Excuse Me, Lord? (Responding to Peculiar Promptings of God)
by Rebecca Livermore 10/30/2006 / Christian Living
I'd like the number for Dave Collins, please."
"Would you like the one on Kent Road or the one on State Street?"
Oh great! I thought. There's more than one Dave Collins in St. Louis. (Note: the name and location have been changed.)
"Uh, the one on Kent Road," I ventured.
"Hold for the number."
A moment later, with sweaty palms I began to dial. "I sure hope I have the right guy," I muttered as the phone began to ring.
"Um, yes, hello. Is this Dave Collins?"
"Yes it is."
"Well, you don't know me, but God has really put you on my heart. I've been praying for you."
There was a brief pause, but thankfully he didn't hang up!
Dave is a high-profile person in the Christian community. At the time of this phone call, he was going through an especially difficult time and needed not only prayer support but encouragement. Calling Dave was my first experience with responding to a peculiar prompting from God. Although it was a hard thing for me to do, I've never regretted it. That phone call led to several years of prayer support and mutual encouragement.
Listening is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of prayer—especially when God seems to speak things that make the cerebral part of our beings uncomfortable. But as we look into the Word of God, we see that unusual promptings are nothing new. In fact, for those who walked with God in an intimate way, they seemed to be the norm.
Just A Little Peculiar
Look at the life of Isaiah, for instance. Don't you think it was considered a tad unusual for him to walk naked and barefoot for three years? What's the scriptural basis for such "wanton" behavior? What did his neighbors think? Were the followers of Yahweh understanding? Or did they think he was crazy? You may say, "Well, he was an Old Testament prophet." It's true: our culture is drastically different from Old Testament times. But even back then his behavior was, well, peculiar.
Would you advise a godly man to marry a woman whose life was characterized by incessant immorality? I sure wouldn't. But God did. God had a higher purpose for Hosea's marriage than even Hosea did, and that purpose was born out of a seemingly insane choice. As we look at Scripture today, Hosea's obedience to God and his faithfulness to Gomer in the midst of her infidelity provide us with a beautiful illustration of God's faithfulness to us in our own times of spiritual adultery.
The Old Testament is filled with stories of peculiar promptings, but God didn't cause them to cease with the advent of Christ. In the book of Acts, God prompted Ananias to go to a street called Straight, to the house of Judas, where he was to ask for Saul. Ananias, knowing Saul's reputation for persecuting Christians, was less than thrilled with God's idea. Although it didn't even make sense, he went anyway. His obedience to this peculiar prompting resulted in Saul's baptism and restoration of sight.
Although I'm familiar with the biblical examples of God's peculiar promptings, I'm often hesitant to obey them in my own life. Here are three of the main reasons I fail to respond to the voice of God when He directs me to something "unusual":
1. It just doesn't make sense.
The "nonsense factor" has kept me from obeying the voice of God more than any other hindrance. My quest to understand every detail of daily life often keeps me from responding in obedience to anything that cannot be explained objectively. But God never promised us that the things He prompts us to do will make sense. In fact, since we serve a God whose thoughts and ways are higher than ours(Is. 55:8–9), those who follow Him closely may often do things that don't make sense. And the promptings of God will seem especially foolish to those who don't know Him (1 Cor. 2:14). Sometimes even those who walk with God intimately will not understand His promptings until after they have obeyed.
Anna, a member of my prayer group, told us the story of a time God told her to go to the store and buy potatoes. "But I don't need any potatoes. I don't even like potatoes," she responded. The second time God spoke, it was even clearer: "Go to the store and buy potatoes." "But I don't have any money for potatoes," she replied. "Don't worry about the money for the potatoes. Just go to the store and head for the potato department."
So Anna went to the grocery store. When she reached the produce department, she felt really foolish. There seemed no reason for her to be there. Not knowing what else to do, she began to pickup potatoes and examine them, as if she was on a mission to find the perfect potato. Just when she was about to give up and leave, she heard a voice beside her: "The potatoes look awful, don't they?" As the young woman standing next to Anna continued to complain about the quality of the potatoes, God again spoke to Anna: "Share the gospel with her."
By this time, Anna knew why she was in the potato department. She managed to graciously shift the conversation from the puny potatoes to the greatness of God. Anna's obedience to that peculiar prompting gave her an opportunity to usher a woman into the kingdom of God—right there in the potato department.
