This post was first published during January 2016. –ed.
The church has fallen into a dangerous pattern when it comes to divine direction. Too many believers today are trying to hear directly from God—whether through an audible voice or a stirring of their souls. Worse still are the people who legitimize everything from heresy to fundraising schemes to simple personal decisions by asserting the leading of the Lord.
I’ve seen numerous young men—particularly those in churches that allow and encourage modern prophecy and revelation—deploy divine decree as a last ditch attempt to win over girls who have declined their romantic advances. Tragically, many women have caved to the claim that “God told me to marry you” and been snared in loveless marriages. One of my friends, cornered by such a proposal, had the presence of mind to respond by saying, “God wouldn’t be so cruel.”
The assertion, “The Lord told me” is regularly employed as a sanctified shield for all sorts of claims. Spend a few minutes watching TBN or another charismatic network for all the proof you need. And to undiscerning eyes and ears, it’s generally an effective way to insulate a spurious message from the scrutiny of critics and dissenters. After all, who wants to take sides against the Lord and His messengers?
But believers cannot allow that unsubstantiated claim to disconnect our discernment, or give a free pass to everyone with the temerity to claim they speak for God. Instead, we need to measure every message against the truth of God’s Word.
Joyce Meyer’s books are littered with stories of the casual conversations she has with God. Moreover, she has sought to validate her entire ministry based on the direct channel of communication she supposedly enjoys with the Creator of the universe. One academic researcher, with strong feminist leanings, made the following observation:
In “Grace, Grace, and More Grace,” another one of Meyer’s later recorded sermons, she states nineteen times that her message is divinely inspired. More importantly, in this sermon she justifies her ministry and preaching in general by claiming God called her. For example, here Meyer stresses that even though she struggled when she began her ministry, divine authority was on her side: “Do you know how many years I frustrated myself tryin’ to make this ministry come to pass, and it was certainly God’s will. He said it. It was God’s call; God had anointed me.” Therefore, the message that she gives her audience is that she cannot refuse the “call” and remain silent. By reminding her audiences that each sermon and message is “anointed,” she reaffirms her authority and establishes that she is subject to a higher authority than the doctrinal leaders who might insist she remain silent.  Tracy Hasley Frederick, Feminizing the Pulpit: Feminine Style and the Religious Rhetoric of Joyce Meyer (Doctoral Dissertation Submitted to Regent University: 2009) 100.
John MacArthur has observed the “God told me” phenomenon from the vantage point of five decades expounding what God has already said in Scripture:
“God told me . . .” has become the anthem of the Charismatic Movement. Strange private prophecies are proclaimed by all kinds of people who evidently believe God speaks to them. Surely the most infamous is Oral Roberts’ preposterous death-threat prophecy. In 1987 Roberts told his nationwide audience that God had threatened to “call him home” if he couldn’t raise eight million dollars by his creditors’ deadline. Whether and how that threat might have been carried out, the world will never know; Roberts received a last-minute reprieve in the form of a large check from a Florida dog-track owner.  http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/A366
Even Charismatic author and pastor, R. T. Kendall concedes the prevalence of the problem in his theological circles:
What must be avoided in any case is people saying “Thus saith the Lord” or “The Lord told me.” Speaking like this is not only highly presumptuous but is taking the name of the Lord in vain. . . . It is using God’s name—the worst possible kind of name dropping—to elevate your own credibility. You are not thinking of the Lord’s credibility but your own when you bring in His name.  R. T. Kendall, Holy Fire: A Balanced Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit's Work in Our Lives (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2014) 150.
Ironically, Kendall’s book is endorsed by some of the worst and most visible prophetic frauds—John Arnott, Mike Bickle, John Hagee, and Bill Johnson, to name a few. Such is the delusion (or deceitfulness) of these men that they can read the above quote and think it applies to some other charlatan. Even Kendall, while renouncing “Thus saith the Lord,” is more than willing to speak out the other side of his mouth:
The late Oral Roberts was the most famous of these [people with the supernatural gift of healing]. I was privileged to meet him at his home in California three times. On one of those occasions he told me of a moment when the Lord spoke powerfully to him in his hallway a few days before.  Holy Fire, 148.
It should not be lost on us that extra-biblical revelation is necessary to support any agenda not revealed in the Bible. Dreams, liver shivers, and voices from heaven may impress the naïve and appeal to lazy students of Scripture but, as Peter said, “we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). Peter had actually heard God’s voice from heaven (Matthew 17:5; 2 Peter 1:17–18) but still counted Scripture as a “more sure” revelation. And John MacArthur couldn’t agree more:
The truth is, there is no fresher or more intimate revelation than Scripture. God does not need to give private revelation to help us in our walk with Him. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, emphasis added). Scripture is sufficient. It offers all we need for every good work.
Christians on both sides of the charismatic fence must realize a vital truth: God’s revelation is complete for now. The canon of Scripture is closed. As the apostle John penned the final words of the last book of the New Testament, he recorded this warning: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18–19).  http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/A366
It’s worth pointing out that this problem isn’t exclusive to charismatic believers. The rise of mysticism in the church has encouraged Christians of all stripes to pursue direct, personal experiences with the Lord through contemplative prayer and other mystical practices. Others simply give too much credence to the spiritual receptivity of their guts. In either extreme—or anywhere in between—the message is clear: God’s Word is not enough.
That cannot be the testimony of the church. We must exalt and extol the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, upholding it as God’s complete and inerrant revelation to His people. And we need to guard ourselves and others from the influence of those who pretend to speak for God.
The next time you hear someone say, “The Lord told me,” kindly ask them to provide the chapter and verse as well.