Did God Tell You to Tie Your Shoes this Morning? The Micromanaging God

God told me to get up and tie my shoes this morning.”

With these words, my wife once described to me a kind of spirituality which baffled her. I must admit it baffles me, too, though I’ve had more exposure to it than she has.

And what does it refer to?

This 2008 post from fellow Antiochian priest Fr. Gregory Hallam in the UK (whom I visited in 2001) discusses the way some people talk about spiritual life:

To hear some Christians talk you would think they had a “hot-line to God.” They are so convinced that God is in daily, direct communication with them, to suggest otherwise would be to compromise on the glorious intimacy that faith and grace bestow. So overweening is this confidence that rarely do they stop to ask: “Am I hearing right? Is this God or Satan? Is this perhaps me talking to myself?” There is no room for such doubts on the hotline.

This way of speaking about faith is common among some American Christians, even among Christians raised outside the part of Evangelicalism which is the home of this sort of language—generally the Pentecostal/Charismatic world, but also throughout low-church Evangelicalism, including Southern Baptists, mega-church-goers and others. I’ve lived in the South several times, and while there I even heard both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians speak this way, that “God was really showing me ________,” “The Lord laid on my heart that I should ________,” or “God told me that ________.”

God, it would seem, is something of a micromanager.

As Fr. Gregory points out, there is something a bit awry with this manner of speaking. To be sure, one cannot doubt the spiritual sincerity of people who speak this way, but in all honesty, how can we really be sure that it’s God talking to us and not ourselves—or even, God forbid, one of the dark powers? One rarely finds this sort of language in the Scriptures, except coming from the prophets and apostles. Even then, especially with the apostles, one does not see any indication that they believe that God is directing them in such a detailed way most of the time, and they certainly don’t say that they “feel” God is leading them in such-and-such a direction. How they feel about it almost never enters into the picture.

Even though I was raised with such language, being from an Evangelical Protestant background, hearing it these days always makes me a bit uncomfortable and even a little suspicious. As a priest, I sometimes get asked about what God’s will for someone’s life is, usually in terms of whether they should change jobs, relocate, buy a certain house, get married, etc. My response is almost always the same and based on St. Augustine’s famous dictum: “Love, and do what thou wilt!”

Really, we cannot make spiritual mistakes if we are genuinely living in repentance and self-sacrificial love. (And what does it really matter if we make earthly mistakes?) God’s will for us is that we turn away from sin and embrace holiness. The particular details of our earthly circumstances are relatively trivial.

This is not to say that we don’t have experiences of the mystical and the divine, but most mystical experience is really rather “mundane” compared to what most of us wish it were. In looking for “experiences,” however, we are falling into the error St. Paul points out to the Corinthians:

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock (Gr., scandalon), and unto the Greeks foolishness (I Cor. 1:22-23).

Sometimes the scandalon and foolishness of our Christian life is precisely that it is so unspectacular. Seek not for fireworks in the heavens and voices from on high. Seek ye rather the kingdom and all God’s righteousness (Matt. 6:33). This involves crucifixion.

When I hear an Orthodox Christian speaking in this manner, that God is “leading” and “speaking” to them in minute and detailed ways, I don’t try to shut them down. Usually, this is the only language they have thus far learned to express such things. My experience has been, however, that over time as people delve more deeply into authentic Orthodox spiritual life, humility eventually teaches them that they’re really not prophets and that our own free will is what governs what we do. As Fr. Gregory says:

With this in mind we should not say that we have a “hotline to God” that rather that we have “an ordinary connection.” True, God speaks to us. He does answer our prayers, although not always in ways we would like. However, in this life our sin and laziness always generate “noise on the line.” Repentance deals with this interference progressively. We should therefore have a more measured sense of what we and others are able to hear. Sometimes it is the “Word of the Lord.” Sometimes it is not. Discernment is called for.

The example of the saints is that they would prefer to say that God never spoke to them and thus accidentally ignore an angelic voice than to mistake a voice that is not God’s for the true divine word.

