Positive Coincidences vs God’s Leading

Scrupulosity Video Post

Jaimie Eckert

Published on Jun 7, 2024; Updated on Jun 7, 2024

Have you ever confused serendipity, or positive coincidences, with God’s leading? Does “overspiritualizing” come a little too easily for you? Maybe the following example of someone with scrupulosity will resonate and help you begin discerning between positive coincidences and God’s leading.

Jose* (not his real name) wanted to get a certain job position, but the hiring agency was extremely selective. He began to hear the “god voice” telling him to “step out in faith” with some unusual moves. He contacted certain people that he would have never spoken to. He drove places he had never intended to drive because the “god voice” directed him there. He listed things on his resume that he had never intended to mention. The “god voice” spoke with great specificity, even telling him what tie to wear to the interview.

To his great surprise, everything fell into place. Every move seemed to bring another puzzle piece together as he met future colleagues who put in a good word for him or had chance encounters with a future supervisor. Even the tie he had been “instructed” to wear to the interview ended up being a conversation piece that helped him connect with his interviewer. He felt a strong, peaceful presence which he believed was the Holy Spirit. Nothing had ever seemed like such a “God thing” as this.

Jose got the job, and he felt convinced that God had been leading him. Every chance encounter, Jose believed, was not actually chance. It was divinely orchestrated. This must have been God’s will. These were not just positive coincidences, but God’s leading!

However, after Jose started his new dream job, something switched. The “god voice” became bizarre. Oppressive, even. Jose received “impressions” that began cinching down and controlling the most minuscule details of his daily life. He began to exhibit the “stalk and pounce” pattern of scrupulosity’s compulsive witnessing. He started boxing up and giving away precious family photos and sentimental gifts because the “god voice” told him he shouldn’t have wasted his money with worldly trifles. The “god voice” even told him when, and how, he was allowed to have intimate relations with his wife!

At some level, Jose could admit that these impressions were getting weird. But he couldn’t let go of them. Hadn’t he listened to the “god voice” before, down to the smallest detail, and gotten his dream job? He just knew it had been God’s leading!

He didn’t understand why God was squeezing him now with all these bizarre impressions. He felt a bit crazy, as if he was losing touch with reality, but his experience before had been so real. He just couldn’t walk away from the impressions after all he’d experienced in the past…

Discerning Between God’s Voice and OCD’s Overspiritualizing Voice

As I mention in one of my latest video courses, God speaks to us in a few major ways:

  1. Through Scripture and Biblical Principles
  2. Through Godly Counsel
  3. Through Providential Leading
  4. Through Common Sense

Also, more rarely, and to be relied upon with extreme caution or not at all for any Christian with a mental health disorder involving intrusive thoughts, are signs and impressions. The Bible does give clear examples of how God speaks in the “still, small voice” or through “fleeces” and signs. However, when we weight these examples against the bulk of passages in which God speaks through the first four methods mentioned above, signs and impressions appear to be in the minority.

Why do I say that signs and impressions should be relied upon with caution or not at all for Christians with a history of intrusive thoughts? Because it is so easy to confuse OCD’s “god voice” with the genuine voice of God. OCD is a tricky taskmaster. It knows very well how to pantomime and imitate the voice of our Lord so that we think we are listening to God when in fact we are not. It becomes increasingly difficult to discern between negative or positive coincidences and God’s leading.

serendipity and God's guidance

Positive Coincidences, or God’s Leading?

Let me give you a biblical example to illustrate the deceptiveness of imitation.

Do you remember King Saul’s visit to the witch of En Dor in 1 Samuel 28? Saul found a “medium” (a witch or necromancer), someone who claimed to be able to communicate with the dead. He wanted to speak with the prophet Samuel, who had already passed away. Here is the method by which he hoped to speak to Samuel:

So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Please conduct a seance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.”

1 Samuel 28:8

A seance? Really?

Throughout the Old Testament, God consistently told His people not to practice necromancy or witchcraft. His followers were forbidden from attempting to communicate with the dead. This was considered abominable to God! But here we have a woman conducting a seance: the exact kind of thing God abhorred.

