And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
– Joel 2:28 (Also Acts 2:17)
The vast array of ways in which God communicates to people is a huge source of encouragement, challenge, inspiration and indeed controversy between Christians. The Bible mentions visions and revelations a great deal, and while some Christians seem to obsess over such things, others dismiss them or see them as irrelevant to life today. One thing is clear: that God speaks to different people in different ways: that not everyone will see visions or dream dreams, not everyone will have words of knowledge or any strong sense of God’s presence or His leading – but I believe that it is an integral part of God’s very nature to communicate Himself to people.
All the way through the Bible people see God’s visual revelations in different ways and at different times. People see angels, see strange creatures with many eyes or wings, see rivers and trees and statues of kings made from different types of metal… All throughout the Old Testament God speaks to His people through visions; and when God is perceived to be “not active” among them, it’s expressed in the words: ‘there were not many visions’, for example in 1 Samuel 3:1. It was not uncommon in the Bible for people to see God’s revelations – and that has not changed since Jesus came: on the contrary, God has sent us His Holy Spirit so that all people can have direct contact with God and can communicate with Him openly at any time and in any place.
To some people God’s communication is more subtle than to others: such as through the Bible, through the words of other people, through the beauty of His creation; while to others He may choose to communicate in more seemingly obscure or intense ways such as dreams, visions and revelations. And in different times or seasons of the life of a Christian God may communicate in different ways, too. For example, when I was a teenager God would speak to me through colours that I would visibly see around people, whereas nowadays it is more through the words and actions of other people, and through the Bible and inspiring writings.
But when God changes the way in which He speaks to us, or stops communicating with us in a way that we have grown used to, this can be worrying and upsetting: we may begin to wonder if we have ‘backslidden’ or done something particularly wrong. But may we surrender to God, and recognise that He is greater than our understanding and has infinite methods of communicating Himself to His people. May we surrender to God our desires and expectations of Him and of the ways He can speak to us. He might surprise us by speaking in some new and unusual way, or by showing us something new of Himself, or by revealing something that we might never have believed if we had been told about it before.
And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.”
– Genesis 46:2
This whole idea that God speaks to His people is one that not all Christians accept, and for a few years I spent a huge amount of time debating it with a small group of people who had formed their theology around a God who no longer speaks to people. They believe that since Jesus has shown us the way already, we no longer have any need for the Holy Spirit or the direct guidance and voice of God. Various other Christians that I have met share similar beliefs but more from a perspective of personal pain than a thought-through theological belief: those who believe that since they have not sensed God speaking to them in any clear way, God does not speak to people.
But let us now surrender to God, and see what He may want to do. May we surrender to Him our eyes, and allow Him to open them and to show Himself, His character and His will to us in whatever way He may wish. May we surrender to God the ways in which He speaks to us, and ask that He make us more open to noticing the ways that He may want to communicate with us each day. He might not want to give us spiritual dreams, visions and revelations – but He might. In the Bible we don’t see God’s people begging to see a vision or visible revelation from God; they leave it to Him and let Him show them what He wants to show them when He wants to, in the ways He wants to. May we surrender, and be open to whatever He may wish to do within us.
I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables.
– Hosea 12:10
May we give God, too, any cynicism and skepticism we have when we consider the ways that God communicates and the things that He communicates with people. All of us experience this at times – especially, perhaps, when we hear people talking about very strange or seemingly unbiblical visions or revelations; or when people talk in super-spiritual terms about things or in ways that do not seem to line up with what we believe about who God is or what God would say or do. There is so much false prophesy out there – it is sometimes hard not to hear about it, and very hard not to get frustrated about it.
And yet we must not let this cynicism affect the way we think about God. Let us surrender our skepticism to God, and recognise that He does still speak to people. May we refuse to let those thoughts – or other negative experiences – cause us to close our eyes to what God may want to show us and the ways in which He may wish to communicate with us. May we surrender our thoughts and attitudes to God, and give Him our eyes that He may show Himself and His truth to us in any way that He wishes. As Francois Fenelon said, “How rare it is to find a soul quiet enough to hear God speak”. Will you be that rare one who is open to what God wants?
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all.
– 2 Thessalonians 5:18-21 (NIV)
Let us also give over our naïveté completely into God’s hands. May we not simply jump to believe every obscure thing that people claim to have received from God, but bring it to Him in prayer and ask Him to show us what is true (1 John 4:1). I have seen it taught that Christians should speak out every ‘random thought’ as the voice of God, just in case it is – because ‘it is better to risk it and speak out than to stay quiet and miss the message that God wants to give’. I have found that this attitude can cause incredible damage to people’s lives and people’s very relationship with God: so many people have been immensely hurt by words that other people have given them in the form of ‘prophesy’ but which are not from God. I believe that if God gives someone a revelation it often should be spoken out, but we should be cautious about what we present to people and the way we present it. Let us surrender ourselves to God and ask Him to show us what is from Him and what is not: may He lead us into truth, guiding us and teaching us until we learn to recognise Him and know Him more and more intimately.
Some of God’s people never see a “vision” or a visible revelation of spiritual things, not until they reach the fullness of God’s glory in Heaven, and that is certainly not a bad thing. God chooses to reveal Himself to different people in different ways, and He gives different blessings to different people at different times. So may we surrender to God the “spiritual gifts” that we may have received from God, and those that we may desire to receive from God, and our understanding of such things. May we surrender our eyes, and give into His hands the ways in which He communicates with us. May He shape our understanding and teach us how to use and apply what He has given each of us. May we surrender to God the ways that we see Him at work, in our lives and in the lives of others, in situations, and in the world. And may we surrender to Him our ability to see and recognise His responses to prayer.
To place ourselves in range of God’s choicest gifts, we have to walk with God, work with God, lean on God, cling to God, come to have the sense and feel of God, refer all things to God.
– Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
Giver of life and breath,
Thank You that You give good gifts to Your children.
Thank You for communicating to us in so many different ways.
Please help me not to restrict You in my understanding, and not to undermine Your creativity.
I surrender to You my thoughts of Your visible revelations:
– My “understanding” of them
– My cynicism
– My desire to see your revelations
I’m open to You revealing Yourself to me whatever ways You choose, in Your own timing.
Please communicate with me in the ways that You want to.
Teach me to recognise Your answers to prayer and Your work in lives and situations.
Please help me to see these things the way You want me to.
Help me to view life from an eternal perspective, thinking in a way that pleases You.
Teach me Your truth, holy God, and please shape my understanding.
I surrender to You the way I live as a result of all this.
I give You my eyes and I ask that You replace them with Your own.
May I live in Your ways, with Your views rather than my own.