I can hardly stand to read my journal entries from my college years — it stresses me out. I was an extremely zealous Christian, and although I was genuinely seeking to follow Jesus, I got a little sidetracked during my freshman year.
Despite having some good folks around me who tried to steer me the right way, I started fancying myself a prophet of sorts. I quoted God left and right — and unfortunately, the quotes often didn’t come from the Bible. Instead, I basically claimed a direct pipeline of inerrant revelation from God to me, and I did not tolerate people who called those “words from the Lord” into question.
Looking back, I think I was basically making up my mind and then insulating myself from criticism by saying, “God told me.” In doing so, I was also insulating myself from my own insecurity about the decisions I was making.
I don’t make up quotes for the Lord these days, but I do believe God leads me, and here’s how I hear from Him:
- The Word: Sometimes the Scriptures have direct answers for how I should live. For example, there are things I definitely should not do (like look at another woman with lust in my heart), and things I definitely should do (like turn the other cheek when someone hurts me). Even when the Bible isn’t perfectly clear about whether I should do something (like post a provocative status update on Facebook), the Holy Spirit still uses the wisdom of the Word to prick my conscience, restrain me, and lead me to engage with the world in more life-giving ways.
- The Holy Spirit: Because Jesus was crucified and all of my sins were forgiven, my body is now a vessel for His Spirit. But it’s not enough for the Spirit to be in there, I have to actually respond to His Spirit’s leading. And that only happens as I realize how much Jesus loves me, because then, I trust His voice.
- Spirit-filled believers: My body has not been totally redeemed yet, and it will not be until Jesus returns and resurrects it. Until then, my broken body creates a lot of static in my ability to receive from the Word and the Holy Spirit (not to mention the static created by the world and the evil forces in it). That’s why it’s so important for me to have transparent relationships with other believers who are filled with the Spirit. I need those folks around to remind me of the Word and listen to the Holy Spirit for me when I’m too stubborn to hear from Him.
Receiving from the Word, the Spirit, and other Spirit-filled believers is a lot less convenient for my agenda than the crazy-making days of “God told me so.” But it brings more life, more peace, and more stability as I seek to follow Jesus.