How Does God Guide Us?

As a pastor, some of the most common questions I’ve received have do to with divine guidance. What is God’s will for my life? Is God leading me to take this new job? Does God want me to marry this person? Could God be pointing me in a new direction for my life?

Of course the question of how God guides us isn’t just a pastoral matter for me. Ever since I first put my faith in Jesus Christ over 40 years ago, I’ve been more or less eager to do what God wants me to do . . . if I only knew what he wanted! As hard as obedience can be at times, I’ve found that discerning God’s will can be even harder.

I think back to the summer of my sixteenth year. My parents really wanted me to go to Malibu Club, a Young Life camp in Canada. I didn’t want to go, partly because I didn’t know anybody and felt pretty shy, and partly because I just wanted to hang out at home with nothing to do. But my parents were persistent, reminding me of the exceptional beauty of Malibu, which stands guard over a salt-water inlet on the Canadian coast a few hours north of Vancouver. As a lover of natural beauty, especially mountains, I must admit I was tempted. But still I didn’t want to go.

Maliub Club on Princess Louisa Inlet in British Columbia, Canada

Finally I decided to see if I could determine God’s will for whether I should go to camp or not. After praying for a while, I didn’t have any divine revelations. So I decided to do the only sensible thing. I told the Lord that I would go to camp if he wanted me to go, and that I would let the Bible give me his answer. Picking up my Bible and closing my eyes, I let the Scripture fall open, and then put my finger on a passage. “God,” I prayed, “if this passage tells me to go to camp, I’ll do it. Otherwise, I’m staying home.” I opened my eyes, looked down, and read:

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
(Psalm 65:5-8)

As I read about the farthest seas and the mountains, and about “earth’s farthest bounds,” I felt sure I had received God’s answer. So I went to camp, and, to this day, my experience at Malibu remains as one of the highlights of my life.

Though I can’t prove it, I still believe that God used my silly little divination game to get me to Malibu. In his grace, he went along with my immature discernment scheme. But I do not believe that the “close-your-eyes-and-flip-to-a-Bible-passage” approach to spiritual guidance is God’s recommended approach. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever used this mode of discernment ever again, for good reason.

Yet this still leaves us with the question: How does God guide us? Today, I’m beginning a blog series in which I will propose several answers to this question. Indeed, I believe that God guides us in a variety of ways, besides the “flip-to-a-Bible-passage” method.

If you’re new to my blog, I should briefly explain my assumptions as I begin this series. I am a Christian who finds a theological home in the Reformed/evangelical tradition, though I’ve learned much from other Christian traditions as well. I believe, above all, that God has given us the Bible as our supreme guide in matters theological and practical. Thus I might be tempted to answer the “How does God guide us” question with a simple “Through the Bible.” But this answer is too simple, since the Bible itself reveals a large number of ways through which God guides his people. So, as this series unfolds, you’ll find that I turn to Scripture again and again for direction.

Tomorrow, I want to examine some of the silliness associated with seeking God’s guidance.

  • Barb

    what year was that–maybe we were there at the same time–my story is very different–.  I wanted to be a Girl Scout Camp CIT at the camp that I’d attended for many years.  This was my plan for my life–BUT–I was rejected because my 16th birthday wasn’t until October and they would make NO acceptions for me (I even called the head woman and pleaded).  SO–I quite the GS on the spot and my friends swooped in and invited me to YL–the first night was the Malibu movie and it was love at first sight. I told MY parents that this was were I wanted to go.  My birth date changed the course of my whole life!

  • Lleemuk

    Would you also talk about what impedes the work of the Holy Spirit in guidance of the church, it’s leaders, and Christians.  How does the Holy Spirit become our active guide and how can we be more obedient and open to this leading.  Then, do you see the actions of the church (PC(USA) in any way hampering this movement of the Holy Spirit as God’s agent toward revival and growth.
    Thanks,
    L.Lee

  • Tim Thurman

    I am very glad you are starting this series.  This is something I struggle with all the time.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s see, that would have been summer of 1973, I think.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll try to do this faithfully.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, indeed. Perhaps the fact that I struggle with this is part of what motivates me to write about it.


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