”God’s guidance, if our soul’s instinct is healthy, tallies with the sense of rest. In a very real way, this sense of rest guides us – legislates for us. Anything that brings a sense of restlessness means that we have got from under the cloud shadow: we have gone off on some self-devised path, or we have not kept pace with God; we have slackened and got left behind. It is the same in cases of perplexity – where there is no clear command in His word to guide us – where the sense of rest fall (always taking for granted that our wills are in His Hand) there is His path. It is there that the shadow of His cloud is falling.” 30 September 1903
“How do I know the will of God for my life?” This is a question repeatedly asked – by us, to us – throughout the years. Is there a formula, a check list by which one can test the guidings of God? Countless books and sermons, even seminars and lectures, provokes and ponders the age-old question.
Sometimes this question is posed in a vacuum theorizing on the intimacy and interest of God. More often it comes out of the urgency of the moment and the need for direction – coming to the end of the road, what path to take; a decision about a relationship (business or personal); a location or vocation; a career or course of study. Sometimes, it is asked in matters as specific as a course of medical treatment, a summer project or trip, the discipline of a child. And one wonders: “Does God really care about individual decisions – traumatic much less trivial?
Catherine Marshall recalled in her book, Beyond Ourselves, the outlines of a story that haunted her then – and me ever since. The plot followed a man through one day of his life. He paused, momentarily, at the gate of a home in which a young woman lived. Resisting the urge to open the gate, he resumed his walk to work. The author interrupts his own story to show us how different the rest of this man’s life would have been had he followed that impulse and walked through the iron gate.
This is a parable of our lives. How important a single choice can be – even one which at face seem insignificant. It can change the entire course of our lives. And she raises the question: “If decisions – large and small – can be so important, on what basis shall we make them?” Can God, will God guide us?
The entire scope of Scripture testifies to the guidance of God both in precept and example. From Genesis to Revelation – specific instructions to Adam in the garden to the anticipation of a New Creation in which “…He will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away tears” – God is active and interacting with His creatures. Action accounts are given in living color of throughout the Old Testament of God’s guiding and directing the Children of Israel followed by the same in the New Testament of the children of faith, the New Israel. Precept and promise, story and example can be summed in a few words: “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)
The means by which we ascertain God’s Will are many and varied. Catherine Marshall did not leave us hanging but suggested, at start, four “tests” or “check points” by which we should subject our “inner messages”: 1) Scripture; 2) the advice of trusted friends who are also seeking God’s leading; 3) providential circumstances; 4) the application of our judgment and what we might call sanctified common sense.
Philip Yancey confessed, “For me, at least, guidance only becomes evident when I look backward, months and years later.” Much help that is, I protest. He clarifies, scoffing any notion of magic or shortcuts, “It will occur in the context of a committed relationship between you and your God. Once that relationship exists, divine guidance becomes not an end in itself but merely one more means God uses in nourishing faith.”
The most recent major decision that required, for us, Divine Guidance concerned the location of our home after retirement. Given certain perimeters, considering (uncertain) locations of adult children – the field was wide open. We went through a process – sought guidance from trusted friends and family, presented our concern to God in prayer, submitted ourselves to a radical review of who we were and what we had become (!), followed several leads – and found no peace. The answer came in a kind of “epiphany” standing on our porch on a late Sunday afternoon in February – to a place completely “outside-the-box” of our consideration to that point. From then on each new development leading to our present home and town testified to “the sense of rest” of which Lilias wrote. Recent words from a friend brought a smile to my heart: “I’m sure you have figured out my now why God put you where you are at this stage in your lives.”
Does God guide? “Yes,” shouts the promises of Scripture. “Yes,” speaks the experience of countless pilgrims – ancient and contemporary. “Yes,” whispers my heart – in the looking back and looking forward. He guides in countless ways. He may amaze with dreams and visions. Most often He will speak through subtle means. At the end of the day, as Yancey wrote,”It will occur in the context of a committed relationship between you and your God.”
“God’s guidance, if our soul’s instinct is healthy, tallies with the sense of rest.”