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I recently shared with a friend how I sometimes verbally (out loud, mind you) invite the Lord to join me in the front seat as I’m driving around in my car. I know that as a believer the Holy Spirit indwells me and He is always present. However, this invitation is probably more for my sake because it makes me consciously imagine Him as a passenger, and I talk to Him just as if He were physically sitting beside me.
My friend, who is desirous of an actual spoken word
from the Lord asked me, “But, is that enough?”
As my friend went on to express why she asked that question, I began to see her point. Christians are striving to have a “personal relationship” with the Lord beyond the relationship we’re granted at the point of our salvation. Therefore, we tend to measure the quality of the relationship we have with our Savior against the relationships we have with close family members and friends.
Referring back to my car illustration, my friend described what she finds missing in that personal relationship. As she and her husband drive together in the car, their conversations aren’t one-sided, as we often feel when we pray and talk to the Lord, but the relationship she has with her husband includes two-way conversations. She also shared an illustration of getting lost one day en route to pick up a family member from an unfamiliar airport. After a quick phone call to her husband who instructed her on how to get back on the right road, she wished she could just as easily get directions from the Lord when she feels lost in her decision making. She certainly understands that God communicates with us through Scripture, through other believers, through His creations, and that we may have a sense of a message within our hearts as we read the Bible or pray about a certain matter. But, my friend has read the personal accounts in Scripture where God has given direct instructions to individuals such as Noah, Moses, Joshua, the prophets, etc., and she has a heart's desire to experience that type of verbal relationship with the Lord herself.
So, as I described my invitation for the Lord to join me as I fellowship with Him in spirit, her question “Is that enough?” was to challenge me. Was it enough just to be in His presence? If there was any possibility at all that I could have a two-way conversation with the Lord, or at the least hear Him speak, wouldn’t I want that? Wouldn’t that be better than what I’m experiencing now? I have to hand it to my friend, what she asked is a great question. No wonder I was left somewhat speechless in how to respond.
After thinking her challenge over, I’d be lying to say an actual conversation with the Lord wouldn’t be absolutely glorious and forever memorable. However, I’m not troubled by the unlikelihood of that ever happening.
As I look at the verbal communication between God and the men and women of the Old Testament, most of those encounters were to pass on divine or supernatural assignments for God’s kingdom work, or to relay messages to His chosen people. Other than the relationship God had with Adam and Eve in the garden prior to their downfall, we have no scriptural indication that God’s communication was ever for the purpose of engaging in friendly conversation or fellowship. Even with David, whom we have come to know as the “apple of God’s eye” and whose writings portray a phenomenal relationship between him and his God, the direct messages he received from the Lord were communicated primarily through prophets.
However, when the incarnate Son of God dwelt on this earth, His ministry included engaging in friendly dialogue. After His ministry became public, Jesus spent three years on this earth personally teaching the people, His disciples, and His soon-to-be apostles through face-to-face, real-life conversations and messages. As His earthly ministry neared its end, Jesus explained to the disciples in the upper room that He had asked His Father to provide them the Holy Spirit to serve as comforter/counselor and teacher, and that He would replace Jesus in the active, day-to-day spiritual role in their lives. Once Christ’s work on earth was completed, He would no longer be the earthly God-ordained spokesperson. It would be the Holy Spirit, Who began His earthly role on Pentecost and continues it to this day.
To look again at Jesus’ comments to the disciples, He didn’t say He was praying to His Father to only send a companion or buddy. He was praying His Father would send a comforter/counselor and a teacher. The Holy Spirit’s role was to be active, meaningful and productive within the life of a disciple, not passively indwelling each believer just for the heck of it.
The fact that He has been given the name “spirit” indicates that He is not in a fleshly, bodily form as Christ was, so His communication style would not be as a human’s, but as a spirit’s. In addition to that, He is omnipresent. He can be present everywhere and throughout the entire realm of His creation at the same time. That allows Him to communicate with multitudes of believers throughout the world simultaneously.
As the Scriptures move along chronologically and further away from Jesus’ earthly ministry, the references of one-on-one conversational encounters with the Lord diminish, and future interaction and communication from the Godhead are attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit and angelic messengers. Even though there is biblical evidence that the Lord personally taught and discipled Paul after his conversion, Paul attributes any further instruction he received as being from the Holy Spirit.
During the establishment of the church and law-to-grace transition in Acts, several of the apostles were able to carry on conversations and receive verbal messages from God-sent messengers. (See note below.) However, when I think of the biblical “big guns” like Peter and Paul who finished out their ministry in quite a different style than when they began, changing over from face-to-face encounters with the Messiah to receiving divine messages through the Holy Spirit, (and from what we know through Scripture, those messages had solely to do with ministry and evangelistic efforts), it makes me question if I should have any expectations of a spoken word outside of those parameters.
