If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you have seen my references to the fact that we each have a divine purpose and that our learning to exercise faith is meant to be a part of our personal growth.
Faith is an interesting commodity. We can believe but we won’t develop faith – at least the kind of faith I am talking about – unless we make a leap. That leap will require action and stepping beyond our comfort zone. Life will require us to make many leaps of faith; one is never sufficient with God.
In the path to overcoming depression, faith in God becomes a central theme. Just like Alcoholics anonymous, there really isn’t a true chance of overcoming our “demons” until we acknowledge we are powerless to do so without God’s assistance.
Learning to listen to God and recognize his voice and instruction will yield incredible help and assistance. As I continue to share the multi-part article written by Rev. Mark D. Roberts, I hope you will find lots of wonderful “lesson material” that will help you recognize and utilize God’s voice in your life. I know that He is personally aware of you and lovingly awaits your request for His assistance!:
Confirming the Spirit’s Guidance, Part 1
Sometimes we won’t know for sure if we have correctly discerned the Spirit’s voice until we step out in faith. This is surely the scariest part of spiritual guidance because it requires both trust in God and a willingness to be embarrassed. But if you ask people who have risked their pride in order to confirm what they believed to be God’s direction, they’ll tell you that the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.
Most of the time, what I’m describing here isn’t all that spectacular. For example, when I was pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, each year we sponsored a number of “mission trips” to other parts of the world. These trips might have been to Mexico, or South Africa, or China. They often involved lots of hard work on the part of those who attended, and in some cases people were expected to raise quite a bit of money to pay for their trip. Some had the means to pay their own way, while others asked friends and family for financial support. All of this, especially the financial part, could feel daunting to someone who might have been interested in a certain trip.
Nevertheless, each year I’d have people say to me something like, “I think God is calling me to go on the South Africa trip.” Then they’d explain some deep sense of calling, rather along the lines of the whispering Spirit. Often folks tried to convince God that they shouldn’t go on the trip, but had felt his strong direction. “What should I do next?” they’d ask. My answer was that we needed to confirm what they were sensing in their hearts. Had they checked with their small group? Had they talked with a mature Christian who knew them well? These were important elements of the confirmation process. But then came the scariest part. Would they step out in faith? Would they (in many cases) talk to folks about their financial need? Would God supply the needed funds?
Time and again in my ministry, I watched people step out in faith, sometimes with very small steps. When they did, God graciously confirmed the guidance they had sensed previously. Confidants were encouraging. Supporters were generous. Sometimes funding came from completely unexpected sources. When they finally went on the trip, they knew without a doubt that this is what God wanted for them, not only because of what they were able to contribute, but also because of how they grew in faith and discipleship.
Now, of course, God doesn’t always confirm what we take to be his guidance. Sometimes the opposite happens. This disconfirmation can come as people share their sense of leading with their Christian community and run into lots of loving concern. Often, however, the disconfirmation comes after folks step out in faith. I expect that God would be perfectly happy to bail us out in advance, at least much of the time, but we’re often unwilling to follow his lead. As I’ve said before, it’s terribly easy for us to project onto God what we think ought to be there.
For example, a pastor friend of mine once received a “call” (Presbyterian language for “job offer”) to become pastor of a church a couple thousand miles away. He truly believed this is what God wanted for him, even though some of his closest advisors were uncertain. So my friend went to the new church, began his ministry there, and only then realized that he had made a terrible mistake. What this church wanted differed largely from who my friend was as a pastor. So, after six months, he resigned from this pastorate and sought a new call.
When we step out in faith, sometimes we’ll get out of line. And in some of these instances God will redeem our efforts and work things out. In other cases we’ll end up taking an altogether different course. Even some of the most spiritually mature people can, at times, misconstrue God’s will. I wish this weren’t true, or at least I think I wish it weren’t true. But the fact is that sometimes we aren’t sure of God’s guidance until we test it by our actions. And in these instances there will be times when we learn the hard way that we missed something along the way.
