Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Who Told Me?

Back, way back, at the end of October, I wrote on this blog that there were three things I would like to write about: dishonesty, "God told me," and negative testimonies. I've written about dishonesty and negative or balanced testimonies. Two months later and only two blogs later, I want to write my thoughts about the phrase, "God told me."

I could say, "God told me to write this blog." I prefer to say, "I've been thinking about what to write and I think now is the time."

A pastor in our area, wrote this comment on one of my previous blogs: Your post made me think of a recent experience with my oldest son which is along the same lines as your frustration. (He) recently told me about his former small group leader who went to a Slavic country this summer because "God told him to go". He was going to work with alchoholic guys on the street and planned on staying for a couple of years as "led by God". He was back in less than one month after experiencing the extreme discomfort. He now was saying that it was "God's will" for him to be in Colorado. (My son's) comment to me was: "Dad, next he is going to say that God wants him to get an XBox."

Perfect example of what I'm talking about!

Why do believers say, "God told me"? It's been my experience that often it seems that some people say this to lend veracity to what they're saying. Years ago there was a young man in our church who kept saying that God told him he was going to marry one of the young ladies in our church. She, however, did not have that same message from God. The young man insisted to the point of harassment. Truth be known, that young man just wanted to marry that young woman and was attracted to her. Thank goodness, she didn't believe the nonsense that God told him he was going to marry her.

Other examples I've had is to be in prayer groups or church leadership meetings and someone will propose something and introduce it with the phrase, "God told me" we are to do so and so. I've noticed how that kills all discussion. What can you say if you happen to disagree with the proposal without in essence calling that person a liar or to call into doubt their "message from God"?

My supreme or change-point experience was with a man who impressed me tremendously by telling of his life and ministry and saying he was in constant touch with God, even about little things like which way to turn on a road and what to wear for the day. He had life-saving experiences and testimonies and books. I was so impressed and so wanted to have that type of close relationship with God. However... !! When he left his wife and six children, one who is handicapped, to travel with and live with a younger, model-type woman, and was still proclaiming "God told me," was when I decided something's off here. That may have been the life-changing experience for me. I was so disillusioned and felt betrayed. I began to question all of this extra ordinary sharing of God's special leading to certain special individuals.

Saying so strongly "God told me" has definitely become one of my pet peeves. When I'm listening to a preacher who says that, I almost have to turn him off or get away. I experience anger that "God's shepherds" or pastors or leaders of people would use their position and this phrase to try to make people believe that they have a "hotline" to God. I do not believe that anyone has special privileges with God. We are all believer priests who can enter into God's presence.

What's wrong with saying something tentative like, "I think God would have me to..."? Or better yet, just saying "I think I would like to..." or "I've prayed about this and my impression is ..."

Preachers often say God is leading me to go to another church. I wish they would say I am going to investigate whether I will go to another church or stay where I am. Funny how going to another church always seems to be a bigger church and probably a better salary, etc. It just seems to me that God gets blamed for a lot of believers' decisions to do what they want to do. Then if it goes well, everyone is sure God led. But if things do not go well, then what? Well, maybe God had some experiences to teach and led in a different direction.

I do believe "all things work together for good." I really do. My discomfort and disagreement is with our trying to make God the decision maker in our lives when we really are. Often this phrase reminds me of the old Flip Wilson phrase, "The devil made me do it." To me it's quite similar. God told me to do it. Really? Hmmmm...

There are many preachers in my family so I do not speak as one distanced from that profession. My favorite type of message or sermon is one where the speaker often says that his belief or opinion is so and so, but encourages the audience or congregation to search the scriptures and come to their own conclusions. Sometimes a speaker will even give several opinions and then encourage listeners to compare scripture with scripture and let the Holy Spirit guide them to their own interpretations. How respectful and encouraging is that?

In conclusion, did God tell me to write this blog? No. Do I want to honor and please God with anything I write? Yes. The reality check is that I wanted to write my thoughts and opinions about this phrase and about people who use it. That's it.

I often wonder what God's response is to phrases like, God led me to... or God told me... If He has a sense of humor, I could speculate some responses. Whatever His response, this will be one of my questions for Him.

As we start a new year, I want to be sensitive to God's leadership and at the same time take complete responsibility for my decisions knowing that God is with me and loves me and will never leave me.
Mary B.


Rex Ray said...

For some reason clicking on your name on Wade’s blog doesn’t bring your blog up. I finally noticed a link to yours on Paul’s blog.

You said,
“Saying so strongly "God told me" has definitely become one of my pet peeves. When I'm listening to a preacher who says that, I almost have to turn him off or get away. I experience anger that "God's shepherds" or pastors or leaders of people would use their position and this phrase to try to make people believe that they have a "hotline" to God. I do not believe that anyone has special privileges with God. We are all believer priests who can enter into God's presence.”

I could not agree with you more.

I’ve had many friendly conversations with my pastor, but I’ve expressed a concern about the paper he gave the church before he was voted in. He said his paper would not work at our church, and he was voted in.

