In the first article we outlined God’s chosen method for guiding His people today. We saw that this consisted in the application of Christian values and standards to the factors which affect our situation or decision. In the second article we considered five examples from the New Testament which illustrated that this was how the early church experienced God’s guidance. In this concluding article we will attempt to relate what we have learnt to ourselves.
It is essential that the young believer acquaints himself with the basic scriptural teachings which govern Christian behaviour, because his decisions should be taken in the light of these. We need to be clear what this means. The Bible does not encourage us to expect that God is going to guide us by means of words of scripture taken out of their context. God has not promised to “give” us texts in that sense. For example, if a Christian happens to read the words, “Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount”, Deut. 1. 6, he need not conclude that the Lord wants him to move home or change his job!
A young missionary was planning to serve the Lord in Egypt. Before he went, however, on several occasions he came across such words as, “Go not down into Egypt”, Gen. 26. 2. What was he to do? Wisely he refused to let this deter him. He realized that it was the underlying meaning of the expression which mattered; and not an overliteral application of the words divorced from their setting.
On the other hand, individual verses of scripture which contain relevant ethical teaching are God’s word to guide us. Let me illustrate. A Christian was about to cancel, for purely selfish reasons, an undertaking which he had previously given. Before he could do so, however, he read, “Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? … He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not”, Psa. 15. 1, 4. In obedience to this word from the Lord, he went ahead and fulfilled his earlier promise. Again, in the light of the clear teaching of 2 Corinthians 6. 14 it would be nonsense for any believer to talk of being guided by the Lord into courting or marrying a non-Christian.
In my own case the words of 1 Corinthians 10. 23 were an enormous help when I was a young believer; “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient (profitable): all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not (do not build up)”. This verse taught me that to assess correctly my various activities and interests I needed to ask the questions, “Is this spiritually profitable?” and “Will this build up my Christian life?” It did not take me long to decide what my attitude should be to “pop” music, the cinema, smoking and a lot of other things!
Finally, let me mention two things which we need to guard against when we seek God’s guidance. They are unbelief and insincerity.
There is one important condition which God has attached to His promise to grant us necessary wisdom. This is the prayer of faith, James 1. 5-7. We must distinguish (i) praying about our decision and our perplexity from (ii) worrying about them on our knees! We should commit our situation to the Lord, seek His wisdom and trust Him to provide it. “Nothing doubting”, James says. God’s promise is, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart … and he shall direct thy paths”, Prov. 3. 5, 6. James assures us of God’s readiness to give wisdom to those who seek it; He gives “liberally”, that is, bountifully, unreservedly, generously, James 1. 5.
Before making our decisions we need to make an honest attempt to allow for any personal preference or bias. We must genuinely desire to know and do the Lord’s will. We are naturally selfish and very clever in justifying what we want to do. Scripture itself tells of several cases where men asked for God’s guidance— when their minds were already made up! One example of this occurs in 2 Chronicles 18. 1-28. Jehoshaphat and Ahab king of Israel went up to war against Syria, having sought guidance from Ahab’s prophets and then from God’s prophet Micaiah. Jehoshaphat’s conscience had required that he ask for God’s guidance but, when this was given, he totally ignored it. His mind was made up before he asked. Another example occurs in Jeremiah 42. 1 to 43. 7. Be on your guard against mistaking your own wishes for the Lord’s guidance!
Given that we ask “in faith” and that we make a sincere attempt to weigh up all the facts in the light of known Christian values, I believe that God has promised to guide us in our decision.
It is not that God has never used signs to guide His people. He has. It is not that He has never given believers inward “convictions” about His will. Many cases of this exist both in experience and Christian biography. Such methods, however, do not constitute His normal method of working. He has undertaken to provide the wisdom necessary for us to make the right decisions. We can trust Him to keep His word!
Sometimes the facts which influenced our decisions may change later. This is no cause for concern. We simply come again and ask for fresh wisdom, knowing that God “upbraideth not” (does not deride or reproach), James 1. 5.
We rejoice in the confidence which we share with the psalmist, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory”, Psa. 73. 24.
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