How Does God Guide Us?
The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs... Isaiah 58:11. I bless the LORD who gives me counsel. Psalm 16:7. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Psalm 23:3.
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Psalm 32:8.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:6.
For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1:6.
One thing I asked of the
LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days
of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
Psalm 27:4. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me
with honor. Psalm 73:24. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your
good spirit lead me on a level path. Psalm 143:10. Your word is a lamp to my
feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105.
With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble. for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. Jeremiah 31:9.
The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes." Revelation 7:17. .....
Many of us experience great difficulties in trying to find God's purpose for our lives. We are paralyzed when confronted by difficult decisions. Most of us are pretty sure God has a perfect plan for us somewhere; our hang-ups result from not knowing WHAT IT IS. And so our life's motto might read: 'Why pray when you can worry?!'
These difficulties are compounded when we read the biographies of certain 'great' Christians who seemed to find God's will so unerringly. And they found it sometimes by uncanny means - visions and voices, or special signs and 'feelings'.
Then there's the problem of confusing MY will with GOD's will. A negro cotton-picker in Alabama threw down his cotton one very hot day, and looked up to the sky in exasperation: 'O Lord, de cotton am so grassy; de sun am so hot; de work am so hard; that I believe I'm called to be a preacher!'
Surrendering to the will of God is not the negative thing it has seemed to many a struggler after holiness. Nor does our acquiescing in his will reduce us to mere puppets and automatons. Some sincere Christians believe, for example, in the 'dabster' method: choosing a text from the Bible at random and out of its context, and using it to help us steer a path through tricky decisions. A young Christian soldier used the 'dabster' method when deciding with the doctor about having his leg amputated. The text he found: "He shall not suffer thy foot to be moved!' Certainly, sometimes the Lord can guide us in miraculous ways, but these are exceptions rather than the norm.
The Scriptures teach us that God wants us to know his will. For example, Paul, who like the other biblical prophets and apostles, was 'chosen to know the will of God' and to tell others what he had seen (Acts 22:14,15) later told the Ephesian Christians not to be fools, but to know the will of the Lord (Ephesians 5:17). Paul reinforces his exhortations with his prayers (Colossians 1:9,10; cf.4:12).
Careful thought will also demonstrate that there are two aspects to this question. Firstly, God has a general will for all of his people all of the time (e.g. to keep the moral laws, and to become more like his Son (Romans 8:29) etc.). Secondly, God has a particular plan for you alone (whom you're to marry, your vocation etc.).
It is most important to distinguish between these two aspects, because there are different ways of finding out the will of God in each aspect. The general will of God is to be found in the Word of God (although there may be problems applying biblical precepts to particular cultural conditions). The particular will of God is found only very occasionally in Scripture (although sometimes a biblical law may provide general guidelines).
HOW CAN I KNOW THE WILL OF GOD?
Philip heard an angel (Acts 8:26). Paul saw a vision (Acts 16:6-10). Gideon asked God to manipulate circumstances (Judges 6:36,37). Isaiah 30:20-21 seems to promise some kind of 'inner voice' when guidance is needed. Sometimes certain circumstances happen which provide some direction: Paul's appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11) was finally determined by circumstances, as the only escape from murder on the way to Jerusalem, or, perhaps, an indefinitely prolonged imprisonment.
However, again, it cannot be stressed too strongly, that ALTHOUGH GOD 'SPOKE' TO SUCH PEOPLE IN THESE WAYS, SUCH MEANS REPRESENT THE EXCEPTION RATHER THAN THE RULE, BOTH IN BIBLICAL TIMES AND TODAY.
Let's look at the particularly interesting case of Joseph in Matthew 1:18ff. His fiancee, Mary, became pregnant, presumably to another man. How did Joseph find out the will of God in this perplexing situation? There are three clues in this story:
(a) JOSEPH WAS A THOUGHTFUL MAN (vv.19,20). The first thing he did was to do nothing. He 'considered' the situation. For days, weeks, months, - who knows? No doubt he prayed fervently as well. MORAL: Don't be in a hurry!
b) JOSEPH WAS A JUST MAN (v.19), i.e. he lived under the law of God. His obvious question, then: What does the law of God say? Answer: (from Deuteronomy 24:1), he had to put Mary away; according to Jewish custom, a betrothal could only be terminated by 'divorce'. MORAL: Always ask 'What does the Bible say?' Nothing is ever right if it contradicts a command of Scripture.
