Sunday, February 19, 2012

Christian Decision Making and "God Told Me"

Many Christians think that major decisions, such as adopting a child from a foreign country as opposed to their own, or choosing a spouse, or what kind of mercy ministry to pursue, are rooted in reasons stated in the following ways: "God told me to do such and such," or "God has laid it on my heart to marry so and so," and so on. For example, in reading a recent article on the difficulty of adopting children from foreign countries due to bureaucratic hoopla in The Christian Post, I read one comment chiding folks for dismissing children right here in the U.S. in favor of children in foreign countries (Ethiopia being the most popular country at this point). "Why adopt or take care of children in Ethiopia while there are millions of children here in the U.S. who need parents?" Now, this is actually a very good question, but most people who make this comment are unaware of the objective facts that children in Ethiopia suffer in ways beyond compare to children here in the U.S. It's important to tackle this question, not with subjectivity ("God laid it on my heart to help children in [a foreign country]), but rather with objectivity.

A subjective reason comes from the inner coils of the human mind (or 'heart'--the terms are used synonymously in the New Testament). Subjective reasons don't deal with facts, but with feelings. Subjective reasons are lazy, actually, and they are unfair. Now, don't get upset with me, because there most certainly is a place for subjectivity in the Christian way of life in terms of conviction of sin in the conscience, inner peace in decision-making (provided it is in accord with the objective will of God revealed in His Word), and inner peace in the devotional life through prayer and meditation and knowing God as Father at a very personal, real, and intimate level. But when someone says, in response to the objection against helping orphans in the 3rd world, Christians should never say the following: "God has laid it on my heart to help children in Guatemala." Why should Christians not speak this way, and why is it lazy and unfair? For the following reasons....

  • A. It is a conversation stopper. Offering the subjective "God laid it on my heart" answer is arrogant because it basically is saying "You can't argue with me on this one, because God Almighty disagrees with you!" Think about it: this kind of answer is actually telling someone to basically take a hike and not to argue (or even speak another word!) with you because you have the rebuttal rooted in the authority of the Almighty Counsel of God. That's arrogance, folks, and it's unfair to the person making the objection. We're supposed to speak the truth in love, not manipulate people. Now, I understand it's upsetting when people say things like, "You shouldn't be concerned about children in Ethiopia, you should be concerned about children in your own nation." I've been to Ethiopia twice--albeit for only 3 weeks total--but I've been there, and I've seen poverty like never before, HIV/AIDS ridden families, 3-year-old girls living in a trap of sexual abuse, lepers, prostitutes, people eating from a garbage dump. So I understand the arrogance of the other side who eschew adopting and caring for orphans in foreign countries in favor of children here in the U.S., but subjective responses rooted in emotionalism are completely relative. There's a second reason why we shouldn't respond with the "God told me" response.
  • B. How do you know if God told you? What standard do you have with which to discern between God's voice in your own? The truth is, you don't have such a standard. All you have in subjectivity is your emotions and nothing else. Subjective reasons such as "God laid it on my heart to do such and such" ignore objective facts, and they don't provide honest dialogue with people. Again, how do you know God told you? How do you know it's not just your own mind or emotions leading you? "But my emotions come from God" you say. Really? They do? All of them, all the time? You don't have your own will, your own emotions, your own conscience?
  • C. The person objecting to your helping children in foreign lands could just as easily respond with their own, subjective response. They could say back to you, "Well, actually, I have some news for you: God has laid it on my heart to tell you to stop helping children overseas and start in your own backyard in our own city." Tit for tat, they say, and it's true! I've heard Christians say to me: "People can't argue with me when I tell them, 'Well, God has laid it on my heart to help children in Ethiopia.'" Oh, yes they can. They can indeed argue with you. They can say that God laid in on their heart to tell you to stop. And how will you argue with God?
The Best Way to Answer

The best way to answer the objection to helping orphans in Ethiopia, for example, is to give the facts.
  • Fact: children in Ethiopia suffer sexual and physical abuse unparalleled compared to what happens in the U.S. (Yes, I am aware of child sexual abuse here in the U.S., but in Ethiopia, it's rampant).
  • Fact: children in Ethiopia eat garbage out of a dump. The place is called Korah (Kore) and it's in the capital city of Addis Ababa.
  • Fact: children in Ethiopia suffer from HIV/AIDS in alarming numbers.
  • Fact: children in Ethiopia have one or zero parents due to HIV/AIDS, other diseases, or abandonment
  • Fact: girls who live on or of the streets of Addis Ababa suffer sexual abuse too terrible to describe, and it happens to 1 of every 5 girls, ages 5-25. Teenage prostitution is a plague in the city.
  • Fact: orphans in Ethiopia live in conditions unlike in the U.S. There is no comparison. The homes I've been in are made of sticks and mud, are 8x8 square, and have nothing but a thin piece of wire with a lone, electric bulb. No kitchen, no plumbing, no food.
  • Fact: women and children in Ethiopia suffer persecution when they convert to Christianity.
Are those enough facts for you? And isn't it better to give the facts than just "God laid it on my heart"? How about just giving the facts? I forgot to mention that in America, children have free education, foster care, food stamps, WIC, welfare, scholarships, and a government that gives dollars to moms for every child they give birth to. Ethiopia? No.
  • Final Fact: if we don't step it up and sponsor or adopt Ethiopian children, they will die.

What I'm Not Saying

I'm not saying God doesn't lead people, give them dreams, or speak to them. God most certainly leads us, but it isn't as simple as "God laid it on my heart to marry Jane." How do you know this? God leads us by His Holy Spirit through our subjective experiences via the aforementioned ways: conviction of sin in the heart, mind, will and conscience, as a leading guide through various circumstances, through reminding us of the Scripture throughout the day. He may even teach us things through dreams, and He may even speak to you. But to say that God told you to do something is to tread on very sacred ground. Remember Deuteronomy 18:20-22, where the Lord offers these instructions concerning a word from God:
  • But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’—22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

Pay attention to the phrase in the bold type above: if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken. I have had a dear, kind, sister in Christ tell me that God told her that she would bring her adopted children home from Ethiopia in July of 2011. It did not happen. Friends, saying that God told you something is a BIG DEAL. God prizes his Word above all else!

  • I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word, (Psalm 138:2).
Be careful, Christian, on speaking for God, or appealing to His Authority. False prophets were under the pain of death for saying something would come to pass when it didn't!

The Better Path

Christians should not make decisions based upon a voice in their head or upon their feelings. Instead, they should go to the Word of God, counsel from godly brothers and sisters in Christ, pastors, elders and deacons in their church, and prayer. They should ask themselves: is this a good thing I'm doing? Is God providing the means by which I can do this good thing? Then go and do good, and don't bother with those who object to your good work in Christ. But subjective reasoning is rooted in emotionalism, is unfair to those with whom you might have a real, good conversation about the indubitable facts of a given situation, and it presumes on the authority of God Almighty, when you don't have a standard within you to judge whether it truly is God's voice or not. Instead, take your emotions before the Lord in prayer and seek godly counsel from godly people and the godly Scriptures, allowing your circumstances to be led by the Holy Spirit and allowing the objective facts to speak for themselves.

Would you like to sponsor a child in Korah, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia? Go to Transformation Love. It's a great ministry with which I have been honored to serve, giving hope to widows and orphans by giving them food, clothing, medicine, education, jobs, and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

No comments: