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Divine Guidance

What it is and how it works.

By David A. DePra

Divine guidance. The term prompts so many questions. But the fact is, if you are a Christian, you need to know what the Bible reveals about it. Why? Because right now God is seeking to lead YOU. God wants to guide you to, into, and through His will. Being able to discern that, and walk with God, is fundamental to seeing the purpose of God worked out in your life.

People ask questions all the time about divine guidance. Does God speak to people today? Yes. Does God lead people where He wants them to be? Yes. Does God care about all of our circumstances each day? Yes. Does God seek to reveal His will to His people? Yes. Does God speak to His people in many different ways? Yes.

Ok. All "yes" answers to those questions. But on this issue of divine guidance, letís ask a few questions with "no" answers. Does God ever lead people in a way that is contrary to the Bible? No. Does Godís leadings ever violate His character or holiness? No. Does God always speak to us when we want Him to? No. Are we correct in expecting God to speak to us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with regard to even the tiniest details of our lives? No. Does God guarantee that we will never make mistakes in discerning His will? No.

Divine guidance is a term that refers to God telling us what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. It can also refer to those times when God leads us Ė but we are not aware of it. In short, divine guidance speaks of the working out of Godís will on this planet through the human vehicles he is "leading" Ė both those that want Godís will, and those that donít want it. Regardless, if God is working out His will through people, divine guidance is involved.

Discernment

Often, when we talk about divine guidance, we focus on what God wants us to do. Or on where God wants us to be. We seek to discern what THING God wants for us, so that we can do it and be in Godís will. Thatís fine. This is all good motivation. But somehow it misses the mark. Indeed, once we make divine guidance a matter of discerning a THING to do, or even make the very will of God a THING to discern, we are off the track. In the final analysis, divine guidance is a matter of discerning GOD HIMSELF.

God wants us to discern HIM Ė or to put it another way Ė He wants us to KNOW HIM. This may, at first, not sound too specific, such that it could help us in discerning the will of God in a situation, but knowing God is foundational to being able to know His will in matters. Why? Because if we grow to know God, we will more easily know what is OF HIM.

God wants His people to know Him so well that we will be able, in many cases, to know what is OF HIM. It works that way even in human relationships. If you know someone, by and large you know what they will do or not do. Human beings are inconsistent, of course. But God is always the same. We can be sure that what we know about Him today will not change tomorrow.

If we know God, we are going to be able to more easily discern His will. For instance, if you were in great need of $100, and saw that amount on your friendís kitchen table, would you believe that God was "leading you" to steal it? After all, it is the exact amount you need! And you were praying for it! And there it is, right in front of you! Clearly, God is NOT leading you to steal. He may simply be allowing you to be tested. God NEVER leads His people to break His law, or violate true holiness. If I know God, I know that. There will be no confusion.

Godís leadings always agree with His character. They always agree with the Bible. If we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, then God isnít going to have us doing things which Jesus wouldnít do.

So we see that the number one necessity in any issue of divine guidance is knowing God Ė of having some depth of knowledge as to His nature and character. Once we have that, we are more easily able to know what is of God, and what is not. Even the most miraculous of "leadings" will not entrap us Ė if they are clearly in conflict with His character and purpose.

Godís Will and Godís Word

Divine guidance really amounts to nothing more complicated than discerning Godís will. And for that, we should first turn to Godís Word. Some Christians, instead of starting with Godís Word, start with how they "feel" or "discern" about something. That is NOT the place to start. It can, in fact, be dangerous.

It is true that there are going to be choices and decisions we have to make in life that are NOT addressed directly in the Bible. For example, the Bible isnít going to tell you specifically, by name, who to marry. Or where to work. But the Bible does give general guidelines which will always be Godís will. For instance, Christians are forbidden to marry unbelievers. God also forbids everyone the right to want to marry someone who is married to someone else. We are never to work in a job which requires dishonesty, etc. These Truths narrow the field as to what Godís will might be for us. They are absolutes which will never change.

So what we are seeing here, to start with, is that Godís will is revealed in His Word. His will for me, in my situation, may not be spelled out in detail. But the moral and spiritual principles which will govern Godís will for me are spelled out. God will never compromise these. He will NEVER lead in a way that is contrary to His Word.

Can we see why? Because God spoke His Word. So if He spoke to me in a way that contradicts His Word, God would be contradicting Himself. This could never be.

What this tells us is this: It does not matter how strongly I feel that something is Godís will, if what I feel contradicts the Bible, I am wrong. Neither does it matter how many "miracles" or "signs and wonders" might accompany my feelings. If what I believe is Godís will contradicts the Bible, I am wrong. Christian people are amazing in their ability to justify as "Godís will" what THEY want Ė no matter how much it violates the Word of God. But if it violates the Word of God, we are wrong. Period. You can take that one to the bank.