Although I still like to know the "why" behind the things God speaks to me, I've finally come to terms with the fact that He doesn't owe me an explanation. I must obey His voice whether I understand the reason or not.
2. I might end up looking stupid.
I've often hesitated to obey God's prompting by making the noble claim that I don't want to bring attention to myself. But when I strip away the pious words, what I really mean is that I don't want to look like an idiot.
One night in my care group, I felt the Lord prompting me to getup and walk across the room to pray for a woman there. My response was, "I'll do it after care group. I don't want to interrupt, and I certainly don't want to embarrass her." God continued to prompt me, so I eventually pushed aside my insecurity, got up from my seat, walked across the room, and prayed for her.
After the meeting I went to her and said, "I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable. I was going to wait until after the meeting and take you aside so I wouldn't embarrass you." She responded, "Please don't apologize. I'm so glad you were obedient. I was actually sitting there telling God that I needed a solid demonstration that someone cared about me and would be willing to walk across the room to demonstrate it."
The pride that causes us to avoid seemingly foolish behavior in the face of God's prompting can lead to our downfall (Prov. 16:5, 18; 18:12). In contrast, the humility required for obedience to peculiar promptings results in honor (Prov. 15:33, 18:12, 29:23).
3. I might be wrong.
This is probably my biggest fear. What if it really isn't God speaking to me? What if I step outside His will in reaching out to someone? I've recently come to the conclusion that even if I'm wrong, in most cases no harm will be done. For instance, what if I think God is prompting me to call someone and He really isn't? Will any harm be done as a result of my phone call (besides the person thinking I'm a little strange, calling for no reason)?
But what if the thing you think God is prompting you to do could cause damage if you're wrong? For instance, what if it's giving a word of rebuke to someone? In these situations, you need to be very cautious. I've found the following principles helpful in determining whether the prompting is truly from God.
1. The prompting should always line up with Scripture. Although many promptings do not fit neatly under a scriptural heading, they will never violate His Word (Num. 23:19, Josh. 1:7, Prov. 30:5–6).
To help you in this area, spend ample time reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture. I was challenged once by a friend who said, "Spend equal amounts of time in the Word and in prayer." As a passionate prayer, I often skimp on Bible reading because I get so caught up in prayer time. I'm still not spending 50 percent of my quiet time in the Word, but I'm making it more of a priority. I'm learning to balance my spiritual life through a thorough and consistent study of Scripture.
2. Examine your motives. (Mt. 6:1–18; Phil. 2:3). Who will be glorified if you follow the prompting: you or God? Will you gain anything personally through it? Are you drawing attention to yourself and your own spirituality? In many cases, following the promptings of God requires risking a great deal—possibly even your reputation as a "sensible, balanced Christian."
3. Pray for confirmation. God can confirm His voice to you in many ways: through His Word, through open or closed doors, or through other believers, for example. One of the best ways I've found to fine-tune my spiritual ears is praying with others who are also sensitive to the voice of God (Prov. 27:17).
As the leader of my church's prayer ministry, I often receive phone calls from people requesting prayer. One day, a woman named Jennifer called to request prayer for a physical illness that had totally baffled the doctors. She said, "Rebecca, I really need wisdom on what to do next." I felt the Lord prompting me to encourage her to take a nutritional approach. I couldn't help but think, Oh great, now I'm supposed to start giving medical advice? Because of the unusual nature of the prompting, I just said, "Yes. We'll pray for you tonight," and left it at that.
That night when our group prayed for Jennifer, I again felt the Lord speaking to me about the nutritional approach. I said to the members of my prayer group, "I'm not really sure, but I think God may be telling me that Jennifer should take a nutritional approach." Then Anna spoke up and said, "I got the same thing." And she showed me a piece of paper on which she had written "Jennifer—nutritional approach" during prayer.
Anna's confirmation gave me the confidence to approach Jennifer at church on Sunday. Jennifer excitedly told me, "I've been praying about that specifically, and I've just been waiting for God to confirm it." Following that experience, Jennifer not only made a complete physical turnaround, but she also became a vital part of our prayer ministry.
I don't always see dramatic demonstrations of God's power when I respond to His peculiar promptings. But the more faithful I am in putting aside my pride, stepping out in faith, and allowing the Lord's confirmation through other believers, the more frequently I experience the joy that comes from consistent obedience to that still, small voice of God.