One of my old youth pastors once advised us that if we had a dating relationship that was falling into sin, or if in our Bible reading we felt a conviction to pursue singleness or pursue purity, then we might as well break up the relationship with immediacy – gently immediacy. But he made sure to tell us not to say,
“God told me to break up with you.”
Firstly, you’d just be trying to subjugate the blame on your own decision onto an invisible figurehead. But moreover, something about humanity, (maybe today’s culture in particular), seems to be very wary and speculative of the statement that God actually told you something.
Well, starting with just Moses (the first five books of the Bible), it looks to me that if someone were to try counting the amount of times the phrase “The Lord said” appears, the number would land north of a few hundred. They come in different flavors and varieties, from “The Lord said to Moses” to “The Lord said to Aaron” to … well, no, that’s about it.
I can’t remember where this is, but I recall a story where Aaron and Moses were confronted about their leadership, something like the people wondering why they couldn’t be leaders instead. Upon this confrontation, Aaron and Moses went to God asked, “What should we say to them.” This reaction was precisely why Aaron and Moses were the right leaders – because they listened to God and did what He said. Surely God spoke to His people. If that weren’t the case, then none of the Books of the Prophets would exist.
And this is still the case today. There is no question about Jesus’ definition of the Holy Spirit, who would be given to every God-saved, believing Christian. In John 16:13, Jesus literally said that the Spirit “will tell you of what is yet to come.”
This brings me to the first problem with us saying God told us something: it’s technically not correct. Many of us that have been raised in a church-culture have this knee-jerk reaction to saying, “Yeah! The Trinity, God is God, Jesus is God, the Spirit is God.” However, we swallow this trinitarian concept without being very careful of how we refer to these different God-persons.
So when God tells us something, that is almost guaranteed to be God-as-Holy-Spirit. This brings us to the issue then of distinguishing spirits. As I’ve learned through talking with older Christians, as well as from the writings of Mark Verkler, we have to learn to tell between three different types of spirits: our own, God’s, and demons. Our own thoughts are often easy enough to trace back to the source. The other two both have a foreign nature to them, except whereas the Holy Spirit would be speaking to us from within, demons would be speaking to us more like a whisper in the ear. The key thing here is that the Holy Spirit will never ever say anything or provide any type of thought that goes against Scripture. But learning to distinguish between these voices still takes time and discernment, and it’s a task better suited for people to work through together rather than one man trying to do all by himself.
The bigger problem than simply using the correct theological lingo, though, is easily how often the idea of God talking to us has been abused in recent times. The idea of God prophesying through people today always brings up bad memories we all have of televangelists. I’ve heard the word “channeling” be derogatorily used concerning these people, as if they can “channel” God as easily as we can turn the channel to their TV station.
I have also been told some of the unfortunately humorous examples of these misdeeds that have occurred in recent politics. One was Michele Bachmann, who believed God had told her to run for president…a highly successful endeavor that, quite frankly, failed to win her even the endorsement of her own state. Then there was Anna Pierre, who believed she was endorsed by Christ to become Miami, Florida’s new mayor…only to end up last in the mayoral race. Many other similar stories left unspoken and it’s easy to see how people like this don’t give the idea of God talking us a very good name.
(I credit my friend Don with sharing those stories with me. Both stories are clear examples of people using the tale of a holy revelation in order to pursue efforts that would put them into better earthly positions – not exactly a great reading of the verses like, “The last will be first and the first will be last.” However, I am not by any means here to try to bash those women, or anyone else. Even if we gave them the benefit of the doubt that they did hear something from the Holy Spirit, plenty of things could have happened along the way. There’s a big difference between being told to run for an office and being told that you are going to win. This could have been a purposefully humbling experience for both of them. Also, in a more complicated subject that I won’t linger on for long, Mark Verkler wrote about how the Spirit’s attempts to speak to us could be manipulated or misconstrued by idols that we have in our own hearts: for example, say, a political office that we really desire to have.)
But we cannot let the unfortunate scandals of the few underlie the truth of the many – that Christians are quite frankly channeling Christ within them. And as far as mission trips go, we don’t need to hear anything new from God to know from the Bible that Christians are meant to be living mission-minded lives, spreading the Gospel wherever they get the chance. I like the way David Platt summed it up with the idea that we should always be on mission in the area where we live, but it’s also very beneficial and healthy and eye-opening to also spend approximately 2 weeks of each year on mission elsewhere, be that in a different state, a different country, or a different continent. And I’m sure we’d all suppose that getting a word from God about where to go for those missions would be plenty helpful.
So now, here’s my story.