In my opinion he is the strictest CEO I’ve ever had as a pastor.

I gave a man in our SS class my views of Acts 15 in an email, and since our pastor said he was going to preach on Acts 15 the following Sunday, the man sent him my email. Our pastor did not respond to my views of Acts 15, but sent the following email to the deacons.

“Rex’s big issue is that of where authority is held within the church. Obviously he would say that the only true authority in the church is Jesus and he would right. However decision making and control are in the hands of the people. They need to “hold the authority” in the local church through democracy. This protects them from prideful power hungry leaders.

[Pastor gives his views] But the will of the people can be just as destructive and abusive as ungodly church leaders….and they can be just as prideful and power hungry. This issue at stake that no one talks about is maturity…not authority. Mature believers are supposed to be the servant leaders…and every believer should be moving towards maturity and eventually servant leadership. When a pastor or leader wields authority and he/she is immature or walking in the flesh… or a congregation wields authority and the majority is immature or walking in the flesh…you end up with….a whole host of ungodly actions and attitudes

In Rex’s theology, God does not speak to the body through leaders. He speaks to ALL believers through the guidance and direction of the HS within the body. Authority and servant leadership are incompatible ideas. A leader’s job is to preach (not teach) the gospel. A leader’s job is serve/lead the body without having authority over the body. A leader should “influence and suggest” but not “declare and direct”.

I have tried to point out to him, that the biblical role of a leader is that of a “under shepherd”. There is no way to look at this model of leadership and walk away cynical, jaded and fearful. It is the answer to all of the misguided models of leadership in the church today. But, he does not see it that way.”

Within the six page paper our pastor gave the church are these quotes:

A pastor is not a dictator. A pastor is not a CEO. A pastor is a shepherd leader that dictates direction, creates structure, and oversees organization.

The pastor must be able to appoint the chairman of deacons, finance, and personnel because they become his executive committee

Now a wise pastor will seek input from his ‘executive committee’ about any direction he believes God is leading the church (In finances, vision, or personnel). But, ultimately he must lead.

I would restructure most Sunday school programs that I might encounter and most likely I would make significant changes in the worship services.

Mary, it was spread around that in three years our congregation of 80’s would expand to 300’s which our new church could manage, but that time has gone and we are in the 50’s.

It’s true our pastor does not say “God told me”, he just acts that way in my opinion.

Mary Burleson said...

Rex Ray, I usually say thanks to people who stop by and post, but I hesitate to say that on what you've written. Having been in the pastorate with my husband for years, I easily recognize someone who is "anti" to their pastor. I sense that in you by the fact that you so publicly air your disagreements with him. I question whether that is being a true servant-congregant as you so wordily describe how you wish your pastor was a servant-leader. My question to you is are you as strongly stating your opinions as you are accusing your pastor of doing? I do think it's possible to disagree in love and respect without shaming or accusing another. Hopefully you are a supporter and a loving man within your church family and not an anti antagonizer who makes pastoring a church a difficult time for a pastor and family. Surely!

Cathy_H said...


Thank you for sharing this post. I wish more people would say this out loud.

So, as always, your post has me thinking...

I often hear "God told me" from good people. What if most of the time it isn't intended to be deliberately manipulative? I'm curious if many who follow God interpret any strong desire or belief as God speaking to them? (I remember the example you cite. Devastating.)

Your advice is well-spoken.


Anonymous said...


I'm not sure where it comes from or why many believers like to use the phrase "God told me..." when justifying their decisions or actions. I am wondering if it has to do with all of the unbalanced testimonies (as you described in your last blog) that have created an expectation that God "tells" us every move to make in life. There have been times in my life when I have heard people talk about something "God told them to do" and wondered why I had never felt like "God had told me" something very specific to do. At this point in my life, my faith is not so much about God specifically speaking to me as it is about me trying to honor Him with my actions. It's fairly simple to know what will please Him....and what won't. His character is circumstances and decisions are not a reflection of who He is...they are a reflection of my choices....choices that I am held accountable for...not Him.

I really liked reading your thoughts and couldn't agree more with many of them. One of my pet peeves is when people say something like, "I was in a hurry going to Target and so I prayed that God would open up a close parking spot so I could get in and out and be back on time for the event". Does the God of the universe REALLY care if you got a close parking spot? I do believe God cares for me and loves me and is with me every moment of every day. Does He intervene and open up parking spaces for me? I have a hard time praying that kind of prayer.

Shelly McClellan Melia

Becky Dietz said...

Wonderful thoughts as always. I've labeled what you're talking about as spiritual abuse. I've experienced it and have seen a church suffer under it.
But, in my opinion, there's a fine line in what you're talking about. I sat under Peter Lord to learn how to hear God. It was a revolutionary experience in my life. But because I grew up in a church that taught God no longer spoke to us---that the completed written Word of God was enough---I decided to study it on my own. Three things convinced me we should be hearing God. 1. Jesus did nothing apart from hearing His Father. 2. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and counselor and lives within us to do just that. 3. John 16:13, "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." I personally like the Amp. version of this.
I know you weren't advocating we shouldn't hear God...but that we shouldn't tout it as authority over others--spiritual abuse. But I think it's important that we do hear God. Just because someone else has done it wrongly (and I'm sure I've been guilty!), doesn't invalidate the truth that we should learn to hear God's voice. Thank you for the REALITY CHECK!!! Keep pointing us to truth!

