‘God Can’t Spell and Has Bad Grammar’?

Can Christian writers correctly say, “God laid this on my heart. It’s such an amazing story. God told me to write this!”?
on Mar 31, 2011 · No comments

Whispers, murmurs, and a few pauses from wiser ones waiting for the surprise ending, had spread amongst dozens of class attendees.,

To wit, these were Ladies of the Church™, a very powerful special interest lobby.

I was there also, enjoying my second attendance of an American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference (2007). And John Olson, co-author of Oxygen, had just said something heretical.

Yes, he said, “God can’t spell and has bad grammar.”

Not everyone gets a burning bush experience. But should Christians act like they need one?

Then of course he went on to explain the context. As best I recall (it was a crazy weekend) he said that as a writer (also of Oxygen’s sequel The Fifth Man and thriller novels Shade and Powers), he’s met many people who show him their manuscripts. They’re in varying genres, though with conferences dominated by the LotC™ you can guess which genres predominate.

“Will you look at this?” they ask him.

Many will also exult: “God laid this on my heart. It’s such an amazing story. God told me to write this!”

Well in that case, Olson confessed to thinking: God can’t spell and has bad grammar.

And yet many writers seeking publication and wider writing Ministry seem unwilling to consider that their very spiritual-seeming sense of divine guidance could use some “earthly” grounding. That could include honing one’s craft, being humble and patient, and seeking to glorify Jesus Christ—not merely touching him, when they are tagged with criticism, as if he’s “base.”

Is it God’s secret will for someone write and even be published?

The answer to that, I’ll suggest, is by definition secret. Theologians often point to the fact that throughout Scripture God shows He has “two wills”: a secret or hidden will, and a revealed will or will of command. Here’s how one theologian shows the difference:

Surely, a distinction between aspects of God’s will is evident in many passages of Scripture. According to Moses, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). Those things that God has revealed are given to us for the purpose of obeying God’s will: “that we may do all the words of this law.” There were many other aspects of his plan, however, that he had not revealed to them: many details about future events, specific details of hardship or of blessing in their lives, and so forth. With regard to these matters, they were simply to trust him.

—from Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem (edited by Jeff Purswell), Zondervan, 1999, page 96

Christians who aren’t certain about a difference, or who think His will simply works in one way, may fall all over themselves trying to figure out God’s secret will before doing anything.

God was kind enough to give Gideon advance assurance of His will via the fleece (Judges 6: 36-40). But did He say others should repeat such tests?

Perhaps more dangerous, we could ignore God’s revealed will while trying to find His secret will for assurance. As Jared Moore cautions, that’s tantamount to practicing divination. Thus, even Christians who are concerned (maybe understandably!) about the occult, real and perceived, may be doing more witchcraft-like secret-knowledge seeking than they know. After all, does God ever promise in Scripture that His Spirit will give a sense of peace, or some kind of a sign of miracle or even coincidence, before we make a big decision — such as a career field, marriage pursuit, or reading or writing a particular book?

Despite some secondary disputes over spiritual gifts and miracles, most Christians agree that the canon of Scripture in two testaments, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is closed. God could tell someone something new, but is that thinking consistent with His already revealed Word?

And if we don’t hear Him directly or have “a peace,” should that prevent us taking a risk?

Recent posts — among them Sally Apokedak’s Divine Calling, Mike Duran’s Where Do Writers Fit in the Church? and Fred Warren’s Call Writing right here on Speculative Faith — discuss from varying angles the question of whether Christians are indeed called to write novels. Is that within God’s will? If so, how can we know — or can we know at all?

My encouragement is this:

  1. If any deed comes from faith in Christ (whatever doesn’t is sin — Romans 14:23);
  2. And if this task or calling does not violate God’s revealed will in Scripture;
  3. Then there’s no way to know if a thing lies within God’s secret will until we’ve already done it. We may fail, and still God is working; or succeed — also by God working!

And if while writing, preaching, or doing anything else I violate God’s revealed will — well, that was according to God’s secret will, because it happened; however, what I did was still outside His will of command, which if I love Him I should want to follow (John 14: 15, 21). Ignoring my own pride, arrogance and greed, while refusing attempts to help me grow — those are sins, no matter how much I claim It’s Ministry or God Told Me.

