Letters Between Friends: David P. and hearing from God.

[This post is a response to David P’s comment on my previous post.  You can read it here.]

Dear David,

Thanks again for taking the time to listen and respond to both of my questions.  I trust that you are earnest in your desire to better understand the Holy Spirit.  Know that my response is done in the same humility you have approached me with, even if we eventually disagree.

Overall I agree with a large part of what you have written.  I probably would have written much the same not six months ago.

However, I feel that your beliefs are too restrictive to the movement of the Holy Spirit and over-limit the ways God can and does speak to His people today.

You suggest that God speaks in two ways. You believe that “God speaks through the expository preaching of Scripture” and that “God speaks through exhortation and encouragement from brothers and sisters in Christ.” Then you suggest that, “The common thread in both of these is that I believe God speaks His Word through people when they are speaking based on His Word.” (I assume from your writing that you mean to suggest God only speaks through these two channels.  If you have other means in mind, please describe these as well. Part of my response is based off of this assumption.)

In my reading of the Bible, a record of God’s interactions with many people, I see God speaking to people through a wide variety of ways.  God has spoken through angels, visions, prophets, a burning bush, a donkey, dreams, directly to people, by writing on a wall, etc.  In a very broad look at Christian history, it appears that God has continued to speak to His people in a variety of ways.  I can see no indication from the scriptures that communications would cease after a certain point or would become more limited.

Therefore, while I am sure God uses them, I see no reason to limit God’s speaking to what is preached by one member of the Body of Christ, nor through words of encouragement from other Christians.

In fact, it appears that over time God has communicated in more way than less.  At the day of Pentecost, Moses’ desire and a prophecy of Joel were fulfilled.  Are we to think that now after the Spirit of God has been poured out on His people, enabling more people to prophesy, have dreams and vision, that God will be communicating less?   The days of the priesthood and a select few prophets and seer speaking for God appear to be over.  The day of Pentecost radically de-centralized who God spoke through and  more people will be more involved in communicating both with and for God.

Because humans are sinful and people do abuse this reality by claiming to speak for God when they do not (out of malice for selfish gain, or out of ignorance and not stewarding their gift) the ability to discern what is from God and what is from man is needed now more than ever.

This is really where we come into a very sharp disagreement.  You would suggest that the scriptures can be used to “filter” what is from God and what is from man.  While I believe this scriptures can be used in this fashion sometimes I truly believe this has not always been the case in history and is not always the case.

I believe what people need in order to be able to discern what is from God and what is from man is a relationship with the Holy Spirit. You yourself bring up John 16:13 which says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” It appears (you may correct me on this) that you basically believe the Holy Spirit guides us to the truth in the Bible.  While this is true, I would suggest the truth here is about far more than just what is written in what we now know as Holy Scriptures. I believe someone who has a relationship with the Holy Spirit will be guided to the truth of what others say to us, regardless of if they are claiming to speak for God or having a casual conversation with us.  (This is why, even in my own prophetic prayer sessions, I felt that some of the certain things, even though they might fit my life, simply were not for me.  Yet at the same time other statements, which yes could arguably be made to apply to the lives of others, were clearly for me.)

Relying on the Bible as a filter, instead of the Holy Spirit, is problematic. From the Bible it appears the vast majority of the times when God speaks to His people there is no scriptural precedent to judge it by.  Indeed many of God’s interactions with His people happened before there was such a thing as the Bible.  Abram did not have a Bible to “check” God’s words to him about following God, though he knew not where, on his way to become Abraham.  Moses did not have a Bible to “check” God’s words to Him out of the burning bush.  Joseph did not have a Bible to “check” his interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh, or Pharaoh’s servants. Even after what we have come to know as the Old Testament was written, it was not always used, nor capable of checking what the Lord was saying. Agabus prophesied through the Holy Spirit that there was going to be a famine in the land and the apostles made major decisions based on this prophesy.  Neither Agabus, nor the apostles, had a scripture to “check” this prophecy.  I would assume they trusted its veracity because of the leading of the Holy Spirit. When Philip received a word from an angel to go down a road, (that led to the conversion of the eunuch) there was no Old Testament verse to clearly verify that he should trust that angel.

As for the case of the Bereans, Paul is Silas were explaining how Jesus was a fulfillment of prophesies made in the Old Testament.  This occurred many times in Acts and was a very common situation. They commended the Bereans for searching the scriptures themselves to see if this was true. This passage has nothing to do with the Bereans receiving a new word from God (through Paul and Silas) that they then filtered through the Old Testament to check its veracity.  This passage has everything to do with an old word given to the people of Israel that the Bereans came to realize had been fulfilled through the report of Paul and Silas even though they (the Bereans) were themselves not there to witness it. (There is a huge difference.)

