Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
The aim of this article is to establish how we as believers today can know the guidance of God in our lives in matters both great and small.
Examples in Scripture
Genesis 24 and Acts 16 record remarkable examples of Old and New Testament believers who were so in touch with God that they received guidance from Him in matters which were vital to His purposes in this world. In Genesis 24 Abraham's servant was commissioned to find a bride for Isaac, the son of promise in the line of Christ. Certainly, the right choice of a marriage partner is the next most important decision we can make after our conversion. In Acts 16 Paul and Silas needed direction as to the future of the gospel testimony, and were led to cross over into Europe for the first time to take a Bride for Christ from the Gentile continent. In both examples special guidance was needed once the general command of God had been obeyed. Abraham's servant received a providential sign regarding Rebekah in answer to prayer. Paul and Silas were guided by the Holy Spirit's leading and a vision to Macedonia. The question is, 'How can we daily experience such clear guidance in our lives today?'
Reasons why we need Divine Guidance
We need guidance because we are creatures dependent upon God our maker; because we are finite in our knowledge and ability; because we have a bias to sin against God rather than to obey Him; and also because we are beset with ungodly guidance in the world around us.
Preconditions for Divine Guidance
There is a definite cost involved in being prepared to receive God's guidance. It is as follows:
i. The confession and forsaking of ail known sin in our lives. For Psalm 66. 18 clearly states, 'If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me', and Psalm 1. 6 says, 'The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous'. This is a fundamental principle of all true guidance.
ii. The maintenance of unbroken communion with God through regular prayer and Bible reading. Many believers, such as George Muller, have testified that they gain help from their daily readings in the Scriptures and prayer both at critical times in their lives, and also at more ordinary times. This also is essential to all guidance.
iii. Willingness to do the will of God whatever it proves to be. John 7. 1. 7 says that 'If any man wills to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine'. A wider principle is involved here than that of the doctrine of the Person of Christ in the immediate context. A yielded will is also essential to guidance.
iv. Complete obedience to all light already received through Scripture or other means. In Acts 10 we find that Cornelius had already responded to the light he knew before he heard the full gospel of the grace of God through Peter. In Genesis 24. 27 Abraham's servant said, 'I, being in the way, the Lord led me'. Obedience to light received will be rewarded with more light. For the law of spiritual light states that 'whosoever hath, to him shall be given', and vice versa, if we fail to respond to it. Differences between degrees of spiritual light are recognized by God, since we can never reach perfection in this life. This is the reason why believers outside local assembly circles can also know guidance in their lives. Scripture must be the test of all such professed guidance. It is important to understand whether we are moving towards the full light of Scripture, or away from it. If the latter is the case, we may not receive any further guidance from God until we repent of our disobedience.
General and Special Divine Guidance both necessary
General guidance from God may be obtained through the many 'standing orders' of Scriptural principles relating to spiritual, moral, natural, domestic, and secular aspects of our lives as given in both Testaments. A good conscience and ordinary common sense can also be good guides. God will not always do for us all that we can usually do for ourselves.
However, since our individual pathways are not all mapped out in Scripture, special detailed guidance is needed by each one of us to answer any of the following possible questions that arise in our lives: 'Which local assembly should I seek fellowship with?' 'Should I marry?' 'Whom should I marry?' 'What job 'What jobs should I do today?' 'Whom should I visit when I can?' We need to be very sensitive to the Lord's leading, if we are to find right answers to all such detailed practical questions that constantly arise in our daily lives. 'Should I apply for?' 'Which locality should I live in?'
Methods of Special Divine Guidance in Scripture
First, it is interesting to note God's past methods of guiding His people in Old Testament times until Pentecost.
i. Voices from heaven. Patriarchs such as Abraham were often so led.
ii. Prophets were often sent to the nation of Israel in times of disobedience with warning messages and reassuring promises as they became appropriate.
iii. Visions and dreams were given to Joseph and Daniel to guide them concerning their own lives and the Gentile nations amongst whom they lived.
iv. Sign miracles were performed by God for Moses and Gideon to give them reassurance of God's ability to help them in their spiritual ministry to Israel.
v. The Pillar of cloud and fire in the midst of the camp of Israel indicated to the people the Presence of the Lord and directed their future pathway.
vi. The two silver trumpets were also used to direct the movement of the camp of Israel in the wilderness.
vii. The Urim and Thummin in the breastplate of Israel's high priest gave answers to questions posed by members of the nation. Between Exodus and Nehemiah there are some seven references to this means of guidance, but it is unclear exactly how it operated. The phrase means 'Lights and Perfections' and often it was used to give 'Yes'/'No' answers to questions. Saul failed to receive any answer from the Lord by this means after his rejection as king of Israel. Perhaps it was similar to drawing lots, but we cannot be certain.
viii. The casting of lots was a quite legitimate method of guidance between Leviticus 16 regarding the scapegoat for Israel on the Day of Atonement and Acts 1 prior to Pentecost, when it was used to select the successor to Judas Iscariot Matthias was rightly chosen; for Proverbs 16. 33 states, 'The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord'. Witness its use to identify Achan as the cause of trouble to Israel in Joshua, and to divide the promised land in the same book. Also, its use by Gentile mariners to identify Jonah as the cause of their trouble.. However, this method of guidance is not used before Leviticus 16 or after Acts 1 and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Secondly, therefore, it is most instructive and helpful for us today to consider God's present methods of guiding His New Testament people, the Church, from Pentecost onwards.
i. In Apostolic times supernatural events occurred to give guidance: sign miracles of healing; visions and prophecies, such as that of Agabus regarding the coming famine; the miraculous escape of Peter from prison. Such things are not to be expected today since the completion of the canon of Scripture.
ii. Today, the same application of Scripture to our lives in a prayerful and dependent attitude is essential to all true guidance. But beware of taking verses of Scripture out of context and of ignoring differences between God's dispensational dealings with Israel and the Church.
iii. Believing prayer, such as that engaged in by Abraham's servant in Genesis 24, remains for all time an essential factor in determining God's will. 'Providential signs' like this can be expected today, as many of the Lord's servants can testify.
iv. The steady inner conviction of the Holy Spirit indwelling every believer today is also essential to God's guidance. Romans 8. 14 says that all true sons of God are led continually by the Holy Spirit, not just in spiritual activities, but in all our everyday activities as well.
v. The ministry and sound advice of fellow-Christians can also be helpful, if they are themselves spiritual saints. Aquila and Priscilla helping Apollos to understand 'the way of God more perfectly' are a good example here. We should go to ministry meetings not to criticize the preacher's theology, but expecting to hear a clear and definite message from the Lord to ourselves for the improvement of our spiritual lives.
vi. Circumstances of life can confirm and allow all the above methods to operate. Sometimes God makes us wait His time before a door opens to us. Often we must try the doors of opportunity to see if they open or shut in answer to prayer. A smooth passage through life is not always a good sign, since we might be compromising with the world. Equally, a rough passage is not always a sign that we are outside the Lord's will for us; we must expect opposition from Satan and his followers in this age. Inner peace in the heart about our circumstances is always a good sign that we are in the pathway of God's perfect will.
The Final Challenge
Are we, therefore, so in touch with the Lord that we can be guided by Him in all our lives daily as we witness for Him in an ungodly world? If we give heed to the principles outlined above, we both can and should be so.