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Listening prayer and new age faith

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AIM encourages short-term mission participants to listen for God’s voice. After doing so, one said, “Sometimes I find myself feeling hesitant to just sit and listen to God because I think that he’s going to tell me what I did wrong that day or bring up something from the past, but the other day…
By Seth Barnes

AIM encourages short-term mission participants to listen for God’s voice. After doing so, one said, “Sometimes I find myself feeling hesitant to just sit and listen to God
because I think that he’s going to tell me what I did wrong that day or
bring up something from the past, but the other day he just reminded me
that I am good enough and I am loved.”

If you open your mind (so the argument goes), who knows what kind of odd thought might enter your head? After all, isn’t that what other religions advocate? Isn’t the canon closed?  Listening for God’s voice outside of reading the Scriptures could really just be a Trojan Horse for the enemy to deceive you.
In other words, could it be that those who practice listening prayer are really engaged in a form of New Age religion? When we listen for God’s voice, what is to protect us from any random thought where it’s really the enemy speaking to us?
These are good and important questions. If you believe that God does speak today, how do you answer them?
First, I welcome the dialogue. When I first wrote The Art of Listening Prayer, I encountered some critics. People are going to disagree about what Scripture says. That’s why the “closed canon” argument doesn’t resolve the issue – you still have to interpret what you read. A good illustration of that is our disagreement about what the Bible says about listening prayer. There are many, many examples throughout Scripture of God speaking to people using a variety of means. People draw different conclusions about what they read. It doesn’t matter that it’s there in black and white, we still need to figure out what it means.
Critics of listening prayer have to explain why they think God has changed his methods. If he has stopped, it should be up to those who say he’s changed his methods to show why he did so. Listen closely to the critics; they can’t find a verse that proves God has changed his method of communication. They cite Hebrews 1:1-2, but that is a passage that is speaking to the uniqueness of Jesus as a means of communication with men: “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…” If it were a message of God clarifying how he’s going to communicate, then it sure is oblique. Why would God use such an obscure message to communicate how he’s going to improve communication? It doesn’t make sense.
So if God’s people practiced listening prayer in the Bible, how did they protect themselves? And what does the Bible say about how we discern God’s will? As humans trying to connect with a transcendent God, we would do well to be humble about our discernment. We’ve all been wrong. But here are five tests:
  1. Was it a clear word or just
    an impression?  God may give us different degrees of confidence in what
    he has said.  We therefore need to humbly admit our fallibility. Get
    someone you trust to check your impression and to confirm it or not. (John 10:3-5)

  2. Does it exalt Christ? (John

  3. Is it scriptural?  Scripture
    is our authority. God does not contradict himself. (2 Tim. 3:16, Proverbs 30:5-6)

  4. Do other Christians confirm
    it? (1 Cor. 14:29-32)

  5. Does God cause it to actually
    take place?  (Isaiah 55:11, Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

At AIM, we have a high view of Scripture. We believe that it is inspired and inerrant in its original form. We believe we should seek God in the Scriptures for what he may be saying to a person today. We believe in renouncing our enemy and declaring Jesus’ authority over anything masquerading as light. Is this orthodox? Absolutely. Do good people who love Jesus still disagree about how and when he speaks? Obviously they do or I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.
So, who’s the heretic? One could make a strong case that those who would say that, “Yes, David, John, Peter, Paul, all the prophets and a host of other heroes of the faith heard God speak to them extra-biblically, but that no longer applies to us,” are in fact the heretics. You could make a case that to invalidate the clear teaching of Scripture based on an interpretation is heretical.
But then you’d be stirring up contention and division. And Paul warns against contentiousness in 1 Cor. 1:
  • agree with one another
  • that there be no divisions among you
  • be perfectly united
  • there are quarrels among you
  • One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”
  • Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?
Yes, we need to recognize the potential heresy of unchecked man-sponsored views. But the Bible reassures us that it is God’s job to superintend the heretics. He says in 1 Cor. 2 that God has revealed his wisdom to us by his Spirit.  He further says that “the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God… thus we have been given the Spirit who is from God that we may understand…”  He says, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit.” 
And earlier in that chapter, Paul says that his evangelistic tract to the Corinthians was not even “wise and persuasive words” but the Spirit’s power.  Jesus tells us in John 16:12 that “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” 
It’s reassuring to know that God will protect the truth. He does that through his Holy Spirit who speaks to our hearts in a variety of ways today just as he always has.

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