[At long last, we’ve come to the 25th and final chapter of “How God Guides” (along with a brief conclusion. I began by saying that this is no exact science, and that even the best of us miss (or avoid) God’s leading at times – even lots of times. Well, I’m saying it again, not only because it bears repeating, but also because I’m sure I’ve missed it since I began writing all this! But don’t be so smug, for no doubt you have too. Anyway, thanks for reading. But do yourself and the needy world around you a favor and don’t be satisfied with reading about the will of God, begin doing it!]
Let’s be honest and admit that we’re not always going to get it right. We’re going to be mistaken sometimes about what we think God is saying to us. I said before that if I had a nickel for every time I missed the cues that God was sending my way, I’d be a rich man!
“How would I know if I ‘missed it’ or not? I felt like the Lord wanted me to do such and such, and when I did it, the result wasn’t what I’d hoped, there was a closed door instead of an open one, or I was hindered from even proceeding as planned.” Honestly, to me it’s not always easy to know whether or not I’ve heard God’s voice right. There are quite a few variables to consider. Let me propose a few…
Satan blocked our way…
For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 1 Thessalonians 2:18
Like Paul, you might’ve heard his voice accurately but were hindered in the outcome because of the Adversary’s evil influence. Though our enemy has been legally defeated at the cross he still has the ability to thwart (at least temporarily) the accomplishment of assignments given to even the best of disciples. We certainly can’t blame every hindered adventure on the devil (like some people do), but his insidious involvement should be taken into account when we’re assessing a failed – and supposedly divinely concocted – mission.
I added my two cents…
Another thing to consider is that God led you to do something, gave you a glimpse of his intended consequence, but then, you inadvertently added something to his original leading. I confess that many times I’ve unconsciously “improved on” the picture he gave me for a certain assignment. It’s as though he showed me one partial (and very limited) visual perspective of something he wanted me to do, and in my zeal, I inadvertently concocted an image more fully orbed than the one he showed me. I imagined something quite different than he probably had planned, I imposed my own preferred time frame for it to materialize, or I drew a more direct route to the destination than he intended. I might have originally “heard” him correctly, but then I inadvertently tried to improve on what he said. When it didn’t turn out as I’d imagined, I was disappointed.
He doesn’t always lead us to “success”…
In our culture we’re obsessed with success, smooth sailing, and bigger-is-always-better. Just a casual glance at the Bible will show you that this is the “American Dream,” and not God’s dream.
I’ve unconsciously “improved on”
the picture he gave me for a certain assignment.
Ezekiel was led by God to confront Israel with their sin. He wanted his people to turn back to him and told the prophet to be his mouthpiece to deliver the message that was on his heart. Then, just before releasing the blazing seer, he informed him that his people would not be receptive to the word of the Lord that he was about to deliver. His prophecy wouldn’t be received and they would utterly reject him as a prophet. The bad news, of course, was that they weren’t going to repent and get fixed up with God again. God knew this ahead of time (being omniscient and all), and yet he still wanted the prophet to deliver the message. (I suppose we could speculate that his motive was to extinguish any excuse that they weren’t adequately warned.) The good news was that the seer didn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms, so when he and his message were rejected he wasn’t dejected (at least not too much).
I think sometimes the Father sends us on missions that are “doomed to fail” (so to speak) – at least in our eyes. The problem is he doesn’t often give us the heads up about it ahead of time, like he did for Ezekiel, and tell us that the operation is not going to have a “successful” conclusion (at least from our human vantage point).
“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Luke 17:10
The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. Deuteronomy 29:29
Why would God lead us to do something that is not going to “succeed?” I assume he has his reasons for doing what he does and doesn’t do. Our job is to follow his orders (as best we understand them) and let him take care of the results.
I got off track…
It’s also possible that I “heard right,” embarked on God’s mission, the result wasn’t what I’d hoped, and found that I had gotten off track somewhere along the way in the choices I made while on the mission. For example, I am positive that it was God’s will for me to marry my high school sweetheart. She was my best friend and led me to a friendship with Jesus. After we had been married for over 30 years and had two beautiful children, our marriage ended suddenly. I see now as I look back on it, our relationship suffered from many of our mistakes (mostly mine) and failure to maintain our relationship over the years. God wanted us to be married and stay that way “till death should part us,” but we got off track and didn’t persist in his will. So, sometimes it’s not that we were mistaken about what he wanted us to do; we just didn’t do our part faithfully.
I mistook my will for his…
And then there’s the strong possibility that what I thought God was directing me to do was simply not God at all. I’m pretty sure that there have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of times when I was simply wrong in my assessment of his will. It might be that I got what I wanted mixed up with what he wanted. Being still very much a mixture of the human-me and the divine-within-me, I’ve made this mistake a lot. While I used to be embarrassed when this happened, I’ve learned that I still only see a “poor reflection” of him and am thus limited in my ability to hear his voice and know his will perfectly – let alone do it – all the time!
I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. Isaiah 48:17
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. Philippians 1:9-10
It’s my best guess that Peter thought he was doing the best thing by cutting off Malchus’ ear in an attempt to protect Jesus in the Garden, but he came to find out that the best thing was about to unfold on a bloody cross. Moses thought he was doing the right thing when he killed the Egyptian for abusing his Jewish brothers. But God had a much better plan than Moses killing Egyptians one at a time. The death angel and the Red Sea proved to be much more efficient means to that end.
Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. But he said, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.” When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” Acts 21:10-14
Prophets were predicting that if he went to Jerusalem Paul was going to be jailed. So his friends (including Luke) begged him not to go. Friends don’t let their friends go to jail (if they can help it)! They thought the warning meant that God was trying to protect him from suffering. Paul didn’t see it quite that way. Apparently, he thought the prophecies meant that he should count the cost of proceeding, which he did, and off he embarked into the fire of persecution. His friends heard the right word, but based on their own preference for Paul’s safety, arrived at the wrong application to the word. (By the way, though we might’ve heard so in Sunday School, safety isn’t always God’s best for us. Sometimes he leads us right into danger.) They gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” Good plan. Give up on your will so that his will can be done!
Unless you’ve skipped a bunch of the material above, it means you’ve trudged through a fair amount of my ideas about how God guides. I commend you (even if you did skip most of the foregoing) for evidently wanting to know and do God’s will. I said at the beginning that you have your own stories as I have mine. How God guides you might be quite different than how he typically guides me (if “typically” even applies here since God loves to keep us on our toes by switching things up on us). I’ve been using the term “principles” to describe what I think is more typical than not about how he guides. I’ve highlighted for your consideration some of these, which seem to me to be fairly constant in God’s ways of doing things, but as I said, he always reserves the right to do what he wants in his own time and way. I’ve tried to give biblical examples for each principle throughout; aware that though he led Moses a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll use the same exact method with us. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a lesson to be learned and maybe principle to be gleaned from how he dealt with Moses or Abraham or Paul. I hope I’ve made it clear that these principles are not formulas, but are more like clues into how God guides (usually). Like me, you’ll undoubtedly make some mistakes along the way, but if I know anything about our Father, he gets a kick out of teaching his children how to walk!
They follow the Lamb wherever he goes… Revelation 14:4