Hands up if you’ve got a satnav, a satellite navigational system in your car or if you have ever used one. Even with a satnav you can still make a wrong turn, can’t you. “At one point [on a recent journey], I was quite sure the lady in the guidance system was wrong. She said to go left, and I didn’t go left. I went right because I knew she was wrong. Then the lady with the irritating voice said, “Recalculating route. When safe to do so execute a U-turn… turn around if possible.” I knew she was still wrong… so, know what I did? I unplugged her. That’s the beauty of the lady in the box – you can unplug her – but, then, would you believe it, I got completely lost and ended up driving round and round in circles! So I plugged the lady back in again, and you know what she said? “I told you so, you little idiot. You think I’m going to help you now? No way, Jose! Find your own way there yourself.” No, she didn’t really say that. She said, “Recalculating route. Turn around if possible.”
And I want to say that’s an illustration of what God’s grace is like to us. Whenever we wander off track or we make a wrong turn – just like the satnav – God is always there, ready to forgive and set us back on the right path again. As soon as we are ready to listen, as soon as we are ready to surrender; to repent, God will say, “Recalibrating. This is the way to go. Execute a U-turn and I will guide you, and bring you home.” When we “unplug” from God we get lost, and lonely, and disorientated but God is always there, ready to welcome us back, to forgive us and restore us again and again. Citation
God wants to guide us. In fact, if we are plugged-in; if we are following Christ he promises to guide us. God says in Psalm 32v8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” (NIV 1984). ‘His long term goal is for us to become like Christ, He’s not in the business of concealing things from us or making life difficult as we work towards that goal. As a caring Father he wants his children to have the best. So we can approach him for help with complete confidence.’ Citation
God has a good plan for our lives. He says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11.) Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
In the field of commerce, thousands of products carry this piece of advice: ‘For the best results follow the maker’s instructions’. Stamped indelibly yet invisibly on every human being are the same words! [Follow the Maker’s instructions!] Christians look to God because he’s the one with the greatest knowledge about how we tick as individuals. Citation
We need to consult God before we make major decisions. Jesus is our supreme example: Jesus sought guidance and was led by the Father. He said: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does” (John 5:19 NLT). Jesus was always doing the Father’s will.
‘We make mistakes when we fail to consult the Lord. God guides us when we are prepared to do His will rather than insisting that our own way is right. Our attitude needs to be one of humility. The psalmist says, ‘He guides the humble’ (Psalm 25v9) and ‘confides in those who fear [respect] him’ (v14). God guides those whose attitude is like Mary’s: ‘I am the Lord’s servant and I am willing to do whatever he wants’ (Luke 1:38 TLB). The moment we are prepared to do His will, God begins to reveal His plans for our lives.’ Citation
There’s a piece of prose that’s been around for a while, about some of the characters in the Bible that God used: ‘Abraham was old, and Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive, Joseph was abused as a young man, Moses stuttered, and Gideon was poor, and Rahab was immoral, and David had an affair and all kinds of family problems, Elijah was suicidal, and Jeremiah had depression, and Jonah was reluctant and ran away, Naomi was a widow, and John the Baptist was eccentric to say the least, Peter was impulsive and hot-tempered, and Martha worried a lot, and Zacchaeus was unpopular, Thomas had doubts, and Paul had poor health, and Timothy was timid…’ That’s quite a variety of misfits! But God used each of them in his service. He’s ready to use you, too!
So how does God guide us? How does this relationship work? There is verse in the Psalms which says: ‘Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act’ (Psalm 37:5 NRSV). ‘Our part is to commit our way, our major decisions, to the Lord and then to trust him. When we have done that, we can expectantly wait for him to act.’
