Divine Guidance

Divine Guidance

Posted in Theologically Speaking

“There is confusion on the subject of divine guidance among Christians today. There is an expectation that when difficult decisions have to be made God will guide us by speaking to us through a still small voice or perhaps in a dream.

“Examples of such guidance in the Bible readily come to mind. Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, “Come over and help us.” Elijah heard the still small voice of God on the mountain. Examples of such guidance are also common in modern Christian literature. Corrie Ten Boom, in Tramp for the Lord, tells of God speaking to her in a clear and unmistakable way. Today Christians who ask the Lord for such guidance are often disappointed when heaven remains silent. Even worse, they begin to question their relationship with the Lord when such guidance is not forthcoming. When well-meaning friends then tell them that there must be some sin barrier in their life that stops them hearing the voice of God the results can be rather devastating.

“Sydney Anglicans Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne in their new book Guidance and the Voice of God, open up some healthy Biblical correctives to the instructions Christians are often given for “finding God’s will” for their lives.

“First, they point out that even in Scripture ‘direct’ guidance is rare. Scripture nowhere leads us to believe that we have a right to expect it. Just because both Peter and Paul had visions from the Lord does not prove that all the apostles had such direct guidance from God. Even if all the apostles were privileged in this way that does not yet mean that all believers may expect such direct guidance.

“Second, they point out that God has not left us ignorant but ‘has given us all we need for life and godliness’ (II Pet.1:3). They remind us that God guides us through the bright light of His Word. They see this as liberating us from the tyranny of our fears of being ‘outside the will of God’. It also sets us free to listen to what God is actually saying. “Many Christians today are so busy trying to work out what God is supposedly saying to them through circumstances, visions, voices, impressions and the like, that they lack the time (and the interest) to listen to what He is really saying to them in His eternal and living Word.” (p.80).

“That leaves the big question: if God’s basic way of guiding us is through His Word how does that work? Here the authors make a helpful distinction between three categories:

1) Matters of righteousness;

2) Matters of good judgment and

3) Matters of triviality.

“In the first of these three we are dealing with issues about which God has spoken with clarity – they are non-negotiable for Christians. In the second we need to weigh up our options in the light of Biblical principles. In the third category are those matters that we should not waste too much time thinking about.” (John Westendorp)

Matters of Triviality

We won’t spend much time here. If you are looking for God’s will as to what colour socks to put on in the mornings; whether you should cut your hair to a certain style or cut the lawn this weekend; to start the children on that science project or do their chores first; which phonics programme to buy; or hoping God will speak a word to you as to which activities of the local support group to attend, let me respectfully suggest that you need to spend some extended time reading and praying through the Bible to extend your horizons and lift up your heart and mind to the great and mighty calling He has for you to fulfill. Yes, of course the Lord is interested in the smaller details of our lives, but that means He is also interested, probably more interested, in the big picture. He has already told us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20) and to abound in the work of the Lord (I Corinthians 15:58) doing those good works which He has “prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). How are we going to do these things if we are so often occupied with minor everyday details the Scriptures rarely if ever bother to mention?

Matters of Righteousness

As the Rev Westendorp says, these are the non-negotiables, i.e., the Ten Commandments and other Biblical directives. Historically much of the church has not only looked upon the Ten Commandments as negative prohibitions (do not murder, do not steal), but also as positive obligations (promote, protect, defend and preserve life in all ways; protect, defend and preserve public and private property as good stewards). If we take the view that God’s moral imperatives are simply a list of “don’t”s, then we may find many Muslims and Buddhists, who value self-discipline, to be far more godly and righteous than we. When the Lord Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16), it is clear that He was expecting us (in fact, is this not an imperative, a command, a non-negotiable?) to be doing things, good things, remarkably wonderful things and in such a Christlike manner that even the unbelieving onlookers and recipients of our good works would give the glory to God and not to us! Do we plan-in service to others as part of our home education programme? Baking a huge batch of decorated cookies and going to the local rest home to sing some choruses and pass out the cookies is at least an impressive list for the ERO (home economics, vocal music, art, socialisation, inter-generational communications, community service, planning and executing the logistics of a field trip) apart from the immeasurable joy and pleasure you would have brought to the shut-ins…and to yourselves, just quietly. Our Charmagne has done Highland dancing without either her costume or the music at rest homes and the old folks loved it!! She struck up a great conversation with one ancient who really appreciated it for she once did such dances 75 years ago! Christianity is a religion of positive action, not pietistic legalism.

