God Will Guide You audio (3MB)
I recently bought one of these new smart phones. It's great. It does everything, except make the coffee. One of the best “apps” on it is the navwoman. You type in your destination and a very clever woman tells you exactly how to get there. “Turn right in 300 metres.” “At the roundabout take the second exit.” And she’s very forgiving. If you miss a turn she calmly says “Recalculating.” I mention this because this is how some Christians expect God to guide them. At each decision point he’ll tell them which way to go. If they make a mistake or ignore his prompting he’ll simply forgive them and recalculate their path.
Well, there’s some truth to that perhaps. God’s sovereignty does override our sinfulness. You can see that in the history of Israel and of the Church. God certainly promises in various places to guide us. Jesus promises his disciples that when he goes he’ll send them another counsellor to be with them, the Holy Spirit who'll guide them into all truth.
But does that mean that God will tell you which way to go at every decision making point? Does God have a wonderful plan for your life that you need to find if you're to be happy?
How does God Guide us?
Well, before we answer that question lets look at a few of the many passages that talk about God teaching us how we should go. Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” In the passage we just heard the psalmist says “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Ps 25:8-9). In Is 30 we read “20your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
But what do you think, is God talking about showing us the right decision to make at each turn, or something else?
What I want to suggest is that in almost every case God's talking about showing us how to live according to his will. In Ps 25 when he talks about turning to the right or to the left he means turning away from God's way of life. In Psalm 32 he leads the humble in what is right; that is, in what is pleasing to God.
God will guide us, but he’ll guide us first of all in the way of right living. God has given us his word to instruct us. The Psalms are full of this sort of instruction. Ps 119:104-105: “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. 105Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Again, from Ps 25: “10All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees... 12Who are they that fear the LORD? He will teach them the way that they should choose.” Notice it’s not he will tell them what to do. It’s he will show them the way they should choose.
Perhaps the best known verse on guidance is Prov 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. 6In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” What does that mean? It means that if you trust God, i.e. obey him, rather than following your human inclinations, your way will be successful. It’s one of 4 or 5 statements in Prov 3 that link faithfulness to God with success, prosperity and long life.
So the primary means by which God guides us is through his word, given to us to prepare us, to train us for right living. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). This is why we encourage everyone to study God’s word, both individually and in a small group. Because God will use his word to guide us.
There are occasions though, when God will provide special guidance. We see this regularly in the history of God's people. God called Abraham to form a new nation; he called Moses to bring his people out of Egypt to the promised Land; he chose prophets and kings to lead the people. He sent out Apostles to preach the gospel. As Paul went around the Mediterranean on his missionary journeys there are several points at which God gives him special guidance - a vision, the word of a prophet, a dream. I’m sure this still happens today. You’ll hear people talk about how God gave them a particular call to some ministry perhaps. But I don’t think you’ll find this presented in the Bible as the norm, as the way God usually guides his people. In fact if you read Acts and Paul’s writings you’ll find that more often than not, Paul made decisions based on what seemed right, not based on what God told him directly.
Using our God-given Rational Minds
If we’re made in the image of God, it seems reasonable to expect that we’d have the capacity to make rational decisions the way God does. Of course the problem with that is that our minds are tainted by the fall. They're liable to get it wrong. But God gives us his Holy Spirit to renew our minds. Rom 8:5-9: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.... 9you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Rom 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
As we study God’s word the Spirit is training us to understand what God wants of us and how he would act - as the wrist band says: to know What Would Jesus Do.
So when we read about decisions made by the Church elders, or by Paul and his team in the Acts, or in Paul’s letters, here’s the sort of expression that’s used most often: “when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens;” (1 Thess 3:1) “Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus” (Phil 2:25). “when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. 4If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.” (1 Cor 16:3-4) “And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task.” (Acts 6:2-3) In each case it seems the decision was made on rational grounds, not due to any direct instruction from God.
So God expects us to think ahead, to strategise - to look at the options and consequences of possible decisions. Paul does this all the time. He writes to the Romans telling them of his plans to come to visit them on his way to Spain because he wants them to send him on his way. He wants to go somewhere that no-one has been before so the gospel can be spread further than ever.
