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17 November 2017

“…But what if that message is from the devil?”

On psyching ourselves out of sharing.

In my early days of learning what God’s voice sounds like, from time to time an idea’d pop into my head, and I’d wonder—as one should—whether the idea was mine, God’s… or Satan’s.

I kinda blame my Fundamentalist upbringing. Y’see, there were a number of people in that church who insisted God doesn’t talk to people anymore, and anybody who claimed to hear from God was really hearing Satan. The effect is it makes a lot of Christians really wary of prophets. And, because the Holy Spirit actually does speak, really wary of listening to God for themselves.

So I’d be at a bus stop, and the idea’d pop into my head, “Go tell that person ‘God bless you.’ ”

And my knee-jerk reaction would be, “Is that God’s voice, mine, or Satan’s? After all, what if that person’s really anti-God right now, and my ‘God bless you’ prompts some sort of angry tirade? What if that person’s a cult member who sees this as an opportunity to try to convert me? What if…? What if…?” and so forth.

Okay. Back away from the Fear for a moment, and consider this rationally: Why on earth would Satan want anyone to be blessed? And thanks to my paranoid knee-jerk reaction, this obviously ain’t my idea.

Simple process of elimination: God wants this person to hear, “God bless you.” Not necessarily because it’ll have a profound impact on them (although in my experience, sometimes it does). Or an impact on ’em yet. But more positivity in the world? More grace? More love? What’s the problem?

Well, other than me. Most of the time my long lists of “What if?…” meant I’d talk myself out of doing anything. Humanity’s usual practice is to avoid risks, to listen to that self-preservation instinct, even when it’s cranked too high, and the devil’s poking at us to crank it even higher by inserting ridiculous worst-case scenarios into our minds.

But y’see, our unwillingness to act, our willingness to listen to the Fear, is what kills growth in our ability to hear God. Because if we’re not gonna listen and follow, the Holy Spirit’s not gonna bother to give us instructions. And that’s most of what he tells us. Not little feel-good nuggets of wisdom, suitable for sermon topics and happy thoughts. He wants obedience. Same as always.

So how do we break this cycle of hearing, but holding back?

It’s best we get prepared. Figure out the appropriate reaction to when the Spirit drops something into us. Then follow that—instead of our knee-jerk worries which lead us to do nothing.

“But I’ll look foolish…”

Is there a chance we’ll look foolish by acting upon what we think God told us? Absolutely.

In fact, to stretch our faith, God deliberately tells his prophets to do things which stand a chance of looking ridiculous. Look at the stuff he inflicted upon his prophets in the bible.

  • He had ’em never cut their hair. Jg 13.7 Any of their hair. Including the stuff which grows from embarrassing places.
  • He had Ezekiel shave his head and do strange things with the hair. Ek 5.1-17
  • He had Isaiah sing weird songs. Is 5
  • He had Jeremiah walk around with a yoke on his neck. Jr 27.2
  • He had Ahijah take off his clothes, rip it into 12 pieces, and give 10 to Jeroboam ben Nabat. 1Ki 11.30-32
  • He had Isaiah spend a few years naked. Is 20.1-4
  • He had Hosea marry a whore. Ho 1.2
  • He had Ezekiel lie on his side for a year, playing with toys. Ek 4.1-5 Then turn over and lie on his other side for a month and a half. Ek 4.6

To make points, or prove points, God has his prophets do strange things, perform odd object lessons, and otherwise stand out. If we’re really gonna follow him, sometimes he takes us into strange places.

What about our dignity? Throw it away.

Y’see, dignity is a social construct. It’s invented by our culture, based entirely on what other people find embarrassing or inconvenient. Our parents raised us to believe “decent people” didn’t do certain things. Like chew with our mouths open, swear in mixed company, fart in front of strangers, dress casual for formal functions, speak until our betters spoke to us, and so forth. Often they’re just passing down what their parents pushed on them. Sometimes they create new customs based on what bothers them.

I’m not saying we should go out of our way to disrupt social customs. Don’t be one of those jerks who flout social custom just to push people’s buttons. But bear in mind these are our customs. Not God’s. He ignores them as he sees fit.

