Guidance and the Sovereign Lord
It is a constant surprise to me that many Christians are worried about guidance. Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not mean that Christians should not be concerned about doing God’s will. But why is it that many (and I think ‘many’ is the appropriate word) Christians get worried, confused and at times even spiritually paralysed about guidance?
In Matthew 6:25ff, Jesus gently rebuked his disciples for worrying about the future. They were worrying about where the next meal would come from, and how they would be able to clothe themselves. Jesus’ antidote, to their only too human concerns, was to remind them of the caring, loving heavenly Father who knew perfectly and intimately all their needs: ‘your heavenly Father knows’. He called them to have a renewed trust in the sovereign goodness and gracious omniscience of their Father in heaven. Having directed them to the perfect Father, Jesus then spoke these words to his ‘little faith’ (v. 30) disciples: ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well’.
Perhaps you are wondering, ‘But what has this to do with guidance?’ The answer is, everything! Jesus was calling his disciples to re-prioritise their lives. The disciples needed food and clothing, but they needed to understand that a new priority had claimed their lives, God’s kingdom and righteousness. God has given us the essential guidance we need for living lives to his praise in this world. He has told us how we are to live and what we are to do: we are to live to please him and we are to keep his commandments (cf. John 14:15). Guidance is simply ‘doing the next thing’ – unless it pleases the Lord to redirect our steps in some way or another.
The well-known verses in Proverbs best explain the point I am trying to make: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight’ (Prov. 3:5-7). Guidance is pre-eminently the responsibility of the Lord. In our earthly families, the father will gently grasp the hand of his young child and lead him in the way he is to go. It is the father, not the child, who is responsible for the guidance. There will, perhaps, be times when the child does not want to go the way her father is leading her in – it looks too demanding, it appears to take her away from the pleasant scenes that beckon in another direction. The father can then do one of two things: He can simply insist and, notwithstanding tears and wails, lead on. Or, he can let go (as it were) and say, ‘Let’s see where you end up by pursuing your own determined will.’
The key to guidance lies in the child of God believing that his Father is perfectly good and desires and pursues only his best. Indeed this is exactly what the cross of our Lord Jesus shouts out to us: ‘he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ God has pledged in precious blood that he will give us all that is good and wise and needful for us to live fulfilled and useful lives for his glory in this world.
Perhaps by now you are thinking, ‘This is all well and good. But how am I to know whether I should move home, take this job offer, marry this fine Christian, go into the ministry, be a missionary (or whatever)?’ Listen again to your Saviour, ‘Your heavenly Father knows . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness . . .’ Your heavenly Father is the sovereign King of the cosmos. He bends the universe to do his holy will. Your responsibility and mine is to ‘do the next thing’ i.e. the next thing that is pleasing to the Lord. He is well able to overrule our follies and stupidities. I have often thought that Augustine had it right when he said, ‘Love God and do what you like.’ Do you think this is a recipe for sheer hedonism? Far from it. To love God is to keep his commandments, to live to make his pleasure and praise the chief business of your life. The Christian who truly loves the Lord will only ever want to please him – pleasing HIM is what the child of God loves above all to do.
I suppose this is an appeal for Christians to take the unabridged sovereignty of their heavenly Father seriously. Yes, there are those no doubt who treat the Father’s sovereignty as an excuse to ‘go on sinning’, as he will always be there to wave his sovereign wand and make all things well. People who think like that don’t need to be rebuked, they need to be converted!
Yes, there will be times when you don’t know which way to go, etc., and the internal agony may be great. But the sovereign Father is also the loving Father, who is resolved to conform you to the likeness of his Son, and at times that takes ‘the crucible of affliction’. It is said that while the Puritans never wrote one book on ‘Guidance’, they wrote many books on the grace and godliness of ‘Obedience’. That is where right thinking about guidance begins.
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church.
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