I enjoy reading Christian fiction, and there are several popular Christian authors who generously sprinkle direct communication from the Lord to the characters within their books. In some cases the messages are spoken to comfort the character, but sometimes the messages are intended as advice. The voice and words the characters hear are within their minds, but the authors write the script as if the voice they hear is so real and so believable they look around wondering, “Who said that?” “Where did that come from?” I’m sure this gives many readers the sense that this type of communication is a common occurrence for Christians. I have to admit, that aside from Scriptural insights and the Lord’s responses to prayers, this is certainly not common to me. I do have thoughts and insights that I attribute to the Holy Spirit, and in my commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:18 I share a rare experience of sensing God speaking to me about His Word. But, I don’t hear a divine voice in my mind directing me in my decision making, nor have I heard this stated from others within my Christian community.
Also, the friend I referred to earlier has heard a number of folks in her church testify, “The Lord told me to do this…” or “The Lord told me to do that…” In some circumstances, what they attribute as a message from the Lord is in direct violation to Scripture; so, obviously, whatever voice they heard, it was certainly not the voice of God. He can never go against His own Word.
However, as people read and hear fellow believers testify about “hearing God,” it’s understandable how we can become confused about how God speaks to us and our expectations. And, when we hear others tell of God speaking to them so clearly and frequently, it tends to make us question the relationship we have with the Lord if we aren’t privy to similar encounters. In other words, it can cause us to ask, “Why isn’t He talking to me?”
Looking back to the apostles who were commissioned to carry the Good News of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the world, any future God-given communication they received after Pentecost that’s been recorded in Scriptures was solely about evangelistic efforts, prophecy or instructional letters to the churches. Nowhere does any communication allude to them receiving a verbal message beyond what was for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.
Before going any further, let me inject this disclaimer. Because the Bible provides us limited insight on the Lord’s communication style with the apostles, no one (and that includes me) can be dogmatic that He would never speak to someone other than for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. God can choose the when, where, why and how He communicates with each and every one of us. Because our gifts and callings are different, as is our own ministry, He will communicate in the style that is most effective, and that will be different for each and every one of us.
We need to keep in mind, too, that the self-centered and self-focused society in which we live can have an effect on our spiritual lives, as well. Many of the words and sentiments in Christian music, books and “feel good” messages from popular Christian speakers focus on OUR joy, OUR happiness, OUR feelings and OUR blessings. This can’t help but have an influence on some believers to become more focused on “self” rather than Christ. We have put aside the John-the-Baptist theology of “He must increase and I must decrease” to an “it’s all about me” theology. We have become wrapped up in ourselves, and we tend to expect God to be focused on our wants and wishes.
Lastly, we have to consider the example the incarnate Jesus set for us regarding His communication with His Father. If there was anyone who walked on this earth who should have heard the spoken voice of God relaying instructions and guidance as He walked city streets and hillsides as He ministered to the lame and brokenhearted, it should have been Jesus. On a number of occasions Jesus refers to doing the will of His Father, so He had to have acquired that information in some way. However, we’re not made privy to how that was done. While it’s possible that His God-in-the-flesh status allowed Him to know the mind of God without any communication or spoken words, we also know Jesus regularly got alone to pray. So, even if He knew what actions His Father needed Him to carry out without any verbal instruction or spoken words, their relationship still necessitated time together. There was obviously the need for Jesus to know God’s mind and heart at times, otherwise, why did He need to spend hours on His knees in a garden talking to His Father about what He would soon endure on the cross?
Considering that Jesus felt the need to get alone in private prayer and fellowship with God, how much more is my need to get alone with God in the same manner. I must confess, however, that my prayer life is an area in which I struggle and deem inadequate. For that reason, I think if I were to occasionally hear the voice of God directing me in my decision making as the need arises, I would be less prone to seek Him out in private to know His heart. After all, the expectation that I would hear His spoken word whenever I needed advice in how to proceed in a matter would certainly override the need to spend time in prayer. While I’d like to think my relationship with the Lord is strong enough to overcome that desire, I think I would be kidding myself to think it wouldn’t affect my relationship with Him.
I know without a doubt that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the triune God, indwells me. That gives me great comfort and confidence in my spiritual standing with the Father. I know that there is no place too high, no place too low, no place too quiet, busy or noisy where His thoughts and wisdom aren’t always available to me, either through His teaching or through the Word. But He will let them be known to me on His terms, not mine. He is not a genie in a bottle that I can conjure up whenever I have a need. To do that is disrespectful of WHO He is, and focusing, instead, on WHAT He can do for ME.
Most importantly, though, it is through the Holy Spirit that I can personally approach the one to whom all creation will one day bow down at the mention of His name. In spite of His royal position of sitting on the right hand of the God of the universe, I can approach Him as a child approaches a daddy, and invite Him to share a ride with me. Knowing that this sinful, wretched soul has an audience with the Lord of lords and King of kings, and that I can fellowship in His presence anytime I take the time for Him, what else do I need? I can say with all honesty, “Nothing. That is enough!”
Note: Acts 5:19; 6:10; 8:26, 29 & 39; 10:3-48; 11:1-18; 11:28; 12:1-10; 12:23; 13:2, 4; 16:6-10; 18:9; 20:22; 21:4; 22:17-21; 23:11; 27:23.