Godís Word is therefore the place to START. If we have a question as to whether something is of God, open up the Bible. There is likely more in there about my issue then I think.

Willing to Do His Will

Once we seek the will of God through His Word we are on the right track. But none of this is going to work unless our hearts are right. If our hearts are not right with God, we wonít be able to read His Word and interpret it correctly. We will instead interpret it along the lines of our own will.

Donít make the mistake of thinking that you discern Godís will according to your brains. You donít. You discern the will of God according to your faith in Him, and your surrender to Him. There are a number of different ways to say this. Jesus said:

And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knows this man letters, having never learned? Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaks of himself seeks his own glory: but he that seeks his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him. (John 7:15-18)

The Jews were looking for a way Ė any way Ė to discredit Jesus. They could not argue against His words, so they resorted to personal attack. They basically said, "Jesus doesnít have the education we have. Who does this guy think He is to teach us?" Jesus basically answered, "Who do I have to be? If my words are the Truth, they are the Truth. My education has nothing to do with it." Then He added, "If you want to discern whether My teaching is the Truth, be willing to obey the Truth."

Jesus was laying down a basic principle when it comes to discerning the will of God. He was saying, "If you want to know the will of God, surrender to God." In other words, if you want to know Godís will, be willing to obey Him. A simple "willingness of heart" is all that is necessary to begin to discern Godís will. Such an openness creates a spiritual atmosphere which makes the will of God clear and plain.

Many times, even after we open the Word of God, we still donít know the will of God for us in a specific situation. Maybe our issue doesnít fall into the moral area. Maybe all of our options pass the test of the Word of God. So which one is Godís will?

Jesus said, "If any man WILL do His will, he shall KNOWÖ.." Even if you donít know what the will of God is, you can unconditionally surrender yourself to GOD! You can say, "I want to do your will, Lord, even though right now I donít know what that is." Again, this is necessary if we are to discern God, and know His will.

The reason it works this way is not magic. It is not a game. The reason it works this way is because MORALITY works this way. The moment you SET YOUR WILL to do the will of God, you are able to see the will of God. In contrast, the moment you set your will against God, you begin down the road of confusion. MORAL DISCERNMENT is dependent upon a MORAL attitude.

It works this way everyday in this world. More and more people are justifying the worst sins possible. You can almost see the wheels turning in their heads, as they push away morality and Truth, in order to reach the conclusion they had as their goal. Is this because of a lack of brains? No. Many of these people are highly intelligent. Is it the product of ignorance? No. They COULD know. What is happening is the product of refusing the Truth.

Now note: Refusing the Truth is not necessary a matter of having the Truth and giving it away, or of being presented with the Truth and rejecting it. No. Things do not need to get that far. Refusing the Truth may be no more complicated than being so set on my own way that I never open myself to the Truth. I simply close my ears and eyes and will see only that which I want.

This is the antithesis of "being willing to do His will." It is really being willing to do only MY will. And just as desiring the will of God opens me to be able to discern the will of God, so does desiring only my will close me to be unable to discern the will of God. Again Ė the issue here is MORAL surrender. It is a moral faith. Brains donít figure into things at all.

The way to see what is in the Light is to come into the Light. First open yourself TO the Truth, and then the Truth will have access. In the final analysis, we are either going to allow the Truth to adjust us to God, or we will adjust the Truth to fit us. It all comes back to surrender.

The Fear of the Lord

The Old Testament parallel to the words of Jesus in John 7 is found a number of places. The OT talks about "the fear of the Lord" being the beginning of wisdom:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endures for ever. (Psa 111:10)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Prov. 9:10)

Wisdom is "seeing things from Godís perspective." The "fear of the Lord" is REVERENCE for God. In short, if you revere and value God Ė which always leads to surrender to Him Ė you have what is necessary to BEGIN to have wisdom.

Notice that the fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is what LEADS to wisdom about things. We do not see the Truth about things first, and then decide to fear God. No. If you want wisdom Ė if you want to see things the way God does Ė start fearing God. Revere Him Ė be willing to do His will. Surrender to Him. Youíll have wisdom.

This is, of course, the same Truth Jesus stated. Reverence for God creates the moral attitude which will enable me to see things the way God sees them.

If divine guidance were only a voice inside of our head, or even one which is audible, then we wouldnít really need a surrendered heart, would we? In fact, there are a few examples in the Bible were God did speak like that to people who were not surrendered to Him. But once you begin to understand that much of divine guidance is NOT a voice, but a discernment of Godís Himself, then the need for an open heart is clear. We must open our hearts or we will never see things the way God sees them.

