How does God speak to us and reveal his will? I’ve written about how preachers should talk about God’s revelation, so this will extend that to consider how we think and talk about how God speaks to us as laypeople.
Has God stopped speaking to us?
Just because God closed the book on his written revelation does not mean that the book is dead. The question assumes that God has thought of more things to say in the past two thousand years. It also assumes that what he as said is at least a little bit worn out now.
God’s Word is eternal and imperishable. That means that it is as powerful and present as the day it was written. Our words do pass away (if we’re speaking, they die on our lips), are forgotten, and sometimes contradicted. God’s words are not.
One of the ironic aspects of liberal complaints against the sola scriptura position is that they say that we think God no longer speaks. To the contrary, we think that God continues to speak so powerfully and completely that he need not say anything else.
For example, one especially awful passage in The Shack is its characterization of seminaries.
In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper. (p. 65)
I would argue that seminaries exist because they do think that God’s Word is alive and a suitable object of focused study. The author of The Shack is the one who might more accurately be said to believe that God’s Word is dead, which is why he saw a need to write a new version of God for us.
Is God’s Word the foundation for personal revelation and guidance?
God’s Word should be a foundation for our faith in God, but it is not a foundation for additional words. We can use it as a measuring stick against which to measure words spoken by man. It cannot be a measuring stick for measuring additional words from God for two reasons.
First, we cannot bifurcate God’s words into any hierarchical system. New or old. Written or spoken. Perfect and pretty good. If God says something, it is always perfect, so cannot be inferior to anything else he’s ever said. If we are to say that God speaks something outside of the Bible, it would be blasphemy if we didn’t treat it as being as authoritative and permanent as the Bible.
Second, God has told us that he has finished his revelation. Revelation 22:18 warns us not to add anything to the Bible. Jesus tells us in Luke 16:17 that his Word is perfect down to the dot on an i. God’s revelation to us is also complete. God, who reveled himself to us through his Word, describes himself in Revelation 21:6 in literary terms–he is the Alpha and Omega, the A to Z, the whole story.
God’s Word is complete, perfect and unalterable. He need not add anything to it.
Does God speak to us when we ask for wisdom and guidance?
God has given us his Word, which is sufficient for both wisdom (Proverbs 1:1-7) and guidance (Psalm 119:105). Wait, you say, Psalm 119 doesn’t tell me whether I should marry Betty or Sally, or whether I should take the job in Iowa or Texas. How can I know what God wants me to do?
Pray that the Holy Spirit would give you wisdom, which we assume you’ve been developing through studying God’s written Word.
If you ask God to “tell you” what you should do, how do you know when you’ve received your answer? How do you distinguish between the effects of God whispering to you, caffeine, last night’s pizza, or Satan? How can you be certain that your deceptive heart is properly recognizing the speaker?
You can’t be sure. As 2 Peter 1:19 tells us, God’s Word is certain. If you can’t be certain, it’s not God speaking.
(I’m not including in this discussion some other ways God speaks to us, which would include general revelation, our conscience, and preaching. To keep the discussion reasonably simple, I’m just thinking about gut feelings or meditative states that tend to be translated into “God told me…” moments.)
How do we speak of God’s guidance?
First, don’t preface statements by telling us that God told you something. He probably didn’t, but you also put him on the hook for all kinds of nonsense.
Second, take ownership for your own thinking and planning, and treat God’s Word as sufficient for developing and sanctifying your wisdom and decision making.
Instead of saying, “God told me to be a missionary to India,” say, “God told us to go into all the world, so, based on my love for India and its culture, I think that the best way for me to serve him is to be a missionary to India.”
Instead of saying, “God told me to be an electrician,” say, “God told us that we should work to support ourselves and our families, so, based on my personal aptitudes and interests, I think that the best way to serve God through work is to pursue a career as an electrician.”
You honor God by submitting your desires to his Word, yet you don’t risk dishonoring his name should you or your plans fail.
Anyway, that’s what I think. You’ll need to ask God to tell you what he thinks.