God’s Gracious Incursions into our Souls1
In my book, Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist, I make a point that ought to be obvious to anyone who reads Scripture, namely, that the God of the Bible is a speaking God. The whole of Scripture, from the Garden of Eden to the New Heavens and New Earth, is a record of God speaking in human history to his people. He spoke to Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Enoch, as well as to Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Solomon, and a seemingly endless list of men and women in the Old Testament.
God's voice was heard frequently in the New Testament as well. In the book of Acts alone we find God speaking on the day of Pentecost, to Philip (Acts 8), to Paul (Acts 9), to Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10), to prophets in Antioch (Acts 13), to disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19), to the four unmarried daughters of Philip (Acts 21), just to mention a few.
I assume you agree with me that that the principal way God speaks to us is through the written word of the Bible. This is the primary revelation of God's voice. This is the repository of his infallible and always authoritative will. The Holy Spirit enlightens and convicts and persuades us concerning its meaning and application to our lives. This was the point I labored to make from 2 Timothy 2:7 in the previous chapter. No alleged revelation, no purported voice, no insight or impression from God will ever conflict with the revelation of Scripture. If it does, it isn't God speaking.
But there are several other ways in which God communicates with his people. For example, God has spoken audibly on several occasions and, I believe, may still do so today (although quite rarely). Among those who heard the audible voice of God are Abraham (Genesis 22:1-2,10-12), Moses (Exodus 3:3-6), the nation Israel (Deuteronomy 5:22-24), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-10), Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13), John the Baptist (at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16-17), Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:5-6; cf. 2 Peter 1:17-18), the general public (John 12:27-30), Paul (Acts 9:3-7; 23:11), Peter (Acts 10:9-16), and John (Revelation 1:9-12).
God also speaks to us through angelic messengers, as he did to Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15), Samson's parents (Judges 13), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:6-13), Daniel (Daniel 9:20-27), Zacharias (Luke 1), Mary (Luke 1), Philip (Acts 8:26), Peter (Acts 5:19-20), and others (see esp. Hebrews 13:1). God also communicates through dreams (Genesis 20:3; 37; Daniel 2,4,7; Matthew 1,2; Acts 2,10) and visions (e.g., Numbers 12:6; Daniel 10:1-9; Acts 2:17; 9:10-12; 10:1-6; 10:9-16; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 22:17-18), and even through creation itself (Psalms 19, 104; Romans 1:18ff.).
One of the primary ways that God still speaks is through what Dallas Willard has called “gracious incursions into our souls” (In Search of Guidance, 19). His point is that God puts words, phrases, sentences, images and the like into our minds, stamped with the indelible print of his voice. Although undeniably subjective and occasionally slippery, “impressions” are a valid means of divine communication in our heart.
In spite of the inescapable “subjectivity” of impressions, I believe we may justifiably expect that when God wants to tell us something, he will not be unduly obtuse. His purpose isn’t to mislead or confuse but to guide us clearly and carefully. Whether through thoughts or perceptions that we intuitively recognize could only come from him, he makes his heart known. When God communicates he does so with specific information, often times in propositional utterances.
People in biblical times were not left to wonder about “hunches” or “impulses” or “feelings”. If God’s voice is occasionally “vague” it is to awaken us from slumber or perhaps alert us to our presumptuous attitude, or perhaps challenge us to press into his heart ever more intensely. I agree with Willard who said, “It is to be expected . . . that if there is something He would have us know, He will be both able and willing and will in fact plainly communicate it to us, if we are but open and prepared by our experience to hear and obey” (219). Even in the case of visions, dreams, and trances, there is verbal communication. In the words of Klaus Bockmeuhl, God “guides not as we might guide a child by the hand or a horse by the reins, but through the instructions he speaks – instructions that we hear and then act upon” (Listening to the God who Speaks, 83).
“Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Sam. 3:10).