In short: I think God speaks to us in many ways.  I think what we need to discern what is from God and what is a relationship with the Holy Spirit and a sensitivity to Her leading.

Some additional comments…

You write, “Given all that, you might (correctly) infer that I have a hard time getting entirely behind prayer sessions where the Holy Spirit is leading a girl to interpret her vision of Cheerios and orange juice as having something to say about who you are, about your life and about your future.”

First, this woman in particular is very gifted and has spoken many true things over me and even something she gave one week was fulfilled in the next, so I am inclined to pay attention to her even if it sounds a bit “out there.”  Even in the moment she suggested she did not know what it all meant. It was not like she said, “Yes orange juice made me think of OJ and this is God calling you to kill someone. THIS IS A WORD FROM THE LORD.”

Second, when we read the Bible we often forget that many of the visions, sights, parables, and messages given employed very mundane and common images from the day.  We are so far removed from these images,clay, goblets, cups, vines, various animals, swords, and so forth, that they sound far more mysterious, mystical and sacred, than they actually were.  When Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants they involved mundane things such as vines and baskets of breads.  These images, laden with meaning, were probably just as familiar to them as a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice would be to a  modern Western Christian or a bowl of rice would be to an Asian Christian.

You write, “There are two things that I have learned from my experience of interacting with Pentecostals and Charismatics: 1. The older and wiser they are, the more grounded their “words from the Spirit” are in actual Scripture, and the less likely they are to say something that isn’t an application thereof. 2. The older and wiser they are, the more careful they are about saying “this is the Word of the Lord” and the more often they characterize their messages with ‘I have a feeling I should share this’ or ‘I believe God wants me to say this to you.'”

Pihop is very sensible about the whole situation.  If I recall correctly from both of the first audio recordings alone you can hear that they pray and suggest not everything that is spoken will be from God and they actively pray if they made mistakes these words would “fall flat” and encourage me to discern what is from God.  Additionally a number of times they have introduced the Well ministry suggesting these prophetic words should just be confirmation of prophesy we had already received.  They also encourage us to, even if a prophecy does not make sense, to shelve it if we are unsure if it is for us, or for right now.  Sometimes, they suggest, these prophecies are fulfilled later.

You write, “You see, I believe that when God communicates, He does so effectively. God makes Himself understood when He wants to. And at the very least, He makes it absolutely clear that He is doing the talking. This happens throughout the story of the revelation of Scripture. Even when the Jews didn’t understand a certain prophecy from God, they wrote it down and kept it around because they sure as heck did understand that it was a prophecy from God. So I look at that and compare it to the sort of “shotgun prophecy” that seems to go on in so many places, i.e. ‘I’m going to say whatever is coming to my mind now and hope some of it is being said by the Lord’ and I have a hard time putting the two together in the same revelatory basket, so to speak.”

I see a disconnect here.  If the Jews did not understand a certain prophecy, but knew it was from God, and wrote it down for later, how is this different from someone receiving a contemporary prophecy, not understanding it, but knowing (through the Holy Spirit) that it was from God and saving it for later?  You seem to have a low view of people who claim to be prophets.  While there certainly are charlatans out there, and maybe people who are exploring if they have this gift from the Spirit when they do not, I do think there are legitimate prophets that speak for God and we should find them and listen to them.

You write, “This difficulty is compounded when that type of prophecy is mixed in with other encouragements that are clearly based on Scripture and attempt to apply it to your life.”

On one hand I get it and sometimes this felt like people “preaching” at you when they are “praying” for you. On the other hand…Why do you find this difficult?  Many times in scriptures many in the New Testament invoke the writings of the Old Testament in a specific situation and apply it to the people they are speaking to.

You write, “It is even further compounded when even these Scripture-based attempts are made ‘in the blind’ (i.e. without knowledge of who you are and what your life is like), since they become so watered-down and generic that, with all due respect, they almost sound like Christian horoscopes (and I mean no offense here to the sincerity or belief of those who are doing it, I’m just expressing how it sounds to me). Kevin, we come from VERY different backgrounds with VERY different experiences, and when I listened to the prayers a second time and tried to think how I would feel if they were being prayed over me, I felt like I could identify with almost everything they were saying! I’m not saying that what they said wasn’t a powerful experience for you and that it didn’t jive with what you were thinking, feeling, or living. But I am saying that were I in that state of mind, nearly everything they said would have jived with my life and my experience and even things that are going on right now.”

The use of very generic terms and prophecies that could “fit” the lives of many people is a concern of mine that I share within the post.  I think even to the Southpark episode where they mock John Edwards and other “psychics” for doing the same thing.  However, in the room I was convicted some of the words were clearly for me by the Spirit.  While others could “make” such exhortations fit their lives, these were clearly for me.  Also, some of these generic exhortations that I could “make” fit my life, I felt were clearly not for me and I did not take them in.  It’s kind of odd, but I really trust how skeptical I have been my entire life of this stuff, and still am in some ways, as a measure against any human desire to just hear something good and make it work for their life.