(c) JOSEPH WAS A TENDER
MAN (v.19). He believed justice must be tempered by love. He had to obey the
word of God, that was clear. But how to do it in Mary's best interest? How could
he avoid embarrassing her? We know the sequel: it was revealed to Joseph that
Mary was not guilty at all, but was highly favored by God. The lesson for us:
Always ask, not only what God's law requires, but how to apply that law in love.
HOW CAN I KNOW THE PARTICULAR WILL OF GOD?
What should be my vocation? Should I buy this or that? Does God want me to be a cross-cultural missionary? If so, where, and of what sort? The questions are endless, and constant.
Here are five useful guidelines:
(1) OBEY the general will of God as revealed in the Bible. God only promises to guide the humble (Psalm 25:9), those who commit all their ways to him (Proverbs 3:5,6), and love him (Romans 8:28). The true friends of Jesus are those who do what he commands (John 15:15). Those best able to discern God's path or God's truth are those who do the will of God (John 7:17). God does not reveal his will to those who will not obey!
(2) PRAY about the problem. Analyze it in the presence of God. Archbishop William Temple noticed that instances of guidance tended to increase or decrease in proportion to his own prayerfulness. We don't know the will of God, perhaps, because we do not ask for it!
(3) THINK the situation through carefully, with your God-given mind. Don't shut off your intelligence, says the Bible; don't be stupid like a mule (Psalm 32:8,9). 'Sanctified common sense' is a gift worth developing! A mother of 20 once came to the evangelist Gipsy Smith, saying she believed God wanted her to be an itinerant preacher like him. 'What a wonderful thing,' he replied. 'Not only has God called you to be a preacher, but he's already provided you with a congregation!' It might be a good idea to weigh the pros and cons carefully in such situations before we 'feel led' to follow some ridiculous course of action.
(4) WAIT for God's time. More mistakes are made by haste than by delay! And use the waiting time to become as highly qualified in the use of your talents as you can.
(5) ASK the advice of a trusted Christian counselor or friend. 'A fool thinks that he is always right; wise is the man who listens to advice.' (Proverbs 12:15). But remember: it's YOUR decision; no one else can get guidance for us (see 1 Kings 13).
These conditions are simple, and basic, even though some of your decisions may be very complex!
Finally, here are some words of encouragement from Abraham Lincoln: 'I am satisfied that when the Almighty wants me to do or not to do a particular thing, He finds a way of letting me know it.'
Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you that you have brought us safely to... this day; keep us from falling into sin or running into danger, and guide us to do always what is right in your eyes.
Holy and enabling Spirit, give wings to our morning prayers. May those we support and cherish with our love receive your grace to help them in their need. Amen.
Creator of the universe, infinite and glorious, you give us laws to save us from our folly; give us eyes to see your plan unfolding, your purpose emerging as the world is made; give us courage to follow the truth, courage to go wherever you lead; then we shall know blessings beyond our dreams; then will your will be done.
Thanks to you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the cruel pains and insults you have borne for us; for all the many blessings you have won for us. Holy Jesus, most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.
God of peace, be with us through this night which waits for us; bless us if it brings us sleep; support us if it brings us pain or anxiety, till we come once more to the morning light of another day. Amen.
A New Zealand Prayer Book, Auckland: Collins, 1989, pp. 120, 123.
God of our yesterdays, who has blessed us with the gift of memory, may we, looking back, recollect all your goodness and grace to us.
God of today, who has filled these moments and hours with your presence, grant us your courage and peace, that in the living of these days we might be faithful.
God of the future, who has promised never to leave us or forsake us, and beyond all knowing, the joys of eternal life, may we trust you to guide us and bring us at last into your immediate presence. There we will love and serve you forever.
May almighty God bless you in his mercy, and make you always aware of his saving wisdom. May he strengthen your faith with proofs of his love, so that you will persevere in good works. May he direct your steps to himself, and show you how to walk in charity and peace.
May he keep you from all harm and bless you with every good gift. May he set his Word in your heart and fill you with lasting joy. May you walk in his ways, always knowing what is right and good, until you enter your heavenly inheritance. May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Daily Mass Book, Brisbane: The Liturgical Commission, 1990, pp. 36, 37.
This article may be freely reproduced for
purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles
in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at firstname.lastname@example.org.