Experiencing God’s guidance

God’s promised guidance

God guided his people under the Old Covenant into the inheritance he had prepared for them. Psalm 78:51-55 shows the LORD, after redeeming Israel, leading them into his promised land of Canaan with the loving guidance of a shepherd. But although the LORD destroyed the house of Israel for their sin and exiled Judah from their paradise – the land flowing with milk and honey – the prophets foretold that when the Christ came, bringing salvation, restoration and deliverance, he would have compassion on God's people and once again guide them, leading them into a new paradise (Isaiah 49:8-10). And so Jesus came, declaring “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11-16); “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish...” (John 10:27-28). The new promised paradise into which our Lord guides his people – Christians – is the eternal life of knowing his Father (John 17:3).

Just as Moses led Israel our of Egypt, through the sea and through the desert, until they came into their promised inheritance of Canaan, the New Testament teaches that through Christ in the scriptures God does guide every Christian into the inheritance he has promised them. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) God has spoken to us in the person of Jesus, and through the Scriptures the Holy Spirit continues to guide us into God's love, Christ likeness and Heaven's glory. God’s will is to bring all things under Christ’s authority (Ephesians 1:10) and make us more like Christ; this is our destiny; this is God's plan for our lives (Romans 8:29, 2 Peter 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 2 Timothy 3:17, Ephesians 2:10).

Experiences, external and internal

External experiences – circumstances and events – are ambiguous without objective revelation. We cannot know for sure, in advance, what God’s specific will is in external events. External events are dumb; they do not speak to us. An event itself will not tell me God’s will. God gave Satan permission to test Job’s faith (Job 1:6-12). The book gives the reader the actual will of God behind the events, but Job and those present at the time did not have this revealed to them. In Job 1:20 we see that Job trusted God even while he didn’t know what was going on. In Job 8:1-6 we see that Bildad interpreted the events falsely. Without what we have in the Scriptures, they were in the dark. God sent Assyria as a tool for judgement against Israel, in Isaiah 10:5. But in Isaiah 10:7 we see that Assyria had no idea that this was God’s purpose. They were just war mongering. A crowd with Jesus made a false conclusion about a man’s sickness. They thought the reason was sin. But Jesus declares that God’s own purpose was very different (John 9:1-3).

Internal events – inner promptings, urges, convictions, dreams – are also unreliable. It is not doubted that God can speak to us through external and internal experiences. But he does not promise to do so. Therefore, Christians should not expect the voice of the Spirit to come through circumstances, events, inner promptings, urges, convictions or dreams. These things are not normative, but subjective, and as such untrustworthy means of knowing God's will. However, we can trust the Scriptures. The Apostle Peter declared that the word of the prophets is surer than even his own eye witness experience (2 Peter 1:19). The only promise we have is that God has spoken to us through Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3). We don’t need to wait for this; we can simply read the Bible. Countless Christians have wasted countless hours praying for God to speak to them through other unreliable means, but he has already spoken to us a word that is sure and unchangeable. We should instead be students of the Bible, which is an objective revelation, and his reliable word.

Beyond the subjective

What should we to do with experiences and feelings? We should trust in God’s sovereign goodness, and not the situation. God sovereignly (and invisibly) directs everything behind the scenes for the good of Christians. He uses every situation to steer us towards Christ likeness. We should also learn of God’s moral will as revealed in Scripture. God has given us moral guidance in Scripture. We can consciously cooperate with his will revealed in the Bible. We can take actions that we know God wants us to take. We need to learn from the Scripture what God has already said to us all, and let this interpret our experience, rather than the other way around.

We should enjoy your freedom of choice regarding non-moral decisions. We don’t need to be concerned to discover God’s specific individual will for our lives, through interpreting our external and internal experiences. The first problem with this (apart from its subjectivity and ambiguity) is that it leads to frustration. Everybody will inevitably fail to follow any perceived path perfectly. We will sin and therefore step outside our expected ‘Plan A’. This leads to feelings of guilt and spiritual inadequacy. A second problem is that this understanding diminishes God’s power. Cannot God still accomplish his perfect work in your life despite your failings, bad decisions and sin. The Scriptures indicate that this is in fact what He is always doing. Therefore, regarding non-moral details we have freedom to choose from many options. As long as we make sure to live like Jesus, we don’t have to be scared about missing his plan. We are not pre-planned robots with an exact path to follow at every point. We have the dignity to be able to think and do, as we will in God’s good creation, trusting that the outcome will always be for our good under God’s sovereign providence.

We should therefore focus on the big picture and leave God to order the minute details. This is not being flippant, but enjoying our freedom. God does have a specific will for everything, but he has never promised that we will know this. It’s his secret until it happens. We can’t therefore be sure that we will know his specific will in advance (although you can in hindsight, for whatever happens is his specific will). Although we can step outside his moral will as revealed in Scripture, we can never move outside his sovereign will behind all things. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” (Romans 11:36)


Adapted from a sermon given by Scott Warner to Mars Hill Anglican Church, NSW, 2004. | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.