Dear God, please speak to me about… (Prayers and Decision Making)

Often I hear well-intentioned Christians talk about prayerfully considering major decisions going on in their lives in such a way that sounds like they are waiting for God to talk to them specifically.  This waiting can finally end for them when they feel right or actually hear something from “God”.   As an example, people often waiting for God’s voice on what kind of car to purchase.  This is an over-spiritualization of our prayers, which in the end soils prayers and decision making.

What does it mean to prayerfully consider something?  What should a good Lutheran do in regards to keeping God involved in our decisions and asking for His blessings upon them.

I would suggest that if you are waiting to hear God’s voice in your prayers apart from seeking God’s Word you will only hear the voice of the devil (or even the voice of your own mind’s will, most likely the voice of the Old Adam).

In fact, in our efforts to hear from God apart from his Word we actually begin a fast path to falling for the Devil’s schemes.  We end up treating God as a puppet meant to do our will [animism], or worse yet, a drug (or car) dealer meant to meet my felt needs just in the way I pray for them.  It means to open the door to point the old Adamic finger at a bad decision and say something to the effect of “the woman you gave to be with me”, blaming God for our bad decisions.  It means that we violate the Second Commandment and use God’s name in vain to sanctify our own sinful desires.

Our Small Catechism confesses that God has given us our reason and our senses (see the First Article of the Apostles Creed).  That is something to keep in mind as we sit down to pray about the many things that come in this life.  God’s answer to a lot of things is “use the reason I gave to you”.  Take in God’s Word, which does speak to many topics and at least provide some guidance in how to think about things.  Pray to God for wisdom, but then take your God-given wisdom, weigh out the options and make the decision.  Once you have made a decision, continue to pray, asking God to bless the decision you have made.  Realize that such prayers are usually covered by the petition “Give us this day our daily bread” (for more on that read the Large Catechism).

The key to all of this is the freedom given to us in Christ.  Forgiveness achieved and already given to us, our eternal fate is already set, and the same Jesus looks out for our temporal things as well.  He gives daily bread to all, even the evil ones.  Under such freedom, we can serve in this world with good conscience toward God.  This liberates our way of decision-making from having to rely on the feelings of our heart of hearing some still, small voice of God.

Also important to remember is that God does not want to deal with us through anything but the Word (and Sacraments, the visible Word).  When we claim to hear His voice we are not hearing Him but the devil, an unholy spirit meant to draw us far away from God and His Word.  From our Lutheran Confessions, a quote by Dr. Luther:

“Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and the Sacraments.” (Smalcald Articles Part III, Art. VIII, 10)

 

So my quick steps for sorting things out are:

  1. Pray to God – take the time also to thank Him for your gift of reason, confess your misuse of that reason to serve yourself and not your neighbors, and then ask Him for wisdom as you seek to make a decision.
  2. Does the Word of God speak to this decision specifically?  How about in related things?  How does my neighbor fit into this decision?  Seek out God’s Word.  Seek out the wisdom of the world on worldly matters as well.  Even the heathen are given reason by God which can be helpful.
  3. Apply your information and make a reasonable decision.  Sometimes this is hard as your decision may present two very undesirable options before you.
  4. Pray to God for His blessing upon your decision, and rest securely.

 

If you prefer for a Law-oriented way of prayerful decision making, read this.  That way of decision making will trap you in doubts, insecurities, guilts, and always asking “was I sincere enough?”  It will also afford you the ability to place the blame on your lack of faith and devotion rather than flawed reason or the fact that failure can sometimes be very helpful in our lives.

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He manages the work of BJS in cooperation with KFUO and is a regular host of Concord Matters (and is also the regular guest on His Time to discuss BJS articles each week). He also oversees the great work done for Steadfast Throwdown. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.

Comments

Dear God, please speak to me about… (Prayers and Decision Making) — 16 Comments

  1. Dr. R.C. Sproul of the Reformed wing of the church talked about something similar to this happening to him. He talked about asking people to pray for him about a job opportunity, and different people responded by saying “God told me you need to go to ‘x’ to work.” He then said he was glad he didn’t listen to those people, because otherwise he would have been at seven different jobs at once! Ironically, the one place he did settle on was the one that didn’t have a “Divine revelation” about it.

  2. Is a “divine call” — i.e., the formal communication to a pastoral candidate — from God, or is it from people?

  3. A Divine Call shouldn’t be in quotes and it is by God through His people. The Holy Spirit places our Pastors.

  4. I note that the article above warns against “waiting to hear God’s voice in your prayers.” Yet the Divine Call is believed to be a Call from God Himself, conveyed through a congregation after prayerful deliberation over how best to fill a pastoral vacancy.

    How does one reconcile the claim “that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments” with the claim that the “Holy Spirit places our Pastors”?

    Is the pastoral calling process an exception to the general rule as to how God deals with us? Are placement decisions without error?

  5. @Carl H #5

    That seems to be a false distinction. The Holy Spirit calls pastors via the Word as expressly pointed out at the beginning of every ordination and installation. God works through means, here the means being the congregation.