Do we really need guidance as to whether we should duck away from work five minutes early to be a counselor at the evangelistic rally that evening? The Lord has already spoken His mind on the issue: it is theft from your boss. Should you tattoo a gospel verse tastefully on one shoulderblade as a subtle witness while down at the beach? Leviticus 19:28 makes it clear that it is forbidden. Should you, as a young man, accept that female part in the street drama scene your evangelism group is putting on? Deuteronomy 22:5 would indicate you had better not, especially if it entails wearing female clothing. Should you witness to your boss at work, or keep to your station? Why do you need to ask? The Scripture says be urgent in season and out of season (II Timothy 4:2), although there is such a thing as Christian diplomacy (II Timothy 2:23-25) and that at the end of the day you are a witness to the boss no matter what you do. Does the Lord want you to actually give 10% of your income? Well, come on, ask a hard one. Proverbs 3:9-10 says give from your possessions, your substance, what you already have (your capital) AND from your profit, your wages AS WELL. In Malachi 3:8, God says people rob Him when they neglect the tithe. (Barbara & I used to worry about whether we should give 10% of our income before or after tax. We decided to tithe our gross, not only to be on the safe side, but to put ourselves in the way of the blessings God promises in Malachi 3:10.) Would the Lord have your church launch into a programme of building homes for the homeless and providing food for the hungry, by borrowing against your good name alone but really having no idea how you will pay back the loan? But you are trusting God to bless the ministry, and He can certainly bring in the needed funds. Didn’t the devil say virtually the same thing to our Lord when testing Him in the desert: throw yourself off the tower, for the Lord God will protect you from the negative consequences of your silly actions. In response our Lord said we should NOT put Him to the test, and expect Him to bail us out. Should I let my son court that lovely hard-working, respectful girl who unfortunately isn’t a believer yet? But he would surely win her to Christ in due course. Why do you think the Lord caused II Corinthians 6:14 to be written? So that you would not have to agonise over the situation, but say simply, “No dice, son”. Should we give our children a Christian education, either at home or in a Christian school, or send them to the temples of man-centred atheistic materialism (public schools)? Did the Lord save the people of Israel out of Pharaoh’s hand, through the Red Sea and the desert and the Jordan River for them to turn their children around and send them back down to Egypt to go to school? I think not.

Matters of Good Judgment

All kinds of people have referred to the Bible as the handbook for human behaviour, the owner’s manual of life and similar such titles. And so it is. Not only does II Peter 1:3 say that all things that pertain to life and godliness are in the knowledge of Him (and He is the Word made flesh), but II Timothy 3:16-17 makes it clear that the Scriptures are for keeping us in the good way and getting us out of the bad ways. I don’t know how anyone could ask for anything more comprehensive and complete than what these two verses promise….unless you want to hear God’s very voice boom from the fiery mountain or see Him write a message in the sky.

Now it occurs to me that if we were fully occupied in doing all that the Lord has already commanded us to do in the written Word (just take Matthew 28:18-20 or II Corinthians 5:17-20 for starters), I doubt we would often be concerned about guidance for what we should do next, but rather where to start! The Apostle Paul himself was so busy pushing against the doors of opportunity he saw all around him, the Holy Spirit had to make it impossible in all directions and finally gave him a vision which indicated Macedonia was the place to be. Read about it in Acts 16:6-10. But never mind that. If you are simply waiting for guidance, basically just sitting around in the meantime like I did for three years once, you are probably wasting your life away. “A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Nothing flash here about the guidance method, but you have to be moving, doing something, taking steps, in order for those steps to be guided.

There is, of course, a catch to this: we mortals have to do some work to get the Word of Life into our sinful selves so that the plans we make for our way are at least somewhat along Biblical lines. It doesn’t come naturally; sin comes naturally, because the world is fallen, but godliness takes work. Sure the Lord said to the Twelve in John 14:26 that the Spirit would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that He had said to them. It is hard to be dogmatic that this verse applies to us today since it was spoken to the future writers of Scripture, but even if it does (and I like to think it does!), for us to be able to remember all that He has said, to make available in our minds the raw material of His word so the Holy Spirit can bring it to our remembrance, we have to first at least READ all that He HAS said, i.e., the entire Bible. Have you ever read the whole of the Bible through even once? Do we have a system of daily Bible reading with our children that will ensure they hear all of God’s word at least once every two years? To attain to Christlike thought patterns which lead to Christlike actions one must flush out the humanist garbage that undoubtedly festoons most areas of our conscious and unconscious thought and allow His Holy Spirit ample opportunity to re-train our minds into His mold, not that of the world. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord” in Isaiah 55:8.