Trust me: If you’re ever chosen to be a prophet, it will be spectacularly apparent not only to you but by the confirmation of the Church. It’s best that you do your best to refuse it, though, and accept that recognition of authentic prophecy usually only comes after death and is typically accompanied by persecution in life. Prophecy almost never comes to the comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong—all Christians are called to speak prophetically, but not all of us are called to be prophets in the sense that God speaks directly to us in detailed ways about everyday life and asks us to speak on His behalf. Even the Old Testament prophets didn’t hear from God as often as I think some people believe regarding themselves.

I try find more wisdom in the ordinary. Live life. Don’t assume you’re getting messages from God. Don’t think you’re special. Try to be holy. Confess your sins regularly. Receive Holy Communion frequently. Pray frequently. Give up some of your unnecessary possessions. Come to church frequently. Labor without seeking recognition. Do all this with thanksgiving to God, and the rest will take care of itself.


  1. This belief in a micromanaging God has muddied the waters of my faith more than I’d like to admit. It’s not that I have any particular propensity towards it, though as a protestant, I certainly passed through such theologies. Rather the issue is the degree to which I feel surrounded by this sort of theology and the manner in which it’s so persistently used as a sort of trump card against any and all arguments meant to convey good theology. I mean from the perspective of the people who believe this way, of course their direct revelation from God will count as superior to “human wisdom.” It frustrates me endlessly. I don’t feel like I can even converse with certain Christians because we don’t speak the same language. Surely you encounter this sort of thing Father. What do you do with it?

    1. If I get the sense that the person might be open to examining his assumptions, then I might ask epistemologically leading questions like these:

      How do you know that what you’re getting is directly from God?

      What do you do if someone else tells you he’s getting a word from God that contradicts what you believe God told you?

      Is there any way to test whether these messages are authentic?

  2. Good article. The usage of the word “feel” may not always mean what the word means when someone says “I feel like God is telling my to ________.” In the circles you mentioned in your article they make a distinction between the prophetic in the Bible, specifically the OT, and NT prophecy (which they would see themselves in). Most in those groups who believe in the prophetic gifts recognize they aren’t the same as the scriptures and that unlike the biblical prophets their prophecies aren’t authoritative and can therefore be mistaken to varying degrees. So when they say “feel” they often mean “I believe God wants me to tell/do/say something to someone but I realize I may be wrong so I’ll ask this way in order to judge if I’m on the right track and to see if it’s really God.”

  3. Interesting. This way of thinking about God has done more damage to to my understanding of Him than any heresy that’s floating out in the wild today. I’m sure having an absentee father only compounded it. When I think back about all my experiences “hearing” from God I can only think of one instance that could possibly qualify (and it took me over a dozen years to figure out what happened). That experience didn’t come during a time of worship or a time of prayer or a time of meditation or a time of reading scripture. It came during a time where I was dealing with the repercussions familial dysfunction. I was depressed and was contemplating suicide(as a christian) and I was completely black inside; no thoughts about God or his love, no scripture to contemplate or console me. Though I didn’t know it at the time it was definitely apophatic/mystical in nature; there was a sound but I didn’t hear anything, there was a light but I didn’t see anything, there was a presence but no one was there. I can only describe it metaphorically as a spark or a brief flicker of a candle but once it passed I had a profound shift in knowledge. One moment I knew I needed to die and the next I knew I needed to live. Nothing more nothing less. It was only when I stumbled upon Orthodox church 5 years ago that I was able to figure this out. Glory be to God.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story Evert. That was powerful. I definitely relate. Love this article.

  4. Typically, when I encounter someone who talks in this manner, I ask them, “How do you know the difference between God’s Spirit and your own spirit?” I have never encountered someone with a ready reply to that question. I believe it is because they have never been confronted with the question. Ezekiel 13:1-3 warns about those who are simply following their own spirit while believing they are being inspired by God.

    1. You may be right that a lot of people raised with the terminology of “hearing God’s voice” might not have thought seriously about how they know that they are hearing God. However, another reason someone might have trouble answering such a question is because it is such a BIG question. People hear God’s voice in different ways in different situations. There are various ways to “discern” whether a “voice” is your own, God’s, or a deceiver’s. It is a very personal question that requires time and trust to discuss.

