As we continue to delve into the depths of ourselves, there is a source of help. It is called the scriptures. I believe that through the scriptures, we can come to better understand ourselves, those around us and more importantly, our Creator.
I can bear testimony to the ability the scriptures have in helping us to understand our importance while also understanding that we are as a grain of sand.
I know that it can be a challenge to understand how God can know each of us individually. All I can say is that He does. I don’t know how it is done but I witnessed it during my near-death experience. Our Creator truly is perfect and without flaw. He is love in its all encompassing perfection.
I know that God desires for you to know yourself and for you to know Him personally and intimately. It is when we better understand him, that we are able to more successfully allow Him to guide us and to help us manifest our true, divine potential.
A wonderful source of guidance in our endeavor to know ourselves is the scriptures. I hope you will enjoy today’s installment written by Mark Roberts and shared from the Patheos.com website! Have a wonderful weekend and I hope you spend some of your time over the weekend getting to know yourself better!
Divine Guidance Through Scripture
In my last two posts I explained that God can guide us through shaping the circumstances of our lives. But I admitted that this sort of guidance is often ambiguous. Circumstances may appear to point in more than one direction at the same time. Or different circumstances might seem to contradict each other. So we need to be able to weigh the events of our lives to determine with greater precision how God may be guiding us.
I would suggest that Scripture often provides the scales for this kind of discernment. Now before I go further, I should mention that I am a Christian who swims in the Reformed evangelical stream of the Protestant tradition. Knowing this about me, you’d expect me to uphold the authority of Scripture. I believe that the Bible is God’s Word given to us in human words that are, like Christ Himself, both divine and human in a mysterious way. I don’t have time here to explain in detail what I mean by this or even to defend it. But I should fess up so as to make sense of what I’m about to say about Scripture.
There are people, including some Christians, who look to the Bible for guidance even though they don’t believe it’s inspired by God in an unusual way. They view Christian Scripture as a source of wisdom similar to other sources, like the plays of Shakespeare or Gandhi’s The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Without denigrating the wisdom found in such writings, I believe that the Bible is uniquely inspired and, therefore, uniquely authoritative, and, therefore, uniquely able to guide us in life.
How Does the Bible Guide Us?
The Bible provides a reliable yardstick by which to measure our claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit through circumstances or feelings. If, for example, you think that the Spirit is leading you to do something the Bible prohibits, you can be sure that your spiritual lenses have become foggy. Throughout history, people have committed blatant sins under the claim God’s guidance. But since the Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture, that same Spirit can be guaranteed not to lead us to contradict the plain direction of Scripture.
Earlier in this series, I referred to a friend of mine, I’ll call him Bill, who claimed that God had brought him and a married woman together to deliver her from a terrible marriage. I think Bill actually believed this. Unfortunately, Bill’s claim to be led by the Spirit to commit adultery contradicted the clear teaching of Scripture in many places, including such “minor” passages as the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. No matter how much circumstances seemed to weigh in Bill’s favor, and no matter how much his feelings led him toward a intimate relationship with a married woman, he was misconstruing God’s guidance. According to Scripture, adultery is wrong, plain and simple.
There is a positive side to scriptural discernment of circumstantial guidance. If events in your life seem to point you in a certain direction, you can be more confident about that direction if it leads you to do that which Scripture affirms. This isn’t foolproof, of course. For example, if someone loses a plane ticket to Indonesia and you find it, you shouldn’t interpret that as proof that God wants you to evangelize in that country, even though sharing the gospel is consistent with God’s Word. It’s much more likely that God wants you to turn in the ticket so the rightful owner can use it. But if, on the other hand, events in your life give you an opportunity to share your faith with your neighbor, the fact that Scripture teaches you to do this very thing makes the probability of divine guidance in that direction more likely.
The Bible gives us much more than the ability to evaluate the spiritual significance of circumstances. It is the primary source for divine guidance in our life. The Spirit who inspired the biblical writers also works in our hearts to help us understand what God wants to say to us through the Bible. One of the chief functions of Scripture is to reveal God’s will for our lives. (Of course I realize that some Christians today do not recognize the unique authority of Scripture. They believe that their experience can trump biblical teaching. But this opens a Pandora’s box of confusion. What if your experience and my experience lead to inconsistent conclusions about divine guidance? How can experience be the ultimate arbiter of God’s guidance?)
Often, when folks say “I am seeking God’s will for my life,” they are referring to God’s specific will, whether to marry a certain individual, or to take a job offer, or to go on a mission trip. But the Bible usually refers to God’s will in a more general sense, as that which we all should do with our lives. For example, Paul writes: “For this is God’s will, that you be fully set apart from this world to live for him, that you keep away from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, my translation). If you are tempted with sexual sin, you really don’t have to spend too much time wondering which partner God wants you to fornicate with. Scripture has made God’s will abundantly clear: don’t do it!
