God said, sort of

God said, sort of

God said, sort of

Terry's a new believer.

So he asks the kind of questions some of our other mates
would like to, but don't. You know the problem: either they are pretending to
be agnostics and don't want to let on that something (or Someone) has been
rearranging their outlook, or they are long-term saints who ought to have all
the answers by now.

Terry's just eager to learn.

'Okay then,' he began. 'All this business of "God
told me". It's just a phrase, innit? So how d'you know?'

Somebody-who-shall-remain-nameless muttered something about
opening the Bible at random. To which Big Carl asked if it was like tossing a
coin and calling 'heads'. And Jock and Moira, our friendly neighbourhood
Israel enthusiasts began musing aloud about the Urim and Thummim. Honestly, some
people!

We agreed that, mostly, 'God told me' is a convenient
blanket phrase for all kinds of guidance. Yes, He does literally speak
sometimes. Mostly, though...

'Mostly what?' demanded Terry.

'Through the Bible?' Big Carl hazarded. And for the next
couple of hours the discussion was fast and furious, and likely to continue in
the woolshed and local store during the next few days. So, let's summarise a
few highlights, leaving out most of the he/she said bits and the calls for more
coffee that punctuate our Thursdays.

In the Bible you'll find God's principles. His past
dealings. His blueprint for the future. But there's a whole quantum leapfrog
between what scripture teaches and a verse or phrase that's gift-wrapped and
floodlit by the Lord especially for you.

If God gives you that, you'll know. It's life-changing.
It's not principles, it's personal. You don't find it; it finds you.

But, hey! Think twice before getting interested in the
business of guidance.

Jesus told stories where the point was 'count the cost'.
If you're planning to attack a country believed to be developing
unconventional weapons, build a super-duper Mediterranean-style home, or sue
some hapless tobacco company -– Jesus said to do your sums first.

Count the cost.

In other words -– to understand guidance, first of all
understand that guidance goes hand-in-hand with a nasty little word: obedience.
If God says jump -– then don't get your jollies by telling everyone that you've
been told to jump. Just jump.

And as the army drill instructors tell us -– you ask 'How
high, sir?' on the way up.

You see, this is a serious business we're in. No, not 'serious'
as in the sense of po-faced and miserable. 'Serious' in the sense of real,
special, important. So you want God to guide you? Get ready to obey before
you get told the details. It's blank cheque time, kiddies.

So, let's go from the sublime to the ridiculous. From Bible
to feelings.

Feelings?

Before you huff, puff and protest, understand the English
language is somewhat blunderbuss. 'Feelings' can mean emotions or something
far deeper. We don't mean emotions. Emotions are cute or yukky or whatever.
But superficial. Whereas it is possible to know, deep down, that
something should be done -– even when your emotions are saying the opposite. As
John said in one of his epistles: 'By this we know that we know'.

It's like the difference between fun and joy. Fun is
inversely proportional to indigestion. Joy can't be taken away from you, said
Jesus.

At this point, someone interrupted with 'But how d'you
know it's God?'

Practice.

Experiment. Obey and see what happens. 'My sheep hear my
voice -– they won't follow strangers', Jesus told us. Scary? What in heaven's
name is the purpose in being a Christian? 'To have my sins forgiven, to go to
heaven instead of hell, and clap in time to the choruses.' There has to be
more. Forget being scared. Learn to make mistrakes, then learn to correct them.
There are jobs to be done, attitudes to change in ourselves. This is an
apprenticeship, and the work schedule has been planned to keep us on our toes.

There's another aspect to guidance. Grit your teeth...

Dreams and visions.

Let's start by being negative with this one. Dreams and
visions are bog-standard normal, they are not gimmicks to impress your
less-spiritual friends. Let's give you a f'rinstance.

We were being introduced to a believer who was a total
stranger to us. She briefly shook hands with Eileen (George writing this bit),
then turned to me, clasped my hand warmly in hers and said softly: 'George, I
hear that you are an artist.' (Only vaguely true; I sketch a little when the
mood takes me.) 'And I would like for you to paint my visions. Eileen, you don't
mind if I borrow your husband, do you?'

The sound of galloping hooves was me beating a hasty retreat.

Like we said, dreams and visions are normal. They're also
rather personal, so the genuine sort don't get used as conversation openers.

To be technical, visions are strictly day-time waking dreams.
Scripturally they are almost interchangeable. And scripturally there is an
amazing number of accounts of God's guidance in that form. Think of Jacob,
Joseph, Daniel and others.

And in the New Testament?

The wise men. Joseph taking Jesus and his mother to and from
Egypt. Peter. Paul. Cornelius. Not forgetting Peter's comments on the day of
Pentecost about dreams, visions and prophecy in the last days -– like now.

And before you say 'Oh, my dreams are just stupid', have
a serious think. First: in scripture, dreams often effected major changes in
people's lives. Second: dreams are usually symbols, not documentaries, hence
the slightly bizarre elements in them. Third: unpleasant dreams can simply be
attempts to get our attention. (Not to be confused with nightmares; you deal
with those things in the name of Jesus.)

Attracting our attention can be tricky. For one thing,
believers can be stubbornly rationalistic, despite Christianity being an
essentially supernatural system. Maybe it's our defence mechanism against God,
a.k.a. Original Sin.

For another thing, civilisation doesn't encourage us to
take note of dreams. We are awakened by the abrupt interruption of the clock
radio that inflicts the insistent tones of the news reader onto our befuddled
minds, effectively erasing whatever full-colour wide-screen imagery we were
watching.

Ignore 'dream books' as sold in bookshops. They're just
junk. You are the best interpreter. And if you really don't 'get it', ask
God for a replay. He's patient and has all the time in the world.

'Okay,' said Big Carl, 'the cult I used to belong to
specialised in telling me what God wanted me to do. But - is it ever right to
think that God'll give you a message for somebody else?'

Is it ever! Cautiously. Never, ever play games with 'thus
saith the Lord'. In fact, be kind of hesitant to use the phrase at all. After
all, if you can recognise the Lord's voice (and. let's face it, he
doesn't preface His guidance with 'hello, this is God speaking') the
person you're passing it on to should recognise it equally.

And, like we warned Terry, never add to it. Imagine
how embarrassing it might be if your intended victim were given the gift of
discernment. It's happened before -– God has a sense of humour. Or justice.
Take your choice.