Mormon missionaries once instructed me to pray until I felt a “burning in the bosom” and then I would know God wanted me to be a Mormon. What were they doing? They were tempting me to listen to my feelings instead of standing firm on the written Word of God. Having a deceitful heart (Jer. 17:9) and aware of the power of meditation techniques, I’m sure I could have “prayed” myself into a feeling that I could interpret according to their prediction.
Many Christian women today believe in, and even manage their lives by what those Mormons recommended, listening to feelings. They are deeply invested in the practice as is evident by the challenges this series is addressing (beginning here). They interpret sensations and experiences to create messages. Assigning a self-determined meaning to a sensation, they claim that the meaning is a personal word from God. This is mysticism, not Christianity. It functionally denies the sufficiency of Scripture. Furthermore, it by-passes the mind:
“The mystic disdains rational understanding and seeks truth instead through the feelings, the imagination, personal visions, inner voices, private illumination, or other purely subjective means.” (John MacArthur as quoted in “The Holy Spirit’s Witness,” by Gary Gilley)
I believe that two of the strongest attractions to mystically hearing God are mistaken beliefs that the Holy Spirit should be felt and that intimacy with God requires feeling that intimacy. The assumption is, if I don’t feel intimacy then I must not have it.
It is good to desire intimacy with God and to feel close to Him. (Soon in this series I plan to discuss experiencing intimacy with God.) But guidance from the Holy Spirit is not through feelings. The Holy Spirit uses the objective Word of God to change minds and desires. One objection is,
But too many Christians rely on head knowledge. Then they use logic to reason away convicting verses to avoid changing.
Rationalizing in order to disobey Scripture is called sin. It needs to be prayerfully and lovingly confronted with the objective Word of God with an appeal for repentance and reconciliation.
Note that this argument admits what MacArthur and Gilley assert in the quote above, that people who trust in feelings for “divine” guidance functionally believe by-passing the mind is spiritual and even superior to reliance on Scripture. I believe that many invested in this practice do not perceive themselves as by-passing the mind, but rather as adding heightened awareness to the mind because they have special knowledge beyond Scripture.
But sometimes people don’t listen to the Word of God, so God will use experiences (dreams, visions, impressions, out-of-body experiences) to get their attention.
Is Hebrews 4:12 wrong? Referring to the risk of falling into disobedience, it says,
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Dare we propose that impressions can accomplish what Scripture (supposedly) cannot? This argument surely holds a low view of Scripture because it implies that experiences are more persuasive than the words of God Himself, who brought all creation into being by merely His words (Gen. 1-2).
They also expose the reality of which I warned in this post, that even when someone sincerely claims to value the Word of God, the practice of hearing God outside of Scripture supplants that Word, else there would be no thought that Scripture can fail.
Does God never use experiences to influence the disobedient Christian? There is a sense in which God will bring experience to bear upon a disobedient Christian, but it isn’t in warm fuzzies and the privilege of special, privatized revelatory impressions. Hebrews 12:3-11 says that disobedient believers experience discipline. Some discipline, such as guilt feelings, is subjective. (Note that this is not a revelatory message; one’s own conscience convicts.) Others are very unpleasant objective consequences. David’s sin produced insomnia and physical exhaustion (Ps. 6:6-7; 32:3-4). Some Corinthians experienced sickness and death because they didn’t listen to the Word (1 Cor 11:27-32). Ananias and Sapphira had quite an experience; they were truly slain by the Spirit (Acts 5).
Subjective revelations are NOT God’s back-up plan for the disobedient. In Luke 16:19-31 is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. On earth, the rich man ignored the suffering Lazarus. After death, Lazarus lived in joy with Abraham while the rich man suffered in hell. The rich man told Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, insisting that a resurrection would impress his brothers enough to change them. The answer was, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31). “Moses and the Prophets” is another way of saying, the Word of God. Jesus was teaching that it is not experiences, not even miraculous experiences, that have the power to change the heart. It is the Word of God that is powerful to change hearts. Jesus constantly taught Scripture. God, who can easily turn the heart of a despot “wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1), surely has no need to avoid the mind (logic) and play on emotions to manipulate people into obedience.
Even the apostles were careful about trusting their experiences. Peter said that his experience of the Transfiguration (and who has had a more impressive, authenticating experience?) even his experience of the Transfiguration was less trustworthy than the “more sure Word” of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:19-21). If Peter was guarded about his interpretations of his experiences, how much more should all people today be, who didn’t literally walk with Christ and are not attested, specially-gifted apostles!
People today deserve no special treatment in the form of amazing experiences, warm feelings, or special communications. We have the treasure of the mighty Word of God. If we won’t listen to the Word far less do we need a divinely-sourced sensation, lest we make much of the sensation rather than the Word.
The Holy Spirit’s Witness, by Gary Gilley, in Think on These Things, at Southern View Chapel
A More Sure Word of Prophecy (One of a series on hearing from God and discerning the will of God)
What is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture? What does it mean that the Bible is sufficient?