Over the next few days I am going to look at those means, that go beyond the plain reading of the Bible, whereby we might hear God.
1. A text that comes to mind
Haddon Robinson complains about those who turn the Bible into a book of magic. For example, a person might open their Bible randomly and imagine that the first verse they set their eyes on is God’s particular word to their situation.
So the joke is told of the young man who was into flipping his Bible open at random passages to see what God’s will for him was. One day the Bible opened Matthew 27:5 (… Then Judas went away and hanged himself). Not happy with that word he flipped his Bible open to another text, his eyes descended on Luke 10:37 (… Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise'). He was even more disturbed and so he flipped the Bible open one more time, it fell at John 13:27 (Jesus said, “What you are about to do, do quickly").
I heard a woman give her testimony, which included talking about God’s direction for her life. She was trying to make a decision between living in the south of the island or in the border counties. She said she received a word from Isaiah who was told to go to the north and speak. She felt that God was telling her to go north. But such reasoning ignores the context of the Scriptures. The verse she looked at was a specific word for Isaiah. If it was taken to be a general principle beyond him then we should all travel north.
The truth is if we are going to take random verses of Scripture, ripped out of context, we might as well turn to the newspaper for such guidance. We might as well say, as we drive along in our car, ‘whatever the next billboard tells me to do, I will do!’ That being said, we should not be too hard on people who tell such stories of guidance. John Stott states, ‘I cannot deny that occasionally God seems to have guided individuals through a specific verse wrenched out of its context. But I must add that he has done it only in condescension to our weakness.’
But there is something that sounds familiar but is entirely different. I believe that sometimes the Lord will bring a text to mind. That text, giving respect to its meaning and context, may be a special encouragement to us or others. For example, Elizabeth Elliot writes, ‘I have never heard any voices or seen any visions from heaven … I have been reminded “out of the blue” on more occasions than I can count, of some word from the Bible which exactly suited my need.’ Similarly Storms explains
I’ve had several incidents where I was praying for someone, often a student of mine, and a single biblical text would suddenly come to mind. I would then quote it in the prayer and try to make application of it to their need. Afterwards, I would look up and find them in tears, asking: “How did you know that I had been meditating on that one verse before I walked in here? I was asking God to confirm his will to me through that verse and suddenly you spoke it into my life.”
The Bible precedent for this is found in John 16:13-15 (… when he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth … the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you). Jim Elliff notes that while these verses were initially given to the Apostles, and had to do with their writing of down of what we know of the New Testament, there is a secondary application of these words to every true believer.
Of course the great thing about texts that pop into our mind is that if their context is properly taken into account any verse that comes to us has something to say to us—whether it came from our own imagining or was especially placed their by the Holy Spirit.