God speaks to us through the word of God, the Bible. This word is immutable and true. All our experiences and knowledge cannot stand up against its authority. Under its light, God speaks to us through our experiences and situations. Under its light, God speaks to us very clearly through the words of an anointed preacher. Under its light, God speaks through the spiritual songs we sing. Under its light, God speaks to us through good examples and even through bad examples and models. Under its light, God speaks to us through our conscience.
It is this last method that I want to focus on today.
I feel that as I have grown in the Lord over the years, the voice of my conscience has grown louder. So loud, that I sometimes wonder if it is in fact a means that the Holy Spirit within me uses to nudge me towards living more economically for the Lord, especially time wise. For instance, if having just read both national and world news at nzherald.co.nz, I am waiting for the cnn.com site to open, I might hear my conscience tell me, “There is no need.”
What is this gentle command? It could of course be the result of a mind that has long been programmed to think in a certain way. Fair enough, so it could, and I will not listen to this voice if it contradicts the scriptures. But so far, it never has. Rather it consistently, and gently, alerts me when I am wasting time or doing something that is in the ‘permissible but not profitable’ category. Sometimes, sadly, I hesitate to obey. In the example I just mentioned, I might wait for the CNN site to open, as if responding with a, “I’ll just see the headlines and close the window.”
Interestingly, in a study on the Song of Solomon, Zac Poonen mentions a similar hesitation:
. . . In chapter 5:2, when the Bridegroom came in the middle of he night calling, “Open to me, my darling,” the bride was too lazy to dress up and open the door (5:3). She was concerned that her feet (that she had washed) would be soiled. He tried to unlatch the door himself (5:4). Then the bride changed her mind and opened the door, but found that her Beloved was gone. He went away because she did not respond at once, when He called her. That can happen to us too. The Lord may say to us, “Now drop everything that you are doing. Stop reading that book. Stop that conversation. Get alone with Me and talk to Me. Let’s go for a walk together.” And we may respond saying, “Lord, just wait. I have something important to do. It will be finished in 15 minutes. Then I’ll come.” And 15 minutes later, when we have finished that important (?) work, we say, “Lord, I am ready now.” But we find that He is gone. We can’t find Him. Do you want to be an effective servant of God? Develop this habit of dropping everything when the Lord calls you, and of listening to Him. You will never regret it. . . .
I still do not know if the nudging that I discern is indeed that of the Holy Spirit. I think it is, because of the nature and timing. Is it something like the gentle whisper or the ‘still small voice’ that Elijah heard, that prompted him to go to the mouth of the cave. After this, the Lord spoke to him in an audible voice. What was the ‘still small voice’ like that he first heard? Could my experience be a stiller smaller variant?
Perhaps you are wondering why I am being so apologetic about this experience. The reason is because if you came up to me and said, “I felt God nudging me last night to tell you this . . .,” I would be very skeptical about what you were saying. I would not be able to receive what you conveyed to me, as being a message that God wanted me to know, as God’s word at all. I would hear you out but it would not have that ring of authority for me. Rightly or wrongly, that is the way I have been trained to react, and I believe this is the safest way even now. So even if the nudge is so certain, feeling it as I do in my own being, I must analyse it by the light of the scriptures. Far too many people have claimed to have heard God speak to them, and it is easy to see that they have been sadly mistaken.
When I was browsing around looking for what others had to say about this matter, I came across one blogger, Dan Benson, who maintains a blogsite called Snorting Horses. He has this to say: “I can’t trust my senses or my feelings. The are affected by a stew of chemicals boiling and roiling around in my body and my brain. They’re affected by how much sleep I had, what I had for dinner or how my wife and I are getting along. Maybe I’m not as spiritual as you, but it’s not unusual that my spiritual sensors need to be recalibrated after I discover my daughter has 189 text messages on her cell phone. My senses and feelings may lead me in a direction, but I mustn’t act on them. I must test them . . .”
In reviewing a book called Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton, Tim Challies, blogger and author says: There is great danger in allowing supposed personal communication from God to become normative. For example, Barton tells about God calling her to vocational, ordained ministry through her times of silence. Yet the Bible teaches with utmost clarity that women are never called to this type of ministry. She allows her personal experience to supersede the clear teaching of Scripture.
Look at these parallel scriptures:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.(Eph 5:18)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.(Col 3:16,17)
By comparing the parallel scriptures quoted above, one gets the sense that the extent of being under the influence of the Spirit is proportional to one’s closeness with the holy scriptures. Therein, I believe, lies the key. If I fill my mind with the scriptures, I can safely make use of the helpful nudges and pushes that I experience, which I suspect to be the Spirit of God working with my spirit. But if it is just my own conscience strengthened and trained by the Spirit of God, what does it matter now? The final authority rests with the Bible.