Regarding how to hear from God, that is a complex subject that I can’t give you a million scriptures on, because I have not studied it extensively. I only know my experience and the mistakes I’ve made in my earnest desire to seek God’s will and to know his voice.
I made a lot of mistakes, which I hope to help others avoid. I was originally going to call this article something along the lines of, ‘How To Hear From God’, but that pigeonholed me into talking about a topic of which I have little knowledge and experience. I can quote dozens of scriptures for you by heart on a variety of topics, but I don’t want to leave you with seemingly-impractical sayings from a dusty book that some people understand and most people don’t.
Much more after the break.
Story time: Several years ago, I was hearing voices in my head. These were not the kind of extreme, dangerous voices that cause you to do physical harm to you and others, but strange voices that seemed familiar, yet were driving me to do really weird things. In my upbringing (a strict evangelical later filtered through years of extroverted Charismatic voodoo), I had come to understand that God speaks through modern-day prophets, and sometimes asks ‘prophetic’ people to do weird things, like the pre-Christ prophets in the Bible.
Nowadays, if anyone mentions hearing or seeing anything ‘prophetic’, I immediately tune them out and shut it down as a reflex. If you believe you heard from God, that’s great. Keep it to yourself. I believe public proclamation of someone having heard a voice from God is something near-insane, and refuse to have any part or parcel with it. Most Christians who claim to have heard the voice of God speaking on a subject are merely speaking from their own experiences, their own thoughts, their own emotions, and their own failures, and I believe that kind of thing completely useless on the one hand and unspeakably dangerous on the other.
Does God speak to us today? I believe so. Does God speak corporately to us today? I don’t think so, not in the terms of giving sweeping prophetic declarations of revivals to come (which either never come, or if they do, are probably instigated by man and often end up hurting as many people as they help). I think in a corporate gathering, we should let the Bible and the Holy Spirit speak for itself and himself, and let the chips fall where they may.
At some point I will most likely begin public speaking. My goal at that point will not be to ‘proclaim the word of the Lord’, but to simply share what I know from scripture and what I know from my heart, and if something I say resonates in the hearts of the listeners, that’s great. If not, no harm was done, and I think that doing no harm is probably better than doing something reckless that has the potential to help a few people, but may in fact cause others great emotional and psychological damage.
How did I get the voices out of my head? I can think of three main things that helped:
- Medicine. A lot of Christians are taught by gung-ho, well-meaning but completely idiotic leaders that medicine is ‘of the devil’ or ‘not the ideal’. I say that that is complete nonsense. I suffer from an anxiety disorder that can currently only be treated by taking medication. (Diet has a little bit to do with it as well–if I drink too much caffeine, it’s harder to control my emotions.) Everyday life is often extremely painful to me because of an ‘invisible elephant in the room’ which causes me to live in fear and trepidation. I’m not anxious because of anything–that call I don’t want to take, that guy I have to speak to, that speech I have to give. Everyone gets that. I have an anxiety disorder, and that anxiety causes my brain to enter a ‘fight-or-flight’ mode where there is no actual danger, but my mind is utterly convinced that there is danger present, so my ability to think with my rational mind, with balanced emotions, to think calmly and clearly about things, becomes more and more impaired. The medicine calms that response and lets me think clearly.
- Counseling. I literally ran away from my home and family during the worst of the nonsense I went through a few years back. A Christian counselor helped me sort through the main things that were driving me towards such nonsense. One of these things was having been convinced (by well-meaning, extroverted Charismatic idiots) that ministry came first ahead of everything, including family. So I ran away to be part of a ‘spiritual community’ (that was actually more of a commune), convinced that this was ‘the cutting edge of what God was doing in the earth’. *rolls eyes, continues* I was deceived. A well-grounded, Christian psychologist helped me get my head back on straight.
- Spending a lot of time in the presence of God. Here’s where I might lose a few of you, where things may seem to get a bit too ethereal, mystical, or head-in-the-clouds for you more analytical types, but stick with me. I realized when I came up with the slogan for this site, ‘Clear Thinking On…’, that I was signing up for potentially being accused of introducing ‘cloudy’ or ‘foggy’ thinking that was impractical. If you’ll walk with me through a very brief Bible study, however, I believe that I will help you see that spending time in the presence of God is extremely practical and relevant. I think I’ll take a bit longer to expound upon this, as I believe that this might be helpful.
