Just before 2017 ended, I managed to squeeze in one last book: God Told Me by local pastor Jim Samra. It’s about how to listen for God’s direction in your life day to day. This is a subject that has come up numerous times in recent years, and one that has also played a big role in my life thus far.
I first became aware of the book after visiting his church this past summer at the invitation of some friends who attend there. The sermon he delivered on Esther was one of the best I’d ever heard, and I was surprised to find out that he’s a fellow DTS graduate, as well as a published author.
But this idea that you should listen and watch and pray for clues as to how God wants you to live your life—well, that’s something I lost in Dallas.
As a kid I was raised to listen for God’s voice. I don’t have specific memories of someone telling me that’s what I should do, although that wouldn’t surprise me in the least. What I remember most is reading Scripture and copying what I saw. When young Samuel said, “Speak for your servant is listening,” that became my prayer as a child. Growing up I always had a feeling of God’s nearness for as long as I can remember. Everything I read in Samra’s book describes the way I lived for the first 25 years of my life.
I remember the moment that all changed. I sat in a course on spirituality my first semester of my first year in seminary and the professor told us that we shouldn’t expect God to continue communicating with us, that God’s Word was sufficient. Many of us were visibly stunned. And confused.
Some students asked questions in class, but I waited until afterward. I asked him why there were so many examples in Scripture of God speaking to people to guide and direct them. Why doesn’t this give us an example of how we should live? He told me that these stories were unique moments in redemptive history and that I shouldn’t infer all the spaces in between are the same.
And I was convinced. In fact, I still agree with him. Am I so important to redemptive history that I should hear from God? Of course not!
As I reflect on my time since, I’ve noticed two things have happened: 1) I have been less certain about all of my big decisions in life. It was a lot easier to navigate the world when I felt confident that God was the one telling me what to do. And 2) I have grown leaps and bounds in my ability to think for myself and understand the world.
You see, in my case I had come to rely so much on supernatural insight that I failed to develop common sense about certain things. For me, letting go of my “God told me” spirituality opened the door to taking the wisdom of God and the works of His hands more seriously than I did before. It taught me to take responsibility for my life in a new way.
The problem is this: I haven’t felt God’s nearness like I used to. And before, when I sought direction from God—well, I can think of one time in particular when He actually did a miracle for me. I have no doubt about it. I don’t tell the story to just anyone, but suffice it to say that I “put out a fleece” as the saying goes and asked God to validate a principle from Scripture. And He did.
So I have gone from one extreme to the other, and on both sides of the experience, I have been blessed. But as I continue to wrestle with decisions big and small, and especially as I interact with others who have varying views on the subject, the question constantly comes up: does God still speak? What does God’s guidance look like today?
Now you know where I’m coming from. Next time I’ll try to start answering this question with Samra’s book as something of a conversation partner.