  5. through the years, in particular with western Protestant Christians I have seen this phenomenon in action. I have had so many friends tell me that God has shown them that that man/woman is going to be my mate. Sadly in each and every instance I’ve had to ask, after said “God appointed mate” had happily married someone else, What Happened? Even such matters as going to a lake for an afternoon earn the reply ” let me pray on it and see what God says”. I’m treated as a heathen when I say that God doesn’t concern himself with such things in the sense that he doesn’t choose a wife for us, he tells us in the scriptures what a good woman is, what a good wife does and what a good man is, and what a good husband does. He has set in motion principles since the founding of the world, we attain blessings when we live within those principles and the curses when we don’t. If we choose to marry a woman who isn’t an Orthodox Christian and doesn’t follow traditional and biblical principles are we to then blame God “for choosing the wrong mate for us”

    1. well, if you will pardon a touch of sardonicism, it seems to me that God told us not to eat of the fruit, but then some other pseudo-authority said that nothing would happen.
      So we went ahead and did it. It looked nice, and we wanted to….
      This is of course the antithesis of ‘God told me to….’
      The whole concept of ‘micromanaging’ reduces us from being in His ‘image and likeness’ with freewill to the status of robots waiting for instructions from Heaven before drawing our next breath.

      One wonders about the woman in question – when she went to bed that night, did she wait for permission/instruction to un-tie her shoelaces or did she go to bed while still wearing the shoes?

  6. Thank you for this, Father. Though I have been convinced of the Orthodox Faith for nearly a year now, I attend a Reformed Calvinist college in the South and am surrounded by this way of thinking all the time. I learned to speak and in some sense to think this way during my first years here, though I know recognize that in using that language I was putting on a show for my friends when I really felt confused and seeking direction.
    My school emphasizes “calling” a lot, in reference to career and to various life roles in general, so a lot of this type of speech springs from grappling with finding their “callings.” Then you have to find a way to baptize every job, vocation, and activity. Protestantism, I now realize, is still trying to answer the question “How then shall we live?” But the first answer that comes to mind is never simply to behave virtuously, but pinpointing some pattern of behavior or choice that is right every time. This freedom to “love, and do as thou wilt” is in a sense freeing, and confusing as I have been so influenced by my school’s orientation towards career choices.

  7. Thank you for this line of thought, Father. I think that I need to edit my personal prayers appropriately. A couple phrases have lingered from my pre-Orthodox days, “Lord help me to hear your voice, Lord, help me to obey your voice.”
    I have added, “Lord grant me true repentance.” I now think that this addition should just replace the request to hear God’s voice.

  8. My favorite was when a guy carrying his big big Bible and accompanied by a “witness” came to my college home and told my roommate (my very pretty roommate, who had rebuffed this young man’s attentions) that God had told him that he was to marry her.

    We were all horrified, peeking in from the kitchen: this was a very sweet and naive young woman, one who loved God very much. We were very nervous about what was going to happen.

    Imagine our delight when she said, in her naturally sweet voice, “Wow! That’s amazing! I’m sure that God will tell me too, if it is His will.” We were all so relieved.

    The two young men got pretty aggressive and started yelling at her. By their fruits… The rest of us came in and gave them the bum’s rush.

    That moment was about 40 years ago, but I have never forgotten it and it has colored all my reactions regarding a Micromanager God.

  9. Reminds me of the popular Life Application Bibles, which try to reduce Scripture to practical advice for the most mundane life activities, be they day care or car decals.

  10. Father, I think there is an unconscious yet socially controlled psychodynamic going on here. The infrastructure is invariably Calvinist with or without Pentecostal / Charismatic elements..