Hey, that sounds familiar:

If you think you’ve been called to write, but, like Mr. Bear up there, you see writing as the fast track to fame and fortune, don’t care about learning how to write well, and are impervious to the feedback and advice of people trying to help you, I think it’s safe to say you might not be in the center of God’s will.

— from Call Writing, Fred Warren on SpeculativeFaith.com, March 29

So how have you thought about God’s will(s) before? How might exploring some theology on the topic not just help us feel happy because we know more stuff, but help in our lives?

For readers and writers: how might learning to trust God to keep His secret will to Himself, even as we obey His revealed will and even take some risks, help us in our life callings? Have you ever assumed that if you didn’t get some sign or inner peace like you’ve heard about, you’re not within God’s will?

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Patrick says:

    It seems to me to be a lack of understanding about how God works. God does prompt me to do things in life, he expects obedience and convicts of sin when I don’t obey. Being faithful to God’s command is just what we are supposed to do as his children. It’s not a special calling- it’s general to all who believe and love Him- we are expected to seek His will and be faithful with what is revealed to us.

    It seems some people get a prompt from God, perhaps an encouragement to hone and develop a particular gift such as writing, and they run too far with it. Like your talk of Secret Will and Revealed Will – people make assumptions about Secret Will loosely based on Revealed Will. For instance: God prompted me to write a novel. Does that mean that these ideas for the novel are God’s ideas? Does that mean that when I write it down that God is writing through me? Is the story already written and I just need to get it down on paper for God? I really don’t think so.

    Couldn’t it just be the Father encouraging His child to to use a talent? A talent that he gave and entrusted to this person to invest time in developing, to learn to master it, to learn how to best use it to the glory of the one who blessed them with it? Just because the King pushes his Princes and Princesses to work in the Kingdom (and sometimes with specific tasks such as preaching, teaching, writing, etc…) Doesn’t mean He does it For You, it doesn’t mean God writes sermons, prepares lessons, or writes speculative fiction novels. God blesses and gifts his children and inspires us- naturally inspires us just by Being God- and sparks creativity as effortlessly as he spoke the universe into existence.

    He desires not for us to be automatons carrying out His perfect will devoid of a will of our own. God will do God’s Will- He desires for us to bend our will to His. To wrap our will around his intentions for us. He doesn’t bless us for doing whatever we want to do, no matter how “good” we believe our intentions are, if it’s not what God wants for us. It’s when we want what He wants, that He can work in us.

    God asked me to write a specific novel out of several ideas I’ve had rolling around in my head over the course of a decade. I’m pretty sure the ideas are my own ideas, but the fantasy story has transformed with this request into my own faith story. God wants me to tell my story- to Testify about what He has done in my life- but apparently it would be really cool if I did so using another planet and strange creatures. Using fantasy to convey things in a way that people might not get the significance of if I just told my autobiography. Maybe I’m harder to relate to than this fictional character I’ve been writing about. Maybe others don’t perceive my world or life events the way I do, but through fiction I can present things as I’ve perceived them with the contrasts and impacts that I’ve experienced.

    I’m sure God will continue to guide the process- but I’ll be doing the work. That’s my part- to trust God and be faithful in what’s been revealed. Not to try to figure out “Why?” I don’t assume God want’s to make me a best selling author. I don’t even assume that this particular story will ever be published. Maybe it’s just for me to do in obedience to what has been asked of me- simply for my personal growth in faith- maybe it’s just for my friends to read- I really don’t know why… and I’ve never heard of God giving out “get-rich-quick” schemes. Sorry if I’ve degenerated to rambling- but I hope my perceptions don’t merely echo this post- but add a different ring to it that will resonate more of the truth out into the sea of believers who might hear.

  2. Nikole Hahn says:

    He’s caused a couple of ministries to diminish and ultimately fail when I tried to use them to replace the time spent on writing. In my opinion, He gives us gifts, spiritual gifts, that we are to use for His glory. I’m not sure what my future holds for writing, but I’ll keep trying, learning His Word, praying, and blogging until something happens. Whatever happens will be His will, but probably won’t be what I expect.