And here is where our responsibilities as home educating parents just about begin and end. We must train up our children in the ways of the Lord, according to His word. How on earth can we do that unless we know His ways ourselves, unless we know His word in which He TELLS us His ways???!!!!

Read the Bible morning, noon and night. Read it out loud to each other that you may listen to it as well. Study various passages, various books, various topics. Big topics such as what the Bible says about prayer; medium topics such as the kinds of things angels say; and small topics such as the words Jesus spoke from the cross or all the Bible has to say about that lovely couple Priscilla and Aquilla. The children can very profitably do small topical studies and actually exhaust all the Bible has to say about it. These are projects they can do all by themselves with only a Bible and a concordance.

If you really want to come to grips with Scripture and have it ready on your lips that you may know how to answer in most circumstances, start memorising! Your Christian bookshop will have Bible memory courses which prepare you for sharing the basics of the Gospel effectively and for answering the common objections straight from the Word of God. There is something powerful about being able to turn straight to a passage and get the person to whom you are talking to read it off the pages of Scripture for himself. Children from the time they can speak fluently can memorise vast tracts of Scripture, far more than we would normally credit to their ability. Make sure your 6-year-old has a spot at the next Sunday School presentation to recite, clearly and loudly, the whole of Psalm 1. Watch as the rest of the congregation practically swoon with a fantastic mixture of joy and delight and amazement and a burning in their hearts as they realise they and their children too should be doing exactly that. As a family project it can not only be loads of fun, but will set your children up with the words of eternal life indelibly engraved on their minds where NO ONE can take it away. In God’s grace and in His time He can cause that word to travel the 18 inches south from their minds to their hearts and claim them for His own. “For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword…a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

But the most effective way to get the Scripture deep down into your soul and unconscious mind so that your reflex actions reflect Scripture is to meditate on the word. This is how one can learn to exercise good judgment. Sit down and outline the situation wherein you need guidance. Identify the issues, the options and the implications of the various options as much as you are able. Formulate some possible decisions. Then search the Scriptures, as did the Bereans of Acts 17:11, to see if the Biblical reasons you gave for your possible decisions are in fact truly Biblical. Now, again, if you have not read the Scriptures through and are not really familiar with most of it, you are really hamstrung. Psalm 119:160 is key here. It says that the SUM of God’s word is truth. You cannot pick out a favourite verse here or there and build a destiny on it. You must search and study and dig in the Bible as for hidden treasure to know God’s mind on an issue, to understand the principles on which you would make a decision.

Maybe this is why some people prefer to wait upon the Lord for some sign or vision or voice or dream …. there is an aversion to the mental and intellectual trauma of honest to goodness study, a reluctance to love God with all the mind. Whether this applies to you and me as parents or not, let us make sure it never applies to our children: by precept and example let us do what we can to cause them to “desire the pure milk of the word” that they may grow thereby (I Peter 2:2). Through personal experience I am convinced the Lord can cause us to hear voices and see visions….yet it seems arrogant to expect Him to so favour any of us if we neglect to faithfully and consistently consume His written word. Surely it is the least we can do to show we are serious about wanting to know Him and His will for our lives.

Or do we simply crave the spiritual experience of a voice or vision? Yes, that would be exciting and something to tell others about (oops, are we into pride here?). Well, at least it would help me to know that I was alive spiritually, and somewhat verify the spiritual reality of my faith in a Spiritual God. Yet, consider the following: Habakkuk 2:4 says the just shall live by faith. I Corinthians 5:7 says we are to walk by faith, not by sight. For who hopes for what he sees? (Romans 8:24). And our Lord Jesus didn’t seem too keen on the idea when He said in Matthew 12:39, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.” Didn’t He also tell the story of how the rich man who was suffering in the fires of hell begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his kin to warn them of such a place, for surely “if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent”? But Abraham said they already have the Scriptures, that such a sign would be wasted; for if they will not hear the Scriptures “neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:19:31).

Maybe we are afraid of becoming too familiar with the Scriptures and what God has already told us, for we perceive He is a demanding God, prone to sending people to the ends of the earth to suffer unspeakable hardships for His Name’s sake. Maybe some of us have more in common with Jonah than with Paul. A dream or vision can be a lot more subjective than words on a page, and there is some comfort in that, for then I can interpret it without others telling me what it means for they didn’t see it! Brothers and sisters, please be careful, as even the devil can disguise himself as an angel of light (II Corinthians 11:13-15), which would be quite a lovely vision indeed.

My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5).

by John Westendorp and Craig smith

From Keystone Magazine
March 1999 , Vol. V No.II
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig