“God told me to tell you…” is the introduction of prophetic statements that make me quite nervous. When spoken, the prophetic ‘word’ is often meant to change the receiver’s life or encourage them in their current situation. I’m not suggesting God doesn’t speak to people. I am saying, however, it is tough to determine when all you hear is an audible voice.
God does want to speak to us directly and if we quiet ourselves, he will speak even in our most difficult situations. When we are in the valley moments of life, the goal should not be to seek chatty ways to escape what God is trying to say. In those moments, we should actually draw closer to him than ever before.
Far too often, folks make authoritative statements like, “This is what God said” or “God told me to tell you” when what they actually mean is, “I think this is what God is saying” or “I think this is where God is leading.” Those honest statements don’t offer a lot of consolation, so instead of saying, “I really don’t know” we inflate our understanding and pass on half truths.
When I am wondering what God is doing or whether someone is speaking on his behalf, I always go back to scripture. It is wise to back prophetic claims with scripture that are studied in proper context. Acts 17:10 says that the Bereans were of noble character because “they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Sometimes God speaks clearly concerning his purpose but delays giving his plan.
God clearly spoke a word to Abraham (named “Abram” at the time) that he would birth a son from his own body (Gen 15:4-6) and he would have many descendents. Yet, Abraham and his wife, Sarah (named “Sarai” at the time), were both of old age and Sarah was past her child bearing years. It seemed extremely unlikely that Sarah would birth a child of her own, so she took matters into her own hands and gave Abraham her slave, Hagar, to impregnate on her behalf. (In the cultural setting of Gen 16:1-4, it is safe to think of Hagar as a surrogate mother.) Therefore, Abraham fathered a son whom they named Ishmael, but this was not God’s plan. God’s desire was for Abraham to birth a son through Sarah (Gen 17:15-21) and had they waited before rushing to action, his purpose and plan would have been clearly revealed to them.
Abraham and Sarah’s experience sends a clear message to us that we need to listen and wait for God to reveal both, his purpose and his plan. In this way, we avoid birthing Ishmaels in our lives.
When we feel God is leading us in a certain director, we are prone to manipulate, demand, control, and force people to do things our way. Oftentimes we are too blinded to see this as selfish ambition (Phil 2:3) and we simply use God as a pawn in our game to get what we want. Selfish ambitions lead to power struggles that will surely result in division of our work places, churches, families, organizations, and ministries.
God does not want us leading in an unloving way. When we don’t know what to do, it is best to simply wait on God. I say again, “We need to learn how to wait on the Lord (Psalm 27:14 and Isaiah 40:31).” In waiting, God reveals “what” to do and “how” to do it and then we can move forward in confidence.
You may ask, “What should I do while I wait?”
1. Be content where God has already provided clarity. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6-7).”
3. Be faithful in the things that he has already told us to do. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much (Luke 16:10).”
Have you been trustworthy in the little things that God has already revealed in his Word? How is your prayer life? How often do you study God’s Word? How do you manage the finances God has entrusted to you? How do you treat your neighbor? How do you care for your earthly temple (nursing your physical body with food, rest, and proper exercise)?
4. Consider: God’s timing may not be the same our timing. The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.
Poor motivations or poor timing can make our best efforts very wrong in the eyes of the Lord. Poor choices birth Ishmaels. Ishmaels could be projects, ministries, investments, jobs, marriages, moves, etc. Notice: The birth of Ishmael was not God’s plan. Ishmael only represents what God allows when human beings try to get ahead of him. Birthing Ishmaels in our lives always has its consequences. God may choose to bless us simply because he loves us and desires to extend grace in your situation, but we cannot and should not suppose that God will always graciously respond to us in the way he responded to Abraham and Sarah when they screwed up.
It is best to wait on the Lord to reveal his perfect will and not birth Ishmaels in our lives. I want to move forward in confidence that God’s blessings will abound because I have sought him at every step of the way on this faith and leadership journey.
What are you giving birth to today?
© Natasha S. Robinson 2011