But here’s the great news: God can and will work in and through all of these situations. If you get off course, God isn’t up in heaven wringing his hands, wondering what to do next. Rather, he’s already at work redeeming and, if necessary, redirecting. I know Christians who get stuck in indecision because they’re afraid of messing up. The bad news is that we will mess up. The good news is that God cleans up.
As a seasoned “messer-upper,” one of my favorite verses of Scripture is Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” The “all things” that God works out for God include our mistakes and miscues. That’s not to say that we don’t pay a price for our errors. Often we do. But God is still at work in and through us, transforming us to be more like Him and using us for His kingdom purposes.
Confirming the Spirit’s Guidance, Part 2
A couple of days ago, I suggested that we can confirm (or disconfirm) the Spirit’s guidance in a variety of ways, but principally through stepping out in faith. I also acknowledged that this can be scary, since it may require us to do something that is potentially awkward, difficult, or embarrassing. The following story illustrates this possibility.
A woman I’ll call Eva was a grandmother, a gentle woman, and one of the most mature Christians I had ever known. For many years she had served within her church by calling recent visitors on the telephone. Usually she’d say how much their visit was appreciated and offer to answer any questions they might have. Most phone calls were short, pleasant, and appropriately superficial.But every now and then Eva would “hear from the Lord,” as she described it. One time, she called a visitor and began her usual friendly spiel. In the middle of her script, however, she sensed the Holy Spirit “whispering” in her heart. For no apparent reason, she felt that this woman was in a great deal of pain over a difficult marriage. She heard no audible voice and had no reason to know whether this was true or not. Yet she sensed that God had revealed something to her so she could care for the woman on the phone.
Now Eva faced a challenge: to go with what she thought God was saying to her and risk offending the woman on the phone, or to avoid embarrassment by not bringing up the issue of her marriage but thereby missing the opportunity to help her. Eva chose to risk the embarrassment of following what she believed to be the Spirit’s guidance.
“Can I share something a little odd with you?” she asked the woman on the phone.
“I guess so,” was the answer.
“Well, as we have been speaking, I keep having this feeling that you’re going through a tough time in your marriage. You probably think I’m crazy, but I felt like I had to say something.”
The woman on the other end of the line was silent for several seconds. Finally she choked out, “How, how did you know? That’s really why I went to your church.”
“I think the Lord told me,” Eva answered, “so I can pray for you and help you.”
Thus, a friendly phone call turned into the beginning of a healing encounter. Eva’s sensitivity to the Spirit, her boldness combined with gentle love, opened up an opportunity for ministry that might not have otherwise presented itself.
I have just related one of the more spectacular of Eva’s stories. Things didn’t always flow so smoothly and with obvious supernatural blessing. But even when she appeared to strike out, Eva kept on trying to listen for the Spirit and to obey what she heard. When nothing unusual impressed her heart, she didn’t make it up. She simply did her job graciously, welcoming visitors and sharing a bit of Christ’s love with them. When she believed that the Spirit had given her special guidance to care for a visitor, she stepped out in faith, knowing that God would confirm that which is truly his guidance.
As I finish telling Eva’s story, I can imagine the responses of some of my friends who are skittish about supernatural guidance of the sort I just described. “This opens the door to all sorts of nonsense,” they’d complain, “even heresy. How are we going to know if somebody’s claim to divine inspiration is true?”
This is a fine question. Actually, it’s one that Jesus himself anticipated and answered. In the Gospel of Matthew He said:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)
Those who are truly inspired by God, who truly hear the whispering of the Spirit, who are truly in touch with genuine divine guidance, will bear good fruit. That fruit will be evident in their personal lives. And it will also be evident in the lives of those who have been touched by them. What sort of fruit am I talking about? We could start with the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). To this list we could add such things as: people drawn to the Lord, works of justice and mercy, the building up of the body of Christ, and so on. One who claims to be guided by God will, if the claim is true, live a life that reflects the character and ministry of Christ.
Today’s article that I have shared was written by Rev. Mark D. Roberts and is shared from the following website: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-does-god-guide-us/
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