What’s very strange is that this method seemed to yield very positive results.

The medium saw someone who appeared like the dead prophet, spoke like the dead prophet, and gave a message that was fulfilled with exactness.

Let’s read the rest of the story.

Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”

When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”

And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?”

And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.”

So he said to her, “What is his form?”

And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.” And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.

Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.”

Then Samuel said: “So why do you ask me, seeing the LORD has departed from you and has become your enemy? And the LORD has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”

1 Samuel 28:11-19

The question is, was this really Samuel?

I don’t believe so, not at all. Space prevents me from here giving a detailed Bible study on everything the Bible says about witchcraft and the state of the soul after death, but I think most believers would agree that Saul was not actually talking with the “real” Samuel. Saul had an encounter with a demon. As it says in Revelation 16:14, demons can work great signs, and 1 Corinthians 11:14 says that Satan himself can be transformed into an angel of light.

In other words, demonic powers can

  1. work miraculous things (such as predicting the future with accuracy for King Saul), and
  2. be transformed into an appearance of something they are not (such as appearing in a form like Samuel)

I think you will follow my logic in saying the following: if the devil can do that kind of trick, don’t you think our OCD can do it, too?

Just for the record (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again), I don’t believe clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder is demonic possession or demonic harassment. But I do believe the blame for all bad things in this world can be placed at the devil’s feet (cancer, tsunamis, wars, volcanic eruptions that destroy entire villages, viruses, car wrecks, and yes, OCD as well). And comparatively speaking, this sort of pantomime trick is not hard for the devil, nor is it hard for one of the devil’s creations, OCD.

Our obsessional thoughts can imitate the voice of God. And we’ve got to be really careful about that.

scrupulosity and sign seeking

Serendipity vs God’s Leading

Positive coincidences and God’s leading can quickly become obscured in the OCD mind which continually searches for signs and fleeces. If you’ve been in recovery for OCD for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve discovered that there is a strong element of superstition in this disorder. The mind attaches all kinds of “meaningful” interpretations to events that don’t actually mean anything.

We are so desperate to hear from God that we read into events. Here are some ways I’ve heard people with scrupulosity overspiritualize their serendipitous events:

  • “The verse of the day that came to my inbox was my favorite passage, on my birthday! I just know it was God talking to me!”
  • “The way my boyfriend and I met was totally a God thing. The circumstances were just SO unlikely, I knew it had to be God.”
  • “Isaiah 41:10 was my bedrock verse that got me through so many tough times. When I first started healing from OCD, I began seeing Isaiah 41:10 everywhere! On billboards, bumper stickers, people’s t-shirts–it was crazy! I knew God was talking to me and telling me to just hang on.”
  • “My family and I were praying about God’s will on a really big family decision. While we were praying, our house literally got struck with lightning! We took that as a sign from God, and it gave us so much peace about the decision. It turned out to be the right choice, so I’m pretty sure it was God!”

Now, if you have had circumstances like the above–where you felt God was speaking to you through serendipitous events–I am not here to tell you it positively was not God. Because I don’t know. It might have been God striking your house with lightning or orchestrating events that got you together with your significant other. Who am I to say with definitiveness one way or the other?

What I can say, though, is that this pattern of looking for signs is a pattern that can truly come around to bite us. Yes, it’s very nice when we see God in the positive events (which might be mere happenstance, or they might honestly be from God). But this pattern can quickly switch on us and make us start “seeing” omens of doom everywhere. A classic example of this is the person who is constantly seeing their favorite, most comforting Bible verse everywhere during a good season, and then during an OCD flareup, they are constantly seeing the number 6 or the number 666 everywhere.

Can you see the pattern?

A) Focusing on micro events, and then

B) Attaching spiritual meaning to them (either positive or negative).

If you’re the type of person to overspiritualize positive situations and see every good thing as an intentional “God wink” or sign of His leading, I’m not going to tell you to stop. But I will remind you of a few things:

  1. The Bible doesn’t portray God as a master puppeteer who is orchestrating every single detail on the planet. Not everything is a sign from Him. Sometimes it really is nothing more than happenstance.
  2. Entrenching yourself in a mindset of attaching spiritual significance to all your happy coincidences mentally SETS YOU UP to attach spiritual significance to all your unhappy coincidences.