Providing, then, that we are willing to do what God wants us to, in what ways should we expect God to speak to us and guide us? We have got five main ways that we are going to look at tonight. Sometimes God will speak to us through one of these ways, sometimes it’s a combination; if it’s a major decision, a life changing decision, He may speak through all five of them. They all begin with the letters CS; they are the five ‘CSs’:
1. Commanding Scripture
God has given us the gift of freewill so that we’re able to choose for ourselves and make our decisions. God never forces us to, BUT He really wants that we choose to obey Him and do His will; that we choose to follow our Maker’s instructions. And the general will of God for us – for all people everywhere is revealed in the Scriptures. God speaks to us through the Bible, which is our instruction manual or guidebook for life; it tells us how we should live our lives… not in minute detail; we are not given the fine detail for every decision we will ever make, but in general terms. The Bible tells us what is good and what is right, and it gives us clear boundaries for our wellbeing, happiness and safety. And the Bible also tells us that certain things are wrong – we can be quite sure that God will not guide us to do those things.
‘Sometimes a married person says, ‘I have fallen in love with this other man/woman. We love each other so much. I feel God is leading me to leave my husband/wife and to start this new relationship.’ But God has already made His will clear. He has said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Exodus 20:14). We can be quite sure that God will never guide us to commit adultery.’ Citation When the Bible says: ‘Do not commit adultery’, it is not because God wants to restrict and oppress us, or be a killjoy, but because God knows the pain and misery and damage that sin causes; because He loves us and wants to protect us: He wants us to be safe and happy and enjoy life, the way He intended us to.
There’s a Thomas the Tank Engine cartoon that pictures Thomas on his side, having fallen off the train tracks. He is shouting, ‘I’m free! I’m free at last. I’ve fallen off the rails and I’m free!’ Of course, the reality is that Thomas is far more ‘free’ when his wheels are on the rails and he is operating in line with how he has been created to function. Citation Same with us!
2 Timothy 3v16 states: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.’ In other words, God inspired the writing of the Scriptures to tell us what is right (teaching), what is not right (rebuking), how to get it right (correcting), and how to live staying right (training in righteousness). The commands of scripture reveal to us the general will of God in things like marriage, work, how we are to raise our children or treat our elderly relatives etc., but God doesn’t always guide us in the practical details. He leaves that to us and He expects us to make our decisions and get moving.
‘Paralysis comes from the constant plea for guidance in the expectation that God will make our decisions for us. [I heard it put like this:] In some ways it is like trying to enter the door of a vicarage. The vicar says, ‘After you.’
In politeness the visitor replies, ‘After you.’
‘No, no,’ replies the ever-polite vicar, ‘after you.’
‘Please, please,’ says the visitor, ‘after you.’
And so it goes on. Guidance can become a revolving door, ever turning; God expecting us to act and us expecting God to act. However, it’s as we move forward and take the first step that we sense God’s voice behind us saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’ (Isaiah 30:21). God expects us to be the first mover. Citation
‘You can only guide a car when its moving, and God can often only help us (or re-direct us) when we are moving in one of the possible directions before us.’ Citation Get moving and God will let you know whether or not you are going in the right direction. I read a piece on ‘Guidance and the voice of God’ which I thought was helpful. Let me read it to you…
“It doesn’t matter very much where we live… but how we live, what sort of neighbours we are, how we raise our families – these things are of great significance to God. Likewise, which job we do is of comparatively little importance, but how we conduct ourselves at work is close to God’s heart. God’s guidance is more like a compass than a map. We are not given the fine detail of every decision on every day for the rest of our lives. God doesn’t want us to spend our time trying to discover the secrets of his will. He does indeed guide us through life ‘behind the scenes’ and every detail is known to him and under his sovereign control. He knows where he wants to take us, and he will get us there. But he does not provide us with a detailed map – he gives us a compass instead.
