The deceit of their own heart

Jeremiah 23:25-29
25 “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’
26 “How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart,
27 “who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal.
28 “The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream;
And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully.
What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the LORD.
29 “Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD,
“And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

We all dream now and then, and some of us dream more often than others. Psychologists say that much of our dreaming is related to stress and discord in our lives, and that dreams are a way for our subconscious mind to sort out the problems of the day. I know from my own experience that I often dream about things I have seen or experienced during the day–a scene from a film, a song mentioned, a long-lost friend who came to mind. I also know from my own experience that dreams are a place where Satan operates to try to deceive and destroy, to draw us into temptation and sin.

We all ought to know the story about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, when the devil himself appeared to our Lord and tried to get Him to abandon His power and His purpose. Satan distorted the meaning of some cherry-picked verses from God’s Word to make it sound like his own lies were true. Well, that scene in the desert isn’t the only time Satan tries such a tactic. The Word of God is often misused by the enemies of God, especially by the vehement atheists who try to throw it back in the faces of the faithful. You will also see it done even in some churches where the Word of God is twisted to mislead people into false dreams of personal prosperity and deceive them with promises of absolute holiness.

But the place where we are most vulnerable to the lies of Satan is in our dreams. Whether we are waking or sleeping, when we dream or have visions or think we hear the voice of God, we are often so caught up in the moment–a sudden period of clear communication–that we insist it must come from God. In some cases when a word of knowledge has come to us, it may very well be the voice of God. But we must always be wary.

1 John 4:1-3
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

We test the spirits by trying their words against the Word of God. Does God truly promise us personal prosperity? Does God promise we are perpetually holy regardless of our actions? Does God desire us to do something different from what is in His Word? Even Balaam knew better than to oppose the Word of God!

Numbers 23:18-20
18 Then he took up his oracle and said:
“Rise up, Balak, and hear!
Listen to me, son of Zippor!
19 “God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
20 “Behold, I have received a command to bless;
He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.”

So the test we must always make is to check what we have received against the whole Word of God. We must consult the Bible, look deep, pray and meditate, and then truly listen to the voice of God that comes through His Word.

However, in some cases, the voice we hear is not Satan nor God. Who is speaking then? Look at today’s verses: “the deceit of their own heart.” (v.26) It’s not always the case that we are misled by Satan, and it’s not always the case that God is speaking to us. Often, it is no more than our vanity and pride, our own desires for affirmation and justification, and in some cases even our own mistaken understanding of God’s Word. Truly, sometimes we need look no further than the voice of our own thoughts to see who is speaking.

Proverbs 19:21
There are many plans in a man’s heart,
Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel–that will stand.

Of course, when we are misled by the dreams of our own hearts, that is when Satan takes advantage and encourages us to depart from the Lord’s counsel. That moment when we see in a dream or hear in a voice something that “feels right,” that is when we are most vulnerable to Satan’s guile and deceit.

What then should we do when we have such a dream or hear such voices? How can we be sure who is speaking? How can we defend ourselves, be prepared to know what is true and what is not?

Jeremiah 23:29 (New Living Translation)
“Does not my word burn like fire?” says the Lord.
“Is it not like a mighty hammer that smashes a rock to pieces?”

God’s Word is like a fire that burns away the chaff from the grain. God’s Word is like a refiner’s fire that melts silver and gold and causes the impurities to separate from the pure metal. God’s Word is the hammer that breaks apart rock and ore to find the iron and copper and tin to make useful things. The Bible is a powerful tool that breaks apart the boulders of falsehood to show that they are but stones and not the unbreakable Word of the Almighty God. In short, to know the truth of a dream, we must know the truth of God’s Word.

“But what if I don’t know the Bible well? What if I don’t remember, cannot put my finger on something in the Word of God that confirms or denies the vision?”

Deuteronomy 6:6-7
6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.
7 “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

The Word of God is meant to be taught and discussed. When we have a dream or vision, when a voice comes to us in the guise of God, then we must consult with those who also know the Word of God. We MUST NOT simply rely on our own interpretation, because, as was mentioned above, we can be deceived by our own heart to hear what we want to hear. And if we simply consult the Word of God on our own, we can be as guilty as the devil of cherry-picking God’s promises to suit our own desires.

“What is the chaff to the wheat?” asks the Lord God. What is the petty prophecy of our own hearts against the promise of the gospel? What are the unfruitful words of men against the power of God’s purpose in Christ? What is the dream of a yearning heart against the true Word of God? Can the chaff keep from getting burned away? Can the stone withstand the hammer? Can our visions stand up to God’s Word?

Therefore, let us be wary of our dreams, be wary of visions and voices. Let us truly test them against the wisdom of God’s Word. Let us take what we hear and share it with men and women of great faith, so that the full light of the gospel may be shined on our dreams to reveal them for whatever they are. If they are of God, then Christ will be glorified in our acting on the dream. And if Christ is not glorified, then the dreams and voices are not of God. So, let us not be deceived by our own hearts, but instead let us be edified and strengthened and led by the very voice and Word of God.

Lord God, help me to always know Your Word, so that I am not misled by my own heart. Teach me to rely on others to help me understand the things that I hear, to help me discern what is of the flesh and what is truly of the Spirit. May Your Word come into me and separate flesh and bone, spirit and truth, so that my life will be led only by You and Your beloved voice. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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