If you havenít noticed, we now have a definition of sorts for DISCERNMENT. Earlier we saw that discernment comes from knowing God. Now we are able to add this: Discernment is the ability to see something from Godís perspective Ė the ability to see it as God sees it. Think about that. If we are seeing something from Godís perspective, we are seeing it in Truth Ė the way it really is. THAT is discernment.

The Mind of Christ

Many Christians get into struggles as to whether what they sense if of God, or "just them." They fight, trying to figure it out. But as we have been seeing, the Bible tells us that the solution is not to try to figure it out. The solution is to go to the Word of God, and to open our hearts to God. Jesus said that if we will do that, we will KNOW. Maybe not right away. But we will Ė if we are willing to obey, and DO obey anything we know to obey.

Actually, the Bible has another term for "being willing to obey God," and for "the fear of the Lord." Paul says, "We have the mind of Christ." (I Cor. 2:16) "The mind of Christ" is NOT the brains of Christ. It is the attitude towards God that Christ had. And what was that attitude? Again, the fear of the Lord. The desire to obey God. Unconditional surrender to God.

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously: (1 Pet 2:21-23)

Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that has suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. (1 Pet 4:1-2)

Now notice something very important here. Rather than continually talking about God "speaking" to His mind to us, like a voice inside of our heads, the Bible focuses on us developing and possessing HIS mind Ė the mind of Christ. How much better! Instead of God speaking His mind to us, we are able to have His very mind.

This doesnít not mean that God doesnít speak to His people. He can and does. In many ways. But God does not provide to anyone a continual narrative, like a conversation. God does not talk to people every 5 seconds in their head. Nonsense. God wants us to grow to know Him, to know His mind, and better yet, to possess His mind. And then we will be able to discern what is of Him, and not of Him.

Hebrews says it best:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; (Heb 1:1-2)

Christ is IN US. He is Godís Word to us. But that sounds so abstract and impractical. What does it mean? Much of what weíve already seen. First, if we know Christ, we know God. And if we know God, we will know what is of Him. None of Godís leadings will contradict His revelation of Himself through Jesus Christ Ė anymore than it will contradict the Bible.

Secondly, the life of Christ within will seek to grow. His life in us, as we believe and obey God, begins to grow and expand. We develop HIS mind and HIS perspective. His character. And yes, God still leads and speaks in other ways, too. But most often God leads us through a growing knowledge of His Son. Our knowledge of Christ provides the "template" which will test all else, to see if it be of God.

Prayer

We can pretty much forget about being able to discern the will of God if we donít pray. Actually, that statement seems almost nonsensical. It is like saying that we cannot expect to see if we donít open our eyes.

Prayer is communion with God. Now notice: Communion with God is oneness with God. Can I possibly be one with God and not see things the way He sees them? No. Sure, this requires time. There can be warfare involved. But prayer will result in having the mind of Christ. Not sometime. Every time Ė if we endure by faith.

So now we see that prayer isnít necessary for discernment simply because through prayer I ASK God to show me His will. No. Rather, prayer IS discerning God. It is in prayer that we enter into a oneness with God through our surrender to God. It is in prayer that we grow to know God Himself Ė preparatory to practical faith and obedience.

Through prayer, I can ask God to show me His will. God will answer. Through prayer I can ask God to do His will. God will answer. But wait. There is something missing here. Something quite important. Do we realize that when we ask God to DO His will, or SHOW us His will, that God may want us to be part of that answer?

If you want Godís will, be prepared to do His will. Doesnít it seem silly to ask for Godís will, and then be unwilling to do it? Yet it is right here that many Christians fail. And then they wonder what went wrong.

We canít do what only God can do. But sometimes God will want to do His will through us. Herein we see an important Truth. God doesnít merely want us to know His will. Or simply to do His will. God wants us to BECOME His will. He wants us to be living epistles. That cannot happen without a profound and meaningful prayer life.

The Holy Spirit

Divine guidance is fully under the authority of the Holy Spirit. The function of the Holy Spirit is to take everything of Jesus and make Him real and practical TO us, IN us, and THROUGH us. Everything we have seen about God, and Jesus, is true about the Holy Spirit, for the three are one.

Some of the things which Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do speak directly to this matter of divine guidance:

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of me. (John 15:26)

When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:12-15)

Here we see some characteristics of the leadings and work of the Holy Spirit. First, the Holy Spirit will always lead us into Truth. Not only is this a PROMISE that God will be taking the initiative in our lives unto that end, but it is also a "description" of how God leads. The Holy Spirit doesnít lead in unholy ways. He leads us into all Truth by means of the Truth. The Truth tells the Truth about the Truth.

