Should We Listen for the Audible Voice of God?
Ryland asks, “Do we need to be listening for God’s voice to speak to us — outside of the Bible? Does he desire to speak to us audibly, like he does to certain people in the Bible?” If so, Pastor John, how do we know if it’s God’s voice we’re hearing?
His Word Shines Forth
I am going to say something positive here, and not just something negative. In fact, most of what I have to say is positive. The first and main thing is to say that God really has spoken, and this word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is not a dead word.
He really speaks today — through the inspired Scriptures. He really does, Ryland, and not just with information, but with himself by his Spirit: “And 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.
Test All Words
I would add this: That word in the Bible is surer than anything you can hear outside the Bible. I base that on 1 Corinthians 14:37, which says, “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, and 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.” This means that outside the Bible, we have fallible, uncertain impressions and messages.
Treasure the Word
Inside the Bible, we have rock-solid, dependable messages. 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 greater riches and the greater authority that we have barely tasted — let alone digested — inside the Bible.
I just love the Bible so much, and I know that after 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.
A Public Approach
Having said all that, I don’t see anything in the Bible that would say that 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. “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:20–21). That is just not a private thing. That is something we do with others as well.
Caution for Our Craving
I will close with this: Beware, Ryland. Beware of craving the sensations of a voice. Jesus warned against those who seek a sign. So, here he is. He is standing there in front of the Pharisees and scribes, speaking, and they say, “Give us a sign” (Matthew 12:38).
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.
I think we are in a situation today that’s 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, while 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,” then we are putting ourselves in the position of those who demanded a sign.
Pray for Sight
Instead, I think our hearts should be saying, “O God, this is the way Paul taught the Ephesians to pray: ‘Give my heart’s eyes 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 — that should 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’” (Ephesians 1:16–23).