I have questions.
I know that as a pastor, I’m supposed to have answers, and sometimes I do. But pastors are always growing and learning, and there are some things that the Bible just doesn’t tell us. So sometimes I have questions, and there aren’t any easy answers.
One question that’s been on my mind lately has to do with something that the Bible actually does talk about; it just doesn’t explain it very well. Over and over, as you read stories about Bible characters like Abraham and Moses and David and Paul, the Bible uses the phrase “the Lord said.” “Then the Lord said to Abraham…” “Then the Lord said to Moses….” In our Monday night Bible study, the men of our church are studying the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. Several times in those books, David finds himself in a situation where he doesn’t know what to do, so he asks God. And God tells him!
In the course of time, David inquired of the Lord. “Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?” he asked.
The Lord said, “Go up.”
David asked, “Where shall I go?”
“To Hebron,” the Lord answered.
Now, I believe that this happened. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, and it tells us the truth. I believe that God spoke to David, and Abraham, and Moses, and the prophets, and Paul. But I also believe that sometimes the Bible has gaps in it that God has chosen not to fill in, and it can be a little frustrating. And my question is this: What was that like?
Did they hear a voice? Did the people around them hear it too? Or was it just an impression in their minds? The above example seems a little specific to be just an impression. Were these men surprised when God spoke, or was it so common that they didn’t even think about it? I have to imagine that it strengthened their faith in the invisible God to have Him speak to them so plainly. There’s a part of me that wants to say they should never have fallen into sin after an experience like that, but I know my own flesh, so I know better. And why is it so rare? Were there other people around them who were also hearing God speak? If not, was it easy for their friends to believe them? If no one else heard it, did anyone ever have trouble going along with something just because David said, “God told me”?
In my life, I have had a few unique experiences where I would confidently say “God told me.” One was a piece of specific direction that I obeyed, and it changed the course of my life. In that instance, I’m grateful God spoke to me, and can’t imagine what life would look like if He hadn’t. Another time, God spoke to me (just words in my mind, not an audible voice, but the same feeling as the other time) about something in my future that still hasn’t happened, and honestly it’s hard to see how it will ever happen. This actually occurred over 20 years ago in the Methodist church that is now right across the street from my office. I’ve never told anybody but Carey what He said, and sometimes I think back and wonder “did that really happen?” I guess if it comes true, I’ll know it was God.
There have been a couple of other times, but honestly they are few and far between. I know that everyone’s experience is different, but because that has been my experience, I have to tell you that I’m suspicious of people who claim that God talks to them all the time. Maybe He does, and I just lack faith. But I have known too many people who do what I call “playing the God card” to end all debate on a matter. Once someone says “God told me,” if you happen to disagree with them, what do you do? I have had people give me a “Word from the Lord” that God gave them about me, and my question is, “Why didn’t He just tell me? I’m listening!” A couple of times I have not been convinced that they were really speaking for God, and so I didn’t do what they said, and then of course they have a pretty hard time coming to church after that. Who wants to go to a church where the pastor doesn’t listen to God? I told him what God said!
It’s hard to know where the line is. When I meet someone who talks like God tells them which cereal to eat for breakfast, I’m doubtful. I just don’t buy it. But I don’t want to go too far down the road of cynicism, because I want to have a living faith. As believers we have a personal relationship with the living God, and I don’t want to miss anything He might have to say. I know He gave us the Bible so we would know some things for sure. So much of what we need to know to follow Jesus is spelled out in black and white, and I’m so grateful. But I also know He gave us the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, who leads and teaches and speaks, who is like the wind that blows wherever it pleases. The Bible is many things, but it is not a map. We don’t have a map through this life; we have a Guide. And I for one want to hear His voice from time to time so I don’t lose my way.
Lately my prayer is simply that: God, if you have anything to say, help me not to miss it. I want to be attentive to your voice. I want to be in step with your Spirit. Lead me through my day, and lead me through this life, in whatever way you know is best. If you want to speak in a voice that thunders from the clouds once in a while, that would be great. If not, I’ll trust you have your reasons.
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”—1 Samuel 3:8-10