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.
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.
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.