Many of us have been encouraged at some time or other by the words of Job which assure us that the Lord “knoweth the way that I take”, Job 23. 10. Yet one important question which we must each ask ourselves is, How can I know the way He wants me to take?
No doubt we all believe, in a general sort of way, that the Lord “guides” in the lives of His children. Indeed, we must believe this, for Scripture clearly teaches it. We have, for example, God’s promise, “I will … teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye”, Psa. 32. 8.
I have a suspicion nevertheless that, if we are honest, many of us will admit that, when actually confronted with specific decisions, we are often at a complete loss what to do. In many cases we genuinely desire to go in the direction which God has planned for us. Yet, instead of this concern resulting in us going forward with confidence, it frequently causes us lengthy periods of anxiety, frustration and spiritual depression. Now why should this be? One likely reason is that, while we may be well aware of the fact that God leads His people, we are not prepared in practice to put any trust in His providential government of our own lives. A second possible reason is that we have never really understood the method by which the Lord normally guides His people today.
Take the following cases. One young person may be leaving school or college; he or she needs to decide which career to follow, which part(s) of the country to consider and which specific jobs to apply for. Another may be seriously considering full-time Christian service, but where, and in precisely what form? Another may be contemplating marriage and wishes to be sure that this is God’s will. And, if it is, how is he or she to be certain of God’s choice of a partner? Another may have been made suddenly redundant. Should he consider moving away and looking for employment elsewhere?
All too often, when facing decisions like these, young Christians do not know where to start. The usual response to such situations is to say, “I will pray about it, and ask God to guide me”. This is fine, but it does not really go far enough unless the individuals involved have some idea how they are going to recognize God’s answer when it comes. At this point we discover that different Christians approach the matter of discerning the Lord’s guidance in different ways. We readily acknowledge that believers’ experiences of the Lord’s leading do not always follow the same pattern. It would be wrong for any of us to claim that the way in which the Lord has guided us is the only way He ever uses. Nevertheless, we must consider prayerfully what the Bible says about God’s usual method of guiding His people. We cannot afford to leave this to guesswork; the issues are too great.
Let us start with what we know. We cannot expect that God is going to guide us today by a literal pillar of fire or cloud, by a “star” in the sky or by the sound of marching “in the tops of the mulberry trees”, 2 Sam. 5. 24. Nor are we likely to hear audible voices, see glorious visions or meet one of God’s angels to show us our way! What provision then has God made now for the guidance of His children?
We can learn much from the prayer of Paul recorded in Colossians 1. 9, “we … desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding”. We discover here that the knowledge of God’s will comes by means of “wisdom and spiritual understanding”. But what does this mean? The word translated “understanding” has in it the idea of “bringing things together”. It would have been used, for instance, to describe the flowing together of rivers or streams. “Understanding” consists, that is, in the ability to “put two and two together”. It enables us to weigh things up, to choose between different courses of action and thereby to reach a wise and correct decision. In writing about the will of God, Paul insists that the understanding necessary is “spiritual”. It is not therefore a question of mere natural ability, a point confirmed by the fact that he prayed that the Colossian believers might receive it. As Christians, we should have an entirely different set of values from those of non-Christians. The “understanding” Paul has in mind involves our applying these Christian values to those factors which bear upon the decision we have to take. Our assessment of each situation must be formed on the basis of “spiritual” considerations, that is, in the light of Christian motives and the teaching of God’s Word.
A second passage of great importance is James 1. 5, 6; “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God … and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith … ” James assures us that “wisdom” is something which God has specifically promised to those who ask for it in faith. The Christians to whom James wrote were being persecuted. They had many pressing needs. One such need was for wisdom that they might know how to act when various decisions had to be made. For our present purpose, we should note that God promised to supply the necessary wisdom, when asked in the right manner. This promise still holds true today; we can pray with confidence, “O Lord, … give me understanding”, Psa. 119. 33-34.
In the second article we will consider examples of how this method of God guiding His people has worked in practice.
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