In another place Paul writes, “No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Through this verse, the Spirit of God is guiding all of us to be thankful in prayer. Given the fact that there are thousands of imperatives in the Bible–thousands of actions God wants us to do–we can’t read too far without encountering divine guidance for our lives.
If we take Scripture seriously, therefore, we can know that it’s God’s will for us to worship him, praise his name, give thanks for his gifts, pray for his help, love God and our neighbors and our enemies, feed the poor, seek justice for the oppressed, invite the homeless into our homes, be faithful to our spouses, tell others about Jesus, gather with other Christians on a regular basis for fellowship, and so on and so on.
I realize that what I’ve just said may not satisfy the person who is asking: “But is it God’s will for me to do this particular thing?” I do in fact believe that sometimes we receive more specific guidance through Scripture, and I’ll say more about this in my next post. But I also believe that if we do the things that are clearly commended in Scripture, our minds and hearts will be shaped by the Spirit so that we are more apt to correctly discern God’s specific will in specific situations.
From Scripture we know that we should love God, love our neighbors, love our enemies, etc. etc. etc.
But what about when we’re facing decisions in which general biblical teaching doesn’t seem to make an obvious difference? The clear call to love my neighbor, for example, doesn’t tall me exactly how to do this, or exactly which neighbors of the hundreds in my life deserve the bulk of my time and attention.
The Holy Spirit can also give quite specific direction as we encounter the text of the Scripture, taking that which is true for all Christians and applying it to our particular lives and situations. This sort of thing happens all the time in personal Bible study, in group studies, and when God’s Word is preached. This is one major reason, by the way, that I am a preacher. I’ve seen God change lives through the power of his proclaimed Word.
For example, several years ago in a sermon I mentioned an Old Testament passage in which the Lord says, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16). I connected this passage to the teaching of Jesus on marriage, calling my congregation to a new commitment to marriage. As I greeted folks after service, I heard the usual collection of “Nice sermon, pastor” comments.
The next morning I received an altogether different kind of response. A man I’ll call Jeff called me at church. He had been in worship the day before and had a desperate need to speak with me. He didn’t want to elaborate on the phone, but said it had to do with my sermon. I rearranged my schedule so I could visit with him over his lunch hour.
“Your sermon really upset me,” Jeff began.
Oh no, not a great start to this conversation, I thought quietly as I steeled myself for his criticism.
“What you said about marriage and divorce has completely messed me up,” he continued. He then told me his story. A couple years ago, he had begun an affair with a coworker. When his wife discovered his unfaithfulness, Jeff left her and their two small children, and moved in with his girlfriend. Shortly thereafter, he began divorce proceedings. At the time of our lunch meeting, everything was final, except one last signature. With the sweep of a pen, Jeff’s marriage would be completely over.
Until the day before when I mentioned that God hates divorce, Jeff had never really questioned the morality of his actions. He was sorry to hurt his wife’s feelings and especially those of his children. But he was tired of his marriage and in love with his coworker. Then, owing to a number of “coincidences,” Jeff had visited our church the day before, only to hear my sermon on marriage and divorce. (This, by the way, illustrates quite wonderfully how the Spirit can use both circumstances and Scripture to guide us.)
“For the first time I’m wondering what God thinks about what I’ve done,” Jeff continued. “Maybe I shouldn’t get divorced. Maybe I should try to get back with my wife, though by now she hates my guts. I don’t know what to do. What do you think I should do?”
I tried in a gracious way to explain to Jeff what God intended for marriage and God’s consequent hatred of divorce (even though it is something God has allowed in some circumstances and which God forgives even when it is completely wrong). I agreed that Jeff’s wife might very well have no interest in reconciliation, but encouraged him to talk with her. She was a Christian, I discovered, as was Jeff, though he had not been living in fellowship with God for many years. As Jeff and I prayed together, I pleaded with God for help. Neither of us felt a lightening bolt from heaven that promised healing for his marriage, but we sensed God’s support for an effort to reconcile.
Ten months later, I found myself praying with Jeff once again. But the context was very different. The intervening months had been an emotional roller coaster for him and his wife. At first she laughed off his offer to reconcile. But, after a while, she sensed a genuine change in Jeff’s heart, especially when he terminated his extra-marital relationship. Lots of counseling, prayer, and support from other Christians slowly brought healing to their broken marriage. Ten months after my first meeting with Jeff I was praying with him . . . and with his wife, as they stood at the altar to renew their marital vows. God had brought them both through an astounding process of reconciliation. Before family and friends they testified to the power of the Scripture to change our lives for the better, by helping us to confront what is wrong and by teaching us to do what is right.
