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30th August 2007

Slaughtering Sacred Cows - Part 1
"God Told Me"

By Frank Viola

In certain movements of the Christian faith, Godís people are taught by both precept and example to preface many of their decisions with the words "God told me."

"God told me to start attending this church."

"God told me to marry Billy Bob."

"God told me to buy this car."

"God told me that I'm a prophetess."

"God told me to break up with Felicia."

"God spoke to me and told me to rebuke my Aunt Harriet."

Itís central to the vocabulary of a number of Christian traditions.

In the 30 years that Iíve been a Christian, Iíve made a disturbing observation about this type of language. That at least in half the cases when Iíve heard a person use this phrase ("God told me"), what they said God told them to do later turned out to be what the person wanted to do. And God got the rap for it.

Let me illustrate this with a woman who I had known for many years. She represents what Iíve observed innumerable times with innumerable people. Weíll call her Sally. Sally would routinely preface her decisions this way. "God is telling me to homeschool my kids." "God is telling me to begin giving this amount of money to this ministry" "God told me to purchase this car."

In virtually every case, Sally would end up not following through on what God told her to do.

She stopped homeschooling her kids. When asked about this, she said, "Well, itís really not for me. I think God wants me to send them to private school."

Hmmm . . . did God change His mind that quickly?

When asked why she didnít buy the car that "God told her to buy," she said, "It has some problems with it that I donít want to inherit. Plus we canít afford it now anyway. Iím feeling led to lease a car instead."

Hmmm . . . God changed His mind again.

Hereís another one thatís a cousin to "God told me."

"Iím so sick. I canít endure this pain. Why is God picking on me?"

Hmmm . . . God is picking on you because you are sick? Is your pain really Godís fault?

Or how about this one . . .

"Pastor Billy announced this past Sunday that as a result of our churchís vow to tithe on our gross last year, God provided the money to build our new 100 million dollar church building. Isnít God good!?"

Ummm . . . Really?

Point: Iíve routinely watched God get credit for things that He never authored and blamed for things He never imagined!

I wonder how the Lord feels when this happens.

This has led me to ask, "Why do so many people feel the need to broadcast to others what ĎGod told them.í"

Iím loathe to judge the motives of others. In fact, motive-judging is one of the most destructive things that a Christian can engage in. It simply destroys relationships. For this reason, the Lord had some very strong thoughts about it (Matt. 7:1-5. See also 1 Cor. 4:3-5).

However, upon the honest admission of some Christians whom Iíve known, here are five reasons why at least some people choose to speak this way.

Five Confessions:

1. If I could say that "God told me" to do something, then I didnít feel responsible for whatever He told me to do. God was responsible.

2. It made me sound more spiritual when I made sure that people knew that it was God who was talking to me.

3. I was afraid that if I didnít say that "God told me," people wouldnít accept what I said. Or they would argue with my decision.

4. I had a desire to lead others. If I could convince them that God told me something, I found that they would follow me.

5. I wanted so bad to hear Godís voice that I thought that if I said that He always spoke to me in everything, it would become a reality.

Please reflect on the above. And note that these people were largely unconscious of their motives until later.

I donít doubt that there are many Christians who do not have these motives working in them. In such cases, I believe itís a matter of thoughtlessly borrowing the language of a particular Christian subculture. "Everyone else talks that way in my church, so I guess I just naturally picked it up unconsciously."

As I read through the New Testament, I never see any Christians talking like this. Paul will sometimes quote the Lord Jesus. But in those cases, he is quoting what the Lord taught when He was on earth (e.g., 1 Cor. 7). He did tell Luke (or someone else who knew Paul told Luke) about several supernatural visions he received where the Lord appeared to him and spoke to him. But those cases were clearly supernatural and they had to do with the direction of Paulís apostolic ministry (e.g., Acts 22:10; 23:11).

In one case, Agabus, a prophet from Jerusalem, quoted the Holy Spirit who had given him a supernatural revelation about a future event (Acts 21:10). Here Agabus was speaking the very words of the Spirit. Agabus was simply a mouthpiece. And the proof of the pudding was in the eating. What Agabus predicted came to pass exactly as the Spirit said it would.

When we read Paulís letters to the churches, however, we discover that he doesnít appeal to the churches by saying, "God told me" thus and so. Rather, he just speaks what he sees Godís will to be in his normal language, using his own vocabulary. And yet . . . all of what he wrote was inspired by the Spirit of God. The same is true for the other apostles who authored letters in the New Testament.

Whatís my point?

It is simply this. I believe that using the "God told me" card is largely a learned habit. Itís not the natural way that we Christians speak. Even if you feel that God has told you something, in most cases, it is profoundly unnecessary to broadcast it to the world so that they know that it was Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, who said it to you. Not only that, but quite frankly, itís usually counterproductive and depletes the power of what is being said.

To my mind, itís much more natural . . . and powerful . . . to simply say what it is that you feel God has told or shown you without "puffing it up" by making God responsible for it.

I have observed that if God has put His word in your mouth or He has given you insight into His thoughts, most people will know that it is inspired when you say it. Thereís no need to "prop it up" by adding the ornament of "God said this to me."

Of course, if you are an Agabus and you are going to quote the Holy Spirit about something you could only know supernaturally, then by all means go for it. But I would add that many things the Holy Spirit shows us are not for us to tell others. They are for our use, but that use is often to help us know how to effectively minister to someone or know how to intelligently pray for them.

But if you feel you must quote the Lord in Agabus style, I would simply caution you with two things. One, please use your own natural language. If youíre an American, that means speak in shirt-sleeve English. No need to dress it up with a dead language from the Elizabethan era ("Thus saith da Laud"). Two, if you are quoting God, be aware that you are responsible for what you say . . . not God! At that moment, you are making yourself His mouthpiece.

If itís God, it will be proven to be so.

If it is not, well . . . itís far better to just say it in your own words without having to add a Divine banner to it, making God responsible.

So it seems to me . . .

For further reading, see Rethinking the Will of God by Frank Viola. The book contains a chapter on hearing the Lord subjectively.

Published 2006

Related: Let Me Pray About It