A few weeks back, I had an interesting conversation with a friend about hearing from God, or hearing God's voice. Several infamous moments in history came up. Like, say, the Crusades, or gross mistreatment of Native Americans during early American settlement, where unspeakable acts of violence were performed in the name of God. Though unspoken, I think a takeaway for both of us went something like, "I want nothing to do with that kind of conviction!"
Also a few weeks back, Annie and I were looking for a car. As often happens with research, I'd nearly exhausted myself looking through dealerships, Craig's List, and classifieds. Upon driving home from a friend's house on my day off, I felt like God said, "Peter, you should check out Craig's List before you go home." (We didn't have internet access at home yet). Drove to the office, checked out Craig's List, and saw a car that looked perfect for well below blue book value. Turns out the seller listed it about 5 minutes prior. I was the first caller, and not only did we get a great car, but we saved a bundle. While this is obviously a more mundane, day-to-day situation, most of my big shifts like moving to a new city, career choices, marriage, etc., I'd attribute to some sense of acting on convictions, or inklings sometimes, of, "I feel like God said...".
So, if you believe such things happen, clearly the idea that, "I heard X from God," can be both freeing and helpful, or, likewise, can be limiting or (even worse) hurtful. Surprisingly, I find myself agreeing with skeptics as much as advocates. For example, I'm sold that hearing God shouldn't preclude my being a thoughtful person, or evaluating my choices. Given so many negative examples, one might wonder if it's even possible to be a person who thinks critically while hearing from a God who can offer perspective about my friends and career.
I've always admired people with intense conviction, but perhaps from a distance.
Like, whatever I think of their theology, it's hard to imagine a close friendship with the Boondock Saints. But that's me. Conviction, after all, can fuel big, wonderful choices. MLK Jr., thank God for his conviction!
And therein lies the tricky thing about prayer. How can we be discerning, thoughtful people without losing the conviction that propels us to make bold choices? How do you sail these waters?