    Similarly God deals with us through the Scrament of the Altar, combining His Word with physical elements. The means are simple bread and wine.

    I don’t see that any reconciliation is needed, for I see no conflict between the work of the Holy Spirit and that God works through means.

    Pr. Don Kirchner
    “Heaven’s OK, but it’s not the end of the world.” Jeff Gibbs

  6. @Carl H #5
    If a congregation’s prayerful deliberation involves waiting for the right “feeling” or actually hearing something from God then a congregation is sinning against the 2nd Commandment (and thus the First also). God’s Word sets up the Office of the Ministry for them and would have them fill it (Mt 28; Jn 20 among others). The congregation that is vacant seeks to do just that through the call process.

    Are placement decisions without error? Silly question. From our human and temporal view it may seem like there are errors in the process. Do sinners mess with things and make it difficult, sure – that is exactly what sinners do. Does God use even the sinful actions of others – you better hope so or we are all in a bad spot.

    By the way, this also means that a pastor doesn’t look for the right feeling or hearing God’s voice when he considers a call that has been extended to him also.

  7. Excellent article! We are called to live by faith and not by sight – or feedback from other senses.

    The Holy Spirit does mess with our emotions though. He convicts me of sin which leads to contrition. He gives and strengthens faith, which leads to joy because my sins are foregiven. The Holy Spirit also gives us love for other people which causes all kinds of emotional responses.

    Martin Luther often wrote of contrition and the terror stricken in the heart of sinners, and this terror driving people to Christ for relief, regardless of what their reason or logical thought process dictated. These emotions were not created apart from the Word, but because of and through the Word, spoken, preached, or read.

    I have a logical bent that avoids emotion. I try to ignore emotion and make decisions in spite of whatever I may or possibly should be feeling. That is fine when I’m buying a car – but it doesn’t help me get along with my wife!

  8. @Joe #9
    Thank you Joe. I would agree that God uses our emotions, but we need to discern from God’s Word if it is God or something (or someone else). Usually with regards to the terrors of which you speak it is a result of God’s Word of Law coming to a person (either directly from outside by the Bible or another person, or from the memory of God’s Law from catechesis). The same way that the Gospel can bring the feeling of comfort and peace and joy. BUT – emotions must always be checked against the Word of God. And yes, I agree with you, buying a car is much different than loving a wife!

  9. What I find really creepy is how early this starts. In Sunday school with the pre K and kinder kids, we were talking about God talking to us and our talking to Him. I asked them how God talks to us and several said, “in our prayers.” Yikes. So, we had to clear that up directly, basically making the point that God speaks through his word, the Bible, and we speak to Him in our prayers. Where do they get this idea already so young?

  10. Where do they get this idea already so young?

    Their human nature. It’s not surprising that when children talk to someone they would think that someone is going to talk back to them in the same way. In addition, unfortunately some may have been wrongly taught the popular evangelical view that prayer is a conversation with God.

    That’s why good Lutheran catechesis is so important. God bless you, Mrs. Hume, for teaching the lambs the Truth.

    Pr. Don Kirchner
    “Heaven’s OK, but it’s not the end of the world.” Jeff Gibbs

  11. Pastor Gaven Mize :
    A Divine Call shouldn’t be in quotes and it is by God through His people. The Holy Spirit places our Pastors.

    Then why do so many district presidents seem to insist that “all calls” go through their office? If a pastor fills in at a vacant congregation a few Sunday’s and the congregation gets together at a voter’s assembly meeting to call this pastor (through prayerful deliberation), then the call should be a valid call. Yet, there are some people who think that this was not a valid call because the call did not go through the DP office. It seems in many cases that the DP has the final say. Sad.

  12. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #7
    A call document used by the Northwest Wisconsin District LCMS http://www.nwdlcms.org/assets/files/Resources/Commissioned-Ministers/Ordained_Call_Document.pdf says:

    “We pray God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has moved us to extend our call to you, to convince you by His Holy Spirit that it comes from Him; to induce you to accept it ….” (Emphasis added.)

    Does that not reflect a belief that God will provide some specific answers to the call committee and to the pastoral candidate beyond the guidance already provided in His Word?

  13. Looking at the context at the above excerpt from the Smalcald Articles, it is clear that the text regarding revelations from God was written against the beliefs of “enthusiasts” who were not only claiming to “have the Spirit without and before the Word” but further distorting and opposing the Word publicly. That posture does not characterize the Christian who has gladly received the Word, believes it, and privately prays for clarity — even a “still, small voice” — concerning a personal matter.

    The end of the Smalcald Article (Part III, Article VIII) clearly recognizes that after receiving the “external Word” some have received divine messages from Him.

    Nevertheless, I believe that expecting to hear an unambiguous “voice” from God is inappropriate. That is because we err when we expect what God has not promised.

    But we err both when we expect what God has not promised and when we insist that God has constrained Himself where, in truth, He has not. Furthermore, we err grievously if we claim that a spirit from God is evil. (Mark 3:28-29) In this regard, it is our responsibility to test the spirits. (1 John 4:1)

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