Ligon has asked me to blog here on Tuesdays. So here we are. And my first thought is to warn the administration at First Presbyterian that the tower in the photo above is leaning to the left and could come down at any moment! (Does Elder Dale know this?)
My thoughts this week have returned to something that arose on Sunday evening in the course of our study of Nehemiah.
It is that curious and beautiful expression, “my God put it into my heart…” (Neh. 7:5). And the questions that arise are: how exactly does God put things into our hearts? And, how are we discern it if he does?
Guidance is a tricky business and anyone who thinks it isn’t is seriously delusional. But the promise of guidance is a real one as Psalm 32 makes clear: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you” (Psa. 32:8-9).
Guidance, as Nehemiah would tell you, is more than waiting on God to tell you things (even when God did that in a more literal way in the age of Old Testament prophets); it is a matter of reading God’s Word, rightly understanding what it says and applying it to given situations with wisdom and discernment. It is about asking friends for their counsel and input according to the principle that in “an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14). It is about asking for the best course of action in any given situation where there may be more than one good one. It is watching closely the example of godly folk in similar circumstances, both within the Bible and outside of it.
But guidance, too, comes through “nudges” from God, sometimes making us restless with our present circumstances and creating in us a desire or concern for something that at present lies outside of our sphere of influence. Personal guidance that we believe we have received from the Lord nudging us to do (or not to do) a certain action needs to be thoroughly tested with other believers – those who don’t just provide us with constant affirmation of our rightness, but those truer friends who will say, “Derek, you’re crazy if you think God wants you to do that because…” We need to make sure that “nudges” are not simply the effects of the previous evening’s Chicken Korma!
That the Holy Spirit works on our feelings is obvious; but knowing that such feelings and inclinations are from God is difficult to prove. People are prone to wishful thinking, obsessional neurosis, schizophrenia, medication and even satanic delusion to be clear in their discernment. All such feelings need to be thoroughly tested therefore before a conclusion of divine guidance is drawn. Too many Christians transgress basic laws of Christian ethics in matters of sex and money thinking the Lord has led them to it.
Nehemiah, on more than one occasion, testified to feeling the Lord’s inner guidance in his life (Neh. 2:12; 7:5). Paul and Silas on arrival at Mysia “attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:7). And Paul could not rest in Troas because Titus hadn’t come to him. So he left the city in search for him rather than continue the work there thinking the restless was God saying to him that he should go in search of his companion (1 Cor. 2:12).
Towards the end of his book on guidance, Guard Us, Guide Us: Divine Leading in Life’s Decisions, J. I. Packer makes the following comment: “while it is important to check our conclusion as to what God wants us to do by consulting wise folk in the church, it is supremely important to do this when we believe we have received guidance by unusual means. Sin and Satan operate by deceit and the corrupting of good judgment, which makes lone rangers in this matter of direct guidance more than ordinarily vulnerable. If the wise folk agree in giving us reasons to doubt whether our experience really was God revealing his will to us, we should doubt it too.” (p.229).
Seems good advice to me. But I’m still getting a feeling about the leaning tower above!