1. God Speaks
Should every Christian expect to receive the guidance of God?
If we look in our Bibles there is clear evidence for God guiding His saints. The children of Israel, for example, while they were travelling through the wilderness, had the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day.
And God said to David in Psalm 32: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” In the New Testament we have the words of our Lord Himself: “…when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth…he will tell you what is yet to come.” And the early Church, as we see in Acts, also shows us that the guidance of God was both necessary and a privilege.
So God's guidance is not something unusual, something that is only for a special group of Christians. It is actually one of those things that make up the inheritance of all those who belong to Christ. If we love Him, we should expect His guidance. It is His promise to us. The Christian life is a direct, personal relationship with God. As we live in the enjoyment of this relationship we'll take pleasure in speaking to Him, and we'll also listen while He speaks to us through guidance. So guidance is an everyday part of our lives.
2. How God Speaks
We know what it means to speak to God. Every time we pray, although there's nothing we can see with our physical eyes, we believe and know that God is listening and waiting to answer. It's when we think of this fellowship in the opposite direction that problems arise. We speak with words to express our thoughts and desires. How does God speak, though?
The answer is that He doesn't use words that we hear, but rather an inner conviction that is placed in us by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our teacher. God guides us through His Spirit in our hearts. As John 16 verse 13 tells us: “…when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
We can know this personally sometimes when a special truth about God or about what we ought to do, hits us at a certain time. The important thing for us is that we should be ready to recognise the voice of God.
3. Where God Speaks
We consider now some of the channels through which guidance comes to us, leading to that inner conviction.
In the time before Christ, God appointed definite channels - there was the Temple, the priests and the prophets. An interesting list of some of the methods of guidance God used in the Old Testament is given in 1 Samuel 28:6: “Saul…inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.”
What, though, are the channels for our New Testament times? In other words, where do we go to “inquire of the Lord'?
a. The Holy Scriptures
The Bible forms the basis for our guidance. Through it we come to a general knowledge of God's will and purpose. So we don't receive special guidance for an urgent need.
Some Christians believe this, however. If in trouble they flip open their Bibles to any page, and from that page they try to squeeze out guidance from God. This is wrong. Rather, we should see our Bible reading as giving us the framework for all guidance. Someone once told a story of a believer, using this flipping-the-Bible-open guidance, who placed his finger down on this sentence about Judas, “Then he went away and hanged himself” (Matt.27:5). Realising that this couldn't be the right guidance for him, he flipped over to another part. There he read, “Go and do likewise (Luke 10:38).”
If we are in doubt concerning the decision that we should take we have to check up on the principles laid down in the Bible. We shouldn't trust our feelings above God's Word. Whose fault is it if we get lost on the way to a friend's place because we haven't bothered to read the letter from our friend, which gives us the way to get to their place? Instructions for the journey from earth to heaven have been given in outline in God's Word, the Bible. They are also concisely conveyed to us in our Confessional Statements, which provides the right framework for guidance from God's Word.
b. The Christian Fellowship
The Church is `the fellowship of the Spirit'. If believers stay in the unity of mutual love the Spirit will give guidance through the fellowship that He has created and made his home.
This He will do, firstly, through `the ministry of the Word'. In the public reading of the Scripture and the preaching of the Word, God `speaks' to those who come to Him in worship. So we should listen to the sermon in order that we may be spoken to by God. The sermon is not spiritual entertainment because it gives us practical instructions. Many times Christians have found the guidance they need through listening to the sermon.
Secondly, God speaks to us through our fellowship and Bible study groups, Catechism classes, and Youth Club. When we meet together like this, and also as we pray in these groups, we can be given God's guidance.
c. The Advice Of Others
God can also guide through the advice of other Christians more advanced in the faith. It's not good to ignore the help of those who have great experience and wisdom. There is probably somebody in your church or among your friends to whom you feel you could go for this kind of help. For example, Paul's first letter to the Corinthians was written partly in reply to certain questions the Church had sent him. The Corinthians needed guidance on some things that were worrying them, so they asked Paul.
This shows an important New Testament principle; that God speaks to people through people. We have to have a high respect for the advice of our ministers and other mature believers. Yet at the same time we have to realise that no one is perfect, and that ultimately we must look to God for His will though His Word and His Spirit.
d. The Circumstances Of Life
The Holy Spirit may use the outward circumstances of life to guide us. A door or opportunity may clearly be opened before us. Or, negatively, the shutting of a door may equally clearly settle a problem. Acts 16 shows this when Christ's Spirit would not allow Paul and his fellow missionaries into a certain area, while later they received a vision to lead them into Europe.
