HOW GOD LEADS

 Chapter 12

 
 

God works in many ways, and divine guidance operates through many channels. God guides according to the need. Sometimes we need more guidance than at other times. On some occasions we need different guidance than at other times, but the wisdom of God knows just how much and what kind of guidance we need, and he has promised to give that guidance. We shall note some of the methods of guidance.

God leads with his hand. “I, the Lord thy God, will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, fear not” (Isa. 41:13. As a father takes his child by the hand, and leads him along the way, supporting him if he stumbles, assisting him over the obstacles, guiding him into the smoothest places, so God leads his children. We are often conscious of such guidance. He has said, “My presence shall go with thee.” So he walks with us along life’s way. He meets all our need for guidance. He often smooths the pathway before us, gives us strength for our difficulties, and we have the sweet consciousness that we are not left alone, nor left blindly to go in our own way. This character of divine guidance is very blessed, especially in times of difficulty. But divine guidance never assures us of an easy road. It assures us that we shall be holden up, that we shall not be overcome, and that we shall be able to walk in a way that will please the Lord. Of course, God does not literally hold our hand, but he guides us as though he did hold our hand---the results are the same as though we could feel the touch of his hand upon ours.

God guides us with his voice. In Acts 8:26 we read: “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip saying, arise and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaze, which is desert.” We are not told whether there was the appearance of any form, but there was a voice of guidance, a voice that revealed the will of God in a definite and understandable way. Philip knew that the instructions were from God; so he immediately followed them. In verse 29 we read: “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, go near and join thyself to this chariot.” We find another instance recorded thus: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Paul, speaking of his journey to Jerusalem, said, “I went up by revelation (Gal. 2:2). We do not know the exact method employed in these instances, but we do know that the message conveyed was plain and definite; it was understood to be the voice of God, was unhesitatingly obeyed, and the results of obedience were good.

God often speaks into the conscience, causing us to have an inner conviction of duty that is as unmistakable as though an angel from heaven stood before us, and gave us a message from God. God often speaks to our reason, bringing to our attention things for our consideration, illuminating our understanding, bringing texts of scripture and various other things to our remembrance. By this means he often makes plain his will.

God spoke to Peter and to Cornelius in visions. His language was definite and his purpose made clear. He spoke also to Joseph, warning him to take Jesus and to flee in Egypt. Such things were not chance visions or dreams; neither things which they imagined they heard. It was the voice of God giving them definite instructions; and more than that, they recognized it to be the voice of God. There was not question as to what their conduct should be. Things that come to us and leave us in uncertainty, that tend to confuse and bother us, should not be regarded as the voice of God. We may not always understand, at once, all that is meant, and the instructions may be only partial, but they are sufficient for the time being. When the voice said to Peter, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat,” he did not know the full application of the words. They conveyed to him only a part of God’s message, but in due time he was given the understanding. And so, if God makes his will clear in part to us, we should wait till the full understanding comes, at least a full enough understanding to make our course plain and our duty clear, though many times we have to go forward in obedience without knowing what the final result will be.

God often guides in judgment. The spiritually enlightened mind judges wisely. He who sincerely desires to know God’s will, and holds an attitude of submission to it, may be assured that God’s promise, “The meek will he guide in judgment,” will be fulfilled toward him. The exercise of a divinely enlightened judgment, which takes into consideration the principles of divine truth, is one of the safest of any guides in which to trust. Sound judgment and discretion will save us from many blunders; keep us out of many errors; keep us balanced; and will keep us safely within the will of God.

Many times we have divine guidance in judgment when we have no especial consciousness of guidance. The man who trusts God for guidance receives that guidance, but many times he needs no other guidance than the enlightenment of his judgment. However, to trust to our judgment without seeking divine guidance may result in acting upon our own judgment independently of God. When we use our judgment, with a prayer to God for guidance, we shall not err in the way, or if perchance we should, that error may after all prove to be God’s way of guiding us.

God guides us with his eye. “I will guide thee with mine eye” (Psa. 32:8). How does God guide with his eye? He cannot speak to us with his eye. He cannot hold our hand with his eye. He cannot instruct our judgment with his eye. How, then, can he guide us with his eye? Here is a form of guidance that is often unrealized. God may be giving us definite guidance, and at the same time, we may be wholly unconscious of it.

When God guides us with his eye, he watches the path before us. He sees that which threatens, and fortifies us against it before we reach the place of danger. He drives away the enemies that lurk in wait for us. So the promise, “I will guide thee with mine eye,” means much more to us than we can comprehend. Many times when we seem to be walking alone, God’s eye is leading us. So dark a night never comes to us, but, that the eye of God pierces through its gloom, in order to guide our footsteps in the way of truth.