At every point along the journey, no matter where we are or what we are doing; we can consult the compass to see which direction to head. That direction is always towards righteousness and holiness and becoming like Christ… The compass is his own word to us: the Bible. It may not tell us the detail of every rock to step over, or whether to climb the mountain or tunnel through it, but it will constantly and unerringly point us to what God wants us to do every day of our lives. It will tell us what matters, matters, and in what ways God wants us to lovingly obey him. It will also tell us, by implication, that some decisions (or aspects of decisions) are not matters of right and wrong, and that in these circumstances we can use [common sense and] the wisdom God has given us to make up our minds.” Citation
‘So, although God’s general will is revealed to us in the Bible, we cannot always find his particular will for our lives in Scripture. However, and as we saw last week when we looked at ‘Why and How Should I Read the Bible’, God still speaks to us today through the Scriptures. As we develop the habit of regular, methodical Bible study we begin to find it quite extraordinary just how appropriate each day’s reading seems to be for our own particular circumstances. Sometimes a verse seems almost to leap out of the page at us and we sense God speaking through it.’ Citation
The book of Hebrews says: ‘The word of God is living and active; sharper than a double-edged sword’ (4:12). God often speaks to us and guides us through the Scriptures. For example, when I was considering whether I should stay on at St Sebastian’s and take up the post that I was offered, I struggled to know what to do and over the weeks leading up to making the decision, God spoke to me frequently through my daily Bible reading. I keep a journal and I wrote down the various Scriptures that seemed to ‘leap off the page to me’. In preparing this talk I went back over and my journal and counted eighteen different times where God had spoken to me through the Scriptures, all confirming what I was meant to do. After eighteen times you know that it’s God speaking to you and not just your imagination!
Our second ‘CS’ in how God guides us is the…
2. Compelling of the Holy Spirit
‘Guidance is very personal. When we become Christians, the Spirit of God comes to live within us. When he does so he begins to communicate with us’ through our thoughts, our conscience, our hearts and minds being drawn to God’s will – the compelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). He said his sheep; his followers listen to his voice (John 10v3), and they follow him because they know his voice (v4).
I used to own sheep – actually I only ever owned two sheep, and so I am too sheepish to claim I used to be a real shepherd (boom, boom)! But it’s true that my sheep knew my voice, and they’d follow me, mainly because I would feed them. However, if a stranger stood at the field gate and called them, they’d just look up, keep chewing and completely ignore them!
God doesn’t want our relationship to be like strangers. He desires for us to know him intimately, as Father. He wants to guide us; he wants to lead us; he wants us be able to discern his voice. Once his followers had grasped who Jesus was, He said to them: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15 NIV). God calls you his friend. He wants to talk to you personally, frequently. Here are three examples of the way in which God speaks by his Spirit:
Often he speaks to us as we pray.
‘A man prayed, and at first he thought prayer was talking [and it is]. But then he became more and more quiet until in the end he realised that prayer is [also] listening.’ – If, whenever we pray, we only speak to God and never take the time to listen, well then we are going to miss out on what God might want to say to us. Prayer is not just monologue. It is dialogue. God speaks to us as we pray. Samuel said, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). We all too often say, “Listen, Lord, for your servant is speaking!” God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen and you will find life” (Isaiah 55v3 NLT).
God sometimes speaks to us by giving us a strong desire to do something.
Often when we are praying and listening to God a thought may come into our mind. That is a common way in which God speaks. People sometimes describe it as ‘impressions’ or feeling it ‘in their bones’. Philippians 2:13 says: ‘It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.’ ‘Obviously such thoughts and feelings need to be tested (1 John 4:1). Is the impression in line with the Bible? Does it promote love? If it doesn’t, it cannot come from a God who is love (1 John 4:16). Is it strengthening, encouraging and comforting (1 Corinthians 14:3)? When we have made the decision, do we know God’s peace (Colossians 3:15)?’ Citation There’s a saying: No Peace = No God (Pause) but Know Peace = Know God (Proceed).