I spent the summer of 2012 away from home, on mission at the Grand Canyon. While that summer had its fair share of fun and spiritual growth, it was also a work-filled and exhausting summer. For 2013, I was pretty bent on just staying home all summer, working my job and spending time with friends. That was until December 30, 2012.
I was attending a church for the very first time. I had no plans of attending regularly, but I wanted to go just this once because a friend of mine, Jay, was the church’s new senior pastor and I wanted to see his very first sermon for the church. Instead of preaching, though, he proceeded to talk through his general life history, which included many years of pastoring in Stuttgart, Germany. This was ironic for me, as I had gone out with an old friend just a few nights previously, where at dinner she asked me if I had ever considered doing mission work in Germany. I answered, “Not really.” The idea was cool, but it was never really a plan of mine. Maybe someday.
Now, I was getting to hear the stories of a man who did ministry for over twenty years in Germany. Did it inspire me? Did it excite me? Did it fill me with a passion to continue his work overseas? Again, not really. I just sat and listened, enjoying Jay’s life story. Then, about thirty minutes later, long after the subject of Germany had passed,
it struck me.
I know I’ve heard the voice of the Lord before, but never before had it come like such a stroke of lightning. Without a doubt, the command to, ‘Go to Germany, go to Germany, go to Germany,’ rang clearly in my soul, leading me to a fifteen-minute onslaught of relentless tears. God had spoken and I was stunned. I sat in the seat, trying to hide my face from all the other people in the audience as I cried and cried, feeling hard to believe that the Lord of Creation gave me a command this unmistakably clear.
Once the service had ended, I approached Jay, wiping my face clean and speaking with a befuddled demeanor, “I don’t know…but God just told me…Germany…maybe in 2014…I don’t know how…can you help?” Shocked but delighted, Jay insisted, “Why wait? I’ll get you an internship this summer!”
So that sealed the deal. I was going to be in Germany for the summer of 2013, in complete contrast to what I had wanted. In reality, this was a clear answer to prayer. Not for a prayer to go to Germany, or for a prayer for any mission, but an answer to those kinds of crazy prayer that sometimes we regret praying:
“God, ruin my life, ruin the plans I make, ruin me for you.”
Well, I had my mind set one way, so God naturally stepped in to change it.
I told my parents and family pretty immediately that I was dead-set on going overseas for the summer, and thus would be leaving them all for the second summer in a row. They were kind of upset, but at this point they’re used to this. And I was getting excited! All of my years studying German, my vast love for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Goethe, seemed like they were finally going to come in handy! I began to feel like I was going to go to Germany to pick up where Bonhoeffer had left off, to slay the dragon-demons of the Bavarian castles, to free Germany of its captivity to atheism that had enslaved the country since the World Wars!
So the months passed…and nothing really came together. Jay’s plans to get me an internship in Stuttgart completely fell through. He tried some other doors, which all turned out to be closed. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel so sure of these plans anymore.
Next thing I knew, March was halfway over and I was arriving home from my Spring Break mission trip. Once again, I was completely content with the idea of just staying home all summer. In fact, with every door to Germany seemingly closed, I felt certain of it. I told myself, “Maybe my first instinct was correct. I guess God doesn’t want me going to Germany until 2014. That way, I can have more time to prepare and I’ll get to spend the summer here like I wanted.”
With my mind made up, I went ahead and told my job that I would be available to work full-time for the whole summer. I even made plans to move out of my house in May into an apartment with some friends. Plans were being made, life was looking up.
Then, in late March, I got a call from Pastor Jay.
And for Pete’s sake, I really need to stop praying that whole “ruin my life” prayer.
Jay called and told me of a last-minute offer for an internship with a smaller church in a city I’d never heard of called Göttingen. I’d get to live with the pastor’s family and do work for their family and the church all summer.
I almost turned it down.
Why would this come so late, after my life was finally getting figured out? After I had made plans to move out of my house for the first time? After I had given my word to my job? Why???
Because now God got to answers to prayers with one…stone…kill two birds…ah, you get it.
So, clearly, I took the offer, made some quick preparations, and now I am in Germany. And it is so great to be here. It is so clear that God had a very specific purpose for my coming, and it has almost very little to do with the entirety of Germany. Instead, God wanted me to come specifically for this family I’m living with. They needed me, and I needed them. Every single day, I am participating in God’s greater purpose just by living with them and working for them.
The married couple I’m living with speak about eight languages between the two of them, and they have singlehandedly been running their church for seven or so years. They get to work with people from many languages and heritages, and right now we are seeing something really special, as many people are moving to Germany from more hostile countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan and they are coming here with a desire for the Gospel of Christ. Some people think that German faith might be dead, but God is certainly still moving.
And here I am, thankful to do my part as a very small piece to a very great puzzle.