    1. Only the elect are saved.
    2. Am I one of the elect?
    3. Are there discernible signs of me being one of the elect?
    4. Spiritual dimension – choose: (tick any boxes depending on confessional context) – (a) speaking in tongues (b) being “born again” – Being “born again” can be evidenced by: (x) extemporary prayer (y) prayer infused with deep emotion (z) having a well worn Bible
    5. Practical dimension – choose: (a) having a God inspired calling (b) tithing / sacrificial giving (c) not being “churchy”

  11. I, too, was raised Protestant (American Baptist) and am now an Orthodox Christian, for the past 8 years. I am very familiar with this way of speaking (the micromanager God) and hear it regularly — but I believe there is a danger is going the extreme either way. Both ends of this spectrum represent something other than authentic christian spirituality in my opinion. I don’t need to relay the absurdity on the micromanager end, as that has been given plenty of examples in the comments here, but there is also a danger of dismissing anyone’s belief and downplaying that “calling” they may have to act a certain way.
    God spoke directly to St. Patrick and ordered him to go to the shore to find a ship waiting to free him from captivity. He obeyed and indeed, his following of God’s voice delivered him. Nor can we ever assume to understand the ministry of angels… this is part of our Orthodox prayers and beliefs that our guardian angels protect us and yet, we shouldn’t be remiss to thank them when we are saved from danger. We see so dimly on this earth; the element of mystery to our faith is a beautiful and sacred one. I think it’s just as sinful for one whose theology is intact to smirk and claim to know how God may interact with His creation as it is to live a fretful life wondering what God wants us to do each hour.
    There is a wonderful short story in the Russian book, “Everyday Saints” that illustrates my point. It’s titled, “The Tale of the Prayer and the Little Fox”

  12. While I agree that in some cases there are those who go much too far, I think that it is far too great of an assumption on your part that God does not speak in such simple ways to his children. Is God only the God of lofty things? Just because God does not speak to you in this way, or you do not seek that sort of interaction, doesn’t mean that it isn’t actually happening to others, and that God is limited to prophecy and what might be considered important things by men. Certainly there is merit in cautiousness, and there are exaggerations and people who seek signs, but I feel that this point of view is limiting God. I am a newer Catholic, originally from a charismatic background, and a big fan of St. Therese of Liseaux and her “little way” and others whose relationship to God was not about prophetic teaching and persecution and big things. We are not all called to that life. Being suspicious of our fellow believers in their different spiritual experiences doesn’t seem loving to me – how do you defend this? Having come to a more liturgical faith because I felt that it was more open to spiritual experiences in general, it disappoints me to see a view like this.

    1. How does it “limit God” to observe that He is not a micromanager?

      I didn’t write that God doesn’t speak to people in simple ways. The problem is when people ascribe nearly everything they do to God’s direct command or even when they ascribe their own strong feelings to it. How exactly is that to be tested? And what if two different people each claim that God told them things that contradict with each other?

      1. Hello Father Andrew,

        There are certainly many who take this concept much too far, but I felt that it was unclear in what you had originally written that you were speaking more about those who ascribe their own feelings to God, which is more clear in your response.

        I have certainly encountered situations in which contradictory ideas are attributed to God. When you ask how this is to be tested, or what is to be done, I believe that each of those individuals whose ideas contradict each other ought to be encouraged to pray and seek wisdom and to consider deeply if they might be mistaken, and to mediate with someone who is known to have a gift of discernment.

        What do you think?

    2. Twyla, I wouldn’t say that we are being encouraged to be suspicious of fellow believers, but for all of us to be cautious and aware of what we are saying while also evaluating exactly where a thought or idea is coming from. Orthodoxy is ecclesial by its nature and not individualistic. That is not to say that individuals do not experience different things, but the nature of the Church is to preserve the Truth and grow as a Christ’s body in faith. That does include lovingly asking questions on subjects like this (and also being asked questions when I do something questionable or believe something questionable).

      Post-modernism has infected the culture, but also impacted religious life. Should someone be harshly called out on this issue? Certainly not – and Fr. Andrew has clearly also called for discernment in addressing it and has said that he uses discernment in addressing it. Yet the post-modern concept of “I’m okay, you’re okay, I do what I want, you do what you want, and everybody is right and good, etc” creates muddy waters that cloud out ability to see. That is not to say there is no diversity, discussion, or debate inside the Church, there is, but there is also a requirement to hold each other accountable in a loving manner while examining ourselves above all first, removing the planks from our own eyes and the splinter from our brother’s.