Rex Ray said...

Thank you for your reply. I’m at a loss on what to do as I see our church shrinking- mostly the elderly and youth.

I’ve said nothing on the blog that I haven’t talked in a friendly way to our pastor in private. I told him to start we would be in some ways like a married couple trying to change the other.

Sixteen years ago, he was the church’s pastor for five years. (I lived in another town at the time.)

His first year back, he preached how he had left this church on the verge of ‘preacher burn-out’ and his marriage on the rocks because his pornography on the church’s computer.

Turning over a new leaf, he now has set up his computer so certain people can ‘watch’.

Ever so often I’d go to his office and tell him I’d like to make a suggestion. He’d take it in a friendly way – usually saying, ‘Here we go again – Ok – pour it on. Most of the time he never got angry and would say he’d try to change.

For instance, I’d tell him it would be better not to say, “My deacons, my ushers, with everything “my”, but to use ‘our’ and ‘the’. Once he announced, “I have a candidate for baptism.”

I told him it would be better for him to conduct the deacon’s meeting without him propping his feet on his desk. Once he led a long prayer sitting on the platform with his shoes banging the side.

It took him a long time to stop saying (after the closing prayer), “Dismissed; you’re free to go.” From time to time he still does that.

I said when he asked someone to dismiss in prayer, and for him to say the other was like a sergeant in the army. He says he forgets.

That is one big problem – his forgetting. Once he was outside wondering why people weren’t coming out but had forgotten to ask someone to close in prayer.

All his life he’s had a severe case of ADD which also causes him to preach with his eyes shut and walk around the pulpit almost non-stop. Two people have passed out with a crowd around and he never knew it.

Rex Ray said...


Mary, this is picky – picky stuff except for the pornography. I know people that stopped their kids from attending our church.

When he uses himself as an example in sermons, it is usually what NOT to do. He told the following from the pulpit:

He sat next to a rock star on an airplane but said nothing about Jesus. He destroyed his mother-in-law’s antique chair while arguing with his wife. He got his money back from Wal-Mart on a dress watch that had been run through the washer and said, “You-all do it.”

I believe what a lady (she stays with my wife 25 hours a week) said about her 22 year old son; describes the situation.

She was trying to get him to come back to church. He said, “Mama, I’m not listening to a preacher I don’t respect.”

Mary, you asked: “Are you as strongly stating your opinions as you are accusing your pastor of doing?"

Maybe this exchange of emails would answer.
My email asked our pastor if he had read a comment on Wade’s blog by Lewis who stated:

“I’m saddened when culture is not honored and is trashed by a new pastor who comes in, disbands the choir, gets rid of the organ, and installs a praise band. Change can happen, but everyone should be on board and respect should be shown toward tradition.”

[Our piano and choir has been replaced mainly by a loud guitar and a song performer who sings with his eyes shut. We’re expected to stand for all songs which are mostly praises. One lady who’d been sick a long time said, “What happened to our church?”]

My email also said, “The singing at Dub’s funeral made me realize how much I’ve missed the old songs. It was none of the words but the songs that put tears on my face.

I care not for an old song that’s sung with a new beat or mixed with new words.

Your preaching would sound a lot better to me if I wasn’t in the mood of waking out of the song service. I want to hear people singing; not just one performer. Rex”

My pastor replied with a 1,740 word email. It included:

“For the life of me Rex I can not understand why you still stay in this church when it’s clear that almost every change or move that is made you seem to be opposed to.

Is criticism a spiritual gift? If it is you sure have it. I guess you can get upset and leave the church and try to go find another church that is stuck in the past.”

Mary Burleson said...

Cathy, Shelly, and Becky,
Thanks for commenting. I always like to get your responses and thoughts to what I have written. I check often to see if you've commented.

Becky, I do agree with you. I think we're thinking and saying much the same thing. I just have a check in my spirit about teaching other believers or encouraging others to "hear" from God. I do think we pray for guidance and then we do what we sense is the right thing to do. This concept is probably one of those that we could dialogue much about. Maybe you and I would explain differently to another "how to hear from God." At that point I would say we celebrate our differences and we'd both be right and we'd both have something beneficial to share with others, perhaps mine would be more on the cautious side and yours might be more on the positive side. Hey, the Kingdom needs us both, right?
Thanks you guys for sharing your comments.

Becky Dietz said...

Agreed! Let me tell you, with my children ranging in spectrum from charismatic to Anglican, I celebrate differences!! God is truly stretching me and I love it! VIVE LA DIFFERENCE! Love you!