Religious pluralism – the notion that all religions are equally correct - is speaking, and where it speaks, there is confusion and uncertainty! We therefore ask, “How do I know I am hearing from the Spirit, that I am going in the right direction?”
There are many different answers. The popular writer, Brennan Manning, offers one in The Signature of Jesus:
- “The first step in faith is to stop thinking about God in prayer…” “Contemplative spirituality tends to emphasize the need for a change in consciousness…we must come to see reality differently.” “Choosing a single, sacred word…repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often.” “Enter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard.” (Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing, 83).
Well, if you want to hear God’s “Voice of Love,” you need to learn Manning’s methodologies – all entirely unbiblical:
- “Stop thinking about God in prayer,
- Change in consciousness,
- Repetition of one word in order to bring this change in consciousness about,
- Practice silence to hear”
In contrast to Manning’s program, the Bible gives ample testimony that we don’t need to learn techniques to amplify or actualize God’s presence. He is omnipotent! He can even speak through donkeys and evil prophets (Numbers 22:30-31). Instead, it is our lack of repentance that prevents us from hearing God. This is what the Spirit stated to the Church at Laodicea:
- As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev. 3:19-20)
The Spirit didn’t criticize this church because they hadn’t learned certain mystical techniques for hearing God. Instead, it was a matter of their failure to “be zealous and repent!” Our God cares about righteousness, truth, and faith, not about learning generic methods to change our brain waves.
Jesus insisted that a relationship with God and hearing His voice had nothing to do with a mindless repetition of the same word:
- And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7)
How then do we hear the voice of God and discern His will? The primary source of His voice is His Word! He therefore gave the church pastors and teachers to disseminate this Word for the edification of the church:
- So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
It is through this knowledge that we attain spiritual maturity and freedom from the suffocating demonic blindness:
- Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:25-26)
God grants us repentance through Gospel preaching to produce a “knowledge of the truth” – the voice we should pursue - and this enables us to “escape from the trap of the devil.” There is no mention here or in any verses about the need to learn certain techniques to hear the voice of the Spirit.
In fact, Scripture explicitly tells us that we hear His voice when we read Scripture. Each of the seven letters to the churches (Revelation 2, 3) concludes:
- Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
By reading and meditating on Scripture, we hear what the Spirit has to tell us. Scripture is His Word to us:
· [Peter] said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas. (Acts 1:16 quoting Psalms)
Even the very personal Book of Psalms is the Word of the Spirit. Therefore, when we read the Hebrew Scriptures, we are hearing the voice of God. Jesus affirmed the same thing – that when David spoke (Psalm 110), he spoke “in the Spirit!” According to the Book of Nehemiah, when the Prophets of Israel spoke, they were speaking “by your Spirit” (Neh. 9:30). The Spirit and the Word are so closely associated that the Word is called the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17)!
However, when we read Scripture, we naturally reject it, as the Hebrews had done (2 Cor. 3:14-18). This reading must also, therefore, be combined with a repentant heart:
· So, as the Holy Spirit says [quoting Psalm 95]: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness.” (Hebrews 3:7-8)
We have erected a barrier against hearing what the Spirit says. We do not hear the Spirit because we do not want to hear Him. It has nothing to do with a failure to learn certain mystical techniques but a rejection of His Word (1 Cor. 2:14) – the voice of the Spirit. Consequently, blessedness is a matter of reading the Word of the Spirit with a willing heart:
- Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. (Psalm 119:1-2)
Consequently, King David prayed that he would be granted a “willing spirit” (Psalm 51:12), not mystical practices.
In contrast, according to Manning, blessedness comes from the repetition of a single word which then changes our mental state and brings us into the silence of God. However, can we be certain that this changed mental state opens us to the Spirit? Roger Oakland cites the “Christian” mystic, Richard Foster, who acknowledges the inherent dangers:
- Richard Foster claims that practitioners must use caution. He admits that in contemplative prayer “we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm” and that sometimes it is not the realm of God even though it is “supernatural.” He admits there are spiritual beings and that a prayer of protection should be said beforehand – something to the effect of “All dark and evil spirits must now leave.” (Faith Undone, 99)
Perhaps Foster hasn’t heard from the Spirit at all, and perhaps he needs to re-examine his disciplines and where they are leading him.
I hope that reading Scripture, trusting that the Spirit will speak to us through it, doesn’t seem overly dry. On occasion, it has for me. I wanted more. However, years ago, in the midst of decades of intense depression, there were numerous occasions when God spoke profoundly to me through Scripture. These were occasions when I was at my lowest, unable to read even a verse. Suddenly, a phrase would jump out at me like, “And God heard him!” It was as if an explosion of light went off in my head. “He heard me, He heard me!” It was so powerful that all my depression was driven away. I looked around, but it just wasn’t there! I was assured that God had heard me, and nothing else mattered.
This hasn’t happened to me for about 25 years. Yes, God still does speak to me through Scripture, but not with such profundity. I guess He expects me to stand on my own feet now.