      I understand where Fr. Andrew comes from here because I have seen it and heard it a lot in my college years when I was involved with Campus Crusade and after when I went to a Baptist church. I also saw the conflicts when God apparently told students and leaders contradictory things and how those things led to enmity between friends, dissension, and even people abandoning their faith. I’ve also seen arrogance come with it, as some have thought God favored them or gave them special knowledge. That caused heads to swell, yet many of these outcomes are not what I’d expect when God does speak. God does not contradict Himself, so how could different parties hear different things that are contradictory and how do we judge which, if any, has heard God?

      That’s not to say that all who have claimed to hear God speak to them have ended up in this way, but I do find many of these claims peculiar and I have heard many of them. I am personally wary of speaking for God because that is a dangerous claim to make. I sympathize with Jonah in his attempt to run away from being God’s mouthpiece, though if you are truly meant to speak for Him, you will in the end. It is better that we confess our sins, repent of them, and love one another. I find that God speaks more loudly when we are faithful in these things, knowing our weaknesses and failings; knowing how we need to let His grace wash over us and then participate in that grace through faithfulness. We may not hear His voice then, but others will see Him and we will too as we are transformed by His energies.

      1. Hello Jeff,

        Thanks for your input! I too have encountered issues with multiple individuals stating conflicting ideas that they are convinced are God’s will, in the past I’m sure I’ve been a part of such a… well, fiasco, on more than one occasion.

        Arrogance is the root of this particular issue, I think.

        I do think there’s a difference between that sort of behaviour and those who humbly seek God’s counsel in their own day-to-day, even in the small things. God may not be a micromanager, but I don’t think he sees things as “big” or “small” the same way we do necessarily. Something that one person feels ought to be beneath God’s notice may not be, perhaps God expresses his love to that person in these small details in a way that is good for their soul.

        My thought is whether it is not also arrogance to think that any of us can choose what is truly important for God to communicate with us about? I don’t believe that the Church has a particular stance on that point, either Catholic or Orthodox, do we?

        I agree with many of your points, and appreciate you taking the time to discuss it!

  13. I am a Roman Catholic (but leaning heavily towards Orthodoxy). In my circle of friends and acquaintances there is plenty of talk of praying novenas and saying rosaries and chaplets in the sense that the OT high priest used the urim and thummim. It disturbs me greatly. What they are doing is this: There are two choices, I pray the novena, God shows me the “correct” choice which is “in accordance with Thy will.”

    Here’s my problem: what if God’s will is a third choice?

    I think there is so much superstition and self-delusion in this.

  14. I and many Orthodox Christians pray every day this line from a prayer by Metropolitan Philaret: “In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me.” In what way should we expect that prayer to be answered?

    I suspect that there are many practices currently considered unpalatable by American Orthodox Christians because they have been tainted by non-Orthodox use and very often mixed with heresy. But does that mean these practices are outside the Orthodox tradition? I concede that trying to apply God’s guidance to trivial practices such as tying one’s shoes or brushing one’s teeth leads to a faulty view of God’s leading in our lives, but is it far-fetched to suggest that if I am looking for God’s guidance daily and hourly I may be directed, not in an audible voice or by even by words in my mind but by an inner sense, to take an alternate route to work and perhaps come upon an accident or situation where I can be of service to those in need? That kind of direction seems consistent with my understanding of God’s guidance in our lives.

    What I do consider to be out of bounds is giving messages regarding God’s guidance to another person who is not asking for it. When I was exploring Orthodoxy while still in my previous church, I had a senior member of that church come to me and say, “Every time I pray for you about this direction you’re taking I keep getting ‘he’s going the wrong way’.” In other words, he implied that God was speaking to him that I was in error by learning about Orthodoxy, although he had never even asked me any questions about what I was learning and we had never had any conversations about it. Although I was praying daily for understanding of God’s ways and asking for guidance into the truth, it was very off-putting to hear this from an unsolicited source.