  3. Stephen, I could be wrong, but it seems to me you might be discounting the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

    I’m not sure the idea of God having a “secret will” is something Scripture teaches. Of course He’s in no way obligated to reveal all. He doesn’t. But I do think He answers prayer. If we ask for guidance, why would we think He withholds it?

    Does guidance mean “calling”? I don’t think so. I think guidance means guidance. How does He do this? Sometimes by giving us a sense of peace, sometimes by the circumstances of our lives — open or closed doors, council from friends, Scripture brought to mind, or Scripture faithfully preached. It can come in many forms.

    Undoubtedly, as you suggested, writers “going, not knowing,” like Abraham did, builds faith. But Abraham had a clear calling from God. He didn’t just one day decide to head out believing God would lead him.

    The thing is, before God called him to go, Abraham could have stayed if he wanted to or he could have gone if he wanted. Once God called, he was going to be either obedient or disobedient, depending on whether he went or stayed. That’s the difference between being called or not, I think, because I believe God may call believers in just such a way today. He doesn’t call everyone, just like He didn’t call everyone in Abraham’s day.

    Should only the called write? No. As near as I can tell, God didn’t call Lot to go with Abraham, but he did. Was that sinful? Some might argue it was because of what happened to him later. I don’t think we can jump to that conclusion because there were other decisions he made along the way that seem more clearly aligned to the position he found himself in.

    My point is, if people love writing, they can write. I don’t think they need to wait to be called. In fact, I wonder if God doesn’t call us to do what we wouldn’t do by natural inclination. I love writing. Really love it. But I don’t know if I would have ever considered pursuing it apart from a belief that God called me to it.

    Now God giving writers the word to write or writers saying they won’t change a word of their manuscript because God gave them their story — those issues are another matter entirely.


    • Perhaps it will help for me to reiterate that at this stage in church history, yes, I certainly do believe God still works miracles and the Spirit will guide us! However, my main point is that a Christian can’t know for sure what God’s hidden will in the present is before making a decision. That’s counter to some of the memes that say, for example, one shouldn’t choose a college, or a particular type of car, or risk interviewing for or taking a job, without some kind of clear advance spiritual sign. For such things, not specifically outlined in Scripture, Christians have freedom to decide.

      And that would include writing. But even those of us (like myself) who’ve already found some success with writing as a career struggle sometimes with wondering what would in the future prove at last that it was God’s will all along. I think the only sure way to know that something was within God’s hidden will — i.e., whatever comes to pass — is if it comes to pass. Thus, if it didn’t happen, it wasn’t God’s hidden will.

      Hope that helps? I can also include links to more-nonfiction-life-oriented articles on the subject.

  4. my main point is that a Christian can’t know for sure what God’s hidden will in the present is before making a decision.

    I understand your point, I believe, Stephen. I’m just saying I don’t agree. I don’t think you can say I don’t know what God’s will for me is. You can say that about you, but you can’t know that God has indeed called me to write, though I can know that. It’s not revealed in Scripture, but it’s as clear to me as if it had been and as important for me to obey as any of the commands given to the Church at large.

    I don’t believe because we’re in “the Church age” that God has stopped dealing with individuals individually.

    How many people did He guide specifically whose stories never made it into inspired Scripture? We don’t know because they never made it into inspired Scripture. 😉 But I can’t help but think that He wasn’t limited to working with a handful of people. Look at Apollos, Gaius, Barnabas, Silas, Epaphroditus, and so many others we know by little more than their names. Why shouldn’t we believe that God gave them, through His Holy Spirit, direct instruction, as He did Paul?

    Why, then, shouldn’t we believe He can do the same today, if He so chooses?


  5. Fascinating discussion.

    how might learning to trust God to keep His secret will to Himself, even as we obey His revealed will and even take some risks, help us in our life callings? Have you ever assumed that if you didn’t get some sign or inner peace like you’ve heard about, you’re not within God’s will?

    I think these are both very important questions.

