John Roberts has a series going right now on guidance. To date I have read three of them and I enjoy his efforts at a balanced perspective. So far it hasn’t really gotten into how on earth we do know God is guiding us. In the first, he talked about a 6th grade Sunday school teacher who occasionally tossed the lesson to try to teach them something she felt the Holy Spirit was leading her to say. Unfortunately, it usually went right over their heads, while the regular lessons were on target. His take was that the Holy Spirit seemed to be more in her regular methodical preparations. Okay. Maybe that was the case. I kind of wished he had asked her about that. It may be that those were the weeks she really did not have time to prepare, or perhaps she was trying to communicate rather difficult truths and they simply weren’t ready for them. I have a hard time with people who seem to want to pooh-pooh the movements of the Holy Spirit, simply because they don’t understand what is happening. I grant you that some people seem to blame the Holy Spirit for things that appear to be their own poor choices. On the other hand, do you suppose that the first Christians, at Pentecost, really understood all that was happening to them? How about those who have been through revivals? There is a bit of mystery in the actions of the third person of the trinity.
I like something I read somewhere that said following Jesus requires both wisdom and revelation. We do well in the beginning to lean toward wisdom. If we study our bibles avidly and consistently, we will acquire a measure of wisdom. Not to mention we learn some through the school of hard knocks. But God does change things from time to time. I read recently where someone has made a replica of Noah’s ark, using the biblical measures. It is even seaworthy, though they did not get directions to make it in order to save themselves. That was apparently a one time direction, which Noah was somehow able to hear, though his neighbors undoubtedly considered him quite insane. The thing is as long as a football field, after all. It took a lot of work! And some of those battle plans in the Old Testament sound completely counterintuitive, but God knew exactly what He was doing. So I have to conclude that there are times when we might recieve some sort of guidance that seems a little crazy. I wouldn’t expect that to be the norm, however. Seems like part of the wisdom thing is about having good advisors and such.
One book we studied in Sunday school advocated having a sort of steering committee when making major decisions. You want several godly people who can understand that the purpose is to help you clarify whether you are hearing from God or just your own desires. Sounds nice, although in practice, it might be hard to find people who really understand the concept. I heard from an acquaintance one time who served on such a committee and he said, no matter how many objections we raised they were determined to go into missions. Seems like the wrong attitude to me, though apparently it had the desired effect for the people asking whether to go that direction, since they went.
Honestly, when I first heard the concept, (which I think is used in Quaker circles, but don’t quote me, I don’t know where the book is anyway) I wished I could have had such a group when trying to find work after college. But the same person told me he would have advised X, which I knew I was not qualified for. Of course that’s only one person. Maybe someone else might have been more helpful. All I know, is I spent a lot of years working through books and classes that were supposed to help me find my niche, and I never did.
More to the point, guidance and how to discern whether it is from God seems to be an ongoing problem for most of us. I once asked for a sign and the result had me confused for years. Finally I got to a point where I asked the Lord to clarify what was meant, and it was just what I had needed at the time. But I never tried that again. I never was the type to try the open the bible and point method either. I remember reading at least one book about it as a young adult. I don’t remember much about it, except it seemed to say that in the absence of any specific direction from God, we are supposed to make the best decision we can, using our own brains, biblical knowledge, and advice if necessary. I moved on in that mode, but found it a little unsettling, to say the least. I mean, if we belong to the Lord, and want to follow Him, then why would He not respond when we need specific guidance? Shouldn’t we be able to expect at least enough to know whether to turn right or left or go straight ahead?
Of course, in hindsight it seems that God was guiding me and I am thankful He put me on the path I ended up on. I suspect though, that there was more involved in not hearing the answer than simply that God wanted me to use my head. I heard a story about the daughter of a friend, who once needed a job. It drove her mom crazy because she stayed in her room praying for days on end instead of beating the streets applying everywhere. But when she came out of her room, she apparently had an answer, applied there and got the job and earned exactly the amount of money she needed. I’m not sure I could bring myself to pray for hours on end like that in the same situation. But I sure wish I could! That’s the kind of story that makes me say, I want to be like her when I grow up, but of course she is younger than me!