Ryland asks, “Do we need to be listening for God’s voice to speak to us outside the Bible? Does he desire to speak to us audibly like he does to certain people in the Bible? And if so, Pastor John, how do we know if it’s God’s voice we're hearing?”
I am going to say something positive here and not just negative. In fact, most of what I have to say is positive and the first and main thing is to say: God really has spoken. And this word is living and active. It is not a dead word. He really speaks today through the inspired Scriptures. He really, really does. He really does. Not just with information, but with himself by his Spirit.
The Word Speaks
“The Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21). That really happens. God stands forth from his inspired word as we read it prayerfully and dependently. And, I would add this: the word in the Bible is more sure than anything you can hear outside the Bible. I base that on 1 Corinthians 14:37–38: “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” That is amazing. Paul is saying you can call yourself a prophet and get messages from God. You can call yourself spiritual and be tuned in to God, but if anything you say doesn’t accord with what I say, you are not recognized, which means that outside the Bible we have fallible, uncertain impressions and messages. Inside the Bible we have rock-solid, dependable messages. So there are treasures and wonders and glories and dimensions of God to be seen in the Bible that we have scarcely seen.
It seems to me to be folly to crave the lesser authority and the lesser riches outside the Bible than the riches and the greater authority that we have barely tasted, let alone digested, inside the Bible.
“Outside the Bible we have fallible, uncertain impressions and messages. Inside the Bible we have rock-solid, dependable messages.”
Now having said that positive thing about the Bible that I love — I just love the Bible so much and I know that after, what, sixty years of reading my Bible I have barely scratched the surface of its glories — I kind of get ticked, frankly, at myself and others who are craving stuff outside the Bible as though there is something better to be had out there. Having said all that, I don’t see anything in the Bible that would say God can’t communicate with us in extraordinary ways outside the Bible. He can. And if he does, we should test it by his infinitely authoritative risen word and we should commend it to those whose lives show a deep, long wisdom in Christ. There is this community dimension to testing all things like Paul said. Don’t despise prophecies. Test all things. Hold fast to what is good. That is just not a private thing. That is something we do with others as well.
Don’t Seek Signs
But I will close with this. Beware of craving the sensations of a voice. Jesus warned against those who seek a sign (Matthew 12:38–39). So here he is. He is standing there in front of the Pharisees and scribes speaking and they say: Give us a sign. What does that mean? It means that the voice of Jesus Christ the Son of God wasn’t adequate. They needed something more. They needed to feel more, touch more, see more. They wanted more. And Jesus wouldn’t give it to them.
“We have the wholeness of the revelation that Jesus meant to communicate, and it is speaking to us every time we read the Bible.”
And I think we are in a situation today not unlike that. We hear more of the Son of God than anybody in Jesus’s day ever heard, because we have all four gospels and those people got it in snatches. Therefore we have the wholeness of the revelation that Jesus meant to communicate, and it is speaking to us every time we read the Bible. And if we turn away from that and say: But I need a sign. I need a voice. I need a tree to fall down in the woods when I am talking. I need something. We are putting ourselves in the position of those who demanded a sign.
Instead, I think our hearts should be: Oh, God, this is the way Paul taught the Ephesians to pray in Ephesians 1:18: Give my heart sight. Open my eyes to your power. Open my eyes to your wisdom. Open my eyes to your inheritance. You say stunning things that should blow me away and give me a sense of your worth beyond anything any message outside should give. So, Father, if I am not seeing, if I am not hearing, have mercy upon me and open my eyes.