God sometimes guides us in more unusual ways
‘There are many examples in the Bible of God guiding individuals in dramatic ways. He spoke to Samuel as a small boy in a way in which he could hear with his physical ears (1 Samuel 3:4-14). He sent angels to give guidance to Abraham (Genesis 18), Joseph (Matthew 2:19) and Peter (Acts 12:7). He spoke through prophets in both the Old Testament and the New Testament (e.g. Agabus – Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11). He guided through visions (sometimes referred to today as ‘pictures’). And we also find examples of God guiding through dreams (e.g. Matthew 1:20; 2:12-13, 22). All these are ways in which God guided people in the past and He still does today.’ Citation (Tara won’t mind me saying, she was born and brought up Hindu and God guided her to Jesus through a number of dreams.) e spoke thought H
Our third ‘CS’ is God guides us through our…
3. Common Sense (or Reason)
Someone has humorously said: The trouble with common sense is that it is not very common! It is common sense to ‘follow the maker’s instructions’ but so very many don’t! The secret to divine guidance is having a close relationship with God. In his book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote: “To be so much in contact with God that you never need to ask Him to show you His will, is to be nearing the final stage of your discipline in the life of faith. When you are rightly related to God, it is a life of freedom and liberty and delight, you are God’s will, and all your common sense decisions are His will for you unless He checks. You decide things in perfect delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong He will always check; when He checks, stop at once.”
God has made us to be thinking, calculating beings. He has given us a brain to use; He has given us freewill to choose; and He has given us a conscience to guide us. Conscience is our God-given homing device, acting like a built-in moral code in every one of us. Our conscience is like an inner-judge who approves when we act and do what is right and disapproves when we act and do what is wrong (cf. Romans 2:15). Our conscience is like a window that lets the light in – God’s way is the light – and the cleaner the window is the more light shines in. But if the window gets dirty and isn’t cleaned properly – if we don’t confess our sin and receive God’s forgiveness – then the light grows dimmer and dimmer until finally the light is shut out altogether and it becomes utter darkness. Our conscience is like a guidance system from God who is so concerned with right and wrong that He has placed a homing device and a moral indicator inside each one of us… Of course, not every decision is always a matter of right and wrong and in these circumstances we are to use our common sense and the wisdom God has given us to make up our minds.
In the big decisions of life using our common sense is very important. For example, the Bible tells us that marriage is the norm. But what the Bible won’t tell you is who you should marry.
I heard of one Cockney from the East End of London, who was not a churchgoer. And he had a real dilemma because he was in love with two very beautiful women. And he couldn’t decide. One was called Sharon, and she was blonde and very beautiful, and the other was called Maria, and she was a brunette and also very beautiful. He wasn’t a churchgoer but not knowing whether it was Sharon or Maria, Sharon or Maria, he thought: `Well, I’ll go into a church and pray.’
So he went into a local Catholic church and he knelt down by the altar and being a Cockney he said to the Lord: ‘oom shall I ‘ave?’ And he looked up, and he looked at the stained-glass window and he saw in gold letters: Ave Maria!
That’s not the best way to go about it, obviously! Common sense tells us we should ask these questions: are we personally compatible (are we good friends, do we get on)? Are we physically compatible (are we attracted to each other)? Are we spiritually compatible? Paul warns us of the danger of marrying somebody who’s not a Christian, because inevitably we’re going in different directions spiritually, and that can cause tension. So if we’re a Christian we should look to marry someone whose faith we respect. Citation
Our fourth ‘CS’ in how God guides us is through the…
4. Counsel of the Saints (the advice of other Christians)
The term ‘saints’ is used in the New Testament not to refer to a select group of individuals who lived especially godly lives, like nuns or monks in a monastery? No. The word ‘saint’ comes from the Greek word ‘hagios’ which means ‘consecrated to God; sacred; holy ones; those who are set apart’, in other words, all believers. Saints refers to ‘all Christians’, the body of Christ, the church, us. If you are trusting in Jesus then you are what the Bible calls a ‘saint’ – not like Simon Templar (the character played by Roger Moore in the 1960’s and Val Kilmer in the 1990’s), but a saint just like St. Paul or St. Timothy or St. Mary. Of course, saints don’t really walk around with a ‘Ready Brek Glow’ a ‘Colgate-smile’ and a halo hanging over their heads! But actually, that’s not a bad description or caricature because saints are people, followers of Christ, who, as they grow in their faith, start to radiate the love of Jesus to others; they reflect His love and His light, like shining stars in the universe.
