This article is an installment of Holy Joys Questions. Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: What do you think about the book by Jim Samra, God Told Me Who to Marry, Where to Work, Which Car to Buy…And I’m Pretty Sure I’m Not Crazy? Do you think it a helpful work on divine guidance?
Thanks for alerting me to this book! And thanks to Baker Books for promptly dispatching a review copy. The author, Jim Samra, earned a NT PhD from Oxford University and a Master’s of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He currently pastors Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, MI.
A thorough evaluation of everything Samra says is beyond the scope of this column. Even this short review will require two columns. God told me has two parts:
- The four big questions, and
- The process of listening.
Part 1 covers What is guidance from God? Why listen for guidance from God? How does God speak to us? And How do we distinguish God’s voice?
Part 2 covers Preparing to listen, Actively listening, Lessons learned, and Telling others.
Let me begin with a big-picture comment: Samra is spot-on when he notes that God is a communicator. God both wants to and promises to guide His people. That God has spoken to people in many different ways is obvious from Scripture and has a great deal of supporting anecdotal evidence.
God works with different people in different ways.
There is one hitch, however. God works with different people in different ways. God told Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so will I be with you” (Josh. 1:5), but Joshua never had a burning bush experience or a leprous hand. There are no set formulas. People are prone to read stories of God’s leading in others’ lives and expect God to do the same things for them. God doesn’t work that way. I wish this warning had greater prominence and clarity in the book.
Given that caveat, God told me does an admirable job of offering principles and illustrations of those principles at work in the author’s and others’ lives. Samra gives many Scriptural examples of people seeking and receiving guidance from God. I found myself in agreement with most of his treatments of Scripture. I particularly appreciated his cautions regarding how to talk about God’s guidance (chapter 8). That chapter would have been stronger if he had noted Deuteronomy 18:20-22’s warning.
In his valuable chapter on “How Does God Speak to Us,” readers would have been better served:
- if Samra had explicitly rejected a “Bible roulette” approach, aka, flop-stop-and-read. He doesn’t recommend it, but a few of his examples seemed close to it;
- if Samra had emphasized that guidance through Scripture comes primarily through its authorially-intended, contextual meaning, not from verses isolated from their context; and
- if Samra had distinguished making application of Scriptural principles from treating words that pop out to us, regardless of their context, as a means of discerning God’s voice.
Guidance through Scripture comes primarily through its authorially-intended, contextual meaning.
In his handling of Gideon’s fleece, Samra didn’t note that Gideon had a visible angel personally give him God’s message (Judg. 6:11-21), had heard God’s voice audibly (Judg. 6:23), and had no question about what God had told him (Judg. 6:36). Gideon wasn’t asking if this was God’s voice. He was asking God to help his fear and reconfirm His already clear direction (Judg. 6:36).
These elements of Gideon’s story make it, in my estimation, unhelpful as a model for seeking divine guidance. On flip side, Samra does note the story of Jonathan seeking God’s direction regarding whether or not to attack the Philistines. That I think is a more helpful biblical example of seeking God’s guidance through confirming circumstances (1 Sam. 14:10).
In his chapter on How Do We Distinguish God’s Voice, I really liked the following statement: “The key to recognizing Jesus’s distinctive voice is to train our minds using his known patterns of communication.” Samra goes on to rightly prioritize Scripture over experience, calling the Bible “voice recognition enrollment.”
If you’re looking for the last word on God’s guidance, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a good word on God’s guidance, God told me is a good one.