God leads us in giving us directions. In this day of automobiles, many people ask directions. They are going over a strange road. They wish to know how to go. So we say to them, “Go so far straight ahead, then turn to your right, then after you have gone to such and such a place, turn to your left. That road will lead you where you wish to go.” Such directions guide a traveler over his way, just as though we had gone with him. In like manner, God gives directions on the way to glory. These instructions are found in his Word. There is guidance in the general teaching of principles, also by precepts and examples. This guidance is both negative and positive---it shows us what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. Very often the Scripture is given a special application to us by the Holy Spirit in order to enlighten us concerning God’s will. In all questions that involve moral principles, the Bible is the standard. No guidance that goes contrary to it is divine guidance. No inner impressions that go contrary to it are divinely given impressions. God’s Word being the standard of human life and conduct, we should go to the Word first, for guidance. When the Word speaks, it is useless to seek other guidance. When duty is made clear, it is presumption to seek other guidance in the duty that is already known.

But if the Word reveals duty only partially, or only the principles of duty, it may sometimes become necessary to seek special guidance in the application of those principles in order to go forward in the duty. The application of Biblical principles to an existing situation may require further divine guidance. That guidance may be confidently expected, if earnestly sought. We should not take one isolated text alone for our guidance, but the general teaching of the Bible, for many times one text is modified by other texts, or its meaning illuminated by other texts. We need to get the broad, general idea. Suppose we take the text, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” and give it a universal application without making any exception whatever. We may then suppose that we are not to love anything or anybody. To receive guidance from this text, we must learn the Bible definition of the world, which we are not to love. Where the Bible says, “Give to every man that asketh of thee,” we must not take this text in its unlimited sense, but find out from its connection and from other scriptures what limitations God puts upon it; then follow it out in this limited sense. That is, give to those who are in need, and ask.

The Scriptures are a sage guide when properly used, but when improperly used they may lead us into the wildest fanaticism and far away from the will of God. So we must use our intelligence, our best judgment, and make a careful search of what is taught in the Word, in order to have reliable guidance from it. One thing stands out clear, however: it is never sage to go contrary to the teachings of the Bible. The Psalmist said, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psa. 73:24). The Bible is full of wise counsel. When we follow its counsel, we walk in a sage path. When we disregard it, we walk in slippery places.

God guides us by his providences. Sometimes he does this by creating favorable conditions, or by permitting things to happen, that reveal opportunities or duties to us. Sometimes God places barriers in our way in order to turn us from the path we would have chosen, into the path of his choosing. We have an example of divine guidance in the sixteenth chapter of Acts. Paul and his company were upon a missionary tour. They went from church to church until they had made the rounds of those congregations where they had preached before. Then something else was to be done. A new course was to be struck. It seems that they had planned to go on through Asia Minor, but they “were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia” (v. 6). When God says, “No,” what shall we do? They tried to go some other way: “After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia; but the Spirit suffered them not” (v.7) Again God said, “No.”

Has not this experience been duplicated many times in other lives? We lay our plans and start to carry them out, when suddenly and unexpectedly God says, “No, not this way. You must give up your plans.” And when we give up our plans, what next? Well, we generally try to do something else. We plan again. We should not do this, if we knew God’s will, but like Paul and his company, we do not know his will, and circumstances compel us to do something. So we do the best we can, or the best we know, and start out in some other direction. This they did only to run into another wall, another “NO” had stopped them short in their course. Surely, they were perplexed. They had started twice in ways that seemed favorable to them, ways that seemed best under the circumstances, ways they supposed each time to be God’s way, but God said “No.” He gave them no other instructions. They were left almost in bewilderment. Then they turned backward to Troas. They supposed that they were going back, but the event proved that they were on their way to the place to which God was sending them, for when they had come down to Troas, God showed Paul his will definitely in a vision. Then they knew what they were doing. Troas was a city on the seashore, a port from which vessels sailed over the very course that they must go in order to reach Macedonia. So God’s two “no’s” turned them, without their knowing it, into the very course that he intended they should take. They went on that course without knowing that they were upon God’s chosen course going toward the destination that he had chosen for them

There is a great lesson for us in this experience of Paul and his company. If we are left in perplexity, if God says, “No,” when we think we are sure we are on the right way, we may have some disturbing experiences. For the time being we may have to strike out blindly, as it were, without any definite knowledge of what is before us, or of what are God’s plans. At such times we may cry out, “Oh, if I knew what to do---If I only knew.” Sometimes we must wait at “Troas,” and, perhaps, wait till the ship that we thought would take us, has sailed away, and still we are left to question and to wonder. But presently, in God’s own time, the “man of Macedonia” calls to us and we learn God’s will---learn it in plenty of time to work out God’s purpose.