You write, “If these words, generic and non-specific as they may be, can have this effect, think of the much deeper effect that words of encouragement, exhortation, confrontation, or communion, based on Scripture and following the understanding and leading of the Holy Spirit, could have in the mouths of a family of faith who sees you regularly, has fellowship with you, and knows you deeply as a person.”

Where is this mythical congregation that actually does these things and how do I get there?  I would gladly be part of it, if it existed.  To be honest, I think I have found such a place in a nebulous community at Pihop and Livebones, a student group on campus, that seem to be far more legitimate and authentic expressions of the Body of Christ, than many churches and small groups I have been a part of.

Finally, two answer your two questions:
1. Given all of the above, don’t you feel you could be underrating the Holy Spirit’s role by encapsulating its voice in the context of a “blind” prayer session where everyone’s voice (or at least some of what they are equipped to share) is assumed to have the same Divine authority, whether what they say is rooted in Scripture or whether they even refer to it? How do you reconcile the revelatory nature of the Holy Spirit’s work in and through the reading/preaching/understanding of Scripture and the revelatory nature that is being claimed in this context?

I would not suggest the Holy Spirit is limited to revealing truth in any way shape or form.  She can reveal things through scripture and inspire our reading and understanding of the scriptures.  She can reveal things through other Christians.  She can reveal things in a more “live and direct” fashion.  As I have written, I oddly enough, would suggest you are underrating the Holy Spirit’s role by limiting Her to scripture.
2. If it is the Holy Spirit communicating, how come we only see the encouragement and communion aspects here? He certainly knows what you struggle with (not just talking about what you’ve shared, but all your struggles), so it would seem to me that there should also be words of confrontation and loving calls to accountability. Perhaps these have in fact happened and you just haven’t shared them, and if that’s the case, then consider this point. However I have been in several similar sessions such as this, and never once did someone come to me (even in private afterwards) and tell me the Holy Spirit wanted me to leave behind my sin of _______ and that the blood of Christ was more than sufficient to make me innocent of that sin, too. This omission of one of the major roles the Holy Spirit plays in our lives (sanctification and calling to accountability), at the very least, gives me pause. Doesn’t it puzzle you as well?

You are correct that the Holy Spirit does convict and prophetic words can and should include calls to repentance.  A friend of mine recently brought this up as well and I am sure he would describe much of what happened in my sessions as words of encouragement and not prophetic words.  I am sure some mix of both actually happened. People do not like to be confronted or disciplined in general and in my (Western) context, with its highly individualistic and relativistic bent, this is especially true.  If you doubt this, try disciplining someone in the church and see how well that goes. However, for me personally, I have spent years coming to a place of humility where I will candidly, openly, and honestly admit my mistakes, confess my sins and seek to improve. I have written in the school newspaper about my sexual addiction.  To be frank, I have not seen my commitment to authenticity, honesty and my desire to be held accountable for my behaviors in many other Christians. Why then, would the Holy Spirit need to convict me through a prophet?  If I had some hidden sin that I was holding onto, a sin I was not confessing, or was just in open sin, then I think She might have words for me in this regard.

=================
You write, “An aside (abottom?) that I almost didn’t include because I don’t want to take away from the main discussion, but which we can discuss later/elsewhere (FB maybe): I’ve noticed your continued use of the female pronoun for the Holy Spirit and that I think I understand why you’re doing it, since you yourself said you like to stir things up and shock people out of their previous modes of thought. However, if I do understand why you’re doing it, then to be consistent you’ll be OK with my use of “Him” and “His” throughout, since I believe you think that what’s important is an understanding of the personhood of the Holy Spirit, and I subscribe to that understanding. As far as my studies lead me to understand, in the NT there are references to the Spirit in both a neutral form [Romans 8 pneuma references for example] and in a masculine form [several references in the Gospel of John by Jesus Himself]. Since I subscribe to the practice of using whatever form is prevalent in the Scriptures to address God, I stick with the neutral or masculine when speaking of the Spirit, with the understanding that both male and female are created to reflect the image of God and than neither can reflect Him completely on their own, and that the use of a pronoun to address God is primarily concerned with acknowledging His personhood. I don’t intend to paint God with a male face by calling Him “Him”, yet I don’t ignore the language He himself used when communicating Scripture.”

Yeah I am totally fine with your use of Him/His.  I have explained my reasons for calling the Holy Spirit She elsewhere, but I know you were not using masculine pronouns in any antagonistic way.

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About Speakfaithfully

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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