God is a polyglot: He speaks to different people different ways.
Some primarily hear Him through the language of their heart and feelings, some analytically through their mind, some through the dynamics of action, some through the identity of relationships, and some through the passion of mercy and justice – among other ways.
Problems often arise among His people, however, when we think that our primary language for hearing God is His only language, or is superior to other languages He uses with others.
I see it all too often these days: Those who hear God through their feelings think everyone should be about heart. It’s the same with those who hear God analytically with their minds, or through action, or in relationships, or via passion for mercy and justice, or whatever…
When we naively conclude – through ignorance or benign arrogance – that God’s way of speaking to us is the best way, or even the only legitimate way, we box Him in and limit His voice. In so doing, we also put His people in a box.
If we are not careful, our box then becomes legalism – as we insist (or more subtly presume) that everyone must comply with how, and what, God speaks to us.
When this happens, the new legalism of making God and His church all about “heart” and “feelings”, for example, becomes just as oppressive as the old legalism of everything being about “mind” and “truth”.
The Unity of Diversity
In our fellowships, we are seeing God do amazing things as we each learn to respect God’s many languages as He speaks to each of us in different ways. But this is rare.
The legalism of expecting others to hear God our way – or dismissively rejecting the equal validity of how God speaks differently to others – limits the Body of Christ. It denies God’s wonderful diversity of gifts, callings, perspectives and motivations among us.
For example, I have seen some of the worse abuse arise in churches where God’s voice, heard through the language of relationships, prevails over all the other ways He speaks to His people.
When we favor the language of relationships over all else, it can become very oppressive as manipulation and weird doctrines are tolerated in the name of love and unity. Ultimately, that love and those relationships become pathological, and people get hurt.
I also have seen problems with emphasizing one of His other languages. It is popular today for some to promote the subjectivity of the heart over all else, the action of mission over all else, the affirmation of relationships over all else, the analytical need for doctrine over all else, or the passion of mercy and justice over all else.
A healthy church, however, reflects all these things as God is allowed to speak through each other in all those languages – and more!
Love Fosters Diversity
Authentic church and community must allow God to speak in all the wonderfully different ways He wants – through one another, without favoring one over the other.
Only then can we hope to hear the whole counsel of God – both for ourselves, and collectively.
For example, God primarily speaks to me analytically, through my passion for redemption. My wife, Marianne, hears God primarily in the language of her heart, through her subjective feelings. God likewise speaks to others in our fellowships in other languages that resonate with the unique gifts, motivations and perspectives He’s given them.
As we respect and make room for God’s different languages among us, we are all strengthened. Others need to hear what God says to me analytically and through my passion for redemption, while I need to hear what God says to them in the unique language of their own God-given gifts, perspectives and motivations.
I think that learning this lesson has been key to many of the amazing things I’m seeing happen among our fellowships. Folks are encouraging each other through ministry one to another – as we listen to God’s diverse ways of speaking among us.
In the diversity of that unity, we are then equipped to move out – into the different things God calls each of us to be and do. We go forth, however, with the balance and maturity that comes from hearing all the wonderful ways God speaks – including those ways that may not naturally resonate with me, but do resonate with others.
This is true love in action, as we care enough to pursue God’s voice in us for the benefit of all, while affirming His diverse voice in others.
May we all learn to respect God’s many languages among us – by all favoring each other, but without favoring one over all others.