Hearing God in Conversation, How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere by Samuel Williamson, Kregal Publications, 2016. Available on amazon.
Preamble to the review: I was gifted with this book, and when I saw what it was about, I immediately felt nervous. I’ve been personally exposed to wacky “hearing from God” individuals and movements, which turned me off of the whole thing. I even had a 3-part blog series several years ago about hearing from God, critiquing the problems. In case you are not familiar with the extremism that can go on in the name of hearing from God, please know there are legitimate concerns. And being “against” hearing from God does not mean we can’t get guidance from God – of course we can – but the question is how.
Review: This book pleasantly surprised me! The author believes that we can hear from God in a variety of ways yet maintains a balanced perspective. The author openly and clearly warns about the weaknesses and potential dangers of hearing from God. This alone gives the book tremendous credibility in my opinion. The “hear from God” folks that I have known simply would not acknowledge the weaknesses. (They heard from God, and that settled it! After all, how can you argue when the message is from God?) Weaknesses like…
- “Too many bully others with a Word from God.” (page 90) – Yep, I encountered that. I once cancelled a social meeting with a friend because I had a clue ahead of time that they were going to bludgeon me with their prophetic word from God. I learned afterwords that I was right, and was glad that perhaps God had given me the intuition about it. (See I do believe in nudges from God!)
- I also encountered a lot of arrogance – a total lack of humility to consider that maybe, just maybe, the Word they think was from God actually was not – and was instead their own selfish motives or clouded by stress and moods. The author encourages humility and that it is better to say “I think I heard God say…” or “I might not have this right, but I wonder if God is saying…” (page 90) – Amen! The author encourages a healthy self-suspicion. “It requires extra self-examination when we hear words from God.” (page 99)
- I encountered the perspective that God is always speaking and is never silent. There was simply no place for God seeming distance or not bringing a prophetic word. Again, the author counteracts this and even has a chapter on the silence of God.
⇒ I observed a real “peer pressure” to hear from God in circles where this prophetic ability is emphasized. As a result, people can end up attributing their own voice to God’s voice.
- Another weakness I encountered was the idea that God will always give us a specific answer, or that hearing directly from God is the primary way to know what to do. Again, the author brings balance here. Some “hear from God” folks can be guilty of wanting to walk by sight, and not by faith! Sometimes we must move forward without knowing where God is leading us. The author emphasizes that “God rarely limits his guiding voice to a single method.” (page 172) We may come to a conclusion about what to do through…using our brains (wise reasoning), prayer, seeking advice from trusted friends, searching the Scripture, trial and error, etc.
Since I just touched on searching the Scripture, the author places much focus on the primacy of the Scripture. A chapter is about the Bible, and there are frequent reminders throughout the book that the Scripture must always be the litmus test. “The only place we have certainty that the voice we hear is from God is in Scripture.” (page 69) We need to be immersed in the Scripture. “Scripture is God’s self-revelation. The better we know the truth it reveals, the more adept we become at recognizing imposters. The best counterfeits appear to be the genuine article, so the way to spot fakes is to spend lots of time handling the real thing.” (page 83).
This book has depth, but is also written in an easy-to-read style. On occasion, the author injects dry humor, and that is my favorite humor. His passion for the topic comes through – he really wants Christians to know that they can have more personal commune with God and hear from him in more direct ways. I have not mentioned the various ways that the author says that we can hear from God – that would be everything from direct words, nudging, bringing a memory to our mind, causing us to see certain words or images, visions/dreams, everyday moments, etc.
The book also has 2 appendixes which succinctly cover common concerns and questions. The author maintains balance, and that both sides need to humbly learn from each other. “Let’s listen to each other. Those who see the dangers, help us hear God in the Scripture even more. Those who believe in hearing God directly, let’s examine ourselves for intemperate excesses.” (page 196)
I recommend this book, although I still have some reservations. If you know little about this issue and the different sides, this will introduce you. If you are leery of the dangers and excesses, the book can help you see that you lose when you throw the baby out with the bath water. If you keenly believe in hearing from God directly, this book will open your eyes to ways you may have erred and may need to incorporate some humble self-suspicion into your spiritual life.
P.S. The author blogs at Beliefs of the Heart.