I’m a good Evangelical Christian. ‘The word of the Lord’ is the Bible, before it is anything else. This is not only the most authoritative “word,” this is The Standard by which all other ‘words’ must be measured. The Bible defines what is rational, what is ‘orthodox.’ The Bible defines the rules. I remember asking my Dad once, several years ago, ‘What is the secret of confidence?’ His answer seemed overly simplistic at the time, but I now see it as astoundingly true—“Read the Bible, know the Bible” he said; “Be sure of what God has said, and you will be a confident person.” I still believe this with my whole being. The Bible is the bedrock of confident Christian living and godly ministry. Period.
So what are we good, Evangelical Christians to do about all the ‘words from the Lord’ and ‘words of knowledge’ that seem to be floating around with alarming frequency these days? I think you know I’m not talking about the ‘word’ as brought by the preacher on a Sunday morning. I’m talking about the ‘word’ brought by Joe Christian in the local coffee shop, without any prior provocation. What gives? It’s just too easy to roll our eyes and call these people strange. It’s too easy, and it’s too convenient. I think we Evangelicals too often resemble the religiously clenched Pharisees more than we do the newly healed, former cripples. “I’m not sure what the rules are,” these humbly healed say, “I just know I once was blind but now I see.” Do we see? Maybe we’re not as blind as the Pharisees were, but… are we willing to see? I think sometimes we roll our eyes at charismatic types so we don’t have to see, so we don’t have to risk making eye contact. I think we live afraid of being spiritually manipulated, just by looking. But no spirit has any claims to me except the Holy Spirit. I live in the sovereignty of God, not the sovereignty of Satan, so I feel confident God can keep me from being spiritually harmed in some way while I investigate charismatic claims. When I say ‘investigate,’ I mean listening, looking, reading— then comparing what I experience to Scripture. Does it line up? Or is it deception and distraction?
God pulled a fast one on me today. I mean, He was really sneaky. On Friday mornings I take my leave of the Main Street office where I normally work to read in an undisclosed location. On this particular morning I happened to read something about ‘words of knowledge.’ I don’t know exactly who is reading this but, if you’re at all like me, you have assumptions you make in your head despite your best intentions, mostly about people, their beliefs and their practices. When I hear someone say “I was given a word of knowledge from the Lord,” for instance, I usually assume bad and sinister things. Like commands to go bathe a chicken in the Sacramento river as a sign of Redding’s need for repentance. Or something like that. I know that’s not fair, and I’m working on it; sorry. The author of the book in question described ‘words of knowledge’ as the Holy Spirit revealing to human beings certain insights about a person or situation in an ‘on the spot’ kind of way. Now honestly, does that definition sound so bad? Don’t we hear stories all the time about God doing that kind of thing for our friends and in the lives of missionaries? But just to be safe, I run this definition through my own spiritual grid—“Why do you need some ‘other’ word from the Lord when He’s got a bunch of ‘em already written down? Just go read the Bible for a while. Soak it up. Then when you need to minister, the Holy Spirit will speak in some way through those words.” I still believe this. Without doing this, you’ll be a sucker for whatever spiritual breeze happens to be blowing by that day. But I also believe that if I’m doing this already, I’ve got more leeway to get a little risky. “Holy Spirit,” I prayed in my heart this morning, “You alone have rights to me. If You want to give me on the spot “insights” into a person or their situation today, I’m willing to receive it. But you know I’ll test it. Just no chickens please (nervous laughter). Amen.” Then I forgot all about it.
I was back in my office working later this afternoon when a friend came in for a quick cup of coffee and a ‘hello.’ We chatted for a few minutes about trivial things, and as he was preparing to leave, I asked him about how a friend of his was doing. Only I couldn’t remember his friend’s name. So I squinted real hard and voiced the name that suddenly popped into my head—“Emma. How’s Emma doing?” I knew it was the wrong name the moment his face fell ten stories to the carpet. He looked at me like I was holding a chicken in one hand and a map to the Sacramento River in the other. “What?” I said with more than a little alarm. “No,” he said very slowly, “that’s not my friend’s name. But Emma—she’s a whole ‘nother story.” And with that, he sat back down and proceeded to share a hidden burden with me that would never have otherwise seen the light of day in that casual encounter. And talking led to prayer. And prayer led to a visible strengthening in my friend’s posture and composure, a visible change of hope and encouragement in his countenance. He gave me a big hug before he left, and with that, a quick ‘hello’ was transformed into a moment of healing. I sat down at my desk, shaking my head in quiet wonder, when out of the blue, the memory of that morning’s prayer came back to me like a burp of raspberry chocolate. “Wait a minute,” I said out loud to God, leaning back heavily in my chair; “did you just—?!?” I hadn’t even seen it coming.
I think a lot of the time, we just get hung up on a name, or a title, or a phrase. Hearing “a word of knowledge” sends off all sorts of alarms in our heads, so we throw up a wall. Honestly though, I think this kind of thing, like the story I just shared, happens to us Evangelicals all the time, we just don’t recognize it. Or we call it something else. “I felt like God was saying,” or, “It was impressed upon me that,” or, “ I just had a sense that,”—all these are good examples of ways I think we’re saying the same thing. Now look, there’s a couple really simple ways to test if this is from God or not, whether you’re the one who’s giving the ‘word’ or the one deciding whether or not to ‘receive’ it: 1) Does it line up/agree with what God has already said in the Bible? That’s a no-brainer. If no, = NOT FROM GOD. 2) Is it true??!! If not, it’s not from God, period. But if it is true, and it leads to healing and hope and His glory, it's from God. Did coincidence lead to a time of prayer for this broken situation that visibly touched and encouraged my friend? Or did God? I vote God. Did this simple intervention—literally one ‘word’— contradict or overstep the boundaries of Scriptural authority in any way? No. Was it “true?” Did it touch on something in my friend’s life that led to healing and a chance to glorify God? Yes.
We read the Bible and we ask the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our day, to empower our living, and then we walk by faith. We expect Him to comfort through us, touch lives through us, all of it. And He does. Am I saying you have to go out today and squint, to concentrate really hard before you talk to anyone, waiting for the magic words to come? Well let me ask you—did I have to “try” to “do” anything? Did I have to draw attention to myself to get this ‘word’ across, or proclaim with a wild look in my eye that God had a message for my friend while announcing it in trembling vibrato? Are you kidding me? “All” I did was spend time in the Bible and in prayer this morning. God didn’t even give me the chance to mess it up. God pulled a fast one on me today, and I'm grateful. Are you willing to let Him pull a fast one on you?