God also places us in a church where there are other wise people who can advise us. Prov 24:6: “For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” And not only should we seek advice from wise counsellors we can also learn from the many models of Godly living that we have, both in Scripture and in our own experience.
I could keep going but I think I’ve made my point. God expects us to use our minds to discern what's right, or even what's preferable among a range of right decisions.
Saved by Grace, but created for good works
This will mean understanding the responsibilities we have as Christian men and women - as sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, people with gifts, ambassadors of Christ. God expects us, as people made in his image, reborn through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit to make wise decisions within the context of our various responsibilities as his children. He’s saved us so we can serve him. He’s given us gifts to be used for the building up of his body, the church.
Likewise he expects us to shape our lives to be a witness to the world, of the transforming power of the gospel. So those chosen to be bishops are to be “6above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, 7Moreover, [they] must be well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim 3). 1 Pet 2:12 warns us: “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.”
Can you see that none of this requires any special guidance from God. You just have to live by his rules.
Seeking to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit
But that doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit has no part to play in our decision making. In Rom 8:13-14 we read: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” The Spirit is at work within us, not necessarily by prompting us to make particular decisions, but by sanctifying us - transforming our inward selves to be more Christ-like. That of course means that if you feel prompted to do things that are outside his moral boundaries you’re not being led by the Spirit. The classic example of that is men who try to justify cheating on their wives by saying “we love one another” and “love is of God” so this must be the Spirit’s leading. Or couples who choose to live together without committing themselves to marriage and use the same justification. No, Ps 23 answers that furphy: “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”
God wants us to be honest with ourselves. The human mind is capable of incredible self-delusion. All of us are susceptible to self-promoting or self-indulgent urges - particularly when it comes to sexually conditioned feelings. We need to be brutally honest with ourselves in differentiating between the Spirit’s leading and rising hormone levels.
It’s good to ask yourself the question, “Why?” Why does this course of actions seem correct to me? Ps 139: "23Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. 24See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
The Place of Prayer- Asking for Guidance as we Think
I don’t want you to go away thinking that all you have to do is use your mind and you’ll be OK. That would be to underestimate the difficulty we face in being wise in this fallen world, particularly with our fallen minds. No, what wisdom we have comes from God and only from him, so we need to pray for it. James 1:5 says: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” It’s interesting how often Paul tells his readers that he prays that God would give them wisdom. Here’s just one example: “For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” (Col 1:9-10)
We can’t afford to take this issue for granted. We need to be praying that he would make us wise so we can know the way to go. And then we have to trust that he'll answer that prayer.
We'll be looking at this in more detail in a few weeks but for now it's important to remember that God is always in control. He will look after us. He will save us.
Making good decisions doesn’t guarantee a trouble free life. Think of the troubles Paul describes in 2 Cor 11. Think about Jesus warning to his disciples: that we can't expect to be treated any better than he was. (Matt 10:24) But God promises that all things will work together for good to those who love him (Rom 8:28) - even if that is in the resurrection to glory.
Nevertheless God's sovereignty means that there may be times when the plans we make come to nothing; when we have to wait for the things we're hoping for. Circumstances may be against the things we think are right. If that's the case then we just have to be patient. Keep planning and wait for the time to be right. Or maybe choose another course.
But we also need to be aware that even for Paul there were times when the circumstance appeared to be good as when he was in Troas with a wide open door for the gospel (2 Cor 2:13), but he felt the need to leave and go elsewhere; and there were times, like his last visit to Jerusalem, when the circumstances were totally opposed to his plans but he went ahead anyway, trusting that God had things under control.
God will guide you. It might be by direct guidance or it might be by allowing you to use your mind, trained by his Word, transformed by the Holy Spirit, to discern the right way to go. Over the next few weeks we'll be looking at these ideas in more detail as we think about the work of the Holy Spirit, the sovereignty of God and the difficulty of making big decisions.
But today let's remember that God's primary guidance is through his Word that's put there to train us in righteousness so we're mature, able to decide the right paths for ourselves.