“God told me to…”
All my life as a Christian, I’ve heard people around me use those words. People I looked up to would recount testimonies of how God had dramatically changed the course of their lives through an audible voice. My peers would discuss how they regularly heard God speak to them and direct their daily decisions.
Personally, I’d never experienced anything remotely close to it. And it made me jealous. After all, if the Creator of the universe was going around talking with my friends, I wanted to be in on that conversation.
But it wasn’t just the novelty of hearing the voice of God, it seemed imperative to Christian living that I heard from God. I mean, that was the way that my friends seemed to make decisions—whether they were life-changing decisions or mundane ones. And if I wasn’t hearing God speak to me, who knows what kind of implications my uninformed decisions could have?
Did I pick the wrong university course, setting me off on a path down the wrong career choice? Was I wearing the wrong clothes, ones that wouldn’t grab the attention of that special someone God had been saving me for? Was I missing out on divine appointments?
I was desperate for these same experiences that so many other Christians were having. I’d read books about it, spent what seemed like ages straining away in a dark room, attended altar call after altar call, in the hope that I would finally hear God’s voice.
Then one day, it happened. I’d just started university and decided to check out the campus Christian fellowship. After attending a few sessions of their weekly meetings, one of the staff workers, Joel, asked me if I’d like to meet with him to read the Bible over a meal.
And that’s when I finally heard God speaking to me—clearly and surely, there was no doubt that it was Him.
It seemed so ridiculous that I hadn’t realized it, but the key to hearing God speak had been in front of me the entire time. That day, as Joel and I opened our Bibles and read Paul’s letter to the Colossians together, we weren’t just reading lifeless words on a page. On the contrary, the living God was speaking to us through it.
We studied the Bible in-depth, thinking hard about what Paul had been trying to convey to the Colossian church, and how each verse in the letter supported this purpose—to remind them of the supremacy and ultimate sufficiency of Jesus, and convict them that there was nothing else a Christian needed to be right before Him. Two thousand years ago, God was speaking through Paul to the Colossian church, and as we worked to understand what He was saying then, He was also speaking that same message to us.I realized then that hearing God speak is about opening His Word and seeing what He had written there for us.
The fact is that as I’d strived to hear God speak, I’d subconsciously relegated the Bible to a lower level than other ways of knowing Him, such as hearing an audible voice. But while I might not have heard the audible voice like my friends may have, I’ve discovered that hearing God speak through the Bible is powerful.
For one, it’s the inspired word of God. Though the Bible was written by human authors, it was God who was doing the work, speaking through the authors. This means that when Paul was writing to the Colossian church to remind them of a certain truth, it was God who was speaking through Paul to them. That same God is speaking through the Word to us today.
Furthermore, it gives me a certainty about my faith. Throughout my time of seeking to hear God’s voice, there were many times when I thought that I might have finally heard Him speak. “What’s that, God?” I would say as I strained to concentrate on what that voice in my head was saying, “You want me to go to that restaurant today?”
The truth is that I could never truly be sure if that really was God. But as I read the Bible and study it, I can be 100 percent sure that it is the Creator of the universe speaking to me. And with that comes a deep certainty and a firm foundation. It means that I can truly be convicted and have the courage to make hard decisions, knowing for sure that my actions will be pleasing to God.
And as I discovered the riches that were waiting to be unearthed in the Bible, my Christian walk grew in stability and maturity. I could never question whether God wanted me to do something because I could read it clearly in the Bible. The state of my relationship with God was no longer contingent on experiences, but instead it was rooted in the convictions that the Holy Spirit was building in my heart from what I was reading.
I’m convinced that though extra-biblical communication with God might exist, it cannot replace or even come as close in importance as hearing God speak to us through the Bible. As John Piper, a Christian theologian, said, “Something is incredibly wrong when the words we hear outside Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to us than the inspired word of God.” After all, if we’re wondering what God wants to say to us, shouldn’t we start with what He has purposefully put together for our instruction?
And sure, I may not have specific guidance about my daily life in the same way that some of my friends might have. But by hearing what God has to say through the Bible, I become more familiar with His character, and this equips me to make daily decisions that I know will be in line with what He has instructed us to do.
For example, when deciding if I should take a part-time job while I’m still at university, I consider what He said to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, to be responsible and not be a burden to others in the Church. However, I also take into account what the mission of disciples are—to spread the Gospel and encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ; will having a part-time job still allow me to accomplish these things?
So today I no longer envy or desire the experiences that my friends have, because I know that each day when I open my Bible, God is speaking to me. It’s undeniable, clear, and amazing. I know for sure that these are the words of the living God, who holds the universe in the palm of His hands.