In some circles, those who believe they have heard God speak to them are thought to be unstable.
Other groups honor members who routinely quote what God has said to their hearts.
Since so many of us think the practice has implications for either our sanity or spirituality, it might be worth thinking together about a question that could potentially affect all of us. Should we be talking about what we think God has said to us in the same way that we quote the Bible?
As a matter of faith, many of us believe that the Creator who spoke the worlds into existence speaks volumes to us through what He has made, through our conscience, through His Scriptures, and by His Spirit.
But if our God is able to speak clearly enough for us to “hear” Him, does that mean that all of the ways He speaks to us are equally quotable? For example, what are we to think when we hear someone say something like, “I was standing outside the other night, looking up at the stars, and the Lord asked me, ‘Don’t you think I’m big enough to take care of the problems you are struggling with?’ ” Or what about when we hear people say things like “God is calling me to . . .” or “The Lord has given me the assurance that . . .” or “God is leading me to . . .” or “I was reading the Bible the other day, and the Lord gave me a promise . . .”
Here’s the real question. What if, by quoting God in these ways, we put words in His mouth that do not reflect what He would say to us in our present circumstances?
In Old Testament times, attributing words to God that He didn’t speak was a crime punishable by death. On behalf of God, Moses said, “But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die” (Deuteronomy 18:20 KJV). As ancient as this text is, it shows how concerned God is about being misquoted.
It is just as true, however, that the question “Has God said?” first shows up in the Bible as the tactic the devil used to plant a seed of doubt in the mind of Eve. Some therefore are probably afraid to ask the same question of themselves or of others for fear of planting their own seed of doubt.
That could be a legitimate concern—unless our motive is different from the devil’s. What if our purpose is not to confuse but to clarify what God has actually said? How do we make sure that we are being as careful in quoting God as we are ready to hear Him speak?
Quoting the God of the Bible. Imagine, for instance, that we are wondering whether to go into debt on a large purchase. As we weigh the decision, our devotional reading for the day is “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NKJV). Do we hear God saying through these words, “Make the purchase, and trust Me for the ability to pay for it”? Or do we hear the Lord saying through Paul’s words, “Trust Me to meet your needs without taking on this debt”?
Certainly, the whole Bible assures us of God’s ability to care for us. But in trying to draw conclusions from the words of Philippians 4:19, both of the above conclusions probably represent a misuse of the Bible. Depending on how the text is interpreted, Paul might have been expressing his desire that God would meet the needs of those who had given him material support. Or he may have been indicating his confidence that God would care for others as they had cared for him. Either meaning could help us to put our confidence in God’s ability to meet our needs—as we give to the needs of those who are serving Him. But neither meaning amounts to something we can rightly claim as God’s word to us about whether to enter into debt. To rightly honor the written Word of God, we need to remember that “what God has said” is limited to the original meaning and intent of the text He has inspired.
Quoting the God Who speaks to our hearts. When talking about what we sense God has said to our spirit, a small caution can make a big difference. Instead of saying, “God said to my heart,” all we need to say is something like, “I believe God was saying to me,” or, “I had a strong personal sense of what the Scriptures mean when they quote God as saying, ‘I will never leave nor forsake you.’ ”
Honestly saying what we believe God was saying to us will make it clear that we are talking about our impression of God’s leading. Focusing on our role in trying to understand how God is working in our lives is so much safer than taking the risk of putting words in His mouth that He would never say.
Such caution might leave us with less certainty than we would like. But who has more reason to be cautious in what we claim for God’s voice than those of us who have a high view of the Word of God?
Father in heaven, Your words are too precious to confuse with our own. Please forgive us for unintentionally confusing our desires with Your promises. We don’t want to doubt You—or misquote You—for Your sake or our own. —Mart De Haan