    I agree that we waste time when we sit around waiting for secret revelation of his will for us, instead of doing what he’s already made clear to us. I used to put out fleeces when I was a new Christian. All the time. I wanted God to be my best friend and to tell me, down to the minutest detail, what I should do every minute of the day. I’ll spare you the long story about how God taught me to knock that off. I’d never thought of it before, but I think Jared was right. I was practicing divination. I liked his post.

    And yet, I do believe God has spoken to me many times outside of scripture. He has spoken to me through nature, through the voice of my pastor, through my husband, through friends, through my children, and through movies and books. He has used all of these things to convict me. He has also brought scripture verses to mind many, many times when I was wondering if I should do this thing or that thing, or when I needed an answer to why God was working this way or that way in my life.

    I think there is scriptural support for men to say, “God led me.” The Spirit led Christ into the wilderness. He also changed Paul’s course. I think we can say, “God compelled me to do this thing.” Paul said he was compelled to preach.

    The problem we get into is when we want to wait for some sign before we make some decision that needs to be made, I think.

  6. Ken Rolph says:

    I noted in passing the quote about bishops writing novels. I once knew a bishop who did this. It was a long sermon with generic characters (not even cardboard). He didn’t know he was different because he never read novels himself.

    When I was publishing I was continually pestered by people who said that “God gave me this”. I always wanted to say that I gave away my old rubbish too. The worst were those who said God had given them something and had told them He wanted me to publish it. I was always able to say that God had said nothing about it to me.

    There’s something about religion that rots the brain.

  7. Lydia T says:

    I’ve never blogged before this is my first time I’m new at this, but I thought I would give it a try just voicing a little. Sometimes when God gives someone something to transcribe or do he does not tell everybody or other people, he might just tell that person alone; God can be very mysterious sometimes, and he can’t be put under a microscope to be figured out, so saying that he gave you something can be hard, because you will meet some people that don’t apprehend; some will say he didn’t tell me that. To me how you will know when writings or a prophetic word is from God “it will lead people to salvation through Christ alone and it will not stray from his teachings in the Holy Bible it will guide with love” and of course the prophetic word “will” come to pass; that’s just my own opinion of how you will know that God is manifesting himself through people who have claimed he’s given them a word.

  8. Lydia, thanks for taking the plunge and commenting! Along with the ongoing discussion with my friend and co-writer Becky above, this is turning out to be a more in-depth and nonfiction-bent discussion than I’d anticipated.

    I suppose I’d continue by asking a few questions, not about someone’s experience about being told by God to do something, but whether Scripture says we should expect this.

    Also, is the “gift of prophecy” really about figuring something out in advance — as if we can look back in the Word about how God continued His plan of redemption using prophets who told the future, and think to compare that way He worked for Big-Picture Plan with how we (hope He might) clue us in about the decisions we should make?

    I believe the gift of prophecy continues today! But reading Paul’s words on the topic lets us know this is more about encouraging one another with well-timed references to Scripture — the only sure Word and God’s final, ultimate revelation — than it is about telling someone the future in advance. If you like, I can review some more articles and book excerpts that have helped me come to this conclusion, and post it here later.

    I’m not at all saying the Holy Spirit doesn’t guide us, or that “the Bible is sufficient” rules out God using miracles now to point us back to His Word. Some Christians go overboard with that (especially because many do act like the Bible is not enough).

    What I am saying, though, is similar to what Sally said above: Christians get into trouble when they expect some fleece-like “signs” before they act.

    For example, just this last Wednesday night, my wife and I were driving to a church dinner, and I was really struggling with something. Then in the car, in the other lane, was a very simple (almost cliched) bumper sticker, which said Pray More, Worry Less. So I began to pray. I thanked God for the situation and for how, I wanted to trust, He would use it for His own glory and for my good.

    Afterward I felt better, which was a nice perk — especially when followed by Mexican food at church — but the best part about it was that I had obeyed God. Could I claim directly that “God told me” to pray and the Spirit used that bumper sticker to tell me something “new”? Maybe so. But I’d want to be careful not to equate that kind of God-told-me with the much stronger, more-ultimate God-told-me-in-His-Word — which is how I really knew that He wanted me to pray, because that’s where He says so. Instead I might be a little more careful how I told others about it. I think God wanted me to pray, specifically for that situation, and not worry is more careful than saying, outright, God told me.

