Sunday, July 7, 2013

How Guidance Works

I'm going through big changes in my life. And with that comes a real desire for hearing God's guiding voice. Which way should I go from here?

It's not the first time I've gone through this kind of change. In 1993, I made the transition from a successful career in IT management into full-time pastoral ministry. And looking back, I can very clearly see God's sovereign guidance.

But back then, before I knew how God was going to do it, I was almost completely in the dark. And now I understand that this is exactly how God usually does it.

Why do we have to go through such uncertainty when it comes to God's guidance? In our modern era, God has so many more options to communicate with us. Email, text, fax, Skype, FaceTime, IM, Facebook, fax, snail-mail and even the telephone. (I would have said Telex, but the last Telex was just sent recently.) And if the divine instructions are too big, there's always DropBox.

I have found a simple verse from Proverbs to be very helpful in understanding how God's guidance works.
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding,
In all your ways acknowledge him,
And he'll make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3: 4-5).

The first three lines of this verse describe my part in guidance and the fourth line describes God's part. So, just on the surface, one could say that guidance is three parts me and one part God. Therefore, it is probably appropriate that I focus more on my part and let God then do his part.

Just what is my part? To Trust in Him, not in my self, and acknowledge His God-ness all the time. What is His part? To stretch out the path in front of me. Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? So why is it so hard in practice?

There are a couple of things that seem to keep me from really relying on, or leaning on God. First, I am blind (spiritually). I can't see God. I can't see the spiritual realm. I can't see the future. But I can see the material world and so, I assume that it is the only thing I can rely on.

But if we are really going to rely on God, we will have to admit to our "blindness." God CAN see all those things. So, why not grab hold of His hand and let Him lead?
"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you" (Ps. 32: 8).

Second, I am an emotional being. Don't get me wrong, I think we should pay attention to our emotions. God gave them to us for a reason--to know what is going on inside of us and to pay attention. But often, when I am full of worry, or fear, or shame, or anger--I can't hear God's voice over the noise.

I went to a 4th of July fireworks show at a stadium this week. While the show was on, it was impossible to have a conversation with my wife. The noise of the fireworks and music overpowered our voices. This is what tends to happen with our feelings. That's why it's probably not a good idea to make major life decisions in the middle of a crisis. We need to calm down, get some perspective so that we can hear God's voice without our feelings drowning Him out.

Third, I am very used to relying on my own cleverness and abilities to get by. So, it feels unnatural to let go of my machinations and to give myself to God's agenda. But if I really believe that His wisdom is superior to mine, then I will let go of my need to control and allow Him to lead.

It's like training my German Shepherd at obedience school. Learning to "heel" means that she learns to stay by my left side and walk at my pace. When I stop, she sits and waits. When I run, she quickens her pace. She learns this with a choke collar. She is jerked back if she runs ahead. She is jerked forward if she strays behind, She is jerked to the right if she doesn't make the turn with me. She is pushed to the left if she doesn't make that turn with me. She learns to pay very close attention to me and follow my lead. Once trained, she can do everything "off-leash."

"Do not be like the horse or mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you" (Ps. 32:9).

God wants us to follow Him without a leash. That's why we learn to trust in Him, not in ourselves. If we do, He will guide us to the right destination.

For me, God has used various methods to coax me onto a new path. As I continue to work on developing The Journey: a vineyard community, I feel him calling me back into the secular work world. Please be praying for me on this new phase of my journey with Him.

Update (3/21/19): In case you don't read forward from here, I'm currently serving as an Associate Pastor at the Vineyard Community Church Pomona/Claremont. And God has been there to guide me the whole way.