God’s “no” is not always the same, nor does it always come in the same way. Sometimes it is a mere consciousness that God will not have us to do what we had planned, or what we had thought to do, or even what we had supposed it to be his will that we do. We should not go contrary to these inner warnings of the Spirit. It may seem better to go ahead, and stopping where we are, may leave us in the greatest uncertainty for the time, but when God says, “No” in our spirit, we should heed it. Sometimes he says, “No,” by placing an obstacle in the way, which effectually bars our progress. Sometimes he lets things happen that seem to destroy all our expectations, and bring our plans in ruin at our feet. Sometimes it seems that the very worst possible thing has happened. Never mind, perhaps it is only God’s “no” that he says, in order to turn you into the way that he has chosen. At any rate, you can go to “Troas” and wait there until directions come.

When obstacles arise in our way, we must carefully discriminate between those things which are difficulties to be overcome and those things which are intended to divert us into another course. Many things are obstacles, which God cannot take out of the way, but which must be overcome by our own effort, assisted by his grace and power. So we must not be too hasty in concluding that a mere obstacle in the way is God’s effort to change our course. It may be; it may not be. But it behooves us to find out definitely, for if we turn back from that which is a mere obstacle, we shall be turned out of the way of God’s will. If we fight through and overcome the obstacle that God has meant to change our course, we shall be going the wrong course. We must learn the meaning of God’s providences, and not be in too big a hurry to decide. When uncertainty exists, there should be the most careful consideration before determining the future course. After Paul had his vision at Troas there was doubtless a consultation as to what it meant. The words “assuredly gathering” in verse ten literally mean “laying things together.” They evidently discussed the question carefully from every angle, took into consideration all the facts, and then when they had done this, they were all agreed upon what was God’s will.

Obstacles, instead of being hindrances, may sometimes be helps. “If my supreme will is to do God’s will; then, nothing, which is his will and comes to me because it is, can be a hindrance. A Christian man whose path is simple obedience to the will of God can never be turned from that path by whatsoever hindrances may affect his outward life.” Here is the secret of turning hindrances into helps; that is, that our supreme will shall be to do God’s will.

God sometimes leads his people through human instrumentality. God, “that led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm” (Isa. 63:12). God was their leader, but he used Moses as the human instrumentality. The Psalmist said, “Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses” (Psa. 77:20). The means, by which he made Moses capable of leading his people is told in Isa 63:11: “Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? Where is he that put his Holy Spirit within him?” It was the Holy Spirit in Moses that made him a capable leader. So God puts his Holy Spirit in men nowadays, and teaches them the will of God, so that they can instruct others.

He who is too self-willed, or who reposes so much confidence in himself that he cannot be instructed by others, even by those who are older and more experienced, cannot be led. Such a person many times falls into serious errors, and suffers severely for his temerity. The humble are glad to be instructed. Sometimes people ask advice of those who are capable of giving them good advice, then go and ask the advice of someone else whom they know to be no wiser than themselves, and then often follow the advice of the less wise person, to their own hurt. God has made some wise with the wisdom that cometh down from above, and they give good counsel. We should not follow advice, blindly, but we should not treat it lightly when it comes from one who lives close to God. It is never sage to disregard, without consideration, the warnings of holy people.

Sometimes God leads us into the wilderness, as he led Jesus, of whom we read, “And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordon, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). He was led away from the crowd, where it seemed his work lay; away from the land of usefulness, or seeming usefulness; away from human habitation, away out in the wilderness. He was led away from human counsel and sympathy, into a strange land where all was new and life seemed barren. If our Lord was thus led into the wilderness, we need not be surprised if we have a similar experience. Under such conditions may souls have come to the conclusion that they have strayed away from God, that God has forsaken them, and that they are in a place where his will is not being done in them. Jesus might have concluded thus too, but the Word tells us that he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” He did not go there of himself---he went in obedience to God. You and I may find ourselves in the wilderness without knowing God has led us there, but if our trust is in him, though we stay there forty days, and no angels come to minister unto us, let us not suppose that God has forsaken us, or that we are outside his will.

Jesus was let into the wilderness for a definite purpose. We read, “Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matt. 4:1). Luke tells us that he was tempted forty days. What these temptations were, we do not know. We are told only of the ones that occurred at the end of the forty days. But this we do know, that when Jesus came forth from the wilderness and mingled with men again, he was prepared for his mission. He was ready to do the works of God. He “suffered being tempted” (see Heb. 2:18). It was not a mere holiday excursion, upon which he went into the wilderness. The spirit led him there for serious business. Many times nothing but a wilderness experience will develop in men and women, that moral fiber and that courage and fidelity to the truth, and give that wisdom and understanding of God and of his purpose, that will prepare them for their life-work.