Jeff’s case marvelously illustrates the guidance of the Spirit through Scripture. But, I’ll freely admit, things don’t always happen this way or end this happily. In my next post I’ll include some warnings about the potential for misconstruing God’s will through the misuse of Scripture.
Unfortunately, people can indulge in silly and self-serving interpretations of biblical texts, such as one I heard from a man teaching on Matthew 6:33: “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33, NIV). “Do you want an expensive car? A large home? A financially prosperous life?” he asked, “Jesus promises to give you ‘all these things’!” Of course he took “all these things” completely out of context, turning Jesus’ promise of basic necessities into a guarantee of opulent living.
It seems so obvious that this man’s values were far too worldly, yet we all read the Bible from our own worldly perspectives to one extent or another. No Christian is immune from this disease, including me and you. This means that we will tend to mold both the meaning of Scripture and the guidance of the Spirit to fit our preconceived expectations. You can see this in all sorts of situations. Republicans tend to find their political views upheld in Scripture, while Democrats find their convictions in the Bible. The same is true for Libertarians, Greens, and those who don’t vote for religious reasons. People who oppose the ordination of women see Scripture as lined up on their side, while those who support it believe that their view is biblical. And so it goes.
One basic rule of thumb to remember is this: If your reading of the Bible completely confirms your pre-existing beliefs, you may well have projected those beliefs into Scripture. On the contrary, if you find that Scripture is challenging your assumptions and commitments, then you may well be in touch with its genuine meaning.
If we seek to discern God’s guidance correctly, our very way of seeing and thinking needs to be changed, and Scripture plays a leading role in this process. This is exactly what Paul urges upon us in Romans 12:
Don’t be conformed to this world, but keep on being transformed through the renewing of your minds, so that you might discern what the will of God is, that which is good and pleasing and complete (Rom 12:2; my translation).
As our minds are made new through the work of the Spirit, we will be better equipped to determine God’s will for our lives. Notice that this transformation is an ongoing process, something Paul accentuates with his choice of Greek verb form: “keep on being transformed.” Such transformation begins in conversion and continues throughout our lives. The Bible is one of the chief tools employed by the Spirit in this work of mental remodeling. The more we internalize God’s Word, the more we will be able to determine God’s will because our powers of discernment will be formed and energized by the Holy Spirit.
By the combination of Word and Spirit God guides us. But too often Protestant evangelicals like me envision this guidance individualistically. By so doing, we misunderstand God’s intentions for us and often misconstrue his guidance for our lives.
Divine Guidance Through Reason
So far I’ve shown that God guides us through circumstances, Scripture, and community.
Because the Spirit’s guidance can be so marvelously miraculous at times, we can overlook or even disparage so-called “normal” processes of reasoning. Sometimes, we even sit around like spiritual couch potatoes, waiting for some special gift of guidance while failing to use the gift of our minds, one of God’s most amazing endowments to human beings.
God has given us powers of reason to be used for his purposes. Whether we utilize these powers to make medical discoveries, teach Sunday school, or discern God’s will, God is honored when we use his good gifts for his glory. Moreover, the Spirit of God works in and through what can seem to us so natural and normal.
Some Christians think in terms of a false dichotomy between natural and supernatural activities, believing that God’s hand can be seen only in the supernatural or the extraordinary. But this distinction underestimates God’s presence throughout the natural world. The Son of God, through whom God created the world, “sustains the universe by the mighty power of his command” (Heb 1:3). The Lord is present and active in the “normal” affairs of the universe, in that which seems ordinary to us, even as he is present and active in that which is spectacularly unusual. So, when we use our ordinary human reasoning for the purpose of seeking God’s will, the Spirit can and does guide us.
The problem with this facet of spiritual guidance lies in the sin-induced corruption of our natural reason. Before we knew Christ, we were “alienated from God and enemies of God in our thinking” (Col 1:21, my translation). When we were reconciled with God through Christ, our sin was forgiven and our minds began to be renewed. But that renewal is an ongoing process that continues throughout our lives as we learn to think in new ways. No longer are we stuck in futile, human ways of thinking (Eph 4:17, Col 2:18). We can begin to think in godly ways because we have been given the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). When we allow the Spirit of God to be active in every facet of our lives, then our thinking will also be guided by the Spirit (Rom 8:5-6). But, none of this guarantees the rightness of our intellect. Reason, though a gift of God in creation and touched by the new creation, is not infallible.
