Knowing God, Chapter 20

The Lord, our Guide

If God is our Father, and we are indeed his sons, then it follows that we ought to be able to expect him to give us guidance in matters where we could suffer harm through our ignorance. After all, it is the responsibility of earthly parents to guide their children away from danger. But why, then, do we struggle with understanding and knowing the will of God? James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” God invites his children to ask for guidance, and he promises to give it to them. In fact, direction is one key ministry of the Holy Spirit, and J. I. Packer boldly states, “Doubt as to the availability of guidance would be a slur on the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to his ministry.”

If this is true, then why do so many Christians who sincerely seek guidance go so terribly wrong? The answer is found in a common misconcepforkInTheRoadtion about how we receive guidance from the Lord. Packer says that our “basic mistake is to think of guidance as essentially inward prompting by the Holy Spirit, apart from the written Word.” When we are faced with life choices, the kind which often have a dramatic impact on the course of our life, we seek direction from the Lord. Which job should I take? What person should I marry? Should I marry at all? Which career should I pursue? Should I join this church, or that one? It seems wise that we should seek direction from the Lord in these areas, doesn’t it? Yet we must understand two key truths that Packer explains about these kind of choices. “First, these problems cannot be resolved by a direct application of biblical teaching.” That’s right. There is no biblical text which told me to marry my wife, or to go to school at MBU, or to accept the pastoral position in Elkhorn. God’s word can tell me if one of my choices is sinful or offensive to God, but it cannot tell me which of the good options to choose.

The second truth about “vocational choices” is that, in the absence of a direct Biblical answer, the inward prompting and inclination often becomes the entire basis for our decision. And Packer explains why that is such a bad thing: “The idea of a life in which the inward voice of the Spirit decides and directs everything sounds most attractive, for it seems to exalt the Spirit’s ministry and to promise the closest intimacy with God; but in practice this quest for superspirituality leads only to frantic bewilderment or lunacy.” Imagine asking the Lord each morning, before you got out of bed, whether or not you should and waiting until you felt the prompting of the Spirit before doing so. I imagine that some would spend the rest of their lives under the covers! And what if you dressed each day by asking the Lord whether you should put on each article of clothing, and waiting until you felt the Spirit lead you to do so? I dare say it would be impossible to maintain any sense of decency or fashion!

But if God’s word does not direct us in such matters, then how are we to decide? Packer answers this question by saying, “our rational Creator guides his rational creatures…by rational understanding and application of his written Word.” God’s word tells us to be industrious, not lazy, so we must get out of bed whether we feel like it or not. And God’s word tells us that our dress is to be decent and modest, so we must wear appropriate clothing whether we sense the Spirit’s leading or not. The Scriptures direct us to seek positive virtues such as righteousness, purity, truth, kindness, self-control, gentleness, etc. This is how God guides us through the Bible, and the way to honor the Holy Spirit is not by seeking some inward impression that may or may not have come from him, but to honor the word of God by which he guides us. And once we have established the parameters of Biblical truth which surround our choices, then we can be free to choose according to the wisdom that we have been given, being confident “in the God who will not let us ruin our souls.” Christian, you are safe in the arms of your heavenly Father. Trust him to guide you within the limits of his word as you seek his glory more than your own security, and you will do well.

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