|EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY - GUIDANCE||
LIFE AFTER DEATHChristianity's Hope & Challenge.
Five basic principles ?
1. Follow what is clearly revealed
We must be willing to do his will in those things he has already revealed, if we are to know his will in those things he has not yet made known. God has already made known the greater part of his will for us in the Bible. Paul says, "Everything in the Scriptures is God's Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. The Scriptures train God's servants to do all kinds of good deeds" (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
The Bible is full of instructions as to how God wants his people to live. It speaks of our relationship with God himself, the place of prayer and his word in our lives, and how to grow in that relationship. It talks about relationships in the home, relationships with other believers, how we should treat our enemies, our attitude to our boss and employees, what we should do with the gifts God has given us, the virtues we should seek to develop in our characters, our attitude to material possessions, how we should regard this life in relationship to the next, etc., etc. We don't need any special guidance to find out God's will about these things. All we need do is to read the Bible regularly and prayerfully and seek to obey the things that God teaches us from it. Much of God's will has already been made plain. It may not be easy to obey but that is another issue. Mark Twain once said, "It is not the things in the Bible that I don't understand that trouble me, but the things I do understand!" God gives us the Holy Spirit for the very purpose of enabling us to obey.
However, though the Bible is full of general principles of behaviour, it obviously doesn't give us specific instructions in many situations we may face. It tells us what our attitude to our work should be (Colossians 3:17,23,24), but it doesn't tell us whether we should be butchers, bakers or missionaries. It gives a minimum of guidance as to whom a Christian should marry (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14), if that is our calling, but doesn't tell us who that individual should be. We face decisions constantly which the Bible doesn't give us specific guidance about. However, if we are making a genuine effort to apply to our lives those things he has revealed, we can confidently expect him to guide us in more specific issues.
God may use a specific sign as he did to guide the wise men to Jerusalem (the star in the heavens), but it is interesting to note that in this instance he used the scriptures to guide them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. God may use miraculous means to guide when it is necessary, but cannot be expected to do so when the Bible and sanctified judgement is enough. As John Stott, the eminent Anglican clergyman and biblical scholar, has put it: "Generally speaking, it is correct to say that the will of God for the people of God is in the Word of God."
2. Most of God's guidance is unconscious
The writer of Proverbs says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5,6 - NIV footnote). If we exercise trust and acknowledge him in every area of our lives, his promise is that he will guide us. We don't have to be aware that that is happening.
Again, in a challenging passage in Isaiah chapter 58, God says to his people that if their concern is for the needy in society, the oppressed, the naked and the hungry, then one of the results will be that "The Lord will guide you always" (see Isaiah 58:6-12). In other words, if our motives and goals are right, guidance is something that will just happen. God has promised that. It is a bit like riding a bike. Provided it is moving in the right direction, the steering tends to take care of itself. However, we can't steer a bike that is going nowhere. We will fall off. There are few things I can do to please God more than to trust him. "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). Oswald Chambers said,"Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One Who is leading."
There is a lot of wisdom in a story that is told of the ethicist John Kavanaugh when he went to work for three months at ‘The House for the Dying’ in Calcutta. On his first morning he met Mother Theresa who asked ‘What can I do for you?” Kavanaugh who wanted to know how best to spend the rest of his life, expressed his deepest desire. “Pray that I have clarity.” Mother Theresa responded firmly. No, I will not do that.” Kavanaugh was taken aback. She continued, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go.” When Kavanaugh commented that she seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you will trust God.”
Often it will only be as we look back that we see he has been guiding us.
3. God expects us to use our intelligence
God says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle" (Psalm 32:8,9). Horses and mules need to be forcibly controlled. God expects us, however, to use our intelligence. The New Testament says quite a bit about the use of our minds. We are to love God with all our mind as well as our heart (Matthew 22:37).
I have been personally helped by a comment of Hudson Taylor who founded the China Inland Mission. In his younger days as a Christian, things used to come to him very clearly. The Lord would often guide him in very specific ways. "But," he said, "now as I have gone on, and God has used me more and more, I seem often to be like a man going along in a fog. I do not know what to do." In his later years, when he was responsible for the leadership of a thousand missionaries in China, he often found guidance more difficult. Why? Simply because, being as mature as he was in his knowledge of the Bible and the ways of God, the Lord trusted him to make the right decisions.
