If one of your greatest concerns in hearing God’s voice is getting it wrong, you are not alone. Even the people of Israel had this problem:
You may say to yourselves; ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ (Deuteronomy 18:21)
I think of Zedekiah, King of Judah in the early 6th century BC, who faced the challenge of discerning God’s voice when his city was under threat of attack.* Was God speaking through Jeremiah or was he speaking through the court prophets? Would his city be taken into captivity by the Babylonians or would it be saved? Would God rescue them from their enemies like he had done in Hezekiah’s day or were they destined to be invaded? Which was it? Should they rebel as the court prophets suggested, or should they surrender as Jeremiah said?
Now perhaps Zedekiah took into account some of the tests provided back in the book of Deuteronomy. One of them stated that if the prophecy came to pass, you knew it was God (Deuteronomy 18:14-22).
Sounds fairly foolproof.
The only problem was, if Zedekiah waited to see the outcome of that test it would be too late. Time would tell which prophecy was true, but he may not be alive to prove it.
Another test was that if the prophecy led you to worship the one true God, it could be trusted (Deuteronomy 13:1-3). Though Zedekiah was not known to be an unrighteous king, this test may have been difficult to apply as well, since both Jeremiah and the court prophets were claiming to hear from the one true God.
Perhaps Zedekiah could apply another test by examining the track record of the prophets themselves. True prophets, it seemed, consistently bore good fruit in their lives and ministries – but not always. Sometimes even a good prophet could get it wrong (1 Kings 22:15-28).
In the end Zedekiah chose the more popular message over the one delivered by Jeremiah. Perhaps not surprisingly, since after all, Jeremiah had been intensely negative in his predictions. The ‘prophet of doom’, they called him.
Of course it’s easy now to see which prophet got it right – who was hearing from God and who was speaking “out of his own heart” (Jeremiah 23:16). With his eyes were gouged out from the depths of Nebuchadnezzar’s dungeons in Babylon a few years later, Zedekiah saw it too.
So simple in retrospect isn’t it?
A Solution for Our Fear
It’s reassuring to know that others before us have had the same problem we experience. But at this point, we have a choice. Will we learn how to wisely discern his voice, or will we let fear stop us? Here’s what happens if we let fear get in the way of getting to know God in the way he intended: Watch here:
Or read below:
Probably the most serious concern we have in hearing God’s voice is this: What if I get it wrong? What if it was just a figment of my overactive imagination? Or something I made up?
During Medieval times, church leaders were deeply concerned about preserving biblical truth. If the common people, with their lack of education and their sinful nature, read the Bible for themselves they could make mistakes. This was sacred Scripture containing profound theological truth. What if they got it wrong?
So they chained the Bibles to the pulpits and banned their translation from Latin into the common language. Only authorized priests could read the Scriptures and interpret them. After all the people could misunderstand them if they read them for themselves!
Could we get it wrong if we try to hear God’s voice? Yes, absolutely. But at what cost if we don’t try? Fear of error amongst those church leaders meant that multitudes of people could never get to know God for themselves through the pages of the Bible.
So can we know then if what we’re hearing is from God?
It’s such an important question, but it’s not a new one! The ancients faced exactly the same problem and the good news is that God anticipated we would face it. In response, he has provided us with a number of safeguards to follow so that we can know if a word is from God and therefore minimize our mistakes. We just need to learn them and put them into practice.
Use this webisode as a conversation starter in your small groups:
READ: Deuteronomy 18:21
CONNECT: Do you think it is possible – or even acceptable – to make the claim today that ‘God told me’?
THINK: Compare the experience of those in the medieval times with those who never hear from God for themselves today.
APPLY: Have you ever got it wrong? Looking back can you see what contributed to you getting it wrong?
We’d love to hear your thoughts at the blog!
Gideon was a man who was terrified of getting it wrong. I guess it wasn’t surprising since his very life was at stake. So, in a very famous account, we learn that Gideon asked God for a sign. Did he do the right thing? It is okay to ask God for a sign? Listen to the podcast here for some answers.
With prayers for the humility and wisdom we need to learn from our mistakes and recognise his voice with greater clarity!