Back to Basics – How Does God Guide Me?

The message for this week can be accessed here.

There is way too much this week to fit in a church message, so most of the actual content is here.  So the challenge for this week is do this reading.  I hope it makes sense.

It is God’s own ordering of things that much of our relating to God is by faith.  Living close to God doesn’t come naturally to us, and nor does listening for God’s guidance.  If we want to live close to God we have to work on it; the same with God’s guidance.

There are quite a few ways that God does guide us, and we are quite capable of misreading most of them.  We can make mistakes, but we can also learn and get better at it.  It is certainly not a hopeless endeavour.

From here we’re going to consider a range of ways that God may guide you.  Hopefully you will find the comments helpful.

  1. The Bible

The Bible isn’t necessarily the easiest book to read and understand.  Some of it dates back at least 4,000 years and maybe more, and none of it is less than 1,900 years old.  But in the midst of its difficulty, God is very much able to guide you.  In reality, this is the #1 way that God guides you.

Firstly, there is general guidance.  Jesus provides our best understanding of God, and so from him we have our best source of general guidance.

Should I hate people?  Should I forgive?  Should I be generous or just look after my own interests?  Should life be easy?  These questions and many more can be answered easily because Jesus has addressed them directly.  This is a clear form of guidance.

Less directly, we can be guided by the many stories and teachings in the Bible.  However we have to be careful because there are many that are particular to their time and circumstance.

St Paul shook a poisonous snake off his hand – does that mean we are immune from snakebite?  No, it doesn’t.  The Bible’s advice not to be a fool takes priority.  There is lots of killing in the Old Testament of the Bible – does that make killing okay?  No, it doesn’t!

To take God’s guidance successfully from the Bible, it is a lifelong journey of understanding the Bible better, yet God can guide you, even from the early days.  Jesus’ invitation into life is clear, as are many other invitations and instruction.

There is also specific guidance, where something in the Bible speaks directly to your circumstances. Sometimes, guidance from God can jump off the page at you, but we have to be careful not to be simply grabbing what we want to hear.  We’re rather good at that trick.

  1. God Speaking to You

While it is relatively uncommon, God sometimes speaks to people in words they can repeat.  It is not usually out loud so others can hear it, but the “sound” of the words are fully formed in the hearer’s mind.

Again, we have to be very careful about this – we can sometimes take our own thoughts as God’s words, and be very wrong about God’s guidance.

It is strongly recommended that you check “words from God” against what you know of God from the Bible, and also check with other trusted Christians.

Some very bad things have been done in history by those wrongly believing to be hearing words from God.  Yet the testimony of the Biblical prophets was that God spoke to them and directed them in this way.

Most often, words from God would be heard while praying.  Yet in St Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), God speaks to Saul unexpectedly during the journey.  As always, we can’t put God in a box and predict how or when God will act.

  1. Counsel of Other Believers

One very common way to hear from God is through others.  You may check out your thinking with others, and hear from them that way.  Alternately, sometimes it is what another person brings to you that allows you to hear from God.

One very common example is simply coming to church.  God may get your attention and guide you through what the preacher or someone else says during church.

As mentioned earlier, you may check what you think is God’s guidance with other mature Christians that you trust.  It can be a great way to check what you think God is saying through the Bible, or if you believe God has spoken to you directly, or by any other means.

You can’t assume that the guidance of other Christians will always be right, but it will usually offer a good check on your thinking.  The newer you are in your faith, or the bigger the consequences of what you believe you’re hearing from God, the more important it is to check with others.

  1. Circumstances

God can sometimes speak to you through your circumstances.

You might read something from the Bible that jumps out a bit, then you might encounter that very thing during the day, and then someone might randomly mention the same thing without knowing what has already happened.  This is a good time to start paying attention as God might be trying to guide you.

So too, you might find the some unusual thing occurring multiple times around you or to you, and you might start to suspect God is trying to get your attention in that direction.

As with all these ways God might guide you, care needs to be taken.  If you wake up and look down and see your slippers (do we even use those here?), don’t assume God wants you to quit your job and become a shoe salesperson.  Some people get so caught up trying to read God’s guidance from their circumstances that they are forever changing direction.

