The Holy Nudge1
Never in my life had I felt fire in my bones like this.
It was a pivotal night for Westminster Chapel and for my own ministry. Arthur Blessitt, the man who carried a twelve-foot cross 42,279 miles (68,041 kilometers) across the world, had come to preach. The sanctuary was packed.
Before the sermon, Arthur and I lingered in the vestry, where he casually told me he would invite people to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I was not prepared for this. It was not even an evangelistic event. This was the annual meeting of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC).
“Arthur,” I said, “we don’t do that here.”
He looked incredulous, so I said, “Well, if you feel led, go ahead.”
So, Arthur gave the invitation after preaching. Dozens stood and confessed Christ. The place buzzed with Arthur’s message; the last people I expected to, were singing his praises.
It was such an extraordinary evening that I persuaded Arthur to stay at the chapel for longer than he intended. It was the most controversial decision I made in 25 years at Westminster Chapel. But I felt what my old friend Pete Cantrell called a “holy nudge”—it was like a gentle prod from within, a sense of duty in the heart.
Arthur preached six successive Sunday nights. His ministry changed the chapel and me. Never would we be the same again.
The nudge: Holy or not?
In more than 60 years of ministry the question I have been asked most frequently is, “How do I know the will of the Lord?” So often we hear people say, “God led me to do this” or “The Holy Spirit told me to say this.”
When you are in the presence of the Lord, you may experience a feeling that you must do something. But is this “nudge” always holy?
Many times have I felt a “nudge” that turned out to be from God. But other times a nudge has proven to be of the flesh, not of the Holy Spirit. How do we know if an unexpected feeling to do something comes from the Lord? How can we trust what comes into our hearts; after all, does the Bible not tell us the heart is deceitful above all things and incurably wicked (Jer. 17:9)?
Ask yourself the following five questions, and you may have PEACE about not being led astray:
Providential. Does the door open,or do you have to knock it down? When Arthur said yes to feeling led to make an appeal, that made it providential. So far, so good.
Enemy. What do you suppose the devil would have you do? The devil would have wanted me to give in to fear of man and not ask Arthur to spend six weeks with us.
Authority. What does the Bible say?Is there anything in Scripture that would prohibit what you feel? If the answer is No, then it is biblical.
Confidence. Does your confidence increase or decrease at the thought of doing this? When you lose confidence, that means something has gone wrong. Never had I felt such boldness than when inviting Arthur to stay with us.
Ease. What do you honestly feel in your heart of hearts? This is where integrity must rule. To quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.” I knew that I could never live with myself if I did not do all I could to persuade Arthur to preach for us.
Where could a nudge come from?
A nudge has three possible origins: the flesh, the devil, or the Holy Spirit. How to know the difference becomes the big question.
Prayer is an important step in discernment. In my daily prayer, I ask of the Lord, “Help me to perceive quickly what is of the flesh, the devil, or the Holy Spirit.” Furthermore, I pray that I accept only what the Spirit warrants.
Of course, prayer every morning does not guarantee that I will be led by the Spirit all day long. We need to pray as well as watch. This is why it is crucial to have a solid theological foundation, a strong knowledge of the Bible, and an openness to the immediate and direct witness of the Holy Spirit.
Plenty of well-meaning people believe themselves to have a hotline to God, but all “words of knowledge” and “prophetic words” must be tested against Scripture (1 John 4:1). The Word says, “Do not be excessively righteous, and do not be extremely wise; why should you destroy yourself?” (Eccl. 7:16).2
Be aware. When we feel as though we are God’s favorite, God will show us how much He really loves us by whittling us down to nothing. I know I have felt a strong anointing when preaching as though I had “arrived.” Of course, then, I preach again, and it goes so badly that it is utterly embarrassing.
The heart: Seat of personality
Do you trust your heart? Honestly? Our hearts play tricks on us. This is why the Bible teaches against self-reliance: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). We trust in the Lord with all our hearts, which means we are completely committed to relying on Him, not ourselves.
God tests us so that we can see what is in our hearts (2 Chron. 32:31). This is for us, not for God, as He knows our hearts better than we do. Through testing, we uncover the evil in ourselves. If you are feeling a nudge to do something, is it from God or is it from your heart?
When Proverbs tells us to “guard” our hearts (Prov. 4:23, NIV), it shows that we can rise above the heart and gain some measure of objectivity about ourselves, keeping our feelings from
determining what is true. Paul said, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent” (1 Cor. 4:4, NIV). It is God, alone, who will “bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart” (v. 5, NIV).