    At the very least, Christians may need to be very, very careful about their language. I have heard — as I’m sure you have — countless stories about people who made bad choices, or declined to make any choice at all, because they said “God told me” such-and-such. I think we ought to be careful about saying that even after we make a choice and it turns out to have been the right one. But let’s at least wait ’til it happens!

    Here’s another example — one quote from one article that helped me begin exploring this topic. Writer Dan Phillips, on the Pyromaniacs blog, had reviewed a book in which at least two contributors, of a popular ministry-oriented family, outlined the view that the Holy Spirit will unmistakably, in-advance, guide Christians in their daily decisions in ways similar to Old-Testament prophets or revelations. I don’t think it’s necessary to pull specific personalities into the issue (I’m sure those authors have done fine things for the Kingdom), so I’ll tweak this a bit, and the first column is here and the second is here, if anyone wishes to read more and explore how he builds the whole case. (One caution, though: he’s quite passionate about this, even more than I am, but he did read the book that I have not read, and also, he’s likely seen more wreckage result from wrong views.)

    Bible in 2D. In order to get here, a fundamental, grave and pervasive hermeneutical error is essential to the [writers’] position. There must be a great and violent flattening of revealed, redemptive history. Pivotal moments in the Bible are pounded down, mashed and flattened into illustrations of daily Christian living. Direct, binding, inerrant prophetic revelations are radically down-sized into illustrations of God nudging us today towards a particular spouse or church ministry or university course major. Prophets who speak for God are shriveled into everyday Christians listening for that still, small murmur that the Bible never calls us to seek.

    So Moses — a prophet without parallel until the coming of Christ (Numbers 12:6-8; Deuteronomy 18:15; 34:10; Acts 3:22ff.) — becomes merely another illustration for how we should expect God to speak to us (pp. 46, 64).


    Prophet-schmophet? Next I ask: if we’re to hear God’s voice constantly, then how is the office of prophet distinct? Biblically, what marks a prophet is that he receives direct revelation, and speaks it inerrantly (cf. Exodus 4:15-16; 7:1-2; Deuteronomy 18:15-22). If every believer hears God’s voice and words, and receives individual non-Biblical guidance, what distinguishes each from a prophet? Is it the inerrant speaking of the message? But why, if “the only way for us to have a relationship with Christ” is to be directed by Christ exactly as He did with the apostles (pp. 45-46), and if we are to assume a one-for-one correspondence between their experience and ours?

    Do you suspect I am caricaturing their view? But it is the [writers] themselves who again and again indiscriminately cite the experience of prophets, seers and apostles as the patterns for our experience (cf. pp. 39, 45, 46, 52, 53, 54, 58). Are they our pattern, or aren’t they? If they are, there is no “struggle” to ferret out God’s voice, nor need of confirmation to follow a labyrinthine, slapdash path.

    Later, he makes his main case: if the voice I think you’re hearing really is from God, and is at the same “level” of command as the way He spoke with the prophets, then I might want to make sure it really is His Voice — otherwise, I would have disobeyed and sinned.

    Supposing I was (somehow) born untainted by Adam’s sin.
    Supposing I never sinned in my entire life. And then…
    Supposing God was “telling” me ([last name of writers]-style) to become a truck-driver, and I became a cook…
    …would Jesus have had to die to keep me from going to Hell for being a cook instead of a truck-driver?

    Or for picking the wrong seminary? Marrying the wrong person? Buying the wrong toothpaste? Going to the wrong showing of “Fireproof”?

    Here is where I would find out how serious they were about their notions. If God directs me to do something, and I do not do that, then I have sinned, and I deserve Hell for it.

    It’s just not funny anymore, is it?

    Pretty intense stuff. But if you read the whole thing, that may help to see why — even if you end up disagreeing. Maybe we just don’t think about how others take some ideas too far, more consistent even thus us — even if we somehow seem to have done all right!

