Posted by: Brad Stanford | November 4, 2010

Engaging Scripture Through The Spirit

In a discussion forum, I made statement about engaging the Scripture through the Spirit. I was asked what the means, to which I replied:

The best earthly analogy is sitting in your Father’s lap, and letting him read to you. When you read the Scripture while in the presence of God, He explains passages to you heart to heart, so that your flesh can’t filter it into a flawed state. And he doesn’t just speak to the history and circumstances of the people you’re reading about, but how the passage applies directly to you now, and how it applies to your future.

This is what Hebrews talks about when describing how no longer will a man say to his neighbor, “Know the Lord!”, but God will teach each man Himself.

If you have never experienced this, I would recommend dropping everything and fasting and praying until it happens.

Also, when people find it difficult to read the Scripture, they probably haven’t experienced this. It’s difficult to want to study the Bible as a textbook. It’s not difficult to want to engage the God of eternity.

The next questions that followed were:

Are you saying that information is conveyed to a person that is separate from or in addition to the words of the text itself? How would you know that the source is God and not something else? Exactly how does one do it? How do you know you’re doing it?


These are great questions. But my answers ended up being too long to post in the forum that was already pushing a lot of long posts. So I decided to answer here, thinking that some of my regular readers would also want to know.

1. How would you know that the source is God and not something else?
This is the question I hear most often from most Christians, in the form of “How do I know when God speaks?”

How do we know that the Bible is of God? Is it all academic? Is it provable in court? No – wherever there are words of God to be believed, faith must come first. Only then belief has a clear path.

So this question needs to be applied to everything – how do I know this congregation, preacher, group of elders are assembled by God? Or is this just a civic organization that sprinkles Jesus on whatever they do?

More importantly, though, Jesus says, “My sheep know my voice.”

His voice never counters what is in the Scripture, but explains it to a point that is obviously not written.

For instance: at one point I was out of work. For a long time. I thought God was telling me to start my own business. I worked on it for 6 months, until I was at my breaking point. I was ready to give up, convinced that I had misheard God. I went to church on a Wednesday night, and the preaching was about Abraham escaping the famine in the promised land by going to Egypt, where he ends up having trouble with the King liking his wife, Sarah. The preacher made the remark that Abraham should’ve stayed in the Promised Land – because provision is always attached to the promise.

I went home determined to stick it out. Within a week, I had someone contact me from England, and that account lasted three years. I had heard the voice of God correctly. And, He spoke to me again through Scripture (via preaching) to tell me what to do next: stay in the promised land. Do not flee from where he had led me. Provision is attached to the promise.

All this from a passage about Abraham, and the Spirit applied it to me.

That time it was through a preacher, which still happens for sure. But I no longer have to rely on others to hear and interpret for me. I’m just as much of a priest as the preacher. This relationship is available to all believers, as part of the abundant life that God talks promises.

(Aside: Since then, every account I’ve tried to sell on my own has failed. God brings me customers, I don’t have to go find them. The ones I try to make happen proactively never work out.)

2. Are you saying that information is conveyed to a person that is separate from or in addition to the words of the text itself?
God rarely does simple things. Look at nature. Learn about the cells in your body (they are micro cities!). Everything is always more than it seems. Even the text.

Scripture says we hardly have anything in written form when it comes to Jesus. What he did on earth could not be contained in many books. The same thing is true about the rest of Scripture as well. How much of the daily life of Ruth is written down? Much less the places where Scripture says, “If you want to know more about this man, is it not written down in the history books?” – which we don’t have copies of.

That means that we only have a scaffolding in the text – an incomplete picture. The purpose of the scaffold is to allow us to climb to different levels at different times, and see God from different perspectives. The words, like the Word Himself, point to God. They are not God.

(God’s breath and God are two different things. Feel free to breathe in the breath of God at every opportunity, as long as it’s a part of the relationship process, and not the totality of the relationship.)

Example: when we read, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” do we stop at the words? If we do, we’re left with this idea of, “Do you think happy thoughts about them like you do about yourself?” But if we climb a little higher and let God explain what He means (as He does throughout the entire Bible) we learn that love is better translated “serve” or “take care of”. So, do you take care of your neighbor as you do yourself?

But then, God draws you higher: He might bring a person to mind, and tell you how to best serve them – something you didn’t know about the person at all. God is saying, “Love is taking pumpkin bread to that person, because that’s what their grandmother (who just died) used to do for them. It’s a comfort flavor that they need right now.” This person never told you that, but now, simply because you were reading Scripture, you now have an opportunity to obey what you just read.

God said nothing beyond the text. He explained it on a level that you were incapable of knowing on your own. The Spirit is our teacher, so that’s what we should expect of Him: teaching!

Some have focused on church history, the original Greek and the original Hebrew to the point of knowing noting about God. It’s all academic knowledge with no application.

Read the flight manual all you want, but until you climb in the cockpit and fly for yourself, it’s just head knowledge.

3. Exactly how does one do it? How do you know you’re doing it?

There is no “exact” because God refuses to be kept in a checklist. The process begins with faith.

When I began thinking that hearing God was super important, I took on a drastic approach, as I tend to do. I said, “OK, God. I have no clue what thoughts are mine, and what thoughts are yours. So I’m going to obey everything I think that is you. So please make sure that I don’t follow me.”

He honored that, and over the next few years, He refined my hearing. He purposely gave me scenarios that sounded odd, just to teach me the sound of His voice.

One time, I heard him say, “Want to see where your next house will be? Exit here.” I obeyed, and started driving through the neighborhoods I exited to.

I didn’t see my house. I went home disappointed.

Two years later, I was living in that neighborhood.

It is up to the Shepherd to teach the sheep the sound of His voice. But by nature of the Shepherd-sheep relationship, it happens naturally. Unless the sheep are paying attention to something else.

You know you’re doing it because He teaches you His voice, because amazing insight about passages come into your mind, and because amazing applications manifest themselves. God will make sure that the definition of “amazing” means “I know it was God” for you. (everyone is a little different in this regard, to His glory.)

If you will say, “God, I’m going to open the Scriptures. Amaze me. Teach me your voice.” He will do it.

And most likely, the first thing His voice will encourage you to do is to be patient in seeking Him.



  1. […] Engaging Scripture Through the Spirit […]

  2. Hey Brad: came here by way of Brett Harrison’s blog. He had commented on my blog about this very subject so I was interested to see what you had to say. It is something I am going to have to read again and chew on. I have been a pastor for over 37 years and i still find delight in studying the Scriptures and preaching. I still want to speak God’s Word clearly and with His “stamp” on it. i want to make sure I am hearing Him and not some man. I will be back but just wanted you to know that i have been here.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I look forward to hearing from you again.

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