Christians as naive and manipulable. The offender counts on impunity, that if caught he won’t be reported to the police but will be quickly forgiven if he just shows tears and contrition.

After alerting us to the problem, Reju outlines eight strategies for protecting children from abuse.  He explains the general idea of a Child Protection Policy, the need for a process of checking children in and out, processes of membership, screening, and training. Churches should remember two general principles for child safety: “the risk of abuse increases when a child is isolated with an adult” and “the risk of abuse increases as accountability decreases” (p. 51).

What about when abuse has already occurred? Reju provides guidance to church leaders and members on reporting the abuse and on how to respond to victims and to the molester. Do you know whether you are a mandated reporter? If you aren’t, what is your responsibility? Or, if you are suspicious that a child is being abused, to whom do you report it? If you tell your pastor and he doesn’t report it, could the law hold you accountable for not reporting? What should the church do if a convicted child molester attends its services?

The book is stuffed with good counsel. One point I appreciated is the recommendation to appoint an advocate for the victim/s. The advocate would stay in contact with the victim for at least a year to listen, help provide resources of the church, advocate for the victim and keep church leadership current.

The appendices cover these topics: How to write a child protection policy, child-on-child sexual abuse, how to talk to children about sexual abuse, a sample screening application for children’s ministry workers, and a training guide. The last appendix provides training scenarios–short-paragraph cases followed by questions to consider. There are eighteen for prevention and ten for responding to abuse situations.

Pastors, staff, leaders, volunteers, parents, members–this book is a must-read.

New Growth Press
Amazon

Other reviews:
Challies:  https://www.challies.com/book-reviews/on-guard/
9Marks:  https://www.9marks.org/review/book-review-on-guard-by-deepak-reju/

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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

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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.

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Sources: See end of this post.

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