Singles Q&A: When God Speaks About Relationships
- Wednesday, September 19, 2007
QUESTION: I am a single woman and I read an interesting testimony where a single man said that during his personal devotions, God told him to pursue a certain woman. This man wasn’t praying about her or even considering her, but he was sure it was God’s voice. But then he continued to pray about it, sought counsel from others, and over time came to believe he had truly heard from God. So he did ask this woman out and they eventually married. But I don’t get this. If God is speaking clearly, why are counsel and prayer necessary? Isn’t that relying on men and not on God? Does God really speak clearly to mankind today apart from His written word?
ANSWER: This is a great question to ask, because when it comes to discerning God’s leading in the area of romance, our emotions often cloud our subjective evaluation. Some people lean very heavily on their own interpretation of signs and impressions. Others lean very heavily on their own desires and understanding, without seeking God in prayer. It’s easy for us to live in the extremes—but it’s always a mistake to do so.
Does God Still Speak?
Let me start with your last question first: Does God still speak to mankind today apart from His written word? Scripture is full of references to God leading and guiding His people (Ps. 16:7; 25:9; 32:8), but I think one of the most helpful passages about God’s voice is found in the gospel of John.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. . . . My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:14-16; 27-28 NIV)
Jesus promises that His people know His voice. He compares this relationship to dependent sheep that need a shepherd to lead them to food and water and to protect them from harm. Relationships are not based on a one-time command (“follow me”); they are built upon ongoing dialogue. In fact, the Bible presents many different relationship metaphors for the way God interacts with His people—father, bridegroom, master, teacher, and, of course, the good shepherd. A relationship cannot exist in a vacuum of communication. We are not called to be in a monologue with the Lord or in a relationship with a book. The book points to its Author, who still speaks to His children today.
So how do you recognize the Lord’s voice? Scripture tells us that God speaks through the Bible (John 5:24, 6:63) and that God’s Spirit communes with our spirit (1 John 3:24, Titus 3:5). But Scripture also emphasizes that we gain counsel from others (Proverbs 1:5, 11:14, 13:10, 15:22), which helps us to determine if we are hearing God accurately. The New Testament tells us not to despise the subjective impression of God speaking—prophecy—but to test it (1 Corinthians 14:29-33). In fact, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 is quite specific: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” (ESV).
It’s important to be clear that this kind of personal guidance is not on the same level as the normative revelation of Scripture. The Bible is complete. But as pastor and author Henry Blackaby says, “When God speaks, he does not give new revelation about himself that contradicts what he has already revealed in Scripture. Rather, God speaks to give application of his Word to the specific instances in your life. When God speaks to you, he is applying to your life what he has already said in his Word.”
Then Why Get Counsel?
Now to your other question—if God is speaking clearly, why are prayer and counsel necessary? Because this is how the impression is tested. And because this is how humility is tested.
As women, we are called by Scripture to respect, honor, and submit ourselves to our husbands. But husbands are called to be under the authority of Christ and to follow His example in loving sacrificially (Ephesians 5:22-31). In fact, all Christians are under authority (1 Corinthians 11:3; 8-12). Therefore, in my opinion, two of the most important spiritual qualities to look for in a potential husband are humility and a submission to authority. If a man thinks he has heard from God about something so important as his future wife, it is commendable that he would seek confirmation in prayer and counsel. It shows that he is willing to be examined by others and to wait on God. The opposite is scary—the man who rushes in untested and unquestioned to announce that God has told him that you are to marry him. That kind of unquestioned authority is what leads to cults.
The Bereans were commended for examining the apostle Paul’s teaching in light of the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). If the biggest contributor to the New Testament was examined by others, should we expect any less of ourselves? We should always measure our impressions of God speaking against what is authoritatively recorded in the Bible. But our understanding of the impression we’ve received and the way we interpret the Bible should also withstand the counsel of others. It may be that our desires have blinded us to godly wisdom or accurate exegesis.
The bonus is that this kind of self-controlled humility should carry through from courtship to marriage. One of the most encouraging post-honeymoon statements I ever heard came from a friend of mine to his new bride. He told her that though God had charged him with the responsibility of leading their family, he wanted his wife to know that if she ever felt he wasn’t listening to her counsel or was leading in a sinful or self-centered manner, she had not only his permission, but his encouragement, to go around him to their pastor to get help. This is a man who understands the value of accountability and counsel. What a tremendous blessing and reassurance to the woman who is called by God to follow him!
Back to the testimony you read—I hope your faith is bolstered by the fact that the Lord can speak a woman’s name to a praying man and that he will listen, seek counsel, and follow through. Additionally, when the tough times hit in a marriage—and they always do—what comfort it must be for such a couple to look back and know that God spoke and His people bore witness to it.
Carolyn McCulley works for Sovereign Grace Ministries in church and ministry relations. She is also an author ( Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred) and blogger (solofemininity.blogs.com). Carolyn is also a member of Covenant Life Church where one of her favorite ministries is the single women's discipleship program. She highly recommends the resources for singles from the New Attitude conference and blog.
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