Then, too, it is sometimes necessary, if we should get too self-confident, too self-reliant, too sure of ourselves, or if we should grow careless, or lose the keen edge from our zeal, that we be led into the wilderness, there to suffer and to be tempted until we have regained what has been lost and have been prepared to go back and take up our duties again and do them better than before. Or, it may be that there is some experience ahead of us for which we are not yet strong enough. It may be that there will be praise from men, prosperity, difficulty, or suffering for which we are not prepared and which might be disastrous to us if it came before we had a proper preparation for it. So God leads us into the wilderness, and there we suffer until he has wrought in us that preparation which he sees is necessary in order to carry us through our difficulties and make us equal to the situation that confronts us. So if into the wilderness we must go, let us go trusting in God, not supposing ourselves to be rejected, nor condemning ourselves, but let us go patiently, as doing God’s will, for when we come forth from the wilderness, it will be to work the works of God.

Life has many different experiences for us. Sometimes we must go into the wilderness of uncertainty, and sometimes to the desert, where our lives seem barren Sometimes we are permitted to go up to a lofty height of spiritual exaltation, there to have things transfigured before us and spread out like a great panorama at our feet. We behold wonderful things in God’s law, and in God’s purpose and workings. Again we must go down into the valley of humiliation or suffering, but when our shame is gone, and we are humbled, and satisfied to be humbled, or when the sobs are stifled and the soul comes out into quietness and submission, then God comes down like the dew. All these and many other experiences may come into a single life, but they all work out God’s purpose and help to mold us in his image and prepare us for his service.

Sometimes we wait too long for guidance before acting. It is often necessary to start in some direction when only a step is clear before us, but when we take that step, further guidance will be given. Taking that one step which we see, when all is dark beyond it, is a test of our loyal obedience. Having met this test, we have prepared ourselves to be led farther. We must not wait until we see the end from the beginning. One of the secrets of being led is not to require that everything shall be explained in advance. We may draw a very good lesson for ourselves from what Abraham’s servant said, “I, being in the way, the Lord led me” (Gen. 24:27). Sometimes we have to start out upon a way that leads we know not where, but if we are in the way and obedient in the way, the Lord will lead us to the desired destination. So, let us be content to go as far as we can see, expecting that when we arrive there, further directions will be given us.

Sometimes people can learn only through their mistakes, or can learn better through their mistakes than through any other method. So God lets us make our mistakes, if we will be led in no other way, or can be led in on other way, just as a parent when he sees his child’s course is unwise sometimes lets the child do as it thinks best, saying of the child, “Let him go ahead, he will find out”; that is, his error will teach him---he will be convinced when he learns by experience. So, if we make mistakes, let us be taught by those mistakes. Let us not be crushed by them, nor prevented from making further effort, but let us learn through them, and be more easily led the next time.

The way in which God led Israel from Egypt to Canaan, and their experiences on that way, teach us many useful lessons. There was a short, easy way, between the two countries---the regular caravan route. It was a way by which they might have readily gone, with very little suffering or inconvenience, but God did not choose this way for Israel, and he tells us why. “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt” (Exod. 13: 17). He saw that if they went on the easy way, by which their father Jacob had come from Canaan into Egypt, when they faced the situation they must face in conquering Canaan, they would be discouraged and would turn about and flee back into bondage again. So we read, “But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea (vs. 18). He led them through this desert, and opened the sea before them, thus placing an obstacle behind them, the consideration of which would make them hesitate to turn back. Just so, God must lead you and me sometimes in a path of difficulty. He must confront us by our Read Sea; then make a way through it, in order to make sure that we shall continue on our way and not turn back.

God then led them up to the borders of the land at Kades-Barnea, but here their faith failed and they refused to go forward. They were affrighted at the story told them by the ten spies. When they disbelieved God and hardened their hearts against him, when they would not listen to his promise of proffered aid, nor to the counsel of Joshua and Caleb, God turned them back into the wilderness and sent them by a roundabout way through the desert of the Sinaitic Peninsula, a long, hard journey of forty years, before they reached the Promised Land. His purpose in this is thus related: “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut. 8:2, 3). They had to have this hard experience, in order to teach them obedience, and to teach them to humble their hearts before the Lord and do without murmuring what he commanded them to do. So, disobedience and murmuring may cause you and me to have our journey through the wilderness. We may hunger and thirst, or we may get footsore and weary before the end of our way is reached, but if the journey teaches us submission to God and makes us to know him as he is, it will not have been in vain, but will have been a blessing to us, even as this long desert journey was to Israel.

In whatsoever test may come, we have the assurance of God’s guidance. He says, “I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked thing straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them” (Isa. 42:16). But God often requires faith on our part. If we feel and believe that we are not being guided, we bring ourselves into a condition that renders it very difficult for God to guide us. When we rely upon him for guidance, when we look up into his face and say, “Thou wilt guide me in all my ways,” and the trust him to do it, we shall be guided, whether we are conscious of that guidance or not, for with his voice and his eye and his hand he will lead us in his way, in paths of peace and righteousness for his name’s sake.