Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

18 May 2012

Thus saith the Lord

I've been doing a group Bible study on prayer lately and one of the studies makes the point that prayer is talking to God, not listening to Him.  God doesn't speak to us in prayer.  We speak to Him.  I was talking to my husband about this, who cleverly observed that it can be quite easy to get the wrong impression about God speaking to us, personally and audibly, from the pages of the Old Testament.

You see, God spoke to Adam and Eve and Cain.
He spoke to Noah.
And Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
He spoke to Moses.
And Joshua.
God spoke to  Gideon.
He spoke to Samuel and Nathan.
And to Elijah and Elisha.
And God spoke to all those prophets who have books of the Old Testament named after them.
There may be others. These are the ones I can recall off the top of my head.

And when you put all the things He said to that collection of people together, it accounts for a good part of the Old Testament.  Pages and pages and pages of God speaking personally and audibly.  That's a lot of God speaking.  But He only spoke to a small selection of people.  Count them up.  There aren't that many of them, for all the words of God recorded in the Bible.

It was the responsibility of this small group to pass on the message of His words to the multitudes.  God didn't speak to each and every Israelite camped out at Mt Sinai or to the wayward kings and commoners of Judah, Israel, Egypt or even Ninevah.  Just to a handful of people whose role it was to pass on the message. 

And then in the New Testament He spoke through one man.  Jesus.

This is not to say that God couldn't speak personally and audibly to someone if He chose to.  He is the Creator and sustainer of the universe.  But given the pattern set in the Bible, it seems fairly likely that He speaks to people now far less often than many might otherwise suggest.

I've never done the maths before (of how many God actually spoke to in the Bible) but it's pretty interesting - a small but important point to note.

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.
Hebrews 1:1,2


Anonymous said...

oh yes! I never thought of it like that. Well said. Thanks to you, and your dear hubby.


Meredith said...

Thank you Sally. I think it will be a useful piece of information to have in the back pocket, to be used very carefully and pastorally when someone says, "God told me..." or when someone talks about listening to God when praying.

And for me, it adds another layer in the work of taking the Bible seriously. These are the words that God spoke - and they are sufficient.

Sarah said...

This raises a bigger question for me. If we pray to God about things (i.e. wisdom about whether to become missionaries in China), how should we expect Him to answer?

Thoughts anyone?

Meredith said...

Good point Sarah. I think what you are asking comes under the heading of "guidance and God's will."

I remember struggling to make a major life decision a long time ago and quipping to some people at church that I wished God would put a stone tablet on my verandah with the answer on it. Well, I was thoroughly lambasted for that one and while said people could have been a little gentler in their style of rebuke (because I really was struggling) they were right to rebuke me. Because I was basically asking God to speak to me. Directly and personally. Asking Him to work in my humble life like He did in the life of Moses!

So for me seeking out God in life's very big decisions is like how we seek Him out for any decision. The steps include things like asking whether what I am planning to do is biblical/pleasing to God/bringing Him glory and honour/godly? Has He given me the strength, passion and resources (= time, health, money, support) to do this? Is it wise to follow this particular course right now/at all? Is the door open - at the very least, is the door not closing? And so on.

It is right to pray about these big decisions and He answers these prayers through His Word, through wise counsel (in the style of sitting at the feet of the wise), provision, opportunity. A YES won't always come in the form of our plans being presented to us on a platter. The road can be hard along the way - but hardship doesn't mean God is saying no. He is training us and giving us opportunities to grow along the way.

Well, there you are. A free post on guidance! What do you think? What do others think?

Sarah said...

Thanks for the free guidance post. :) That's along the lines I think.

I guess what I was trying to say was that when I say to someone, "I think God is telling me to do this" or "God spoke to me", I don't mean a big booming voice or a burning bush. I mean a combination of Scripture, words from friends, books...even blog posts. Sometimes this is also a prompt from the Holy Spirit as He reminds me of what I've been taught etc. Like last year when I was really wanting revenge on someone, but was then reminded of verses which tell me not to take revenge, but to leave things in God's hands (even though I hadn't read those verses for ages).

I also see Scripture as the way we test things to see if they are from God. For example, if someone tells me God spoke to them and told them to go to China...well maybe He did (in some form). But if someone tells me God told them to leave their husband for another man...well that's not the same God who said "I hate divorce."

Am I making any sense? :)

Meredith said...

Making perfect sense. And I hear what you are saying.

It's just a turn of phrase, "God is telling me...", (reminding me of the "God is good" phrase) but it strikes me, as I read your comment, that it is one of those phrases that we probably need to use with care. Because some will literally hear us say that God spoke to us in a booming voice (or even a small, quiet whisper) and maybe wonder why God never speaks to them and sadly, some will use that phrase to be manipulative. If someone says, "God told me..." in an outright way, then who am I to argue? And yet if it seems slightly spurious then it can all become a bit difficult.

So we probably need to use it as a turn of phrase cautiously - or at least be prepared to qualify ourselves by saying how God is speaking to us. And that in fact would be a great teaching point for those listening, as they learn how we can be directed by God today.

Thanks Sarah. Very helpful discussion. Mxx