Posts Tagged ‘evangelical’

Approaches to Listening to God

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

There are many approaches in the church to listening to God. Three that have been part of my own church experience are:

  1. Traditional/Evangelical churches often equate hearing from God with reading the Bible, hearing powerful preaching, listening to authorities, or using some kind of democratic process to decide between alternative opinions. This is what I encountered in the Gospel Mission, Methodist and Baptist churches I have been a part of. There is an implication that God spoke in the Bible, and now we must apply what he once revealed, adapting it to our present circumstances.
  2. Some churches try to use spiritual gifts, but place much reliance on sometimes hit or miss guesswork. Some will speak and trust that God will make their words right, with little or no testing of their accuracy. Any testing tends to be left to the person speaking, especially if they have a track record, or to whether the hearer likes what is being said. I found this approach in my early experience of charismatic renewal.
  3. Some realize that God still speaks today as he did in Biblical times and determine to learn to listen. They use all means provided by God to test what is heard, not just so that they can know what he is saying, but to learn to recognize God’s voice by means of experience and experiment. Such hearing is both a personal and corporate. This has been my more recent experience among combined meetings of people from across a wide range of denominations, including some of those above. It is typical of true intercessors, healers and prophets in any branch of the church.

The first relies primarily on the human mind and on trust relationships between people. Our reasoning about the content of the Bible is the principal resource. God no longer needs to speak. The strongest opinion or the person with the greatest following can carry the decision. While the motivation is to allow God to be completely in control, the result is that the control is taken by people.

The second is similar to the first, relying partly on the mind, but also on emotions and the character of individuals. Whether or not what we hear is from God is left to how it makes us feel, or how someone else says it makes them feel. God is only in control as long as we like what he wants.

The third uses a balance of mind, emotions and spirit, and depends on a good relationship with God and with each other. This requires a balance between diligent study of scripture, the ability to be honest about our feelings, openness with each other, willingness to defer to each other, trust of God’s giving us the freedom to make mistakes, and an acceptance that God can still do today what he used to do in Biblical times. Here the issue is not about who is in control at all, but in each taking responsibility for their part of the mandate. A true cooperation between God and people becomes possible, which is in line with God’s intention in creating them.

Which one sounds most like a truly Christian approach?

An important way that I think the first approach comes undone is in its insistence that the Bible is the only authority for Christian practice, but at the same time dismissing much of what it teaches. By this I mean we tend to accept the propositions that the biblical writers make, but ignore the way they came to the things they say. For example, God spoke to the prophets, both Old and New Testament, but the instruction we are to receive from their books is not limited to what they say God said, but also their descriptions of how God said it to them. Surely we are meant to also learn to listen to God like a prophet does, not just listen to the prophet!

The second approach acknowledges this, but then ignores the fact that in his training of a prophet God was not at all interested in whether the prophet liked what God was saying. He was interested in obedience. People’s lives depended on a quick and faithful response to God’s word. Their feelings were irrelevant, as was their convenience. We forget that true joy comes from dwelling in God’s presence and acceptance, not in getting our own way. When our desires become the same as God’s desires we will get everything we ask.

This is not to say there are not dangers in the third approach. But life has no guarantees, except that it will end, at least on this earth. Safety too often equates to uselessness to be a good guide for living. Obedience and its accompanying fruitfulness is a far better measure of success.

I forget where I heard it but I remember someone using this illustration. Suppose that you are a soldier in a trench during a battle, and someone shouts “Duck!” Do you look around to get a second opinion, or do you first duck to avoid a possible bullet in the head, and then check to see whether you needed to or not?

Prophecy Versus Preaching

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

There is a common equation made among more conservative evangelicals (and liberals) between prophecy and preaching. Reluctant to allow for the direct gift of prophecy to be still operating today, they instead wish to believe that it has been replaced by inspired preaching. This, notwithstanding that the offices of prophet, pastor and teacher are listed as quite separate by Paul.

Certainly, there are times when a prophet will preach, or a preacher will prophesy. And sometimes the two merge together in prophetic preaching. Does this mean that as well as wishing that “all would prophesy”, Paul would insist that all should preach? I don’t think we could assume this, though all may do so at times. Nor does it mean that prophet equals preacher, or that prophesying equates to preaching.

An example which brings this home to me is the case of C.H. Spurgeon – often called the ‘Prince of Preachers’. Spurgeon was indeed a gifted preacher, with the power of the Holy Spirit very evidently operating in him and amongst his listeners when he spoke from his pulpit. But even Spurgeon was careful to distinguish between prophecy and preaching.

Ernest Gentile, in Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy: Prophetic Gifts in Ministry Today, says “He reckons that there were as many as a dozen cases in which, interrupting his sermon, he had suddenly pointed to someone in his audience and given a striking description without any knowledge of the person. These spontaneous descriptions had usually caused the conversion of the person addressed.”

Bishop David Pytches, in Does God Speak Today?, pp 48-49, recounts a story Spurgeon related in the first volume of his autobiography, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography: The Early Years, 1834-1859 :

“While preaching in the hall on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker. He keeps his shop open on Sundays. It was open last Sabbath morning, and he took ninepence – with fourpence profit from it. His soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!'”

Later a city missionary happened to meet the shoemaker. As they discussed Spurgeon, the shoemaker explained that Spurgeon’s word was exactly right and had caused his conversion. Fearful at first to return to the church and risk further exposure, the man finally concluded that it must have been God. From then on he shut up his shop on Sundays and went to God’s house to hear the Baptist prophet preach. (Gentile, Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy, p 81)

Spurgeon himself described the ‘unction’ that came upon him at such times as, “a dew from the Lord, a divine presence which you will recognise at once … ‘an unction from the holy one.'” (Lectures to My Students, p49)

Another common misunderstanding is that prophecy equates to powerful preaching about societal ills, sin in politics, environmental destruction, exploitation of the vulnerable, and similar important issues. Of course, prophets and preachers may thunder about such things, and probably will, but it is not the thundering which makes such preaching become prophecy. Rather, it is the accuracy and authority which comes from hearing a direct word from God about what to say. As we can see in Spurgeon’s example – he could not have known what he said before he said it. This is one mark of true prophecy.

Anyone can preach about the sin they are aware of among those around them, but few have the gift of speaking about what they do not know beforehand – at least without making fools of themselves.