  15. I understand where father is coming from in challenging God as micromanager . However I have to say I do not entirely agree . Surely God is interested in the minutiae of our lives . To say that people who are prayerful and try and follow Gods will for their lives are likely misguided seems to me very un scriptural . As a convert to orthodoxy from Protestantism it does frustrate me to see many cradle orthodox who appear lacklustre in their faith and unfortunately it is this attitude that causes such lukewarmness . Miracles are real , God lives us and has not left us alone here ! A very disappointing article – with the richness of orthodoxy please don’t encourage lukewarmness in the flock

    1. I think if you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you wouldn’t think I was encouraging lukewarmness. In any event, that’s not what this piece is about, either. Neither is it claiming that God doesn’t care about little details. (Again, I’ve written on that, too.) Nor is it claiming that miracles are not real, that God does not live in us or that He has left us alone. Nor is it saying that people who are prayerful and trying to follow God’s will are misguided.

      Rather, the point of this piece is to critique the idea that people are receiving constant, direct, specific revelation from God on every detail of their lives — especially for other people’s lives. They’re not. In fact, most people in Christian history never receive any specific revelation but are given the general revelation made to all, for which we will be held accountable.

  16. Does God tell me to arise and tie my shoes in the morning? No. Further, I do not expect Him to do so. But I think this is clearly a tongue in cheek exaggeration. I have encountered this individual myself many times. I have had long messages left for me in text or on Facebook of what God had revealed to some eager prophet. I have even had several reveal to me that my conversion to Orthodoxy had to be because of some deep tragic event in my life. Most of these (especially the last) were easily dismissed. I think what strikes at our discernment in the “I felt led to…” and “God told me…” sort of talk is that it seems to be a bit self-glorifying. If I am getting any sort of bearing on the spirituality of the Saints (which is doubtful) it seems to not be self promoting. I don’t think the issue is so much an expectation of real fellowship with the Holy Trinity throughout the day, as the fact that these “revelations” tend to glorify the ego and seem to have little to do with their or my salvation.

    With that said, I would cautiously suggest that “feeling” led of God is not a bad thing. Particularly if what is meant is that the person felt that God was close to them. That God was present with them – after all He is everywhere present and fills all things. I think it is St. Saraphim of Sarov who says that the goal of the Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit. He says that fasting, prayers and alms giving are means to an end – to acquire the Holy Spirit. If this is what we are describing – being aware of the Holy Spirit in our heart – then perhaps this is not bad if we have humility and are aware of our own frailty. So God does not tell me to tie my shoes each day, but I would certainly hope that in this act – and all I do – that I am aware of His presence. But of course I need it much more than most. 🙂

  17. Father,
    I understand your intention behind this article. The extreme version of this mindset is dangerous and harmful, and God is not a micromanager. But I think your lack of experiencing what such people actually experience skews your mindset towards the subject. Having been raised a Baptist (I am Orthodox now) I am all too acquainted with this type of language. But have you ever considered that this is simply what it is… a “language” we have picked up. While some take this language literally, I’ve found that most often when people say things such as “God was really showing me ________,” “The Lord laid on my heart that I should ________,” or “God told me that ________,” they don’t mean it in the literal sense. Some people do, but most people who use this language do not mean “God, verbatim, told me with an audible voice to do x.” Rather, it is something they have been praying about, and it is a conviction they have received through constintual prayer. Are we going to deny that God cannot guide the nouse of a person that is completely surrendered to Him?
    There are also far too many examples of Godly men and women throughout history whose testimony says otherwise. Missionaries, pastors, and yes, even intellectuals, who have this mindset of “seeking God” in all that they do have testified to its validity and power in God being able to work through them.
    There is a danger to this language–yes. Should it be changed? Yes. But there is also a danger to thinking that God CAN’T guide our hearts and that we CAN’T experience this “personal” side of faith. Are we not to live in such a way that is always open to his “still, small voice?”
    I’m sorry, but just because you have not experienced this phenomenon yourself does not mean that God does not work in this way. He doesn’t “micromanage,” but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t guide our hearts, which, if someone doesn’t know any better, might come out as, “God told me to do x,” or, “God put it on my heart to do x.”

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