March 19, 2020

How Can I Know If God Is Speaking to Me?

Nathan W. Bingham & Sinclair Ferguson
How Can I Know If God Is Speaking to Me?

When we pray, we communicate to God. Does He ever speak to us? Today, Sinclair Ferguson identifies the two ways in which God reveals Himself.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: I'm here on the Ligonier campus with one of our teaching fellows, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson, how can I know if God is speaking to me?

DR. SINCLAIR FERGUSON: Nathan, maybe the best way to respond to that question is to think about Psalm 19 where the psalmist really says God speaks in two ways or through two mediums. The first is He speaks through the created order. The second is He speaks through His Word. And I think we could put the difference like this: God speaks through the creation to us. He shows Himself. He reveals Himself to us through creation wordlessly. So, we don't hear Him speak. We see Him speak. And then God speaks to us with words, and He does that in the pages of Scripture in what the psalmist calls God's torah, God's instruction. And it's especially in that latter emphasis that I think becomes clearer and clearer in the Scriptures themselves that the way God speaks to us is through His Word, rightly interpreted, challenging us to rightly apply it.

One verse that I have found very helpful in this connection is in Hebrews chapter 12, where the author of Hebrews quotes words from Proverbs chapter 3, and he says, "In these verses, God is addressing you as sons." So, he doesn't say, "In these verses, God was speaking to them as sons." He says, "In these verses, God is actually addressing you." And that, I think, should be our basic principle. How does God speak to us? God speaks to us through the pages of Scripture.

Now, we will have experiences where the question we ask is: "Lord, what do you want me to do here? What do you want me to do here?" We will find the answer to that question by growing in our understanding of Scripture and over the months and years, growing in our ability to apply the Scripture to the providential experiences that we have.

So, what I'm saying here is we should not expect God to speak directly to us with the voice of Charlton Heston straight down from heaven. "Nathan, you're to do this or you are to do this." "Sinclair, you're to do this." We discover the answers to our questions by applying the precepts and the patterns of Scripture to the providences of our lives.

There's a great illustration of this, I think, when the Apostles were wondering what God wanted them to do in Acts chapter 16, the passage about the Macedonian call. And the point here is that Paul did not go to Macedonia just because he had a dream of a man from Macedonia. This is how it goes: "They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they came up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them." They were providentially hindered, in other words. "So, passing from Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia standing there, urging him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us.'"

These were the providences of God. One of them included this experience Paul had, but the verb that Luke uses is very interesting. "When Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." And that verb is the verb that means putting one thing down alongside another. So, they put what they knew of God's will alongside the providences of God. And they concluded from their understanding of God's ways, "It looks as though God wants us to go to Macedonia." And I think this is how we discover the mind of God. This is how God speaks to us. There are these providences in our lives. We place them down beside Scripture and we work through them so that we may safely be obedient to what God wants us to do.