[If you’re reading along with the “How God Guides” paper, this is, not counting the Introduction, the 3rd chapter…]
Don’t be like the horse or mule, which have no understanding… Psalm 32:9
Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Ephesians 5:15-17
“God gave you a lot of leading when he gave you a brain.” Dawson Trotman
If you’re following Jesus, he came into your head as well as your heart. And when he did, he began to teach you how to think the way he thinks. What I’m talking about has more to do with something called “wisdom” than IQ. My definition of biblical wisdom is, “The discernment to know how to live and the discipline to live that way.” “If you want knowledge,” they say, “go to college.” Wisdom isn’t learned in a classroom, but in the school of hardship and adversity.
Some people think “common sense” is the totality of how God has been guiding people since the Bible days concluded. They say that he no longer actually gets personally involved with guiding us, but has given us brains and his Word; and that’s all we need in order to know his will for our lives. Essentially they’re claiming that God doesn’t really care what we do as long as it’s not evil or out of line with his Word. Though I can’t agree that this is always the case, I can’t deny that sometimes this may be more true than not.
Over the years as I’ve been involved in decision-making situations, there have been many times when it seemed as though God was allowing me to make the choice between options based on what seemed best to me in light of my biblically informed conscience. In other words, sometimes he leads his sheep in a more general way, and doesn’t always express an opinion or exert his specific will into every little situation. That’s why I call him the “Sometimes God,” since sometimes he leads us one way and sometimes another. Sometimes he requires a specific course, and other times he leaves the choice to our “sanctified common sense.”
By “common sense” I mean good sound judgment and an attention to the obvious.
“Should I go to college?”
Well, if there’s no great reason not to, yeah – I think it’s a good idea.
“Which college should I go to?”
I don’t know, which one can you afford, which one has a good program for the field you want to go into, and which one has a good football team?
“What should I cook for dinner tonight?”
Maybe something healthy, but not so “healthy” that you hate it!
“Should I become a doctor?”
Not if you can’t stand the sight of blood!
In my day-to-day experience I tend to consult the Lord about most things, put them all in his hands, use my God-given “good sense,” and then put one foot in front of the other. Speaking of good sense, though it’s not just Christians who tend to lack it (remember I was a pastor for 30 years), it does seem that we might have less stock in that company than others. The saying, “So heavenly minded they’re no earthly good” comes to mind. The tendency to “spiritualize” things that are more natural might be part of the problem. I’ve heard it simplistically stated, “Everything is spiritual.” Well – yeah – everything that exists was created by God (who is “spirit”) and in that sense we could say that it’s all spiritual. But look at it this way: God (a spirit) made the physical, the psychological, and the sociological realms; and he expects us to manage ourselves within each of these under the auspices of his Lordship, and within the framework of his Word. In that sense then, I think he’s asking us to consult him for wisdom on how to conduct ourselves in this world made up of each of those aspects of life.
But notice I call it – “Sanctified Common Sense.” That’s because, as followers of Jesus, there exists a criteria for the way we think about things. We have a worldview that has the World-Maker in the middle of it, and we do our best to think and conduct ourselves here in all ways “Christianly.” In a way, and at certain times, there is nothing more “uncommon” (to the world we live in) than common sense. The kind of “common” sense that we want to employ is the kind that’s Spirit-filled and Bible taught.
They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world… We are from God… 1 John 4:5
We speak a message of wisdom… but not the wisdom of this age… we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden… but God revealed it to us by his Spirit… 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
So it’s a higher common sense, a Christian common sense that we need for discerning God’s will for our lives. As humans, made in God’s image, we all have a reasoning capacity (not that we all use it to its maximum capacity!), but when God’s life enters, we’re given a greater ability, an enlightened reason. In other words, God’s friends have a sense that’s more than “common.”
Sometimes the Lord leads us in some of the most counterintuitive directions. If we were entirely dependent on him guiding us to do things that most people would consider to be “sensible,” we might very well miss his will altogether. I mean, think about when Jesus told Peter to get the money for their taxes out of a fish! How about when he instructed the disciples to have the five thousand sit down on the grass and to feed them from a little boy’s lunch? God led Moses to pick up a snake, and later to take that snake-turned-staff and hit the Red Sea with it – and this was his proposed solution to them being chased by Egyptians! Elisha suggested that Naaman dunk himself in the Jordan River in order to be healed of leprosy and Jesus made mud with spit, put it on the blind man’s eyes, and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam so that he could see again! None of this makes sense unless we include in our thinking how God may challenge us outside the box of merely “human wisdom.”
Let me give you a couple of examples from the life of Paul.
“After I returned to Jerusalem, I was praying in the Temple and fell into a trance. I saw a vision of Jesus saying to me, ‘Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people here won’t accept your testimony about me.’ “‘But Lord,’ I argued, ‘they certainly know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And I was in complete agreement when your witness Stephen was killed. I stood by and kept the coats they took off when they stoned him.’ “But the Lord said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!’” Acts 22:17-21
This is an account of Paul giving a testimony about an event, which was early in his Christian life. Apparently, though led by the Spirit to get out of Jerusalem, Paul thought he was better suited to stay and preach there. I guess, in his immaturity he thought his idea was better than God’s. He ultimately came to his “senses” (his spiritual ones) though.
Though there might have been more of a conversation about it, the account of it that we have includes Jesus winning the “argument” with a command – “Go!” That’s how he wins arguments – with commands. He doesn’t necessarily give reasons, just orders. He might decide from time to time to have some back and forth with us, but at the end of the day he quits explaining and goes to commanding!
Here’s another incident later in Paul’s life that shows he put his spiritual sense above even his natural sense of self-preservation.
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. Acts 20:22
The example above showed God ordering him out of Jerusalem, while this one reveals God ordering him to go into the city. Knowing that the most dangerous place for Paul to go at that time was Jerusalem, his friends tried to talk him out of his plans to go there. It was simply “common sense” to avoid the place of his greatest potential peril. But the Spirit “compelled” him there; and his guidance trumps anything we’d think of as “common”! Paul (like Jesus and his other apostles) refused to trade the clear will of God for his own personal safety!
God’s friends have a sense
that’s more than “common.”
(We’re) asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding… Colossians 1:9
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
So “sanctified common sense” is when we use all our God-given reasoning abilities along with our God-imparted spiritual capabilities. We weigh the pros and cons, because God can’t guide us on the basis of facts we don’t know. But after we’ve made our list of positives and negatives, we lay the list before God and ask him for direction in light of the data. Don’t “lean (completely) on your own understanding,” but, for God’s sake, do use it!