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Vicki Gross was struggling with the concept of listening prayer, and described a breakthrough that the Lord gave her. “I was on a school bus full of jabbering, yelling kids. My son was in the back of the bus. There were 20 rows of children making noise between us, but as I listened, I could make out the distinctive voice of my boy in the back. To anybody else who didn’t know him, his voice would have blended into the cacophony, but because I know him, I recognized his voice. The Lord showed me, ‘That’s how you recognize my voice, too. Because you know me, you recognize my voice, even above life’s noise.'”
God’s voice is distinctive. He promises that we, his sheep, will hear it. The more you pause and listen for his voice, the more you will find that your ears tune in to it – you become familiar with it. It just requires your listening.
Over and over we see the example of a God interacting with people, a God who is endlessly creative in how he has communicated with people, a God who implores us to seek him with all our hearts, who declares that in doing so we’ll find him. Scripture gives multiple injunctions to listen for his voice. Jesus asks his disciples to listen to his voice. We see many examples of the New Testament church receiving direction from God as they do so. Paul gets visions and dreams, the Holy Spirit speaks to him in multiple ways, and He gives instruction in Scripture as to how we’re to listen.
The Bible is the record of God speaking to man. He’s a communicator. He made us for fellowship with him. He communicates in ways we can understand. Most instances do not involve Scripture, and why not? Most people at the time didn’t read and didn’t even own copies of Scriptures.
But then layered on top of that issue is a rich history of God speaking to man extra-biblically from the time of Jesus till now – people like St. Patrick, Teresa, Brother Lawrence, and the like.
And then what are we to do with your experience and mine – experience that lines up with Scripture? I’ve interacted with hundreds of Christians around the world. We are told to judge people by their fruit as opposed to the rightness of their beliefs. What do we do with those who are bearing the greatest fruit, adding new believers and churches at incredible rates, a group that testifies it is largely because of the specific direction of the Lord that they have borne this fruit?
Or what do we do with our own personal experience that, again, lines up with Scripture? A critic says, “Experience is by nature subjective and unreliable.” But all of us are influenced by our experience to some degree! There is an empiricist in all of us. There is an entire state (Missouri) whose motto is, “The Show Me state.” Many disbelieved Christopher Columbus’ testimony about the new world. Why? He had experienced it and they hadn’t. No theology can remove the subjectivity inherent in the way we process our experience. Scripture itself repeatedly appeals to experience as a source of credibility:
- “We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” (2 Peter 1:16),
- “We testify to what we have seen,” (John 3:11)
- “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)
I’ve been fortunate as a missionary to see the church growing at an incredible rate in places like China, Latin America, and Africa. In most instances, this spectacular growth has been shepherded by men who not only trusted God to speak in many ways, but followed his guidance in praying for blind eyes to be opened and the dead to be raised. And the fruit has been amazing! Pupils have been miraculously formed where before there were only blind eyes. Dead people have been resuscitated. One of my best friends is a man who was judged dead by a top U.S. doctor, and then after being prayed for, came back to life. And more importantly, the resulting testimonies are a large part of what has fueled the growth of the church. It looks very much like the New Testament church.
So, we’ve got these four sources of data:
- Examples in Scripture,
- The injunctions of Jesus and the New Testament writers as to how to listen,
- Personal experience,
- The experience of those followers of Jesus around the world who are bearing the most fruit (as judged by the growth rates of the particular kinds of churches being planted).
Most of us believe God loves us not because of exegesis, but because we have actually felt that love in some way. I’ll bet the main reason people don’t believe God speaks outside the Bible is because they’ve not heard Him. If they were to have the experience, their theology would change. Paul heard him and he believed. I wasn’t looking for him, but He spoke to me and I believed. He spoke to me initially through my mother, then through Scripture, then through His voice that appeared to me as audible as if my ears had heard Him. What am I to do with that? The Bible vouches for its credibility because it was written by those who saw and heard Christ. We’re encouraged to share our experience with one another by testifying because it helps bolster our faith.
In contrast, critics use one passage – Hebrews 1:1-2 – that has been taken out of the context of its Hebraic Christology to try and prove that God has changed the way he interacts with humans.
It’s an argument that would never stand up in court. And what critics advocate doesn’t resonate with the relational character of God. Suppose, for example, you had a son. And in raising him, you communicated verbally with him until he reached the age of 16. During that time he came to expect verbal communication from you. But then one day, instead of speaking to him, suppose you laid your journal before him as your new form of communication and that you did so without ever explaining why.
Wouldn’t your son be confused? He’d wonder not only why you changed your method of communication, but also, why you didn’t explain the switch. Your son would struggle to understand you. That’s what the critics of listening prayer want us to believe.
I’m so glad that God spoke to me and told me he loved me. I knew from the Bible that he did, but when he spoke to my heart, it didn’t violate the canon in any way – rather, it confirmed everything I’d hoped about a personal God.
For more on why listening prayer is normal for Christians, go here.
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