Moses was tutored in understanding what was a holy nudge from God. Stephen tells us that when Moses was 40 years old, “it came to his heart to visit his brothers, the sons of Israel” (Acts 7:23). Moses grew to realize that he was a Hebrew, a sobering truth when he saw how the Egyptians treated his people. He could have repressed his feelings and kept it from bothering him. But he did not dismiss what he felt in his heart. This was when integrity stepped in.
As the Bible teaches, the heart can be the vehicle of either integrity or deceit. “As he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). “Set your heart on the right path” (v. 19, NIV). “Guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Prov. 4:23, NIV). There is so much rooted in the heart: conscience, feelings, and motivation. Jesus said, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immorality, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies” (Matt. 15:18).
So, can you trust your heart? The answer is, you must be very careful. You could be right. You could be wrong.
A holy nudge, an unholy nudge
Rabbi Sir David Rosen and I wrote a book together titled The Christian and the Pharisee. The book was born because of a nudge. It was during my quiet time before breakfast when I felt a nudge to ask David to write a book with me comprising our letters to each other. We were going to have breakfast one morning at the Mount Zion Hotel in Jerusalem, and that was where I made the suggestion. I posited that I would present the biblical case for Jesus being Israel’s Messiah and that David could reply as he pleased.
“Don’t answer now—just think about it,” I said.
“Let’s do it,” David said.
This book began with a nudge that was holy. It was published on both sides of the Atlantic and welcomed widely by Jewish Christians. I hoped it would lead some Jewish people to Christ, but, as far as I know, that has not happened. But as Yogi Berra would say, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” As for David and me, well, we are still good friends to this day.
After The Christian and the Pharisee was published, I felt another nudge—a huge nudge. Certain reviewers of the book suggested we write a book that included Muslims. I agreed.
My time was spent interviewing or seeking interviews with heads of churches in Jerusalem, including the Russian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic leaders.
What I learned was if I wanted to hear from the most powerful Muslim leaders, then all roads led to Egypt. So I visited Cairo, thinking I was on my way to meet the Grand Mufti of Egypt. Everything seemed so providential. Then I hit a wall and, in the end, everyone said no.
The nudge was not from God. It was my own grandiose idea. None of the interviews with church leaders flowed. A lot of time and money was spent pushing for something that God was not in.
John Paul Jackson, a speaker and minister who accompanied me on some of these interviews, gave me a warning: “Your ego will drive you to politics. The Spirit will keep you focused on salvation.”
In retrospect, I am thankful that my “nudge” did not drive me to write that second book.
What was the difference between the “feel” in the latter nudge and the “feel” in my nudge to write The Christian and the Pharisee? Honestly, I felt no difference.That is why we should test our feelings. Measure it against the PEACE acrostic. Pray, and the answer will be made clear. Additionally, when we do not have to knock down doors to make things happen and the nudge leads to peace, we know that it is a holy nudge.
Lastly, what I am about to share might be difficult to believe. I will simply tell you what happened.
In June 1970, my wife, Louise, and I were seated at a Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Denver when I felt a sudden nudge to look to the New Testament. I needed to confirm a strong leading that I was feeling.
Allow me to just say: opening your Bible to receive a verse for guidance is precarious. I do not recommend it. However, I responded to my nudge and asked the Lord that what my eyes fell on would be specific, clear, and decisive.
My heart was pounding in my chest. I knew what I was about to read would reveal our future.
After years of reflecting on how I never finished my degree at Trevecca, I knew I had to decide now to finish or forget it forever. I was 35 and very happy in my Baptist church at Fort Lauderdale.
If I ventured back into the world of academia, I would not be back into full-time ministry until I was 40.
I knew the gospel and the Word of God. My public speaking skills were strong. But, like most other ministers, I felt uncomfortable with not having academic credentials. Should I give up my church, finish college, and go to the seminary?
I kept thinking, If only God would give me a Word. So, I opened my little King James Version New Testament. My eyes fell on these words: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel” (Acts 7:22, 23, KJV).
That was it. Everything fell into place. Forty years old.
I turned to Louise and explained what I knew now. We both agreed that we would resign from our church and go back to school. We never looked back.
In light of these experiences, let us conclude with this: remember that no experience of God—whether miracle, healing, sign, or wonder—will remove our need to have faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).
Between the nudges and moments of intense discernment, never lose faith in the Lord God.
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1 This article is based on R. T. Kendall’s book The Presence of God (Charisma House, 2017).
2 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture in this article is quoted from the Modern English Version (MEV) of the Bible.