Does God Speak to Us through His Spirit?
By Merle Hertzler
There was a time when I was busy doing what I thought was the Lord's work. I remember one church program that I was excited about. I was busy trying to get the program started. But other people at my church disagreed with me. They did not think God was on my side, so they worked behind the scenes to oppose my plans. What did I do? I prayed. Do you know what God told me? That's right, God told me that he was on my side! (It seemed to me that I was hearing a lot from God in those days.) And I read the Bible. God "spoke" to me when I read. What did he say? He said he was on my side! He said that those that opposed me were wrong. They were dead wrong. I was right. God himself told me that I was right. Or so it seemed to me.
Across town there were other people who also talked to God. They also were serious about serving God. They didn't like my plans. So they prayed to God. Guess what happened when they prayed? That's right. God "spoke" to them! He told them that I was wrong! He told them that they were right. He told them to stop me from doing what I wanted to do. Surely they were doing the right thing. God himself was on their side! Or so it seemed to them.
I look back on it all and smile. But it was not funny back then. It was quite frustrating.
I see it over and over again. Why is it that God always seems to be saying exactly what we expect to hear? God-and-country fundamentalists "hear" God in their prayers. He tells them to go to war and kill evil people--at least that's what they tell us they hear. But then Mennonites also "hear" God. He tells them to condemn war and oppose the hawkish Christians. Charismatics "hear" God in their prayers leading them to speak in tongues. Others "hear" God telling them to oppose the charismatic movement. Gay Christians "hear" God telling them to build churches that support alternate lifestyles. Anti-gay churches "hear" God telling them to oppose gay churches. A thought comes to my mind. Perhaps at least some of these people are not really hearing God. Perhaps gullible people misunderstand when they think they hear from God. Do you agree? Good. So tell me. Should you and I include ourselves in that list of people who might possibly be deceived? If others are mistaken when they think they hear from God, maybe we are too.
You may tell me that you have had a wonderful experience of God's Spirit. Perhaps you have felt a sweet inner peace, an unexplainable joy, a deep conviction, or an overwhelming sense of communion with God. Please understand that many have had similar experiences, and I doubt if you think they all were experiencing God. Catholics, Fundamentalists, Charismatics, Anti-Charismatics, gays, anti-gays, hawks, doves, Messianic Jews, Neo-Nazis, Universalists, narrow-minded bigots, witchdoctors, and the robed guys at the airport have all claimed similar experiences. Do you understand how some of these experiences were only the result of the mental processes inside the minds of the believers, and were not the direct hand of God? If you can understand that the experiences felt in a cultic ritual may not be of God, then you should be able to understand why others might think that your experience might not be the direct act of God.
Surely God's Spirit was not simultaneously inspiring both Catholics and Protestants to kill each other in Ireland, was he? Surely you must agree that at least some of those combatants were mistaken.
It is interesting to talk to somebody who hears from God. He is not wrong. God is on his side. To change his mind would mean disobeying God. He has a personal connection with God --a direct line to the throne. If he doesn't know what to do, he can just ask God. And God supposedly gives him an inner feeling that directs his paths. Once he feels God directing in his heart, how can he possibly listen to those who suggest he do otherwise? How could he possibly be wrong? I know what it is like. I used to be there. But things have changed. I no longer look for an inner feeling in my spirit to lead me. I no longer assume that feelings inside are directly caused by God. I now use the process of observation and reason to determine what is best. And I ask a lot of questions. I find that rational thought is better than trusting an inner feeling. And it helps to keep me humble.