God Speaks However He Wants

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus coverOne more story, this passed along from the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry newsletter–a Muslim who came to Christ after experiencing a dream or vision (in this man’s case, three dreams and a vision). I’ve heard a proliferation of such stories, from disparate sources, all reputable.

It’s enough to convince me that God is on the move in parts of the world that we once thought were closed to the gospel, simply because missionaries weren’t welcome. But God is not limited the way we so often think He is. Yes, He chooses to use His people to declare His message, but He’s not limited by our weakness or unwillingness.

However, listening to some faithful believers–pastors who have studied Scripture–you’d think God was working with both hands tied behind his back and a gag over his mouth. Consequently, the only means at his disposal to bring people to Christ is the preaching of God’s Word.

I believe in preaching, and I know God works through the proclamation of His Word. But the fact is, that very Word tells us about the Apostle Paul who came to Christ, not after hearing a sermon or studying God’s law and prophets. He came to Christ because he saw a vision.

Not only that, the Apostle Peter saw a vision that led him to believe that faith in Christ was not limited to Jews, but that Gentiles were welcome also.

In addition, Scripture tells us there will be a time when

[God] will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
And even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days . . .
And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered. (Joel 2:28-29, 32a)

I’m not quite sure how the people who believe God’s miraculous works such as prophecy have ceased, resolve the places that Scripture seems to contradict this idea. Are they saying dreams and visions ceased . . . until they didn’t? But when did this ceasing begin? Certainly not before Paul’s conversion. And if it ceased when the cannon of Scripture was closed, who told the leaders of the church this fact? I mean, I think it’s a stretch to make Scripture say that the gifts of the Spirit that are miraculous would be done at some future, undisclosed date–until they wouldn’t be done, at some other distant undisclosed future date.

I know this is controversial. And it’s potentially dangerous. Because as soon as you say, God can work through visions, then you have all kinds of wack jobs claiming they’ve had visions and met with angels and received a new and more complete word from God.

Except, the people in Muslim lands who are seeing visions and dreaming dreams are being pointed to the Bible and to Jesus Christ. This latest which I heard about today is Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, formerly a devout Muslim who authored the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus which is due to release tomorrow. Here’s part of the description of his conversion from the RZIM newsletter:

Growing up in a devout Muslim family, Qureshi read the entire Quran in Arabic by age five, memorized more than a dozen chapters by his teens and boldly proclaimed Islam to his friends of other religions. “We are Qureshis, descendants of the Quresh tribe—Muhammad’s tribe. Our family stood sentinel over Islamic tradition,” he describes. “Islam was the lifeblood that coursed through my veins. Islam was my identity, and I loved it. I boldly issued the call of Islam to anyone and everyone who would listen, proclaiming that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.”

Qureshi’s love for Islam defined and directed his life until a close college friend defended the Christian message with compelling evidence and disrupted everything he knew about religion, faith and meaning. Shaken by the potential that Christianity might be true, he turned to God for direct guidance and was given a vision and three dreams that led him to Jesus.

“That led him to Jesus.” That’s the key, I think. Any visions or dreams that lead a person elsewhere or to a different personality, to a different gospel, to a “new” understanding, is patently false.

But what an exciting truth: God is not limited in the way which makes Himself known. That He chooses to use us in the proclamation of His truth is awesome, but we’re not the only means at His disposal. He can have a personal, direct conversation with an individual if He chooses–or so Paul tells us in the book of Acts. As does the Apostle John in the book of Revelation.

Oh, that was Scripture times, someone may say. Things are different now. God doesn’t work that way any more.

Do we believe this because we think God isn’t as strong as He once was? Or because the people who claim “special knowledge” have started cults or tricked people into giving them money or convinced others the end of the world was on a certain day? Do we believe this because WE haven’t seen any visions or had any “pointing to God” dreams? Do we believe this because we say we believe the Bible but filter it based on our own assumptions or traditions that have been passed down to us?

It’s the latter that I think influences a lot of evangelical, non-charismatic, western Christians today. We are quick to judge the Pharisees for the traditions they held on to over God’s clear word, but I tend to think we cling to our traditions pretty strongly, too.

Time, I believe, to read God’s Word with fresh eyes and let Him speak however He wants.

