Having written a book on obeying God when he gives us an impression to do something, I get the “but exactly how does he do that?” question a lot.
The most common way God communicated to the prophets and major biblical characters was audibly. They heard God speaking to them. But, what about the average person in the Old Testament or people like you and me living in the New Testament? How does God communicate to us? And, if you’re a spiritual mentor or parent, those you teach will have the same question and we ought to have an answer for them.
The most common answer given by Christians is that God speaks through scripture. But, how exactly does he do that?
How humans think.
Humans think, or day dream in words, numbers and pictures. That’s how we organize and process our thoughts. Right now, you may actually be forming this thought, “I’m not sure I’m interested in reading any more of this blog.” That thought is expressed in words. But, what triggered that thought?
While we organize our thinking using words, numbers and pictures, humans organize their priorities, what they do with those thoughts based on our passions or convictions!
What we love, hate, fear, value, or have the most confidence in, will determine what we do with what we know. So, if you do have other, more important things to do right now or things you enjoy more, other than reading this blog, you’ll stop reading. That’s how your feelings and priorities set the agenda for what you and I do.
So, how does God speak to us?
As we begin reading and studying the Bible, the Holy Spirit is building our database of truth. As I wrote in The 10-Second Rule, the Holy Spirit, like a spiritual Google search, helps retrieve truth and helps us apply what we’ve learned to real life situations.
While the Bible doesn’t actually describe this process, here’s how I believe it works. It generally begins with an impression. Either we see a situation, like someone in need, or feel moved in some way that calls for us to act. The Holy Spirit quickens our spirit and causes us to form the words and images which we need to process that thought before we take action. The Holy Spirit will then either remind us of some clear teaching of scripture, or some principle that will guide us to a decision that is the will of God for us in that situation. We’re now ready to act.
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. All that belongs to the father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” John 16:13 and 15
Of course God also speaks to us through godly counsel, preaching, teaching, music and even through nature. But Christians have always understood that the truths of scripture trumps all of these things.
The “world” also speaks to us.
However, the world, the devil and my own sinful nature, are also reminding me of their “truth”. I have a memory bank of sinful images, hurts, fears and wounds that make me wary of obeying that which the Holy Spirit is telling me, or reminding me to do.
“The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of my covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.” Romans 7:21-23, MSG
So, we have these dueling voices in our heads and hearts fighting for our allegiance in all moral and spiritual decisions, including how we use our time and money (which are moral choices). As Christians, we generally know what we ought to do, but why don’t we always do the right thing? Fear!
Because almost everything Jesus taught was counter-intuitive to our sin nature, it will take our trust in Christ to begin retraining ourselves to overcome our fear of self-denial.
Years ago, I took Betsy and Tyler, our two youngest children, for a walk. They ran ahead and climbed up on a wall about 6’ high. I urged Tyler, then about four, to jump into my arms. He knew at some level I would catch him safely, but just couldn’t overcome his fear and wouldn’t jump. Betsy jumped so fast I almost didn’t catch her.
Why did she jump with such confidence? Betsy was two years older than Tyler. She’d been jumping off lower walls and I’d been catching her safely for years. She learned to overcome her fear of falling by testing my faithfulness.
So, test my theory. The next time you have an impression that feels like it’s from God, see if the instinct for self-preservation doesn’t instantly kick in. What does following Jesus mean, if it doesn’t mean overcoming that instinct and just doing the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do?
Living by the 10 second rule is simply a way to overcome our natural inclination to self-preservation. Listening and obeying God in small things, trains us to trust him in the bigger things.
Question: Would you share with us the next impression you think is from God and how you either obeyed, or why you think you failed?
Following Jesus in Real Life