Maybe this is a mark of maturity. After all, when our children are small we have to tell them what is right and wrong. If they have been trained well, then they will be able in maturity to make their own right decisions. A contemporary writer on spirituality, Eugene Peterson, puts this well. He writes:
The early stages of Christian belief are not infrequently marked with miraculous signs and exhilarations of spirit. But as discipleship continues the sensible comforts (those that depend on our physical senses) gradually disappear, for God does not want us neurotically dependent upon him, but willingly trustful in him. And so he weans us.
God calls us to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). An interesting analogy on this same question is given by Stephen Board, Executive Editor of Eternity magazine:
For some time I have been turning over in my mind the styles different people adopt in living the Christian life. A common one is what I would call the script approach. Before you make a move, you check the script. God's wonderful plan for your life reveals itself to you step by step and you place your feet in the steps like an Arthur Murray dance lesson.
The other style I would call the canvas approach. Here God provides us with a space, large or small, on which we can paint "something beautiful for God," to borrow Malcolm Muggeridge's phrase. This seems much more compatible with the parable of the talents, in which the wise person looked at what he had and invested it - but the wicked servant passively withheld investing because the master had provided no script. And wouldn't we all love seeing now what works God has before ordained that we should walk in?
Oh, the script style is the path of security.
In other words, if God gives us wisdom to know what is the best path to take, that is just as much his guidance as giving us some special sign. This may involve hard work in grappling with issues, seeking advice and weighing up the options; but all this is part of our growing up.
4. God doesn't show us more than we need to know
In this way we learn to trust him. I have found helpful the analogy provided by Peter's deliverance from prison in Acts, chapter twelve. The angel comes to Peter and wakes him up. His chains fall off. We could liken this to conversion when we awake spiritually, and the power of those things that bind us and keep us from being what God intended are broken. Peter then follows the angel with no understanding as to how he is to get out of the prison, or where he is going. In fact, initially he thinks he is dreaming. However, when he reaches the door of the cell, it opens. He keeps following, and when he reaches the end of the corridor, the next door opens. There is still the massive gate of the prison. However, when they come to it, it opens too. But doors do not open till we reach them.
However much we would like to know things in advance, there is no need for it. God wants us to trust him to open the right doors at the right time. And if we get to a door and it doesn't open, maybe God is asking us to wait as he has some more work to do on us first. Or maybe he is turning us in another direction. We mustn't gaze so longingly on the door that is closed that we miss the one that is open. It may be OK sometimes to rattle a handle, but not to kick it down! God will open it in his time, if that is right.
Our task is to follow and trust. It is his responsibility to open doors.
Don't tell God how he must guide
Maybe it is sometimes right to ask God for a sign. There is one instance in the Bible where someone did ask for a sign and specified what that sign was to be. It is in the story of Gideon (Judges 6:36-40). However, I note that in this case God had already made it very clear to Gideon what he was to do. He graciously acceded to Gideon's request, but only to take away any excuse Gideon might have for not obeying. How God guides is his responsibility. Ours is to keep informed and listening.
Oswald Chambers, whose posthumously published writings have been helpful to so many, said:
We are apt to forget the mystic supernatural touch of God which comes with his call. If a man can tell you how he got the call of God and all about it, it is questionable whether he ever had the call. A call to be a professional man may come in that explicit way, but the call of God is much more supernatural. The realisation of the call of God in a man's life may come with a sudden thunder clap or by a gradual dawning, but in whatever way it comes, it comes with the under-current of the supernatural, almost the uncanny. It is always accompanied with a glow - something that cannot be put into words. We need to keep the atmosphere of our mind prepared by the Holy Spirit lest we forget the surprise of the touch of God on our lives.
With these five basic principles in mind, what guidelines can we use to determine whether we are on the right track in specific issues, where choices have to be made? I would suggest four.
Five basic principles