A good friend of mine regularly talks about what the universe is telling her. She sees cues in her circumstances and interactions that work together to point her in the right direction. I’ve often said that I could substitute the word ‘God’ with the word ‘universe’ and we would sound the same! We both acknowledge that there are forces in the unseen realm that work together to guide us along the right path.
My friend forms a growing category of people today who call themselves spiritual, but not religious. While those in the modern world appear to be ‘losing their religion’, statistics show that they are not losing their spirituality.1 Contemporary spirituality is an eclectic mix of beliefs that don’t rely on any fixed text as their source. The focus is on experience that is practiced and owned personally rather than collectively. The ‘spiritual’ are often intuitive, philosophical, seekers of wisdom and strive to make a difference in the world. Sometimes they believe in God, but they’re more likely to talk about the universe.2
History tells us that people have always been spiritual. In ancient times, nearly everyone held a belief in the power of spiritual forces. Back then, those forces took on unique personas and were usually associated with natural phenomena. So for example, there was Zeus – the Greek god of the storm, Ra – the Egyptian god of the sun, and Baal and Asherah – the Mesopotamian gods of fertility. People looked to natural and circumstantial signs in the ‘universe’ to understand the workings of the gods in their lives. Today of course, those identities are no longer revered, but we still seek to read and interpret the signs the universe may be sending us.
Back in the first century, it wasn’t normal for men and women to be friends. They didn’t meet for coffee in morning tea breaks or discuss current affairs over the water-cooler. They didn’t sit next to each other in the synagogues and swap ideas about their theology. They certainly didn’t discuss their spiritual lives by the village well.
That’s why the actions and behaviours of Jesus with the Samaritan woman were so radical. Even his disciples couldn’t fathom his socialising with a woman, let alone one with such a scandalous reputation (John 4:27). Somehow Jesus managed to interact with the opposite sex in a healthy way, even being alone with them in a public setting.
Jesus shows us that it is possible to engage meaningfully with our female and male counterparts. In the radically new equality of the kingdom he inaugurated, it’s not surprising. It’s when men and women relate together that they are seen to fully represent the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28).
The question is how.
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It can be difficult to recognise the sound of God’s voice. How do we know it’s him? How do we discern God’s voice among the many we hear?
The answer is simple: get to know Jesus.
When we know someone’s character and personality, we are in a better position to recognise their voice. One of the reasons we struggle to recognise the sound of God’s voice is because we don’t always have a clear picture of what he is like. We see this problem all the way through biblical history. The Israelites constantly confused the nature of God with other gods in the ancient Near East pantheon. Back then people believed in many gods, but these gods were more like super-sized humans. They were capricious, ruthless and moody, dishing out punishment whenever their demands weren’t met. They required sacrifices for obeisance and fought with one another for control.
So in the Old Testament particularly, we see God’s constant calls to his people to understand who he was (eg. Isaiah 45:5-6, Psalm 115:5-6). He wasn’t like the other gods who were satisfied with sacrifices without a subsequent change in behaviour (Psalm 50:7-10). He wasn’t bound by geography and his presence was assured of far beyond the walls of a temple building. His nature was loving and merciful and he desired true relationship rather than a set of fear-driven rituals. Unfortunately the Israelites rarely understood him.
What does prophecy look like in the contemporary church? How do we handle the fact that we can get it wrong when we try to hear from God? And what could God possibly be saying to someone when he gives her a vision of a yellow peacock? In this episode of God Conversations with Tania Harris, I’m excited to be talking to Professor Mark Cartledge, a British scholar who pioneered in the field of practical theology by looking at how contemporary prophecy functions in the Church of England.
What I love about Mark is not only is he a very smart man, but he is also a practitioner who has been involved in local church life for over 25 years. He’s a worship leader and preacher as well as a theologian and a lecturer. It’s a winning combination!
In this podcast we talk about:
- How God knows our passwords – God speaks through the preached Scriptures but he also speaks specifically into the details of our lives.
- What Mark discovered in his pioneering research and how common it was for followers of Jesus to just “know things” they wouldn’t ordinarily know
- The need for humility in our God Conversations. How there should be a general reticence towards using the words: “God said” and more commonly preferring the words; “I believe the Lord is saying this.”
I don’t know what your social media feed looks like, but mine is crowded with a confusing stream of conversations about Trump’s rise to the White House. The Christian church it seems, is deeply divided, particularly inside the US. For the 80 or so percent of white American evangelicals who voted for him, Trump is an answer to prayer and the fulfilment of God’s plan to address the immorality in the USA.1 At the other end of the spectrum, he’s seen as a misogynistic and unethical bigot; his win a shame on American Christians who care more about preserving their privilege than protecting the marginalized.2
The majority of these statements are presented as mere opinion, so we know there’s plenty of room for them to be flawed. But among them, there’s also a number of ministries who claim to be hearing God’s voice directly on the matter3: So, Trump is “God’s anointed man to turn America around”4 and, Trump is “like the Cyrus of old who will be used as God’s instrument to lead the nation back to him.”5 These voices make confident appeals to divine origin. But what do we make of them? How do we know if what they’re saying is – or isn’t – from God?