The Vague Voice of the Lord

The book of Acts is one of my favorite books in the Bible. This book chronicles the birth of the church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. The book is formally called The Acts of the Apostles, but many have noted that it should more accurately be called The Acts of the Holy Spirit since it is the Holy Spirit who used the Apostles to accomplish the Father’s will. Throughout this book, the Holy Spirit leads and empowers believers in miraculous ways and the result is that the world was turned upside down. In studying this book, we can learn a lot about the Holy Spirit and the various ways He worked in the lives of these 1st century believers, especially in the way He communicated to them.

As a church, we’ve been in a message series called ‘Living in the Fullness of the Spirit’ and part of living in the fullness is hearing and following the voice of God. The idea that God speaks to us causes many Christians a lot of consternation. When the bible records the Holy Spirit speaking, it seems so clear and specific. The Holy Spirit spoke to Peter telling him “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them” (Acts 10:20). When the Lord spoke to Ananias about Saul, He said, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying” (Acts 9:11). In both of these accounts, the Spirit spoke clearly and specifically, and it was clear what Peter and Ananias were to do.

It seems when the Holy Spirit purportedly speaks today, it is often vague and general and not clear what should be done. In other words, our experience of hearing from the Lord doesn’t seem to match up with the clarity that the 1st century saints had. But is this an accurate conclusion of how the New Testament believers always heard from the Lord? Are there any Biblical examples of the Lord speaking and it was less than clear what the hearers were supposed to do?

It Seemed
Acts 15 records the leaders of the church in Jerusalem addressing the issue of Gentiles becoming Christians and whether or not they needed to follow Jewish customs and the Old Testament laws. After listening to the debate, the leaders made their decision and communicated their verdict in a letter. In the letter they said, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements…”. This less than definitive statement suggests that the leaders sensed that their decision was the best course of action as far as they could tell.

Go or No Go
Acts 19:21 says, “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” This indicates that the Holy Spirit had guided Paul in his travel plans and Paul had made up his mind to follow these plans through. In route to Jerusalem, Paul stopped in Tyre and met the disciples there. Acts 21:4 says, “…And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” Did the Holy Spirit tell Paul to go to Jerusalem and then change His mind and warn him not to go? Plausible but unlikely.

A more reasonable explanation is that the disciples heard correctly from the Holy Spirit that Paul would suffer if he went to Jerusalem and their concern for him led them to try to dissuade him from going. In other words, the Holy Spirit spoke to the disciples but it wasn’t clear what they should do with that information. They assumed it meant that Paul shouldn’t go so that’s the course of action they took. But Paul, having the confidence in knowing that he was called to go to Jerusalem continued with his plans and discerned that the pleas of his fellow brothers and sisters were motivated out of their love for him, not from a clear directive from the Holy Spirit.

My point is that there were times when even the Apostles and other believers in the 1st century church heard the voice of the Lord, yet it wasn’t always crystal clear what should be done. At this point I can imagine many people throwing their arms up in the air and complaining that God should be more clear! If He wants us to do something, why doesn’t He make it so that there’s no possibility for us to get it wrong?

A Maturing Relationship
Perhaps there is a parallel between our relationship with the Lord and the relationship that a parent has with their child. When a child is young, the parent has to be very explicit and clear about what they want the child to do. But as they grow older and mature, the parent doesn’t want to have to tell the child what to do at every juncture; they want the child to know their heart and values and to do those things that are consistent with them because the child has internalized them.

When we are close to the Lord, we will know His heart and He can provide us with just a vague impression with the hopes that we will be able to take it and run with it. But varying circumstances might also explain why the Lord will be very clear to us in some instances and seemingly vague in others. The bottom line is that it’s all about building a closer relationship with us. Yes, the things that He wants us to do is important but if we miss the relational aspect of his leadings, we will think He just wants spiritualized delivery workers at His disposal. So, if you’re struggling to hear what the Lord is saying to you, take it as an invitation to press in, to seek His heart more, and to draw closer to Him. We can always be sure that this is what He wants!

No Comments