The number one question young college students ask me is “What is God’s will for my life?” and “How do I find it?” I’m not sure I communicate it sufficiently to them, but I try to help them understand it is much more important to know that God will faithfully guide you than it is to know where He wants you to go.
As soon as the children of Israel left Egypt, God began the process of guiding them with a cloud, a pillar of fire, and the Holy Spirit:
“Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them...” Nehemiah 9:19-20
They knew their destination, the Promised Land, but God didn’t give them the map or specific directions. Instead, He guided them daily “on their path… on the way they were to take”.
Of course this is familiar to us, for He is the “light to our path” just as He was for the Israelites. But this is usually only enough for a few steps. The Way is clear, for Jesus said that He was the Way, and that should be sufficient for us, but we are often found demanding more than a few steps… we want the map and the detailed directions.
But God isn’t a Map. He is our Guide.
Which means we are to have a moment-by-moment eye upon Him… a constant watching and listening.
But what are we looking for? Are we seeking something that isn’t there?
Let’s look closer at the “light to our path” passage:
“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105
Most of us want something more than the Word to guide us. We are more interested in specific answers to our personal, all-about-me questions. We are impatient with the general wisdom and moral guidance of the Word and less inclined to desire the walk by faith and more inclined to just getting a direct answer to our question. This way we don’t have to wrestle or spend time in contemplation or study of the Word, or wait on Him in prayer, or seek godly counsel from others, or patiently watch for His providential Hand, or any of the other tedious and laborious things that are simply known as “walking by faith”.
There is something interesting throughout the passages that reference God “guiding” us, for it appears as if this is one of the key roles of the Holy Spirit. The Israelites were “instructed” by the Spirit in conjunction with the pillars of cloud and fire in the way they were to go. It was the Spirit that told Peter to “go downstairs” and eventually to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:19-20); it was the Spirit that set apart Saul and Barnabas and sent them on their way to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2-4); it was the Spirit that turned Paul’s path away from Asia (Acts 16:6). And Jesus said it would be the Holy Spirit that would “guide us into all Truth”.
The question is do we believe this is really real? Do we believe that God truly “guides” us by His Spirit? Isaiah spoke it this way:
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Isaiah 30:21
In this context, it was this still small voice that led them to turn from their idols, throw them away with disgust and say “Away with you!”
So, we come to the key to all of this: the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit will always be in accordance with His Word or will remind us of the guidance in His Word. Too many have run asunder by confusing the voice of the Spirit with the voice of their inner desires, when their inner desires are far from the guidance of the Word.
One can also go to the other extreme and think that God has to guide them in every thing. However, the vast majority of things we do in a day are “adiaphrous”… meaning they are without an ethical right or wrong. We don’t have to be “guided” as to whether we are to tie our left shoe first or the right. We don’t have to pray for guidance about wearing the blue shirt or the green one, or if I am to sit on the sofa or in the armchair. We have freedom in all of these things.
But for the child of God, there is clear guidance when we come to those things that please God and those that don’t. And that guidance comes from His Word. The Word is the lamp unto our feet. And it is the Holy Spirit that prompts us with the Truth from His Word. This is similar to what we read in Proverbs 6: 21-22 where the commands of the father and mother, bound on the heart, speak to the son:
Bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. When you walk about, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk to you. Proverbs 6:21-22
It is to be conversely understood that if they are not bound upon the heart, then you won’t hear them guide you. In fact, this reality is even a test of whether or not we are His children:
“… those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Romans 8:14
And so, we must say some things that are hard.
Every child of God has heard the Spirit guiding him from the Word. It isn’t audible. It doesn’t come with a chirp from our smartphone that a divine text has arrived. This is the recognized, still small voice of God that guides us as we walk along the Way. And I will be so bold as to say that if you don’t hear Him then you are either not His child or you are doing something that stills His voice.
One of the great mysteries in the Word of God, yet a fact, is that the Holy Spirit, our guide, can be silenced, doused, extinguished. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says that it is possible to “quench the Spirit”. Similarly, Ephesians 4:30 says we can “grieve the Holy Spirit”. How do we do this? Well, the context of each of these passages may help us. In the former, do you find yourself always rejoicing or complaining? Are you diligent in your prayer or is it often forgotten or clinical? Are you giving thanks in everything or constantly murmuring? Are you abstaining from evil? In the latter, looking at chapters 4-6, do unwholesome words come out of your mouth? Are you angry, bitter? Are you unkind, lacking compassion, unforgiving? Are you walking in immorality or impurity? Are you not treating the members of your family right?
I know how much our culture is caught up in the Hollywood “show” of gushing over each other, saying the smooth things, the affirming, sweet things. But I don’t apologize for saying the hard things for God speaks them to us in His Word. If we think we will continue to hear His voice clearly when we are quenching the Spirit, then we don’t understand the Word nor how our Father deals with us as His children.
One of the simple clues that tells us we have grieved or quenched the Spirit, or run off on our own and no longer walk close or abide in Him, is that He we no longer hear His still small voice. I don’t know if this is because He grows silent or our ears grow hard, but this is the time, dear brothers, to awaken from our sleep and turn back to Him that we might enjoy His fellowship and guidance once again.
The true child of God cannot stay away very long for we, too, become grieved in our spirit. This is, also, a faithful guidance from God, who, though we stray, provokes us and guides us back to Him.
How full of grace is the guidance of God.
P.S. For those who are frustrated at this point because you do have a desire to find the “will” of the Lord in key decisions in your life, we will address this in another post. But it will not deviate much from this, for our guidance comes from the Word of God and the means to gain answers to those key questions in our life are found there as well.
Verses to ponder throughout the week:
... in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Nehemiah 9:19-20
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Isaiah 30:21
Do not quench the Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:19
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. Psalm 23:1-2
…this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever. Psalm 48:14
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Psalm 73:24
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us[a] from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:79
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak… John 16:13
You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. Exodus 15:13
Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:4-5
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:9-10
I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. Proverbs 4:11
Bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. When you walk about, [a]they will guide you; when you sleep, [b]they will watch over you; and when you awake, [c]they will talk to you. Proverbs 6:21-22
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11