If you’ve never stumbled across Bill MacKinnon’s article titled No Voices In My Head, now is the time to go take a look. You really ought to read it all–it’s not long–but here’s the take-away:
It is curious to me that if someone in a typical evangelical church stood up and said an angel spoke to him and told him that God wanted him to be a missionary to Africa , we would be very skeptical at best. Yet if that same person stood up and said that he “just really feel led to go to Africa to be a missionary”, the “amens” and applause would be deafening. Yet the former is biblical and the latter is not.
So, should we be looking for angels or burning bushes? No. Moses wasn’t looking for one. We shouldn’t be looking for anything. What we should do is read our Bibles. You want to hear God speak? If you have a Bible, you have thousands of years of God-inspired instructions, messages, exhortations, rebukes and praises right at your fingertips. Why do we think we need more than that? God’s will for your life is written there. God’s instructions for living are there. To want them piped directly into your brain is just foolishness and laziness. Worse, it opens you up to the worst kind of doctrinal errors.
If God wants to send me on some particular errand, he knows where to find me. In the meantime, I have more than I can handle just trying to live out the clear teachings Jesus left for us.
The idea that I need to interpret vague signs or inner nudges to determine the will of God isn’t just unscriptural, it’s markedly anti-scriptural. Remember this great passage from Deuteronomy 30?
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
One of the reasons for Israel’s praise was that God had made his wishes completely clear-primarily through the ten commandments, but also through all the detailed provisions of the covenant code. Unlike the capricious pagan gods, you didn’t have to go to an oracle or read sheep’s entrails or look for patterns in the tea leaves. God had already spelled it all out.
The composer of Psalm 119 opens with:
Blessed are they whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
2 Blessed are they who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart.
3 They do nothing wrong;
they walk in his ways.
4 You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
You can find this sentiment all over the Bible. What you can’t find is someone kicking themselves for not seeking out the subtle cues that would lead to “God’s perfect plan” for their life. It’s just not in there.
Or read this from the opening of the letter to the Hebrews:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
With all that as background, you have your work cut out for you if you want to claim that proper Christian devotion requires listening for God someway other than the revelation of Jesus recorded in the scriptures. And yet, I’ve been in a lot of situations similar to what Bill MacKinnon has apparently experienced, where people who regularly hear God speak to them (or so they say), are not-so-subtly exalted as spiritual exemplars above the poor shmucks who have to be content to just read the Bible and do what it says.
When the scriptures say that what God wants from you is has been clearly recorded, what attracts people to a form of religion that emphasizes the vague and ephemeral?