    What other results could follow from this? A friend of mine, in a series we wrote together last year for YeHaveHeard called God’s Will Hunting, discusses it well, and demonstrates an example from his own recent history.

    [P]eople often listen for some sort of “burning in the bosom” or pray for a clear answer to a decision. I think praying for an answer on discernment and knowledge is different, but for know I’m concentrating on people praying for a clear mandate on a decision.

    We’ve created a sort of Bible code, and we didn’t need Dan Brown after all. We look at God’s sovereign will as something we have to figure out, as something we need to know or else we’re in trouble (or perhaps we worry that God will be in trouble because we didn’t figure out his sovereign plan).

    I’m thinking right now of an example in my own life. During senior year in high school, I was wrestling between two very different college choices. One was my state university which was more local, less expensive but could still provide me with a good education if I worked hard. The other was a private Christian college in New York City that I’d heard nothing but great things about to which I’d been accepted.

    God wasn’t closing doors on either side (another fallacy I believed in at the time and will address later), and everything looked good both ways.

    So I prayed for him to tell me what to do. I prayed for months for an answer (literally into June before the start of the semester). I listened and listened and eventually realized that I wasn’t going to get a voice. I never kidded myself that a little tug one way or another was God’s clear voice for me, as I couldn’t find examples like that in scriptures (more on that later). I realized I wasn’t going to get a clear “Yes” or “No” from God and that I had to make a decision.

    So I prayed for wisdom, looked at the pros and cons of each choice, asked for thoughts from my parents and made a decision to stay with my state university.

    I think that was the beginning of when I started to explore more examples in scripture and particularly which examples applied to me.

    I think a great deal of what we desire when we ask for God’s will is really God’s forecast. We don’t want to trust in him; we’d rather know if this job will work out long term, if this person will say yes to going out with us, and if living in this state or that state will be worse off for us in the long run. But in addition to not trusting in him, we also limit God in this way. We act as if he will punish us for not figuring out his cosmic plan or that not figuring it out will prevent him from accomplishing his purpose. I can find examples of neither in scripture. Yet despite our foulups in trying to discern God’s will, he’s not limited by that either.

    In the end, much of it comes down to trusting God and realizing his sovereignty.

    Now I think I’ll close with my own Anecdote. Actually, this follows the very same writers’ conference I described above — I had actually attended only half the conference. The rest of the weekend I spent meeting the girl who would eventually become my wife (the previous year, we had “met” virtually on the NarniaWeb forum). Now, driving from Dallas to my wife’s area, I was quite excited, and very sure she was the girl for me — yes, even that early! On that trip was also born an idea for a new novel, based on several ideas that had been floating around my head for months, and many remarks about Christian fiction made at the conference. That novel is now complete.

    But here’s the part I’m hesitant to share, though it occurs to me that it could be a great example of a “hostile witness” case later if this truly does happen. I felt like God was indeed saying to me — making a special case, apart from all those other wannabe writers out there — if you can write this novel, it will be published.

    No exaggeration. I had tears running down my face and everything. Felt so amazing.

    That sounds quite spiritual and thrilling, does it not? And yet although it seems that very novel still has a chance of being published, that “prophecy” hasn’t come true yet.

    And what if it does? Should I say “God told me it would” and thus discourage all the many writers out there who have been sure of the same thing, and it has not happened — or never did happen? What if the same thing happens to me, and it turned out that my seeming “inner voice” making this prediction was simple optimism, sourced by an emotional cocktail of writers’ conference afterglow, creativity enhancement, great music on my car stereo (in a new car, by the way), and anticipation of meeting the loveliest and most amazing girl I had ever thought to encounter?

    That’s why I’ve considered, if I do end up finding a publisher, using this very anecdote as an example: be careful about saying “God told me this would happen.” It might and it might not have been God, and it might and might not have happened. But what if it doesn’t? Do I want to put all my stock in a “leading” and have it fail? And even if it succeeds, do I want to risk thinking and acting as if God’s Word wasn’t sufficient?