There is a story told of a young lad who was asked by his Sunday school teacher to describe what a saint was. The boy thought about it for a few moments and then he remembered the pictures of all the saints portrayed on the stained-glass windows in the church. ‘I know,’ the little boy answered, ‘A saint is someone who lets the light shine through them.’ That’s a lovely way of putting it!
One of the wonderful things about being a part of a Christian community – a church – is that we can help one another and seek the counsel and advice of other Christians. The book of Proverbs in the Bible is full of injunctions to seek wise advice. Proverbs 12v15 says that ‘the wise listen to advice.’ Proverbs 15:22: ‘Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.’ Proverbs 20v18: ‘Make plans by seeking advice.’ The question is who is the wise counsellor? Who is able to offer sound advice? It might be a wise Christian friend, or someone who is trained in Christian counselling; it might be someone involved in church leadership. Certainly, it should be a mature Christian, someone with experience and sound doctrine, someone who is prayerful and has a good Bible knowledge.
And the final ‘CS’ is God can guide us is through…
5. Circumstantial Signs
‘God is ultimately in control of all events. Again, the writer of Proverbs points out: ‘In his heart a person plans their course, but the Lord determines their steps’ (Proverbs 16:9). Sometimes God opens doors (1 Corinthians 16:9) and sometimes He closes them (Acts 16:7).’ Citation
True story: A doctor was sitting at his desk one morning sorting through the mail and papers, which his housekeeper had laid out on his desk. Most of what he read he threw into the wastebasket. Then he noticed a magazine, which wasn’t even addressed to him, but was delivered to his office by mistake. It fell open to an article entitled, ‘The Needs of the Congo Mission’. Casually, he began to read and was suddenly consumed by these words: ‘The need is great here. We have no one to work the northern province of Gabon in the central Congo. And it is my prayer as I write this article that God will lay his hand on one – one on whom, already the Master’s eyes have been cast – and that he or she shall be called to this place to help us.’ Dr Albert Schweitzer closed the magazine and wrote in his diary: ‘My search is over.’ He gave himself to the Congo. (…) It was a God-incident. – If we are seeking God, he will intervene to keep us on the road He has planned for our lives. Citation
When we are faced with a difficult decision we can go to the Lord and say, ‘Lord, would you help me. I don’t know which way to go; which direction to take; whether this way is right or that way is right. I don’t know if this is the right relationship for me. I don’t know whether this is the right job or not.’
Psalm 37v5 (NLT) tells us to: “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.” This instruction is a simple three-part process: First, commit the decision to God in prayer, asking him to open doors that are right for you and close the ones that are not right. Then, second, trust him that He is in control. And thirdly, watch in faith for Him to act as you continue in the expectation that God will help you. The psalmist goes on to say (v7): Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act (Psalm 35:7). You see, God doesn’t work to our timetable. One thing I’ve discovered in the Christian life is that God is never in a hurry, but He is always on time. We have to learn to wait patiently for him to act. But God is worth the wait… because when he shows up He shakes things up!
To conclude: Nicky Gumbel, founder of Alpha, says this: “The secret of guidance is having a close relationship with God. God made us to be thinking beings. He guides our minds as we walk in a close relationship with him. We need to avoid a super-spirituality that expects an inward voice to guide every little detail of our lives.”
In summary, the five main ways in which God guides us, all beginning with the letters CS, are:
- Commands of Scripture (what does the Bible say/teach?)
- Compelling of the Spirit (how is the Holy Spirit leading?)
- Counsel of the Saints (seek the advice and prayers of other Christians)
- Common Sense (God guides our common sense and reason)
- Circumstantial Signs (providential/confirming signs)