And when God tells us to ignore them too, our first reaction shouldn’t be, “What’ll they think?” God doesn’t care about my dignity. He cares about me, and my place in his kingdom. The culture doesn’t care about any of that; it just wants me to conform, and give it no trouble. But God needs to trouble the culture. Since I claim to follow him, he expects my help. So the worry I’ll look a fool? It can’t be part of this process.

But because the devil doesn’t want God to intervene, it’ll care about my dignity far more than I do. “But doing that will make you look the fool. Who’s gonna listen to a fool? God wants you to be an example to others. He wants you to have a good reputation. 1Ti 3.2 How can you, if you look like a loon?”

It’s a false argument, because we actually don’t know how people will respond to such behavior. Sometimes they’re so offended, they’ll want nothing more to do with us. Other times they won’t be offended at all: They’ll see our point. Quite often they’ll laugh, because a lot (probably too much) of our comedy nowadays is based on violating social customs for the shock value.

Ultimately, the only people who won’t get over our behavior will be unrepentant jerks who refuse to hear the message. Or superficial Christians, who are more interested in looking Christian than following Jesus. Everybody else will pay more attention to our character, or whether we bear fruit. Jesus in particular.

Luke 6.26 KWL
“When the people say everything good about you: How awful.
Their ancestors did likewise to the fake prophets.”

The crowds called for his crucifixion, after all.

The Christian life isn’t one of dignity, but humility—we know who we truly are, and shouldn’t pretend to be otherwise. We realize dignity is a shallow substitute for true character.

What we really are, are daughters and sons of God. Children who obey our Father when he tells us to reach out to lost and hurting people, regardless of how we might look. So we don’t make a priority of how we might look. Our dignity is a trap for hypocrites to fall into.

Why would Satan wanna encourage anyone?

God is kind.

Hence in teaching us what his voice sound like, he doesn’t usually toss us into the deep end of the pool: He starts with little, simple things. He takes the little faith we have, and pushes it just a little further. Once we’ve developed bigger faith, we get much bigger pushes. But little faith gets little pushes. Baby steps.

So when God tells us, “Go tell that person…” and gives us an easy assignment, like “Jesus loves you” or “God bless you” or “God’s thinking of you” or “God has your back,” let’s think about this: Why would this be a trick a devil? Why would Satan wanna encourage anyone?

’Cause the devil doesn’t. It wants to trip people up. It wants people to flinch, to fear, to fight. It wants us to do these things, and convince ourselves we didn’t really hear God. With all sorts of stupid excuses why not.

So simple messages? Tiny bits of encouragement? Don’t worry about sharing them. They’re usually God. And if they’re not—if it’s entirely our idea to tell someone God loves them—exactly why is that a bad thing?

Now this is not to say devils won’t take risks. Fr’instance there are a lot of immature prophets out there. Christians who wanna be prophets, but they don’t realize they have to demonstrate the Spirit’s fruit, and prophesy in love. That their lack of love is gonna nullify any prophesies they give. 1Co 13.1-3 Devils love messing with such Christians: They don’t know God’s character well enough to recognize when devils botch the job of pretending to be God.

Take the backhanded compliment. “Hey, God wants you to know he’s glad you finally did something right”—with that subtle reminder he may consider you a great big screwup otherwise. Or “God wants you to know nobody but Jesus could love you”—meaning nobody else does. If we realize these “forms of encouragement” are dripping with sarcasm, we’ll immediately recognize they’re hardly God. We’ll know better than to share any such thing. But immature prophets, who are still kinda proud of their sarcastic sense of humor, will give these messages without a further thought.

But there comes a point in Christian maturity where devils can’t take this sort of risk anymore. Because mature Christians won’t share backhanded compliments. We’ll edit the sarcasm out: “God’s pleased with your obedience,” or “Jesus loves you more than everyone.” We know (or should know) the right thing to say. When we say that, we undo the devil’s purposes.

So if devils try to trick mature Christians into talking with people, they’re taking a massive risk. If I’m familiar with God’s character, and trying to produce the Spirit’s fruit myself, any underhanded, weaselly false message the devil wants me to convey is gonna get edited out of anything I say. What’s gonna come out of me will be nothing but God’s love for them. Often people remember that more so than the words we say.

