Three recent events have reminded me that is it so important that we clarify how God communicates to His people. If we don’t there will inevitably be confusion, frustration, and deviation from God’s will.
The first event occurred at my own dinner table. My daughter, filled with questions, asked me when we were moving to Delaware. We are going there so that we can help plant a church and I can pastor there. My daughter is still struggling with the concept of time so every day she gets up wondering if today is the day we are moving. Back at the dinner table, I answered her question with what I thought to be a very pastoral answer, “Dear, we will move to Delaware when God is ready for us to move to Delaware.” Without hesitation my daughter responded, “Oh! Daddy, is He going to whisper it in you ear when it is time to go?”
The second event occurred last Thursday night after the football game. Randal Cobb, kick returner for the Packers, returned a kickoff 108 yds for a touchdown. What made it so amazing was that he never should have tried to return a kick that was eight yds deep in the end zone! Or maybe he should have… You see, when asked about it after the game Cobb told reporters that he ignored his coaches instructions because
“I was just trusting in God. He told me to bring it out. I’m not supposed to bring that out. Some things are logical and some things are just the power of God.”
The third event occurred a few weeks ago when I watched a video from Mark Dricoll in which he detailed his view of discernment. Among other things, Driscoll said
Some people actually see things. This may be the gift of discernment. On occasion, I see things. I see things. Uh, like I was meeting with one person and they—they didn’t know this, but they were abused when they were a child. And I said, “When you were a child you were abused. This person did this to you, physically touched you this way.”
He said, “How do you know?”
I said, “I don’t know. It’s like I got a TV right here. I’m seeing it.”
He said, “No that never happened.”
I said, “Go ask him. Go ask him if they actually did what I think they did and I see that they did.”
They went and asked this person, “When I was a little kid did you do this?”
And the person said, “Yyyyeah, but you were only like a year or two old. How do you remember that?”
He said, “Well, pastor Mark told me.”
I’m not a guru. I’m not a freak. I don’t talk about this. If I did talk about it everybody’d want to meet with me and I’d end up like one of those guys on TV. But some of you have this visual ability to see things.
Upon occasion when I get up to preach I’ll see—just like a screen in front of me—I’ll see somebody get raped or abused and then I’ll track ’em down and say, “Look I had this vision. Let me tell you about it.”
In all three cases the question arises, how does God speak to us as his people?
I will tell you what I told my daughter. God does not whisper in our ear. He doesn’t have to! He gave us the Bible. If we truly want to do what God tells us, we simply need to respond to God’s providence by obeying God’s will. There is no secret formula. No whispers. No TV screen in our heads. Thankfully it is much simpler than that.
Think about it. What if our move to Delaware was predicated upon a whisper, inclination, or feeling I had. We would be in trouble because right now I feel like I want to be in Delaware getting started with the work. But last night I was really enjoying time with family and thankful that we have a transition period. If I base our decision on “a feeling God has given me” I will be in big trouble. Plus, key logistical items have to be taken care of before we can just show up in Delaware. In other words, we are trying to respond to the situations that God has providentially ordained with biblical wisdom before we leave. It really is that simple.
What about returning a kickoff? Dan Patrick, host of The Dan Patrick Show, probably got it right when he said,
How does that even work? Did he hear the voice while the ball was in the air? Does God even tell him to take a knee? …and what if he had taken a knee? Would it have been a sin?
Even though Patrick was making light of the situation, he does hit on some valid questions. Can you imagine trying to live your life like this. Always waiting to hear a voice, and always afraid that God might want you to do something that you don’t know about. God does not intend for His people to live this way. That is why He gave us the Bible! Now we don’t have to wonder what God’s will is. We can know and live the will of God by knowing and living what the bible teaches.
If this is true for a kick returner on the Packers then it is true for pastors as well. I think it is biblically inaccurate to say that what the bible calls discernment can be equated with seeing visions on a TV screen in your head. Additionally, I think that pastorally it is extremely dangerous to say these things. Think about it. In his video Driscoll claims to have visions of a woman cheating on her husband. He then confronts her in a counseling session in front of her husband. Why is this dangerous? Let me give you the short list:
- Driscoll himself admits that he is not %100 accurate. Can you imagine the damage it would have caused to this marriage if he had been wrong. Plus, how does he know when it is accurate and when it isn’t? When is it from God and when it is from somewhere else? How is any of this verifiable? No thank you. I will stick with the verifiable and “proven to be true” word of God for my discernment.
- What motivation does a pastor or counselor have to dig into the scriptures if they could just get discernment through a flat screen in their brain? All of my adult life I have been working hard to develop biblical discernment by doing things like, you know, reading the bible. If we were supposed to, or even were able to, get information about the will of God from somewhere besides biblical truth then what do we need the bible for? Maybe the bible is just for cleaning up the messes when our flat screen discernment is wrong.
- Driscoll encourages the people in his audience to cultivate this gift in their own life. Here is what he says, “And there are some people that have real gift of discernment, and I’m not saying I’m a hundred percent always right with it, but some of you are going to have gift of discernment, and you need to—you need to learn to grow in the use of that gift. And sometimes people will hear things. Sometimes people will see things.” To be frank, I don’t think this is any different than an NFL coach telling his kick returner to just wait and see what God tells him to do on the next kick!
It is so important that God’s people know how to “hear from God.” I think we could avoid a great deal of frustration if we would remind ourselves that God has given us all the truth we need in His word. If we want to be discerning… if we want to know when it’s time to move… if we want to be a great kick returner… ok, maybe not that one… then we need to commit ourselves to finding God’s will in God’s word. The Psalmist summed it well,
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
Psalm 119:9–16, ESV
God speaks to us through the Bible, and we listen to Him by understanding and applying the Bible. It really is that simple… it’s not easy, but it is simple.