By the way… Should We Seek Visions, Dreams, and Personal Messages from God?

My friend and I are going through the Book of Acts right now and we just discussed Acts 16:6-15 yesterday morning. In Acts 16:9-10, Paul receives a vision from God. Here’s the passage from the ESV.

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

I think it’s of the utmost importance that we handle the Bible accurately. We need to not miss what’s there, but we also need to be sure we aren’t adding anything in that’s not there. You can read all of my notes from our study of Acts 16:6-15 by clicking here, but I wanted to share one quick note about these two verses. Let me know what you think. (This is quoted from the blog post on my other blog.)

A note on visions, dreams, and messages sent from God
Every place in Scripture where God communicates directly with someone, like he did here with Paul, there was no mistaking that God was communicating, and there was never any doubt as to the message God was communicating. Many today will try to figure out clues and hints and “nudges of the Spirit” in order to discover what God is secretly trying to tell them. There is no biblical support for this method of determining the will of God. If God tells someone something directly, its source and message are unmistakably clear. We have no record in the bible of God being ambiguous. God doesn’t drop hints and demand that we be “tuned into his Spirit” before we can accurately know his will for us. God’s will is plainly laid out in the writings of Scripture and it’s in Scripture that we will find it. If he wants to speak to us directly, he’ll do that (though I believe that is exceedingly rare) and he’ll not require any kind of mental or spiritual gymnastics to figure out what he’s saying.

I believe that determining God’s will is pretty simple—at least the parts of his will that he wants us to know. It also makes sense that God would want to be very clear on something as important as his will. Why would God want to cloak it in secret clues and ambiguity? I think there are basically only two steps that require satisfaction when determining God’s will in any specific circumstance.

Fist off, we have plenty in the Bible concerning his will for us.

  • We are to avoid getting drunk.
  • We are to be honest in our business dealings.
  • We are to look to the interests of others.
  • We are to seek unity and peace whenever possible.
  • We are to avoid sexual immorality.
  • We are to only marry another Christian, and it must be a member of the opposite sex.
  • We are to study God’s Word every day.
  • We are to gear our very lives toward the spread of the Gospel.

These (and many others besides) are very clearly laid out in the Bible. If you want to know how to deal with a difficult boss or co-worker, the Bible speaks directly to that. Figuring out God’s will for that is as simple as reading what he’s already said on the topic.

Second—and this is only if the first step doesn’t cover our specific circumstance or decision—we are to seek the wisest course of action. Something may not be sinful, but it may not be wise. As much as possible, make the wise decision.

If these two steps are satisfied, you are free to do anything you want to do. If it doesn’t violate the moral will of God, and it’s within the realm of wise choices, go ahead and do it. You are free in that regard.

You may ask, “But doesn’t God’s will play any part in the specifics of my decision making?” Yes it does, but beyond the two steps stated above, God’s providence is not something you need to figure out before making a decision. If God wants to close a door, he will. You don’t have to figure that out first.

This is a very quick treatment of the topic. I haven’t done much proofreading or polishing, and I haven’t mentioned the different passages of Scripture that some people claim speaks to this area (Gideon’s fleece, God’s still small voice, etc.), but I wanted to get this out there. If it comes up again, and if time permits, I may develop this further. Until then, if you have any thoughts, questions, or objections, I’d love to hear them.

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7 thoughts on “By the way… Should We Seek Visions, Dreams, and Personal Messages from God?

  1. Good post that quickly hits key points. Wish I had that skill! haha. I had a 3 part blog series on this issue once, so it is a topic I feel strongly about. So much can go wrong when we elevate personal messages over the Bible, which is really what is being done in many cases. Some people think that since God communicated in personal ways all the time in the Bible that it should happen today too. But one question I consider is whether these things were going on “all the time” in the Bible? They actually were not. God directly communicating with people (and working in other miraculous ways) tended to occur in clusters when a significant event in redemptive history was taking place. In addition, the biblical record of “God speaking” tended to be related to consequential matters in redemptive history – not mundane, routine ones. And today when people want to hear God’s voice, it is usually about little aspects of their everyday life and what they should do. Well, I could ramble on and on…

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    • Thanks for the comment, Laura. I agree with you completely. Making a practice of “hearing God’s voice” can easily become more important to the “listener” than God’s Word. Also you hit a great point that I didn’t cover. The book of Acts covers maybe 30 years of time, so it wasn’t like these events were happening back to back to back, all within a few weeks. We may read through it quickly, but there was a lot of time being covered. It’s fair to say that more was going on than what we have recorded (e.g. we don’t have any record of Barnabas and Mark’s journey after they sailed to Cyprus in Acts 15:39), but there’s no reason to believe that these miraculous messages from God were happening all the time.

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  2. I do look at personal messages from God . . . but they are after the fact. Those ‘coincidences’ and little clues that are so obvious after the decisions are made that verify that I did good. Example . . . When I quit smoking, I never had a craving or one minute where I wished I had made another choice. Looking at that shows me that I did good. I had smoked for well over 60 years. My daughter and I both quit and neither of us had one minute of ‘fighting’ to stay clean. It was just the most amazing miracle around, but showed us both we are doing good. To read the signs before the fact would have been impossible.

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    • ladygardeenya, thank you for your comment. I agree that we can look back and see how God has directed the events in our lives, and I’m glad that you said that trying to read the signs beforehand would have been impossible. But that’s the very thing a lot of people try to do. There is nothing in Scripture that tells us to try to read the signs—those clues and nudges from God—before making decisions. Your decision to quit smoking, I’m guessing, was based on the wisdom that smoking is bad for you, and that it’s an example of not being a good steward of the body that God gave you.

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  3. I wish my reasoning was so honorable, but it was only that I couldn’t stand smelling like an ashtray any longer. When my daughter quit, I just smoked the rest of the cigarettes that were in the house (because I couldn’t make myself throw them away) and quit, exactly 2 weeks later. When I had tried to quit many times before, it never worked because I really never wanted to quit. This time I asked God to take this worldly tie from me and He did it. Not one single craving. We cleaned like crazy and the smell is now gone!!

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    • Well, whatever got you to quit, you quit with God’s help. After those last 2 weeks you quit and you will never forget how God helped you. That’s something that you can use for the rest of your life as a testimony to others and to remind yourself that God is a powerful God. He’s a God that loves you and will work through you to affect the world for Christ. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that it’s a sweet memory.

      I smoked for many years and I quit the day after I gave my life to Christ. My experience was slightly different from yours, however. I tried several times before with no success, but I didn’t have Christ in my life then. Jesus saved me on a Wednesday night in November 1992 (don’t know which Wednesday). The next day I quit smoking cold turkey. Unlike your experience, however, it was not easy. It took a lot of prayer to my new-found Savior and support from my new Christian friends. For about 2 weeks or more the cravings were incredible. But I was determined to quit and I knew God could free me of that habit. He did free me, and along the way he taught me that I could trust him and that good peer support was an important part of the Christian experience.

      I am smoke-free today, but I have to say that every now and then, I want a cigarette. It’s been over 23 years and when I smell cigarette smoke I want one. The desire is very light and I know I’ll never smoke again, but it’s there nonetheless. I’ve chosen to allow it to remind me of the victory that started my journey with God. It’s a good reminder and I thank God for it.

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  4. Pingback: Lysa TerKeurst, Proverbs 31 Ministries, and Two-Way Conversations with God | By the way...

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