Guidance in the Christian life is a matter of grave concern and a place where discipline is sorely needed. Christ followers have two primary sources of guidance. One is Scripture. Scripture not only promises guidance; it assumes the fact of guidance throughout its pages. For the second, Jesus promised his own guidance through the gift of the Spirit.
The discipline of guidance deserves careful attention. We must learn as much as we can and, as disciples of Christ, depend upon and practice guidance. What are a couple of issues about which you have searched for guidance in the past few months? Lord, give each one of us the grace and the will to be completely yours, to receive your guidance and to follow.
The Cross Style of Submission and Serving
Scripture not only promises guidance; it assumes the fact of guidance throughout its pages. This is one of the reasons we must be attentive to the discipline of study. We can’t be people of prayer, or Christ-led people apart from living with his Word. We can’t know the “way” of the Lord and be “happy” in him without living with his word. The Psalmist made it clear: “Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways” (Psalm ll9:1-3).
Secondly, Jesus promised his own guidance through the gift of the Spirit: “But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world”(John 17:13-14).
These, then, become our primary sources of guidance: Scripture and the Living Christ (again, spiritual disciplines are essential to cultivate awareness of the indwelling Christ).
For the Christian, the Bible is the final authority for belief and action. Of course we read other books, and we discipline ourselves in study. But the Bible stands alone as the resource to show us how to live on earth and how to get to heaven. No discipline is more crucial for Christians than immersing ourselves in Scripture. No discipline provides more power and direction for spiritual growth than Scripture.
The writer to the Hebrews refers to the message of Scripture as “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Scripture as divine guidance includes judgment. It sheds the light of God’s justice and righteousness as well as the healing balm of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Along with Scripture we have the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the living Christ, present with us to guide. He did not use the word guidance, but the fact and the promise of his guidance are prominent in his speaking. In his time with the disciples in the upper room, before his trial and crucifixion, Jesus underscored the promise of his presence and of guidance.
(Read the following passages to immerse yourself in the promises of Christ to guide us: John 14:18-23; 15:7; 16:7, 22; 17:13-44.)
The big idea in these passages is that Christ indwells us Christians; the Holy Spirit is his abiding presence in our lives. To the degree that we cultivate an awareness of and are responsive to his Spirit, Christ will guide us. Paul said, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).
The guidance of the indwelling Christ is consistent and ongoing. This does not mean that there are not specific times when we seek explicit guidance in particular situations. It does mean that through prayer and other spiritual disciplines we seek to cultivate the awareness of the indwelling Christ to the point that we are delivered from a frantic disposition of mind and heart in the face of decision. We do not come “cold turkey” to a minor or a major crisis. We have the inner sense of Christ’s presence. When we call upon that presence, direction is often so clear that the right decision does not even require deciding (Maxie Dunnam, “Alive in Christ,” p. 84).
Conditions to Receive Guidance
In “The Lower Levels of Prayer,” George S. Stewart says we must meet three fundamental conditions to receive divine guidance (pp. 166-67). First, we must be traveling the same road as our guide. Second, we must habitually seek guidance and watch for it. Third, we must habitually follow the guidance given.
These conditions may, in fact, become ongoing disciplines. We practice them to enhance divine guidance in our lives. Let’s focus on these conditions for receiving guidance as disciplines for spiritual growth.
The first condition, that we must be traveling the same road as our guide, needs no comment except maybe a word about the mercy and grace of God for those who don’t follow the guide. Dr. Stewart said it well in “The Lower Levels of Prayer”:
There is much Divine Guidance in lives that do not observe these conditions, restraining and saving while [people] are on the wrong road and following the wrong guide. There is light that comes to those who are not seeking and to those who are living in disobedience. This is the mercy of God which is ever seeking [people] in their wandering, and in pity saving and delivering (p. 169).
John Wesley would call this prevenient grace—God’s going before, loving, leading, constraining, restraining, in every way seeking to move in a person’s life until that person yields to grace. So we affirm that sort of guidance for all. Yet, the truth remains: for a “guided life,” we must walk in the same way as our Guide.
Second, we must habitually seek guidance and watch for it. Occasional guidance may come to those who sporadically seek, but ongoing guidance—guidance that is not episodic and crisis oriented—comes to those who habitually seek. Jesus sounded the requirement: Ask, search, knock. He also offered the reward: “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10).
What pleases God more than a life yielded to God? God is always seeking us; that is God’s nature-seeking love. It takes open eyes and minds and hearts longing for and sensitive to God’s coming to perceive the guidance God continually offers.
Third, habitually follow the guidance given. Obedience is the added essential ingredient here.
Unfortunately we think of obedience as an issue only in huge events and at the crucial intersections of our lives. Not so. Obedience in the mundane and daily affairs of life, even the “little” things, makes obedience possible at the “big” times. Responding to the promptings of kindness and love that the Spirit initiates; doing the word as we discover that word in Scripture, even if it means as simple an act as taking a meal to a sick person in our neighborhood; exercising the indwelling Christ, visiting widows and orphans, clothing the naked, sending a sacrificial offering to feed starving children—these are examples of daily obedience to God.
The more we exercise obedience the clearer will be our perceptions, and guidance will become more and more real in our lives. When we are in fellowship with Christ through Scripture and disciplined prayer, we will experience the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Quenching that Spirit is sin. Such resistance of the Spirit dulls our sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit and stops our ears to the Spirit’s voice. In fellowship with Christ, we will know his striving within us.
Clarifying the leadings of the Spirit, acting upon them habitually, is a discipline for spiritual growth that most of us rather desperately need.
I invite you to spend time in quietness thinking about whether you desire more divine guidance in your life; if not, why are you not currently experiencing the guidance you need and want, and what are you going to do to discipline yourself in receiving guidance?
What most of us need is not desire for guidance but the will to discipline ourselves and to be obedient.
I invite you to pray for that will. Lord, give each one of us the grace and the will to be completely yours, to receive your guidance and to follow.
I have an extremely short list when it comes to people I have encountered who are truly pursuing holiness. What impressed me the most about them was not the big things they did but how their pursuit of holiness played out in small ways. The best lesson came from the leader of a Bible study I participated in. Each session of the study always started with a video presentation which required the lights to be off. One day while the leader was walking to turn off the lights she relayed this story: “When I arrived, I decided just to leave the lights off so we would be ready to start the video. Well, “Sue” walked by, saw the lights were off, stuck her head in and flipped them on because she saw no need for us to be sitting in the dark. I decided to let it ride and give her her moment of joy.” I know “Sue” very well and she truly loves to be “helpful” and I don’t doubt that I would have responded very differently to her turning the lights off. But ever since then this question has nagged me: How holy am I in the big things if I am not holy in the small things like giving “Sue” a moment of joy by turning on lights that don’t need to be on the first place?