Part 7 of series:
How Does God Guide Us?
In my last post, I began to discuss different ways God guides us through Scripture. I focused especially on the sort of general guidance for our lives that is present throughout the Bible. From Scripture we know that we should love God, love our neighbors, love our enemies, etc. etc. etc.
But what about when we’re facing decisions in which general biblical teaching doesn’t seem to make an obvious difference? The clear call to love my neighbor, for example, doesn’t tall me exactly how to do this, or exactly which neighbors of the hundreds in my life deserve the bulk of my time and attention.
The Holy Spirit can also give quite specific direction as we encounter the text of the Scripture, taking that which is true for all Christians and applying it to our particular lives and situations. This sort of thing happens all the time in personal Bible study, in group studies, and when God’s Word is preached. This is one major reason, by the way, that I am a preacher. I’ve seen God change lives through the power of his proclaimed Word.
For example, several years ago in a sermon I mentioned an Old Testament passage in which the Lord says, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16). I connected this passage to the teaching of Jesus on marriage, calling my congregation to a new commitment to marriage. As I greeted folks after service, I heard the usual collection of “Nice sermon, pastor” comments.
The next morning I received an altogether different kind of response. A man I’ll call Jeff called me at church. He had been in worship the day before and had a desperate need to speak with me. He didn’t want to elaborate on the phone, but said it had to do with my sermon. I rearranged my schedule so I could visit with him over his lunch hour.
“Your sermon really upset me,” Jeff began.
Oh no, not a great start to this conversation, I thought quietly as I steeled myself for his criticism.
“What you said about marriage and divorce has completely messed me up,” he continued. He then told me his story. A couple years ago, he had begun an affair with a coworker. When his wife discovered his unfaithfulness, Jeff left her and their two small children, and moved in with his girlfriend. Shortly thereafter, he began divorce proceedings. At the time of our lunch meeting, everything was final, except one last signature. With the sweep of a pen, Jeff’s marriage would be completely over.
Until the day before when I mentioned that God hates divorce, Jeff had never really questioned the morality of his actions. He was sorry to hurt his wife’s feelings and especially those of his children. But he was tired of his marriage and in love with his coworker. Then, owing to a number of “coincidences,” Jeff had visited our church the day before, only to hear my sermon on marriage and divorce. (This, by the way, illustrates quite wonderfully how the Spirit can use both circumstances and Scripture to guide us.)
“For the first time I’m wondering what God thinks about what I’ve done,” Jeff continued. “Maybe I shouldn’t get divorced. Maybe I should try to get back with my wife, though by now she hates my guts. I don’t know what to do. What do you think I should do?”
I tried in a gracious way to explain to Jeff what God intended for marriage and God’s consequent hatred of divorce (even though it is something God has allowed in some circumstances and which God forgives even when it is completely wrong). I agreed that Jeff’s wife might very well have no interest in reconciliation, but encouraged him to talk with her. She was a Christian, I discovered, as was Jeff, though he had not been living in fellowship with God for many years. As Jeff and I prayed together, I pleaded with God for help. Neither of us felt a lightening bolt from heaven that promised healing for his marriage, but we sensed God’s support for an effort to reconcile.
Ten months later, I found myself praying with Jeff once again. But the context was very different. The intervening months had been an emotional roller coaster for him and his wife. At first she laughed off his offer to reconcile. But, after a while, she sensed a genuine change in Jeff’s heart, especially when he terminated his extra-marital relationship. Lots of counseling, prayer, and support from other Christians slowly brought healing to their broken marriage. Ten months after my first meeting with Jeff I was praying with him . . . and with his wife, as they stood at the altar to renew their marital vows. God had brought them both through an astounding process of reconciliation. Before family and friends they testified to the power of the Scripture to change our lives for the better, by helping us to confront what is wrong and by teaching us to do what is right.
Jeff’s case marvelously illustrates the guidance of the Spirit through Scripture. But, I’ll freely admit, things don’t always happen this way or end this happily. In my next post I’ll include some warnings about the potential for misconstruing God’s will through the misuse of Scripture.