If the Holy Spirit is in the continual process of leading us into all Truth, then can we see what it is that we need to do to end up where He wants us? Surrender to His leading. The most evident way to do this Ė again Ė is by surrendering my will to God, and being willing to do whatever it takes to realize Godís will in my life.

Faith

We have been talking about how God leads, and the characteristics of His leading. God can lead by speaking to our hearts, by using His written Word, and by using circumstances and people. All of these things, we have seen, will do us little good if we are not surrendered to God.

There is, however, yet another way in which God leads. By silence. There are times, many times, in the experience of a Christian, when God doesnít say anything. It doesnít matter how much you pray, there is silence. Why?

Well, for one reason, we donít understand Godís purposes. We think the NEED is that we know Godís will. Or that a problem be solved. But God can take care of those things in a moment. Rather, God says, "What I want is YOU."

But what does that mean? It means that before you can know Godís will, or receive Godís will, you often must BECOME Godís will. Or to say it another way, you have to be made fit for Godís will Ė adjusted for it. That takes time.

A child may WANT adult things, or wish he could do them Ė like driving a car. But would you put him behind the wheel? No. He has to grow before he can handle the granted desire. So it is with the things of God. Often we must grow into them.

So why does God want us to pray about issues before we are ready to receive the answer? Because it is the praying which makes us ready. God will often create a situation where we must continually pray about something. But then He wonít answer. It is not because He is teasing us. It is because He is using the issue or trial to get us into communion with Him through prayer. The problem WILL be solved. But what God wants is US. Once He brings us to the place He wants us, then the answer to our problem is easy, and we are adjusted and fit for it.

Someone once noted that Godís silences are His answers. But silence is not a NO answer, or a YES answer. It is silence. It is a call to seek God more deeply. Again Ė the goal here isnít just to find an answer from God. The goal is to find GOD HIMSELF.

In the final analysis, God is our answer. Jesus is our solution. That is not a clever way of saying that we need not expect a practical resolution to lifeís problems. We can expect a resolution Ė and one which is livable and practical. But only as a secondary result. The primary purpose is that we might know God, and belong to Him.

Faith may not always know where it is going. But it trusts in the One leading. Faith may not always understand God. But it trusts that God understands. All of this speaks of reverence, surrender, and being willing to obey God. And if we will do it, God says that we will know His will and His leading.

Walking By Faith

The majority of the time in this Christian life, we are called to just walk Ė believing that the Lord IS leading. That is what it means to walk by faith. But notice: It isnít as if I am not walking in the Light. I do know the Word of God. I do know some things about God Himself. I do know right and wrong. Iím still growing in all these things. But I do have some Light. And God expects me to walk in the Light I do have.

One of the pieces of Light that God has given us is a promise that He will always be with us. So if we know nothing else we know that. The question really boils down to whether we believe it Ė especially when circumstances donít seem to indicate God is there. Again Ė this is a call to walk by faith.

God is quite capable of telling us everything we need to know, when we need to know it. But most often, He tells us to walk by faith Ė perhaps in total darkness as to where He is leading. We are to believe that He knows what He wants to do.

To walk by faith in the routine of life may not be glamorous, or seem to be accomplishing much. But if I am walking by faith, then I am growing in faith. I am living to the glory of God. THAT may be what God is after presently. And if it is, it is enough.

Trusting God

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in your own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. (Prov 3:5-7)

Do you want to be led of God? This passage from Proverbs is telling us how. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him. And THENóHe will direct your paths. You shall end up in the right place at the right timeóand more importantlyóin the right spiritual condition.

We often get this whole thing backwards. We think that FIRST God should direct our paths. Then we would be able to acknowledge Him as we walk that path. Then we would have understandingóand be able to trust the Lord. But no. God has it the right way. First, we must trust Ė even if we see NOTHING. Then God promises that He will be leading us.

God will direct our path. But that doesnít mean weíll know He is doing it. Notice: This particular passage doesnít say that God will direct US to the path. No. It says that God will direct the PATH to us! Much of what God does He does in ways which are not dramatic, miraculous, or even noticeably HIM. Yet He gives us exactly what He promises to give us: His will. Both for this life and the next.

Divine guidance is not supposed to be complicated. It is simply the outcome of a relationship of faith towards God, and His love towards us. God has already promised TO BE leading us and guiding us Ė into all Truth and into His purpose for our lives. We need to get up and walk in the Light He has given us. *

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