Common phrases in evangelicalism today include “I felt led to…”, “God told me to….”, and “The Lord laid it on my heart to….” I now cringe every time someone uses these phrases because I’ve heard so many unbiblical endings to them. In fact, I’ve seen people’s lives take a million tough twists and turns because they were “following the promptings of God.” For one example, I hesitate to think that God would “prompt’ somebody to avoid the ER when their daughter gets a deep cut that probably needs stitches.
If I can speak candidly, I believe this has to do with lack of biblical knowledge. Sinclair Ferguson says that perhaps one reason why our Christian forefathers rarely wrote about finding God’s will is because they knew the Bible better than most Christians today know it. “They concentrated on teaching themselves and others the will of God which they discovered in Scripture, and the life of obedience to God in a daily submission to and application of his truth.” Another example: If you know that the Bible says Christians shouldn’t mary unbelievers (2 Cor 6.14), you won’t need or care about “promptings.”
What is God’s will for us? To know his word (cf. Ps 119, Ps 143:10), to grow in godliness, faith, and obedience (sanctification – cf. 1 Thes. 4.3), and to give thanks always (1 Thes. 5.18). Instead of going by our gut feelings, promptings, or some kind of leading, we go by the word first and foremost. God’s will is that we obey his law – our duty is to know it, study it, and meditate on it (Ps 119). We do not and cannot know the big part of God’s will that is secret, but we can and should know the part that is revealed in the Bible (Deut. 29.29).
Ferguson says it well. He writes that our own thinking that has to do with discerning God’s will.
“Do you speak about God’s guidance as ‘discerning the will of God?’ Or, do you usually speak of it in terms of ‘I felt led to do it?’ Guidance, knowing God’s will for our lives, is much more a matter of thinking than feeling. We are not to be ‘foolish’ (literally ‘mindless’) says Paul, but to understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph. 5.17).”
That’s exactly right. The Christian life doesn’t need to be a constant, subjective, and often frustrating attempt to step into God’s will. We don’t need to treat scripture like a lottery system (in John Newton’s terms) and hope for some single random verse to spark a prompting. We have God’s revealed will in the Old and New Testaments. Our duty is not to pry into God’s secret will, but know his revealed will, both the law and the gospel, praying for the Spirit’s help in applying the word and giving us wisdom to make those tough choices in life. We know the first Q/A of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, but we shouldn’t divorce it from the second Q/A!
In summary, instead of saying “God really spoke to my heart and told me…” we need to say this: “I prayed, read through God’s commandments and his promises, asked a few friends, and these things helped me decide to take that job on the other side of town instead of move to another state.”
By the way, I highly recommend Ferguson’s book I quoted (pages 34-36): Discovering God’s Will. In fact, since it is inexpensive, get two and give one to the next person who tells you that God has been prompting him to do something obviously unbiblical (and probably quite foolish).
8 Replies to “I Felt Led To…”
Bah! This drives me absolutely bonkers. And when I say what you just said, they say I’m putting their God in a box and limiting what He can do. It’s so frustrating to listen to people use such a cop-out. It takes 100% of the responsibility of the decisions they make off of themselves and puts in onto God.
Kevin DeYoung’s book ‘Just Do Something’ is a good, quick read. In it he basically said ‘God doesn’t care which job you take!’ As long as it’s not immoral to choose one job (ie: for Playboy or something like that) it doesn’t matter. We need to use wisdom!!
Sorry for rambling. I’m always looking for better (maybe more graceful) ways to explain this to brethren. I also recommend Greg Koukl’s talk on Decision Making and the will of God; super helpful with many Bible references.
But thanks for this post. I’m definitely going to check out Ferguson’s book.
Well thanks for stealing my idea and making it better. (in fun)
Thanks for the feedback guys; SZ, I guess you beat me to it!
Elohimito – I agree, it is frustrating simply because it is so utterly subjective. Seems as if you can’t disagree with a “God-prompting.” “I felt led…” is a trump card that is almost beyond discussion and debate. I do think I”ll start asking people kindly to define exactly what a prompting/leading means and see where that steers the discussion.
I’ll check out Grek K’s book that you mentioned.
I like MacArthur’s expansion on Augustin’es quote.
(Ps. 37:4). Augustine said, “Love God and do as you please.”
John MacArthur spoke a very good sermon on it. Here is a quote:
‘You say, “But…but…but…but what about me?” Are you ready for this? Hum, if you’re saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, suffering, and saying thanks, you know what God’s will is? Whatever you want. You like that? Do whatever you want. Go do whatever you want. You say, “You’re kidding.” No, I’m not kidding…No, I…you say, “What do you mean? How can…I can’t just go do what I want.” Yes, you can, because if that’s how you’re living, guess who’s in charge of your wants?…’
But you really have to hear or read the whole thing to really know what he’s getting at. This quote is near the end of the sermon.
Click to access KnowingandDoingGodsWill.pdf
My post on it (same thing): http://goo.gl/EAuIL
Question: “Does God still speak to us today?”
Answer: The Bible records God speaking audibly to people many times (Exodus 3:14; Joshua 1:1; Judges 6:18; 1 Samuel 3:11; 2 Samuel 2:1; Job 40:1; Isaiah 7:3; Jeremiah 1:7; Acts 8:26; 9:15 – this is just a small sampling). There is no biblical reason why God could not or would not speak to a person audibly today. With the hundreds of times the Bible records God speaking, we have to remember that they occur over the course of 4,000 years of human history. God speaking audibly is the exception, not the rule. Even in the biblically recorded instances of God speaking, it is not always clear whether it was an audible voice, an inner voice, or a mental impression.
God does speak to people today. First, God speaks to us through His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Isaiah 55:11 tells us, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” The Bible records God’s words, everything we need to know in order to be saved and live the Christian life. Second Peter 1:3 declares, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
Second, God speaks through impressions, events, and thoughts. God helps us to discern right from wrong through our consciences (1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Peter 3:16). God is in the process of conforming our minds to think His thoughts (Romans 12:2). God allows events to occur in our lives to direct us, change us, and help us to grow spiritually (James 1:2-5; Hebrews 12:5-11). First Peter 1:6-7 reminds us, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Finally, God may sometimes speak audibly to people. It is highly doubtful, though, that this occurs as often as some people claim it does. Again, even in the Bible, God speaking audibly is the exception, not the ordinary. If anyone claims that God has spoken to him/her, always compare what is said with what the Bible says. If God were to speak today, His words would be in full agreement with what He has said in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God does not contradict Himself.
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