Recently I read a book for my doctoral studies which confirmed my suspicions about the influence of personality on our spiritual experiences. The book is titled When God Talks back and is written by an anthropologist called Tanya Luhrmann. In her studies, she immersed herself in the life of a Vineyard church in the US for a year, observing and studying their prayer and worship practises. One of the things that came out of her research was a correlation between certain psychological attributes and the way spiritual phenomena is experienced. In other words, those who struggled to hear God’s voice had a different psychological make-up compared to those who didn’t. Mark Virker wrote about this too in his book Dialogue with God. It seems that when it comes to hearing God’s voice, certain personality types have an advantage.
If I was to participate in her experiment, I’m pretty sure which category I would find myself in. I’ve always found sensing the spiritual realm a bit of a challenge. Compared to a number of my friends, I’m the slow one to pick up on spiritual atmospheres. I’m the one who’s more analysing than sensing; more thinking than intuiting (For those of you who are familiar with the Myer’s Briggs personality tests, I’m a high ’T’ and ’S’!) Luhrmann’s research seems to show there’s a good reason for my struggle and it’s connected to the way I was created. Perhaps you can relate! From my travels around different churches across the country and overseas, I know I’m not the only one. A lot of people who struggle to hear God’s voice seem to be wired that way. Some might even say that men more than women fit into this category.
A couple of years ago, God spoke to me about a second branch of ministry that he was calling me to alongside God Conversations. I have to admit I was a bit more reluctant about this one. It involved an area of my life that in many ways was even more personal than equipping people to recognize and respond God’s voice – it was a ministry that involved the deepest part of who I am.
While God Conversations is aimed at all sections of the population – men and women; young and old – my secondary call is targeted only to women. It’s a call to pass on the lessons and anointing that have been experienced in my own life through following God’s call as a woman.
As you might know, my life today looks nothing like what I planned. I grew up in a conservative church where women weren’t even permitted to carry the offering bag in the Sunday services, let alone preach. So when God first spoke to me about my future, I was decidedly confused (you can listen to more of my journey here). It wasn’t just about what I was called to do; it was about who I was called to be. Is a woman permitted to lead a church? What role does she play in the family? What does it mean for a woman to be strong? This branch of my ministry will seek to answer those questions as well as look at some of the challenges 21st C Christian women face that are unique to their gender (just as men have theirs, but we’ll leave that to the men!)
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!