I do not often use the phrase, “God told me.” In fact, I have been very hesitant over the years of my journey with Jesus to use those words at all. I have seen those words abused, spoken as a way to justify one’s own decisions or as a way to try to influence someone else to do something.
Besides that, I am firmly convinced that the most authoritative message from God to us today is the Bible. It is His Word. That’s what we need to pay most attention to. For the believer in Jesus, everything—thoughts, decisions, circumstances, desires … everything—is to be evaluated and guided in light of the Bible. My thoughts and feelings are fickle and unreliable; God’s Word is sure.
That being said, there are occasions when God does speak to me. Those occasions are not frequent, but they are very impactful. They are messages personalized to my situation at that moment. God might communicate them to me in different ways: through His Word, through people, and, sometimes, through my own thoughts. However, fear of mistaking my own thoughts for God’s words has made me extremely wary of interpreting some thought as God speaking to me.
So how do I know when it is God speaking to me internally, that is, through a thought that arises in my mind? That is a difficult question. Here are some answers that I consider important: First, it does not contradict what God has clearly said in the Bible. Second, it is usually a thought which is out of character from how I usually think. It gets my attention because it is “alien” in some way. Third, I do not immediately come to the conclusion that God is behind that thought. I hold it loosely while I think about it and look at it from various angles. Sometimes I will share it with my godly wife to see what she thinks. I wait before I conclude that God said something to me.
I have learned as well that even when it is indeed God speaking to me, I may not understand at first what He is saying. So, again, waiting and reflecting are important to me in trying to discern what God is doing.
Having said all that, may I now share with you one of those experiences, one of the few times when God spoke to me subjectively, when He gave me a message through a thought which just spontaneously surfaced in my mind?
A number of years ago I went for a leisurely walk on a Monday afternoon. I was going through a very difficult time then, one filled with many heavy pressures. I was experiencing tremendous internal struggle. Well, I had not gone 10 feet down the sidewalk from my driveway when a word popped into my mind. Just one, solitary word: “release.”
That immediately caught my attention because it was so unusual. In fact, I wondered if that might be a word from the Lord. And, it sounded initially like a very welcome word, like God was saying He was going to change my circumstances in a way that would relieve me of what was weighing so heavily upon me. However, having already learned (the hard way) that even when God does speak I may not understand what He is saying, I was cautious. I waited before I came to conclusions. I did not dismiss that experience, however, as some random, meaningless event. I waited, watched, and thought. I would like to say I prayed—hopefully I did—but I don’t specifically remember that.
Well, my difficult circumstances did not change. However, God used some divinely-timed conversations with other believers to help me think differently about “release.” It became clearer over time that rather than changing my situation, God was beginning to release me from some of the ways I thought, felt, and responded to that situation. “Release” was not external, the change of my circumstances, but internal, the change of my mind and heart. I began to see that God was releasing me from that nasty compulsion of trying to be in control of everything, from feeling like I had to make things work, to make things come out right … and, of course, “work” and “right” meant how I thought they should come out.
Put another way, God began to release me into the freedom of His gracious sovereignty. He, alone, is in control. I do have responsibilities, which I do need to discharge as faithfully and effectively as I can, but I am NOT in control.
Now, please do not think I am fully released from all those sinful and broken ways of functioning. I wish! No, that will not happen until I see Jesus. But God is working, graciously and powerfully. Every so often I can see a new facet of His work of release in my life. And I am so grateful.
So now, during my personal prayer times, I will often say, “Thank you, Father, for speaking the word ‘release’ into my heart. Please continue to release me through the powerful work of your Son, Jesus.”
Would you pray that for me, too? Thank you!