As we devote ourselves to the key relationships of the Christian life, spending time in fellowship with God and God’s people, we will start to think more like God and less like a captive of our corrupt culture. As God’s written Word permeates our minds and hearts, we will treasure the things of God and think the thoughts of God. As we prayerfully ask the Lord to inspire our thinking, the Holy Spirit will lead us. Then we can have even greater confidence that our human reasoning, transformed by the Spirit to be more like what God intended it to be, will guide us in God’s paths.
When our reasoning receives input from Scripture, and when it is something done in the context of Christian community, then the possibility of correctly discerning God’s will is greatly increased. Reason often allows us to make connections among key factors, taking in the various kinds of input that God is supplying. I would never suggest that reason alone is adequate for spiritual discernment, but it does supply a crucial link in the chain of divine guidance.
Divine Guidance Through Dreams and Visions
So far in this series I’ve shown that God guides us through circumstances, Scripture, community, and reason. Those who especially liked my last post on divine guidance through reason might find themselves a bit uncomfortable with today’s post.
I must admit that the subject of guidance through dreams and visions does not reflect my personal experience to any great extent. In fact, I feel most comfortable among Christians who are guided by thinking, not by visions and dreams. But as a biblically-committed Christian, I must not truncate my understanding of God’s activity by my own limited experience, no matter how tempting that may be. Rather, I must let the Bible speak. For this reason, I recognize the possibility of spiritual guidance through dreams and visions. Whether we are sleeping or awake, the Holy Spirit can reveal God’s will to us through inspired visual images.
Throughout the Bible, God communicates with his people through visionary experiences. In Genesis 15, the Lord speaks to Abraham in a vision (Gen 15:1). A few chapters later, God speaks to the gentile king Abimelech in a dream (Gen 20:3). So it goes throughout the Old Testament stories. The New Testament begins on a similar note, with an angel appearing in a dream to Joseph, telling him that his fiancée is pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20). Not long afterwards, Joseph receives direction to go to Egypt as, once again, an angel speaks to him in a dream (Matt 2:13).
If we were to think that things like this happened only for biblical characters, the promise of Joel corrects that misconception. Several centuries before Christ, the Lord spoke through this Jewish prophet:
Then after I have poured out my rains again, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams. Your young men will see visions. In those days, I will pour out my Spirit even on servants, men and women alike (Joel 2:28-29).
Seven weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, God poured out his Spirit as promised by Joel. Peter, preaching the first Christian sermon on the Jewish festival of Pentecost, quotes from Joel’s prophecy to explain what has happened to the followers of Jesus who have just received the filling of the Spirit (Acts 2:16-21). The fulfillment of this prophecy at this time implies that Christians, both old and young, will experience divine guidance through dreams and visions.
The rest of the book of Acts illustrates this implication as the Holy Spirit guides the early Christians through extraordinary visual experiences. In Acts 16, for example, the Spirit at first spoke to Paul and Silas, telling them not to evangelize in the Roman provinces of Asia and Bithynia. Then Paul had a vision in the night, in which a man from northern Greece asked him, “Come over here and help us.” The evangelists quickly left for that region, believing that God had called them to preach there (Acts 19:6-10). Later on, when Paul’s ministry in Corinth brought on Jewish wrath, God inspired and affirmed Paul through another vision:
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will harm you because many people here in this city belong to me.” So Paul stayed there for the next year and a half, teaching the word of God (Acts 18:9-11)
Of course, as we have noted with respect to other forms of guidance, that which we derive from dreams and visions must also be tested by Scripture in the context of prayerful, reasonable Christian community. Throughout history, heretical theologies have often originated in the visions of their founders, visions inspired by something other than the Holy Spirit. The New Testament letter from Jude refers to false teachers as “dreamers” (Jude 1:8). But, for those of us inclined to exalt rationality far above visions, I daresay that most modern heresy stems from thinking, not dreaming.
I know a woman named Sandy who, years ago, had a dream in which she and her husband were missionaries in a city she had never heard of, in a country on the other side of the globe from where they were presently living. As she shared this dream with her husband and with her church, they all began to believe that Sandy had indeed heard from the Holy Spirit, even though she and her husband were not missionaries and the city revealed was in a country that prohibited the entrance of all missionaries. Years of patient discernment followed, as this couple sought to follow God’s leading. He confirmed what Sandy had dreamed in hundreds of ways. Many, many years later, through a most amazing series of divine interventions, the dream was fulfilled, as they began to minister in the very city whose name had once revealed in a dream. A skeptic would scoffingly say that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, knowing the journey of Sandy and her husband, I stand amazed at the grace of God who still speaks to us, as promised, through dreams and visions.
(For the safety of Sandy and her husband, I have not used her real name and I cannot divulge the country in which she serves.)
The excerpt from today’s inspiring article was shared from the following website: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-does-god-guide-us/
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