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6 Comments

  1. What a wonderful book this sounds like.

    I want to say, though, I am not a cessationist myself, I go to a church that holds to cessationism. And I don’t think any of them would say that God no longer speaks in dreams and visions. I think they would say we ought not put faith into dreams and visions, necessarily. We ought to have them be subservient to Scripture, but not that he cannot speak in those ways. It’s just that we have a more sure word in Scripture. Even Peter, who was an eyewitness on the mount of transfiguration says he has a more sure word in scripture because the prophecy of scripture didn’t come about by the prophet’s own interpretation, but each one spoke as he was moved by the Spirit.

    I think it’s interesting, too, that the Muslim man was first given compelling evidence by a friend in college. And then he had his dreams and visions. I have heard stories of this happening the other way–dreams and visions first that prepared the way for a missionary.

    In either case, the gospel must be preached, by a man, by an angel, in a dream–the gospel must be given for a man to be saved. . . .

    . . . But then who preached to gospel to John, in the womb, who was full of the Holy Spirit?

    We always get into trouble when we say God can’t do a thing. Or God must do it this way or that way.

    God can do whatever he wants. However, I think it’s safe to say he’s given us instruction to preach and he’s made it clear that the normal way for a person t be saved is through the peaching of the word. If we were faithful with that, maybe he wouldn’t have to take special measures to get his word out.

    But thank God that if we don’t do what he’s prepared us and commanded us to do, he will find another way. He won’t be thwarted.

    And praise God for that man who wrote this book! How encouraging!

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  2. Sally, I agree that the dreams and visions we hear about today are not ones in which Jesus comes directly to people as He did Paul. Rather they either point them to His Word (I’ve heard of one specifically that received a vision that what he was asking, he’d find in Scripture; then God prompted someone to hand him a Bible, really “out of the blue”) or they confirm preaching or witnessing they’d already heard.

    Sadly, I’ve heard too many instances of pastors and lay people calling into question just these types of events. It’s the same idea, I think, that some use to question a person’s vocational call–as if God doesn’t give “that type of ‘secret’ knowledge.” Well, I think God does communicate personally, not secretly. And in this instance, it is not only not secret, it is wholly consistent with Scripture.

    I think it is a wonderful testimony to our powerful God.

    Becky

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  3. “But what an exciting truth: God is not limited in the way which makes Himself known.” To which I would say, with the Psalmist, “Our God is in the heavens, He does as He pleases.” Cessationists don’t believe that. They reduce the Holy Spirit to nothing more than a light bulb that comes on when the Bible is read and a net when the gospel is preached. The truth is, when visions and dreams occur just as you recount, and bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ alone, I’m not going to howl “What doest Thou?” Thank you for reminding us how powerful our God is. And praise to His Name for His mighty works among the children of men!

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    • Interesting analogy with the light bulb and net.

      I’m glad you see that I’m not advocating for some kind of gnostic approach to Christianity. And to be honest, I remain quite skeptical of most of what falls into the “works of the Spirit” camp. I think there are too many charlatan’s like that magician Simon in Scripture who want to use the Spirit for their own ends. But the answer isn’t to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” God’s Spirit does work, and what I’d tell my charismatic leaning friends, is to expect Him to do MORE than heal the body. He can and sometimes does heal, but He can also give peace to the dying and the grieving. His comfort is no less a powerful work than is His healing. There are many ways we try to limit God, I think.

      Becky

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      • Though I am usually reluctant to speak of “credentials,” experience has blessed me with an unusual perspective here. I’m a graduate of both Oral Roberts University and Westminster Theological Seminary, a disparity one would be hard pressed to equal. I’m not an outsider looking in like some are in both camps, criticizing the other over the works of God. I agree with you, many charlatans and false prophets have gone forth into the world, all the more urgent it is to test the spirits, especially these days. On the one hand you’ve got folks who — to me — have a relationship more with a Book than with a Living Person, while on the other you find “prophets” spouting their own foolish fantasies. This is why we do not count as nothing prophetic utterances, but judge all things and hold fast what is good. Saying such things have ceased completely and/or accepting whatever anyone says (Touch Not Mine Anointed) is the easy way out. For both sides.

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