And the devil knows this about fruitful Christians. Our light’s gonna obliterate its darkness. So why would Satan wanna put us in a situation where we’re gonna wind up showing love and compassion? To anyone? Well, it doesn’t.

More than likely, Satan’s the one trying to discourage us from sharing anything. At all. Whether God’s messages, or our own friendliness. Better to have us inert and non-communicative, than be any form of salt and light to the world. So it’s typically the one giving us all the arguments as to why it’s not really God nudging us.

Sometimes it’s your own idea. So?

Nontheists claim whenever we Christians think God’s talking to us, we’re really practicing what psychologists call disassociation: More than one thought process is going on in our heads. (One of them, we’re not wholly conscious of, or choosing not to be.) We’re listening to these processes interact, or talk with one another. But really we’re talking to ourselves.

I’ll be frank: A lot of times that’s exactly what people who “hear from God” are doing.

God is actually talking to them, same as he talks to everyone. But they don’t always care for what he has to say. So they’re listening to their own brains. Listening for stuff they imagine God would say… if they were God. This can be a huge problem when these folks wanna imagine themselves prophets.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that’s what’s going on with you.

So you’re at work. You discover a coworker is going through a rough patch. You wanna encourage her. The idea pops into your head: “Tell her not to lose hope, ’cause God still loves her.” Nontheists will insist this is just disassociation. So… what if it is?

So what?

There’s nothing wrong with going to people on our own initiative, and trying to encourage them. Especially with stuff you know to be true. You know God loves everyone, Jn 3.16 so it’s never wrong or incorrect to tell a person, “God loves you.” If it’s factually true, what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is if you like to declare before such statements, “Thus saith the LORD,” or a more present-day wording, “God has a message for you.” Don’t do that. Even if you do think it’s God. It’s presumptive. “I think God’s telling me…” is more accurate, and better.

I’ll just say when a message is legitimately from God, it tends to hit people like a ton of bricks. He knows exactly what people need to hear. Me, not so often. If I say things on my own initiative, it tends not to stun people in the same way. Though they’ll often appreciate it anyway, and sometimes say, “Thanks. I needed to hear that.”

So, nothing wrong with encouraging people. Just remember: Encouragement isn’t necessarily prophecy. It’s not prophecy if it didn’t come directly from the Holy Spirit. Bible quotes and kind statements don’t count. But this is not to say bible quotes and kind statements aren’t things we should say. So if such an idea pops into your mind, what’s wrong with sharing it? Go do that. Brighten somebody’s day.

And when we do, sometimes the Holy Spirit steps in and stuff starts to happen. In the course of encouraging someone, God might drop into you the perfect thing to say—because, though we weren’t paying attention, the Spirit decided to use your good deed to do something greater. He caught you doing a good deed, decided to bless it, and made it amazing. Again, this doesn’t mean all encouragement is prophecy: It’s not prophecy till the Spirit gets involved.

But when we do nothing, ’cause we’re too busy heeding the Fear, ’cause we’re too hung up on whether it might be Satan, the amazing stuff won’t happen.

When in doubt, do something.

Action is always better than inaction. True, we might choose the wrong action. True, wrong action might be exactly what the devil is aiming for: “Go tell that person God’s forgiven them for their many, many nasty sins,” hoping to pick a fight. True, it might all just be the voices in our heads, not God.

Still, action is always better than inaction.

And faith is always better than faithlessness. If you’re gonna prophesy, you’ve gotta trust God to sort out these scenarios we get ourselves into. You’ve gotta work on the Spirit’s fruit, maintain the right attitude, and present our message—regardless of who or what it came from—with love, joy, peace, and patience.

Because if we do that, it’s gonna undo any devilish evil intent, or undo any selfish human evil presumption. We’re gonna represent God properly. It may not be prophecy, but it’s not bad. People will appreciate it, and God may do more with it.

Even if it turns out to be the devil—but I don’t present the message with the devil’s evil, but with a selfless, God-focused, hope-this-helps-but-I-could-be-wrong attitude, the people recognize my earnestness, we have a conversation, God intervenes, and things get set right.

That’s why the devil’s goal is to get us to do nothing. It’s to give us the Fear, make us fret, and encourage no one. It’s to keep others from being touched by God or God’s followers; to make them feel alone in the universe, and unloved.

Let’s not contribute to that. Act.