Last year, the leader of Boko Haram, the terrorist organization responsible for kidnapping 300 teenagers in Nigeria, made the claim that God told him to do it. The use of those words; “God told me” causes us to recoil in disgust. We know that the voice heard by Abubakar Shekau is not the same one as the God we worship.
It’s situations such as these that leads many church leaders to say you shouldn’t ever use the words; ‘God told me’ and you can’t really blame them. Throughout history, that phrase has been used to justify mass murder, the proliferation of a wide range of damaging beliefs, and abuses of power so heinous it’s not surprising that people throw their hands up in the air and reject any claim to a personal communique with God.
Yet the characters of the Bible seemed to have no problem saying; ‘God told me’. Our most famous stories begin with; “And the word of the Lord came to…” or “God spoke unto…” or in the New Testament, you’re more likely to read; “The Holy Spirit said…” We see that God did nothing without first speaking it (Amos 3:7).
Under the New Covenant we were promised this too. Jesus said we would recognise his voice and be able to follow it (John 10:27). He would send his Spirit who would guide us into truth and show us things to come (John 16:7-15). We would hear his voice through prophecy and dreams and visions (Acts 2:17) and it would be an even ‘more glorious’ than before since his words would be written on our hearts and not delivered solely through the mouths of prophets (2 Corinthians 3:7-11, Jeremiah 31:33-34). So it’s not a case of suggesting God can’t speak to us; it’s a case of learning to discern his voice when he does.
Nowhere in the Bible does God provide a direct answer as to why he speaks in dreams and visions. We know that he speaks this way frequently – over one third of the material in the Old Testament is in the form of a dream and/or vision. We also see him speaking this way in the New Testament (Acts 2:17), but we are never given the reason as to why. So in this post, let me share some of my own thoughts on why God speaks in dreams and visions…
He could have said: “I will restore your hope and raise you up as a strong nation.” But instead he showed Ezekiel this:
A desolate and lonely valley. An array of dry bones bleached white by the sun. A blast of air rises on the horizon. It swirls and blows, sweeping away the dust and exposing the bones. Suddenly there’s movement. A stirring in the wind. The bones begin to shake and tremble. Joints lock and seal, clicking together in rhythmic flow. From the scatter comes order. From the dust comes alignment. Then flesh appears. Muscle and tissue envelope the bones finding curvature and form. Limbs and torsos, toes and fingers take shape along the valley floor. Still the corpses lay, helpless in the void until a final breath surges through them and they rise with grace and fortitude. Standing tall, they unite together in formation, fixed with resolve and strength (Ezekiel 37:1-10).
In 2015 I commenced a Doctor in Ministry focussing on people’s experience in hearing God’s voice (Read about it here: The Wacky, the Frightening and the Spectacular: Researching our Experiences Hearing God’s Voice). Study at this level involves reading everything that’s available about hearing God experiences in the contemporary church.
The literature spans all sorts of viewpoints from the negative to the positive and the pragmatic to the academic. One author believed that claims to hearing God’s voice was elitist and fraught with so many dangers that we shouldn’t even contemplate that God speaks today! Another book discussed how God spoke in the first century church – always a great place to start, even when the relatively few records we have in the Scriptures (and outside them) make it challenging to resolve some of the current debates. A third book takes you inside a congregation’s hearing God experiences from an anthropological and psychological perspective. That one was quite brilliant, but left me with a significant headache as I took some time to process the content!
There are also some fabulous books out there that are a less academic but still thoughtful and well-researched which I will share with you here in this post. These books have some great insights, solid biblical grounding and helpful stories to illustrate how God speaks today. One of the best things about reading about the experiences of others is that you begin to recognise the same voice heard through multiple expressions and contexts. God’s nature and character is consistent, but his creativity is never-ending and his methods often surprising. I encourage you to keep listening to and learning from the journey of others as you seek to know God’s voice in your own life!
This has to be one of the most exciting reports I’ve read in the past month. After a seemingly endless string of gory tales involving beheadings, hangings and stonings across the Middle East, here’s some news you really want to read: ISIS Fighter Who ‘Enjoyed’ Killing Christians Wants to Follow Jesus After Dreaming of Man in White.
This is how God fights evil! Your prayers are truly making a difference.
But here’s the question I asked myself after reading these articles: Why do people so often assume that this experience is only for Muslims? Why the skepticism? In this article from The Christian Post, Nicola Menzie writes:
“In Islam… people don’t expect to have God talk back to them personally, as the Holy Spirit isn’t living in them. They ask God for guidance through dreams; that’s like the one way that Muslims expect to hear from God…”
“Christians have been skeptical of Muslims’ claims that “Jesus dreams” have led them to Christianity.”
Muslims expect to hear God in dreams, but why not Christians? How did we forget that Islam was birthed six centuries after Christianity with versions of many of our biblical stories echoed in the Koran. Dreams and visions make up nearly ⅓ of our Old Testament! It’s the primary way God speaks to the prophets and the way he describes his own communication style (Numbers 12:6). Many of our famous biblical stories began while someone was sleeping. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Gideon, Samuel, David and Solomon all had significant dreams from God that shaped Judeo-Christian history. Most of the prophets too received their messages in visionary form. Even angels are described as appearing mostly as a visionary experience or dream (Eg. Gen. 22:11; Judges 6:11, Zech. 1:9).
I wake up to the sound of an ugly wind howling through the gully and the wild flip-flapping of the tent walls. The neon hands on my watch tell me it’s 5:50am – plenty of time to lie there and relish the cocoon-like warmth of my sleeping bag.
Beneath the covers I wriggle my toes. Happily I can still feel them. The advice given by our expedition leader the night before had worked a charm. We’d created makeshift hot water bottles from our drinking flasks and tucked them into the base of our sleeping bags. Then we’d sprinted on the spot outside our tents to get our body temperature up before ducking under the covers to trap the heat. Eight blissful hours of warm escape from the icy chill outside.
The freezing weather has taken us all by surprise. It was mid-October and usually by this time, so the rangers told us, the only snow left in Kosciusko National Park lay in scattered patches. But this Winter had been different. Unseasonal falls meant our three day expedition across the range was through metre-deep snow with only the occasional cluster of snow grass and granite rock peaking through.
Today we were heading further along the Main Range, with another two days to make it to the pass. The weather had been perfect up until this point. Bright blue skies and sunshine so strong that wearing sunglasses was not an option.