    What if I’d also thought “God told me I would marry this girl” and that ended up not working out? Worse, I just might share this little bit of information with the girl herself, and be thought — and just as likely be — a manipulative jerk.

    (I’ve heard of romantic relationships in which guy or girl said “God told me to do this,” and the other one just might respond, “Funny, He hasn’t ‘said’ a thing to me about it.”)

    In tricky situations like this, I don’t want to err on one side or another. Yes, God still guides us with His Spirit, but that influence seems to be more subtle than we’d like to think sometimes. I once heard Jeff Purswell, a big Holy-Spirit-guidance guy, at a conference talking about how too many Christians expect the Spirit to do Big Things all the time, Biblical-epic-style miracles or even obvious Signs, and thus miss Him working in all the little details. The Holy Spirit might certainly arrange for you to meet just the right person at the right time, who will then end up loving your manuscript and getting it to the right publisher and make you a God-glorifying star. But He might also be working, just as much, in the less-glamorous labor of re-editing that same sentence yet again, or helping you at your day job, or helping you care for children.

    Anyway, thus ends probably the longest comment I’ve written for Speculative Faith — even if it’s mostly quotes from other sources! I hope this helps, and I’m certainly willing to continue the conversation as well. Please let me know if something seemed unclear!

  9. Such a long comment, Stephen. I’m going to respond to the first half before I forget what I want to say as I read the second half. 😉

    First, I think there’s a difference between being called to something and being a prophet. I think God can call any of us to do something He wants. He only calls prophets to be prophets — and that’s not every Christian.

    I agree with your understanding of what a prophet does. I also have recently come to believe that I’ve sat under the teaching from the pulpit of a prophet. He would NEVER have called himself that because he believes the ecstatic gifts have ceased. But I think God doesn’t really care what we name people’s positions (or gifts). If He wants a preacher to speak His word into the lives of people in a prophetic way, it doesn’t matter if we say, My pastor spoke a word of prophecy or My pastor preached as if he knew exactly what I personally needed to hear.

    Second, I don’t think being called and expecting to be called are the same. I’m in complete agreement with what Sally said. To illustrate from my own situation again, I fully expected to be a teacher until the day I retired. I never anticipated nor looked for a call to write. I wasn’t sitting around waiting to be called to something. My hand was already at the plow, doing what was right in front of me to do. So too with Moses. He was doing his shepherd thing when God called him. So was Gideon. So was Paul, even though his hand was raised against God’s Anointed.

    As far as asking God for direction, I find the comments from that article to be … sad. How we limit God. As if He’s not interested in what we’re doing! Why shouldn’t He care who we marry, what job we take, or what school we attend? And if we ask Him for direction, why should He turn His back and tell us to go it alone?

    Yes, I think some people cheapen God by thinking He’s all about serving us. But the other extreme is just as egregious, I think. James says we don’t have because we don’t ask. In context he’s talking about the things we quarrel about. He goes on to say we don’t have what we ask for because we ask with wrong motives. It’s a very powerful passage, I think, about how we limit God. Both extremes are right there (see chapter 4).

    I had a pastor teach me when I was deciding whether to stay in a short term mission assignment or come home that God works through a number of means, one being our inclinations. He said to examine my heart and see if there was sin, to see if there was a Scriptural command that applied to what I was deciding, and when those things were answered, to then do what I wanted to do. If I’ve asked God for direction, I believe He gives it, meaning that His Spirit is quite capable of inclining my heart in the way He wants me to go. It’s made decisions a lot easier.

    Back to the rest of your comment. 😀


  10. Stephen, you quoted this:

    Here is where I would find out how serious they were about their notions. If God directs me to do something, and I do not do that, then I have sinned, and I deserve Hell for it.

    This is … odd. For one thing, no one has been born untainted by Adam’s sin, except Adam. And all he did was take a bite of fruit. I mean was that so very much more serious than going to the wrong showing of Fireproof? Really, this is a silly point. Disobedience is disobedience. And the blood of Christ covered it. However, there are consequences that we might encounter for not listening to God’s voice — blessings we’ll lose out on. And if we don’t ask for His guidance, mistakes we might make that we wouldn’t have made. Yes, God can and does work in spite of and through our mistakes, but how great that He is also desirous of sparing us from the mess of our own making.