Sometimes – occasionally – God will bring a string of things before you that are meant to get your attention and speak to you.  If it happens it will grab your attention.  You don’t actually have to go looking for this one.

  1. Inner Compulsion (from the Holy Spirit)

This is a very scary, dangerous, tricky way that God guides us.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is also perhaps very common.

The reason it is scary is that our tendency to self-interest, or even sometimes our compulsion to help/save others, or a thousand other inner tendencies, can feel to us just like the Holy Spirit’s leading.  It isn’t always God.

Yet it is very common.  In this respect, the Holy Spirit’s work in us to make us more like Jesus, should be slowly making our own inner compulsions more like those proddings that the Holy Spirit would give.

So how do you tell the difference?  When you’re new at this, you check it with others, test it against what you know about God, etc.  You also look back on things that have happened and evaluate whether, with hindsight, you think it was God’s prompting or not.

And you will make lots of mistakes.  There will be things you mistakenly ignore, and things you mistakenly pursue.  Over time, assuming you don’t give up, you will get better at discerning what is the Holy Spirit prompting and what is not.

  1. Your Conscience

This is tricky because it is hard to know what your conscience is – is it real or imagined?  It is real enough in our experience, but is it reliable?

I think the answer is both yes and no.

It is reliable in that it provides us with the best immediate feedback available to us wherever we are.  If we feel immediately guilty about something we just said or did (or didn’t say or do), there is a reasonable chance we could have done better.

It is unreliable in that we are not yet fully set free from our inhibitions, fears, unhealthy expectations, false self-image, etc.  As a result our conscience doesn’t always give us accurate or healthy feedback.

It has been noted that repeatedly doing a “wrong” thing dulls a person’s conscience in that area.  A practiced liar, for example, is helped by not feeling guilty when they lie.  A practiced thief doesn’t look guilty because they don’t feel guilty.  Their conscience has been desensitised to their involvement in theft.

It can work the other way as well.  Because of unhealthy self-image, experiences of abuse, and a raft of other causes, our conscience can be over-sensitive and we can feel guilty too often.

The good news is one area that the Holy Spirit works in us is our conscience – to repair the desensitised conscience, and rebalance the over-sensitive conscience.  Career criminals who have come to faith have often testified to their conscience springing back to life after saying ‘yes’ to Jesus.

However balanced or unbalanced your conscience might be, the Holy Spirit will most certainly use it to give you guidance everywhere you go, if you’re a follower of Jesus.

  1. Experience

This is the one that you earn by making lots of mistakes along the way.

In John 10 Jesus says that his sheep know his voice.  I think this refers to all the ways that God gives us guidance, not just hearing words from God.  Experience helps us to discern if it is God, the world, our own self-interest or just noise.

The beauty of this one is that experience takes care of itself.  Life produces experience automatically.

So is it really a means that God uses to guide us?  Yes, it is.  God knows the experiences you’ve had.  God knows when you got it right, and when you got it wrong.  God knows what you’ve learned and what you’re yet to learn.

So I believe that God takes into account your experiences when trying to get your attention.  It may be a simply matter of déjà vu – I’ve been here before, and I remember what I learned the last time.  Or what I learned in a past experience helps me discern if God is trying to guide me now.

FINAL COMMENTS

Don’t get uptight about this stuff.  God isn’t trying to trick you up, God is trying to lift you up.  But for this to happen, you and I need to advance in this matter of faith.

This will involve risk and determination.  The risk is to take the chance that God is trying to guide you (or not).  It means making decisions without being 100% sure, sometimes being wrong but trusting God for the outcome.  The determination is not to give up when you get it wrong.  That is where real faith comes in.

It is a wonderful thing to know you are in the right place at the right time doing the right thing alongside God.  It is among the most wonderful things in life.

And remember, we are in this together – you’re not on your own.  And God is with us, showing no sign of giving up on us.

This isn’t every way God guides us, but hopefully it is a helpful summary of the most common ways.

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