4. Which God Speaks
a. Direct Impulse Of The Holy Spirit
We have seen above different ways, such as the Scriptures or a Christian friend, in which the Holy Spirit guides us. But the Holy Spirit doesn't restrict Himself to these channels. There may be a prompting or leading which one can receive.
This guidance, however, should not be sought after - it is very rare. And the best preparation that we can have for this is a humble spirit and a devoted heart. But we especially have to test these `impulses' by our Bibles and our commonsense. We cannot let our feelings run away with us, as 1 John 4:1 says: “…test the spirits to see whether they are from God…”.
b. Conscience and Commonsense
The Holy Spirit has given us all common grace so that we know what is right and wrong. We do not need to kneel down to ask God whether it's right for us to steal!
There are some Christians who believe that we have to have a `blank mind' and `listen to God', and then He will reveal His will in such a way, that plans for the day can be taken down in detail. We have already seen what the Bible says about guidance. So we have to be very suspicious of any suggested `methods' that avoid basic Biblical principles. There are no short cuts to guidance, just as there are no short cuts to either salvation or holiness.
We need to have a humble and teachable spirit so that we can be willing to learn from Gods' way of guiding. It's no use rushing into things and expecting God to be with you. You need to first check to see that what you are about to do is the right thing.
5. What God Speaks
Guidance is needed by the Christian in two ways. We need to see this, otherwise we confuse them altogether. The first of these is general guidance. This relates to the whole of life. Here we see that the whole plan of our life is tying in with God's loving control. But, secondly, there is also a need for particular guidance. Sometimes we are in a situation where we need to make a decision within a very short time. Then how can you know God's will?
We will take those principles we've just looked at and apply them to a particular problem. A difficult decision has to be made, or a perplexity resolved. What do you do?
1. Begin with prayer. Tell God all about your difficulty in detail, and ask for his guidance. Keep that prayerful attitude so that God is in close touch with you and you with Him.
2. Think out the whole situation as much as you can. Use Scripture and all the other available information, as well as using your own mind. God gave us minds to use. That's important because when God guides us, He guides us beyond the best that human judgement and commonsense can do. He does not ignore out minds but simply goes farther.
3. Having prayed and thought through the next step is to ask the advice of a wise and trusted Christian friend. Your friend will know the details of your situation as well as you do, but he might be aware of how God has worked before in similar situations. But don't regard his or her advice as final. What they say must match up with God's Word.
4. While you are waiting, and deciding, still carry on with your normal work. If we're sincere in claiming that we're willing to do God's will in a matter that's causing us some worry, then we must also be doing His will in smaller and more obvious things closer at hand. As Luke 16:10 says: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…”
For example, a young man who is puzzled as to where God is calling him to Bible College is not to spend all his time puzzling, but rather he must continue working hard for the kingdom of God in his own church and neighbourhood. It is an important principle of Scripture that God gives future guidance only as we act in obedience upon that which has already been received.
5. It may eventually be found that the Spirit gives a gentle urge in a certain direction. Perhaps a door clearly opens, or perhaps it just as clearly closes. Or there is a deepening inner conviction of a line of action to be taken. This is enough to show the next step. As that next step is taken, the way will gradually, step by step, open out. There will be an increasing sense of confidence, which leads us to see that guidance is easier to see when we look back that when we look forward'.
6. At some point along the line definite action must be taken. We are seeking the mind and will of God, but we come to a point where we ourselves must `make up our mind”. Acts 16:10 says this when it tells us: “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God has called us to preach the gospel to them.”
When you have made your decision, act upon it, and don't reconsider it. Trust in God and His grace to see you right through. It's possible that you may not fully realise how definitely you were guided until much later.
6. Who Speaks
Guidance is such and intimate part of the whole Christian life that it must not be separated from the other aspects of life that we have seen in our previous topics.
Bible Reading, Prayer, Personal Discipline and Guidance form a unity. The guided Christian is the praying Christian. So, too, discipline is necessary for those who want to obtain the greatest spiritual enrichment from Bible reading.
This brings us to what is the highest truth concerning the guidance of the believer. As we go on with God we gradually develop the mind of Christ, talking about things His way and making decisions as He would make them.
We know that when we live with someone, such as our parents or brothers or sisters, or a flat-mate, they begin to influence the way we think and the way we do things. In the same way, we need to have our Lord Jesus, by His Word and Spirit, live in us. As the Spirit is allowed to have control, He will form in us the mind of Christ, until it is Christ within us making the decisions and directing our lives.
What an aim! Then we will be able to say more and more, with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal.2:20). Here is the truth in 1 Corinthians 2:16, again in the words of the apostle, “we have the mind of Christ.”