How many times have you heard someone claim a “promise from God” they got from some passage of Scripture (usually just a portion of a verse)? They usually take this as a direct message for them from God, and often it is the result of plopping open their Bible and having their finger (amazingly) land on that particular verse. Or maybe they simply pull a part of a verse out of its original context from a portion of Scripture they are reading, and they “claim it” as God’s will for their lives.
Anyone who does this is guilty of playing Bible Roulette, or as Dr. Wayne Mack puts it, “Bible Lucky Dipping.” Sometimes it comes from a set of Bible verse cards that are pulled out of a box that you set on your kitchen table. Chuck Swindoll refers to this as the “open window” approach to the Bible, with the idea of opening your window and letting the wind blow your Bible open to just the right page so you can claim your “word from God.”
Of course, this is an unreliable (and even dangerous) method for trying to discern God’s will for your life. You would not want to go to your doctor and have him say he wants to remove your gallbladder because the wind blew open the pages of his medical book to that page. And you would think that most Christians would immediately understand how precarious this approach is, and yet it is amazing how often it happens.
An interesting news headline, from the Chicago Tribune sports section, once read: “God’s Orders Send Pitcher (that is a baseball pitcher) Packing.” After his team lost 25 to 3, a minor league baseball pitcher was summoned to the manager’s hotel room and cut from the squad. But the player wasn’t dismissed because he had played poorly (he had allowed only one earned run in the two innings he had pitched); the manager said that the pitcher was being released because of direct orders from God. He had made his decisions in consultation with the team owner, who explained to a reporter that she had opened her Bible randomly to Ezekiel 12:3, which includes the words (in the KJV), “… prepare thee stuff for removing …”
The owner said that these words “jumped (off) the page at her.” She said “it was as if God had become a partner in the team’s front office” and she made all the important decisions about the team in this way. She would pray, open her Bible, and the answer would be on the page before her. Interestingly, several days before his firing, the pitcher had demanded more money. Hmmm.
The owner’s concern about the pitcher’s attitude had motivated her to seek God’s will, but like this baseball club owner, many Christians today are using a “pop open the Bible” method of trying to discern God’s will. And because so many well-meaning believers seek guidance this way, anyone who dares to question this approach is quickly labeled as unspiritual.
We must understand that this method’s popularity does not guarantee its soundness. Even if it is used by a pastor or a missionary or some prominent church leader, it doesn’t make it right. Understand, too, that even if a person doesn’t use the “open the Bible” method to find the verse—even if they find it while reading their Bible daily—it is still the same thing, if they take a passage and pull it out of its proper context and make it a special word of private revelation to them. I would submit to you that the Bible never in any way suggests that we should throw open our Bibles and believe that whatever we read first is what God wants us to do.
This has sometimes led to tragic results. For example, a particular pastor learned this lesson from his prayer calendar. On a particular date, he read off of his calendar Luke 4:7, which says, “ … if you worship me it will all be yours … ” He went out that day and made a huge investment believing that God had told him that he was going to be blessed financially for worshipping the Lord. But do you know the context of Luke 4:7? That is the account of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. Satan was saying to Christ that if He bowed down and worshipped him he would give Christ everything. Do you see the danger in this? Bruce Waltke says, “Any time you take the Bible out of context you destroy the intent of God’s Word.”
Listen, the Bible was never intended by God to be used in such a mechanical way. No verse in the Old Testament or the New Testament tells us to find God’s will by such a method. In fact, I believe that the Bible says the exact opposite. Deuteronomy 18:10, for example, clearly forbids divination, the practice of consulting beings or things to learn information about the future, but that’s really what we are doing when we use the Bible in a mechanical way like that. We are not to use the Bible in a way that ignores its clear meaning in its proper context, but instead gives it a contrived meaning based on modern-day circumstances. This is Christian divination!
People who use this method fail to realize that they are using the Bible just like a Ouija board. Most Christians would not even think of having a Ouija board because of its connection with the occult, but they think nothing at all of using the Bible in the same way a Ouija board is used. This is an extremely dangerous method of using the Bible because it does not stick with the intended meaning of the Scripture, and when you do this, you can make the Bible say anything you want it to say.
Remember the baseball team owner? She should have recognized that the words “… prepare thee stuff for removing …” were directed to the prophet Ezekiel himself and not to some baseball player in America in the 21st century. This was a specific command in the Word of God given to a specific individual and we are distorting the Scripture if we make it say anything more than that. God doesn’t expect someone today who reads that passage to go in and start packing a suitcase.
By the way, if you read that entire passage you will discover that the unusual thing about it was that even though Ezekiel was commanded to pack his bags, he was not supposed to go anywhere. What God was doing was using Ezekiel as a picture of what he would do to Israel soon in allowing them to be taken captive in Babylon, but there is absolutely nothing in Ezekiel 12 that justifies cutting a pitcher from a baseball team (or anything else like that in modern times). We must not take it out of its specific, historical context and make it mean what we want it to mean. If you are going to do that, you can make the Bible say anything you want it to say.
Gary Meadors tells of a business associate who made the decision to utilize a vendor in Lebanon, Indiana because she opened the Bible and it fell on Jeremiah 22:20, which says “Go up to Lebanon.” What she failed to understand is that Jeremiah 22:20 is a warning to Israel not to go up to Lebanon for help. It is a warning against false security in trusting other nations rather than trusting God.
Listen, when we approach the Bible we need to make sure we approach it properly. We need to make sure that we are not taking things out of context or using faulty methods for interpreting it. We certainly should not use it as a mystical “lucky charm.” As Haddon Robinson has put it, “Many people have treated the Bible as a book of magic and thereby delved into divination. In doing this they have made some disastrous decisions and, even worse, they have used the Bible in a way that is detestable to God.”
The Bible says in 2 Peter 3:16, “… the untaught and unstable distort … the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Second Timothy 2:15 gives the other side. It says that we must “be diligent to present [ourselves] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” We have a responsibility to interpret the Scripture according to its original, intended meaning, and that requires careful hermeneutical methods.
We’d better be careful how we use the Word of God. We’d better be careful to keep it in its proper context and diligently study it so that we can understand the original intent of the author. Otherwise we are distorting Scripture for our own purposes rather than hearing what God has to say to us.
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