The Bible says, concerning the presence of God, in Psalm 16:11:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Most preachers stop right at the second part of the verse, saying, ‘In his presence is fullness of joy! At his right hand are pleasures evermore!’ Then they loudly proclaim, ‘This means you should be happy all the time!’ When this doesn’t work, they tell the person who is still sad or depressed that they have a demon, or they need need to pray and read the Bible more, or expensive counseling or mentoring, or whatever, and the person is left worse off.
As I looked up this verse, I noticed the first part before it:
You make known to me the path of life.
Suddenly, this entire verse seemed much more useful. Knowing where I should go and what to do is much more practical than knowing how to have a good time.
Being happy all the time is impossible. I know, because I’ve tried it. I’ve attended ‘drunken grace’ conferences and been blown out of my mind with wild and wacky experiences. I’ve been ‘drunk in the Spirit’ with and without the company of others, and believe me, that sort of thing is fun. It’s like being drunk with alcohol, or like taking drugs, but better since it has no lasting negative effects, save this: it’s not practical, and it’s not sustainable. A ‘party atmosphere’ is fine in brief doses, but continually trying to sustain a hyped-up atmosphere like that is impossible in the long-term and can cause harm in that it conditions people to seek pleasure first and foremost and ignore common sense.
To individuals like myself, who tend to be the more sober-minded thinkers in the bunch, continually seeking spiritual ‘bliss’ can cause confusion, because we are told to be ‘spiritual hedonists’, while our mind calmly repeats the mantra: this isn’t going to work long-term. You need balance. Fighting against one’s nature only works for a little while, and if you try to press it, you risk hurting yourself–causing emotional and psychological damage. I was told that I needed to press through my inhibitions, and I continued to do so, and it nearly cost me my marriage and my sanity.
I am not convinced that the ‘fullness of joy’ and ‘pleasures forevermore’ that the psalmist mentions here has as much to do with the temporary outbursts of euphoria commonly sought after by ‘spiritual thrill-seekers’, as much as the more-constant satisfaction of a sense of balance and peace: a sense that I am OK and that everything will be all right. Having a day-to-day sense of calm is much more satisfying to me, long-term. Sure, I love spiritual experiences, ‘mountaintop’ experiences, mystical experiences that can’t be explained. But I’m not sure that it’s valuable to share them with others. It sets up false expectations: this is normal for me, and you can experience the same! When the same thing does not happen to the other individual, they wonder what is wrong with them, and unintentional harm is caused.
Wisdom is needed in such matters. Fortunately, the Bible says a great deal about what wisdom is and is not, and one such passage goes like this:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
Whenever you are reading a nutrition label in the United States, the first ingredients listed are present in the largest amounts. I find the wisdom of God–the way we should live our lives if we want to live them in a wise fashion–being ‘peaceable’ and ‘gentle’, a rather telling thing. It seems to me that if God’s sense of wisdom involves these primary ingredients, it would be a good idea for us humans to get with the program and value the same thing. ‘Pure’ is sort of a gimme: ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.’ But peace is not something that is typically valued in the mega-church, call-to-action, never-say-die modern evangelical atmosphere.
To me, peace is the ultimate journey and the ultimate goal. If you don’t have peace, you have nothing at all. Peace does not validate inaction, but rather a stable platform from which to act when necessary, or to abstain from action when thoughtful analysis and Godly wisdom indicates that it’s better to delay or seek an alternate route.
Jesus is mental health. Jesus is peace. Jesus is ‘fullness of joy’. Jesus is the ‘pleasures forevermore’. I can’t explain the presence of God to you–it’s a highly experiential thing, and it would be irresponsible and immoral of me to say, you will get goosebumps, or you will see these things. That’s something that I recommend seeking out for yourself.
God is very strong and very good at talking to mankind, getting through to even the most stubborn or most-confused hearts. In writing both practical and seemingly-non-practical things, I hope that you will be encouraged to seek his presence and live there. I can’t give you a step-by-step guide, but I can tell you that living in, abiding in, his presence is one of the main ways I have been able to get free of so much pain, so much nonsense, and so much heartache in my life. I pray that you will be able to do the same.