Not far into our marriage, Shelley and I attended a health class where the instructor insisted that one of the best things we could do for our minds and bodies was to sleep with our bedroom window wide open. “If you don’t,” he said, “you’re just lying there for six or seven hours breathing the same old air again and again.”
So that night we tried it, and I’ll never forget how I felt when I woke up the next morning. It was like someone had charged my lungs with electricity! And since then we’ve kept a window open almost every night—even the really frigid winter ones.
Literally—if you use one of the older definitions in my American Heritage Dictionary—I had become “inspired.” In the original Latin, the word inspire meant to inhale. Nowadays, of course, inspire means more than just breathing. A beautiful song can inspire me emotionally, and a motivational speaker can inspire me to better organize my life.
But my dictionary’s very first definition for inspire is “to affect, guide, or arouse by divine influence.” Christians believe that God influenced and directed the minds of men and women, and this “inspiration” made certain people channels of divine revelation, communicating the Lord’s will to others.
How has God communicated with people?
God has used a number of ways to communicate with people, depending on what He wants to accomplish. Back in Eden, God was able to walk through the Garden with Adam and Eve and have face-to-face conversations with them, even on that sad day when they chose to distrust Him. But once the unhappy couple was banished from Eden’s gates, their sin prevented them from meeting a holy God face to face, and He had to use other ways to communicate with them. I’ll describe several of these ways in what follows.
Direct speech, with God remaining invisible. When Cain, the firstborn human, got jealous of his brother Abel, God spoke to him directly to warn him, and He talked with Cain again after he committed the world’s first murder. Other two-way divine conversations happened with Abram (Genesis 15:1–4), Moses (Exodus 5:22–6:1), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10–14), and others.
Dreams. Once in a while God used vivid dreams to communicate with those who believed in Him, including Jacob (Genesis 28:10–15), Joseph (Genesis 37:5–10), Daniel (Daniel 7:1), and others. God even used dreams to communicate with unbelievers, including the Egyptian Pharaoh (Genesis 40) and the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2).
Angel visits. Occasionally God deputized angels to convey His messages to people, such as to Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:1–13), Gideon (Judges 6:11–23), Samson’s parents (Judges 13:2–5), Jesus’ mother-to-be, Mary, (Luke 1:26–38), and even to the Roman centurion Cornelius to pave the way for Peter’s arrival (Acts 10:30–33).
Divine impressions. Christians whose hearts are open to truth and who are wrestling with decisions might occasionally receive impressions about what to do. Truly divine impressions always agree with Bible truth. In fact, Jesus and Bible writers give solemn warnings about being deceived by false prophets (Matthew 24:4; 1 John 4:1). God even guides church councils if they are open to His leading, such as in Acts 15, when the Christian leaders in Jerusalem were called upon to decide a theological issue. “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us,” they said (verse 28) and then went on to offer their carefully prayed-over decision.
A lively imagination is one of God’s wonderful gifts to us, but it can be dangerous if we come to believe that every impression—especially one we might welcome—is from God. And to imagine that every dramatic dream we have is some kind of message from Heaven would lead to “faith chaos.”
When I was five years old, our next-door neighbor lady (who considered herself an inspired prophet) accused my mother of breaking into her house and stealing her red sweater. Mom was indignant about this and even more shocked when the lady told her that God had revealed the “theft.” Later our neighbor discovered that she had simply misplaced her sweater and had jumped to the wrong conclusion when she later saw Mom wearing a similar one. This “divine impression” wasn’t divine at all.
Written over a span of 1,600 years by 40 different authors, the Bible provides 750,000 words of documentation about God’s most important thoughts, plans, and actions for us humans. Cultures whose history and philosophy have been transmitted by what’s known as “oral tradition” must depend on the accuracy of each elder’s stories, because there’s no way to go back to the originals. But God has made certain to preserve His truths in ink, through manuscripts that are carefully copied and recopied over the centuries of history.
And He’s also provided an unbroken chain of Bible inspiration so that we can trust each book from Genesis to Revelation. Here’s how it works:
The Old Testament. The first five books of the Old Testament, probably written by Moses, record pivotal historical events from Creation to about 1500 b.c. They also contain the Ten Commandments, along with ceremonial, civil, and health laws and directions for constructing the sanctuary and carrying out its ceremonies. Then come history books, a 150-song hymnbook, and a small cluster of “wisdom literature” books. Several earnest prophetic writings conclude the Old Testament.
All of the New Testament writers considered these Old Testament writings to be authoritative, quoting them frequently to support their concepts about Jesus, salvation, and church order, to name a few. Not only did Jesus Himself meet the devil’s wilderness temptations with three texts from Deuteronomy, but when quoting another Bible verse, He insisted that “Scripture cannot be set aside” (John 10:35).
The apostle Paul makes another powerful claim for biblical inspiration: “All Scripture,” he wrote, “is given by inspiration of God.” And he insisted that it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, NKJV).
Peter echoed Paul’s confidence in the Bible when he said that “no prophecy of Scripture came about came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20, 21).
In other words, God’s Word is not fragmented but is a thoroughly trustworthy and authoritative record He wants us to live by. This means that we can’t treat it like a salad bar, choosing what we like and ignoring what we don’t, because all Scripture is profitable.
The New Testament. The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were all biographies of Jesus, and the book of Acts recounts the history of the first two-and-a-half decades of the Christian church. Then come the writings of Paul, followed by letters written by James, Peter, John, and Jude and finally Revelation, the Bible’s most dramatically written prophetic book. It’s also significant that Revelation contains many allusions to the Old Testament, and its author, Jesus’ apostle John, even provides a chilling warning to anyone who might try to add to or subtract from its words (Revelation 22:18, 19).
Luke, who wrote both Luke and Acts, shows that the early Christians regarded Jesus’ acts and words as authoritative. And Peter—while admitting that Paul’s writings were sometimes hard to understand—considered them to be just as inspired as “the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).
I’ve found that the Bible’s inspired words have many powerful benefits. Here are just a few:
- God’s Word gives me joy. “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16).
- God’s Word guides me along life’s paths. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105).
- God’s Word increases my intelligence. “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
- God’s Word reveals erroneous ideas. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20, NKJV).
- God’s Word keeps me from sinning. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
A week or so after I started sleeping with the bedroom window open, my lungs no longer felt that electric “zing.” The reason was that I’d become accustomed to this healthier way of resting—and I discovered that on the nights I forgot to open it, I’d awaken feeling a bit stifled.
I think it’s that way with God’s inspired Word. This wonderful gift is like fresh heavenly air to my soul, and I plan to continue breathing in its life-giving influence!