If you walk away with nothing else, please read point #2 again.

positive coincidences and God's leading

As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:28, “Such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.” Paul was not speaking about OCD matters, but his wording is precisely how I feel for scrupulosity sufferers who overspiritualize positive events with God’s leading.

I would love to spare you such trouble in the flesh.

Conclusion

If you have the feeling that you overspiritualize positive events with God’s leading, I encourage you to take a step back. Don’t feel bad if you’ve been tricked into listening to your OCD for years. Now you have the opportunity to do a swift about-face and stop unhealthy spiritual behaviors.

Here are a few suggestions on what you can do right now to stop overspiritualizing positive events.

  1. Watch for your sign-seeking mental patterns, and grow in wisdom as your patterns emerge. Are you the type to see God’s leading in positive coincidences when you’re having a good day, but then on an emotionally bad day you see God’s leading in negative events? Maybe it’s time to stop looking for God’s guidance in the micro-events of your day. Become wise to your own patterns through the wisdom that comes from above.
  2. Remember that if Satan can imitate angels of light, OCD can surely imitate the voice of God. It is my firm belief that any Christian who has been diagnosed with OCD absolutely must develop a mindset of caution towards signs, impressions, and guidances based on anything outside the written word of God.
  3. Recognize that God is the giver of every good gift, but He is not necessarily trying to communicate anything to you through those gifts except that He loves you. Look back at your inner storehouse of good memories with the Lord. Keep all those good memories! Don’t pull them down from sweet memory’s hall as you continue healing from religious OCD. However, you may need to change out the frame around some of those memories. You can reframe serendipitous events as blessings from God without seeing them as specific signs or guidances. The key thought here: learn to stop looking at everything with the mindset of “God’s trying to tell me something.” Sometimes He will tell you things, yes. But more often then not, He’ll tell you things through His Word, through good godly counsel, or through providential leading which you might not even recognize until after the fact. Now, you and I can think back to events where it was really clear that God was speaking to us in ways that we might not have been able to explain to others. Those experiences are SO precious. But I start to have a problem when I hear people getting these micro-messages every day, all the time, about everything. I also have my reservations when I hear people talk about their deeply comforting, cherished God-wink stories which contained guidance they continue following–but the guidance given was just the right mixture of comfort and confusion to block their OCD treatment!!

As we move forward with the Lord, may He grant us grace to see His presence with us every step of the way. May we find joy in recognizing that He doesn’t micromanage us, but He gives us quite a bit of latitude to be free moral agents in a big, big world. As such, not everything that happens to us is infused with directional meaning from God.

Sometimes there’s honestly no meaning behind any of the events we experience, either positive or negative.

Let’s stop looking for signs and guidance around every bush. God is greater than that. He doesn’t need us to be hyper-fixated on being event interpreters, He can guide us in much better ways!

Best wishes on the journey,

  • I have been scared to participate in The Lord’s Supper because I don’t want to do it wrong. There has been a lot of difficult and unhappy things in my life and I don’t want to bring on more. This seems superstitious in some ways.

  • Sometimes I find it difficult to read the Bible, physical Bibles are difficult to understand for me. I usually use the audio Bible of Public reading of scripture in Spanish, reading plans of 365 days or 20 minutes, but a lot of chapters are too long and a lot of verses, like 30, 50, 60 verses from old testament and new testament. I find it difficult to enjoy devotionales, Bible studies, daily reading. And I know God loves me, he wants my salvation, he saved me during 2020 in pandemic. But I feel if I make another enjoyable activities like watching Netflix, listening music, playing videogames, drawing before reading the Bible God will get angry at me, I’ll be sinning into Idolatry, disobedience or I can have spiritual accidents. A lot of times I feel like a bad Christian. My OCD makes me terrified of some Biblical passages like gospel parables, Hebrews, the Torah, Proverbs. I also feel terrified about God’s discipline, sin consequences, etc. I get anxious and frustrated when I see other people are able to listen God’s voice, having great devotionals, enjoying other secular activities without getting terrified.

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