Does God still speak? I grew up hearing testimonies about it, but until October 2005, I couldn't say it had ever happened to me.
I'm a middle-aged professor of theology at a well-known Christian university. I've written award-winning books. My name is on Christianity Today's masthead. For years I've taught that God still speaks, but I couldn't testify to it personally. I can only do so now anonymously, for reasons I hope will be clear.
A year after hearing God's voice, I still can't talk or even think about my conversation with God without being overcome with emotion. That's one reason I know it was real; I'm not a person who shows emotion easily. Plus, I'm a skeptic about things supernatural. Not that I don't believe they can happen; I just doubt most miracle stories except the ones in the Bible. I've even been known to criticize publicly what I consider to be overly experiential forms of Christianity. I suppose that makes this story especially ironic.
Meeting the Twins
About five years ago, my wife and I visited an elderly and very sick man who had once been our pastor. We discovered that he and his wife lived not far from us, and we renewed our old acquaintance. During one of our first visits, the man's grandsons14-year-old twinscame for a visit. The moment I met them, an inner voice told me that some day I would play a role in one of their lives. I brushed it off as a "brain hiccup" and thought little more of it.
During the next five years, we drew closer to that family and got to know the twins well. Gradually, one of them shared with us his call to the ministry of music.
When the twins were 17, they and their parents visited us and toured the campus where I teach. The one called to music ministry was immediately struck with the impression he was to attend this particular university and none other. Over the next year, it became clearer to us that he was very serious. As far as I could tell, it had nothing to do with the fact that I teach there; he was following an inner tug of divine guidance.
But my university is expensive, and his family is of modest means. During his senior year of high school, he applied for scholarships, but the results were not encouraging. Still, his enthusiasm for studying for ministry at this university didn't flag.
I felt a strong burden to help him, but contrary to popular perception, Christian university professors are not prosperous. And my book royalties had never added up to any large amounts.
One bright and beautiful morning in October 2005, I went out alone, walking and praying. I began to cry out to God for my young friend. "Oh, God, please use me to make it possible for him to go to this university!" I don't know what I expected to happen, but I committed to letting God use me however he wanted to on this young man's behalf.
The next week, I was at the same spot in my morning exercise when something amazing happened. Out of the blue, a book title came to me. It was so clever I knew two things instantly: It wasn't mine, and it would sell.
Then, in almost the same instant, the entire outline of the book was there in my mind. Every chapter and its title. No discursive thought preceded it. I immediately went home and began writing. As I wrote, I had the distinct feeling that this was not me. I had never written like this before. The words poured out. Two weeks later, a 200-page manuscript sat on my desk. I knew it was good.
But what to do with it? I had never before written a book without a contract. As I sat and looked at the printed pages, the name of a well-known Christian book publisher suddenly came to mind. I had never dealt with the company before, but I had met the chief editor at professional society meetings. I felt directed to contact him, even though I knew the publisher's procedure for considering book proposals and manuscripts was quite different and more complicated.
I sent my acquaintance an e-mail message containing the title and the outline. A day later, I received an encouraging response; he wanted to read the manuscript. So I sent it to him. Within weeks, I had a contract; it required only a little tweaking of two or three brief portions of the manuscript.
While talking to the editor assigned to this project, I discovered something astonishing. The publisher wanted to pay me a handsome royalty in advance for the book. It was approximately ten times anything I had ever received up-front before. I felt like I had won the lottery!
Later, I took another brisk walk through my neighborhood. My mind was concentrating on the financial windfall and how to use it. Coincidentally, the estimated cost of my house's much-needed roof replacement was the same as the royalty advance paid by my new publisher. The answer seemed cleara new roof.
Then God spoke: "It's not your money."
Those were the first words of a conversation that lasted on and off for several days. Knowing instantly it wasn't a "brain hiccup" but something more real and serious, I asked, "What do you mean it's not my money?" My tone was resentful and defensive.
"It's not your money. It's his." The voice inside my head was as real as if it were audible. I knew with terrifying certainty it wasn't my imagination, because I didn't want to hear it.
"Whose?" I asked.
The voice named the young man for whom I had been praying only a few weeks earlier. "It's for him to go to the university and study for the ministry."
"All of it?"
"That and the rest."
I knew "the rest" meant any further royalties the book might earn after it was published.
Absolutely flabbergasted, I raised my fist in the air and asked aloud, "What about my roof?"
The voice said, "I'll take care of your roof, if you'll be obedient."
Then I said, "If you want to use me to help him go to the university, why not give me everything it will cost? Why this amount that will make a difference but not pay his whole way?"
"Others have to be obedient, too," I heard in reply.
When I arrived home, I shared the conversation with my wife, who had been looking forward to a roof that wouldn't leak. I couldn't talk about it without sobbing almost uncontrollably. I was shaking with emotion. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. My wife is more spiritual than I am. She immediately agreed; we would wait for a new roof.
Confirming the Call
Over the next few months, I sent letters and e-mails and made phone calls about my young friend and his financial needs. I felt driven and couldn't stop talking about him. Because the university's deadline for need-based financial aid had passed without him or his parents applying, it looked like he would have to live with us to save money. But this would violate campus policy for first-year students, who are required to live in dorms. I sent an e-mail to the dean of student development, almost begging him to make an exception.
A couple weeks later, I received an e-mail back from the dean, saying the university was awarding him a very large scholarship that would more than cover his room and board. Soon a foundation kicked in $2,000. Then two more scholarships came. It became apparent that God was working miracles through several people.
During this time, I wondered whether I should tell my young friend anything. Something inside urged me to. One early afternoon in April, I drove to his house and took him out for dinner. We talked about the call to ministry and the commitment it requires. I was convinced again that he was truly called and destined to be used by God in great ways. So I shared with him my conversation with God and told him the source of the funds that would make it possible for him to attend my university; I explained the origin of the book and the role it would play in his education.
Clearly this was something he had needed to hear; he became choked up as he shared with me his own struggles and doubts. Others in his church youth group had received prophetic messages about their future ministries, but he had not. My story confirmed his call. Today, my young friend is living in a residence hall and taking courses, including courses in preparation for music ministry.
'To Be Used of God '
Does God still speak today? I know he does.
So what does all this mean? I'm a theologian, and I should know. But I can't spin out a fancy theological formula for God's guidance and provision. What I know is that God spoke to me and used a gift he had already given me to provide for a young man being called into his service. It all started when I said, "God, please use me!"
I wonder how many times I've passed up an opportunity to be used in such a way. I'm reminded of an old "camp chorus" from the 1960s: "To be used of God to speak, to sing, to pray. To be used of God to show someone the way. I want so much to feel the touch of his consuming fire. To be used of God is my desire."
I used to sing those words with passion as a teenager, but I was never sure God answered my sung prayer. All it took was a specific need and a specific plea combined with the determination to be obedient. I don't know if it always works that way, but it did this time for me and my young friend.
So what has this done for me? Probably more than for the young man bound for ministry. We now have a new roof, for one thing, which came under circumstances that can only be described as oddly providentialbut that's another story. More importantly, my faith in a living, personal, loving, and providing God has been renewed and deepened.
Now I know, more than intellectually, that God still speaks.
The writer is a professor, author, and CT contributing editor.
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Other articles on the voice of God include:
Discerning Divine Speech | The God Who Speaks teaches readers to listen (August 1, 2000)
Always In Parables: A Testimony in Reverse | I have discovered how inconvenient it can be when God actually does speak. (February 5, 2001)
A Theology of Sound | Attentive listening. (Books & Culture, May 1, 2005)
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