    I’ll give you another personal example — not something at all typical. A few years ago I was working as a stringer for a newspaper group in the area, covering high school sports. I was assigned to a big football game and as time ran down, I packed up my things, left the press box, and headed toward the exit so I could get out quickly. After all, I was under deadline.

    Time ran out, I took off. Half way to the parking lot, in my head, as loud as if it had been audible was Check for your notes. Silly, I thought. I put them in my bag. I’m in a hurry … deadline and all. Check for your notes. What if … So I stopped, opened my bag, and … no clipboard with all my game stats and notes.

    God’s Holy Spirit or my subconscious reacting to having left the clipboard on the table in the press box?

    I would be uncertain how to answer that except for the prayer I was asking about that job. Why, in light of my prayer, would I believe my subconscious had saved the assignment rather than God?

    Would I have been disobedient to not check for the notes? I don’t know. I think of it as quenching the Holy Spirit. If I had driven all the way to the newspaper office before discovering I didn’t have the notes, I could never have retrieved them in time. I would not have met my obligation to my editor, failed to give the community the report about the game, and disappointed a lot of people. I look at that as the consequence.

    Perhaps there would have been a break in my fellowship with God, too. It’s one of those things that can’t really be analyzed because you can’t look at it from both angles — just from the angle of what did happen.

    Where does all this leave us? I’d say, I agree with your point that we shouldn’t wait around for a calling. I’d disagree about us not knowing that we are called. I’d also say that being called is not the same thing as being directed. And I’d add, I don’t think we pray enough or expect God to be involved in our lives the way He’s willing to be.

    Your writing story well might be God revealing His plan for you, Stephen. It would be cool if it was.

    God’s never promised me publication — only the call to write what’s turned into The Lore of Efrathah. It may never see the light of day. That’s OK. Not my responsibility. I will pursue publication, but I only know I was called to write that story.


  11. Becky: some clarifications in today’s column, which almost presents the converse of this one, might help here! Again I think we’ve been more in agreement, just approaching the issue from different angles, and with different memories and Anecdotes about Christians who go too far either way on or the other.

    An excerpt from Seeing truth reflections in light of Scripture:

    My guess: though I did mention Christians who expect some kind of guidance before making decisions about extra-Biblical matters — who specifically to marry, what job to choose and such — I didn’t make it clear that yes, I believe we can look back at our lives and see where God was working, and even how His Spirit has sovereignly guided us.

    Yet that personal guidance is best seen after the fact — when time has passed, or perhaps that very strong impulse has actually come true and we can see the God-glorifying results.

    One also can’t rule out the Biblical gift of prophecy. That’s a subject of much debate, which I don’t mind taking up another time, but in short: it’s very difficult to prove Biblically that certain gifts of the Spirit in the New Testament — not just mentioned, but endorsed — have suddenly expired now that the Bible is finished. “[W]hen the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Cor. 13:10) isn’t talking about the Bible coming and certain gifts drying up — and anyone who does want to honor Scripture would want to read that in better context!

    Spiritual gifts include prophecy, which Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:5 is even better than “speaking in tongues” (which I’m not touching here). But what is this kind of prophecy? It’s not using an inner spiritual-warfare Geiger counter or forecasting the future. Instead it is speaking “to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3). So this kind of prophecy is done in a church, with testing (1 Cor. 14: 29-33), for the body’s building-up.

    Is that contrary to the truth that Scripture is sufficient? Not if we take the word of Scripture itself — and not when any “prophecy” given in church points back to Scripture anyway.

    This is similar to other ways God “speaks” to us. And though I think we must be careful with our language if we say “God told me” to do such-and-such, so as not to confuse it with how God inspired His Word, we must not overreact if someone believes God pointed back to His Word’s light with a reflection. Even if that’s an amazing story.

  12. […] readers may still be in defense mode. (Something similar happened when I tried to question the “God told me to be a novelist” line.) Of them I’d only ask: if you’re a Christian, how did you first believe? Was it solely from an […]

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