The Special Guide
"He leadeth me, O blessed thought...." "Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah...."
In the church, we sing a lot of hymns about guidance. If we listen carefully to the way we sing, this business of getting God's guidance is a snap for us.
The simple formula, based on the Bible, takes only three steps:
1. Perceive a need for guidance.
2. Confess any sin that hinders the relationship.
3. Ask God to guide, believe, and receive.
I love it when God then whispers, "This is the way, take it," and then I go forward. However, there's one problem with the formula: It doesn't always work.
God guides us, but not like any guide I've ever known in my life. For instance, I've traveled several times to Europe with a group. In each country, and sometimes in each city, we have a tour guide who shows us the sights, explains the history and culture, and answers our questions. Those guides seem to know everything. Once in Munich, Germany, we had three days of activities planned and were falling behind. The guide decided not to take us to Dachau, one of Hitler's labor camps.
"That's one thing I don't want to miss," I said. "I'll drop out of something else, but I want to see Dachau."
She shrugged and said, "All right, we'll go to Dachau and cut out something else."
I like that kind of guidance: I know what I want, I ask for it, and I get it.
Then why doesn't God work on some simple, direct system like that? I don't know, but the more I ask for divine guidance, the more I realize it deviates from a simple mathematical law most of us learned before seventh grade: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
The law of math may be true, but God doesn't seem to work with straight lines when it comes to guidance. Through reflecting on my own experiences and those of other Christians, I've realized that the Lord actively leads us into side paths, detours, and circuitous trips. That is, God's will seldom seems to be a straight line from conversion to glory.
Think about a few biblical characters and their experiences with guidance. "I'm going to give you a son," God told Abraham," and he will have so many descendants that it would be easier to count the grains of sand than to number them."
Abraham was childless and seventy-five-years-old when he heard the wonderful news. He waited, and I'm sure he must have bombarded heaven with prayers. God did give him a son-when old Abe was one hundred.
When the Israelites prepared to leave Egypt for the Promised Land, God didn't send them by the most direct way: "God did not lead them by ways of the land of Philistines, although that was near...So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea" (Ex 13:17-18, NKJV). In this case, the Bible gives the reason: "For God said, 'Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt'" (v. 17).
What kind of guidance did God give poor Joseph by letting the brothers throw him into a pit? Was there guidance when he was sold into slavery? Or when he was unjustly imprisoned for two years?
Or take David's kingship. Samuel the prophet-priest secretly anointed David to be the next king because, "I have rejected Saul," God said. For the next thirty plus years, David ran from Saul's armies, fearing for his life. He lived in caves, hid in out-of-the-way cities, and still the king pursued him. Hmm, some guidance.
We can see this in the life of Jesus. He had been ministering around Jerusalem and then headed toward Cana of Galilee. John 4:4 (NIV) reads, "He had to pass through Samaria."
He did? Jesus could have followed the seacoast road without going to Samaria. Or he could have taken one that wound through Perea. Either road would have been shorter and more commonly used by Jews of his day. But Jesus took the long way because he "had to go." The King James Version says, even more strongly, "must needs go through."
Of course, all that leads up to a delightful story of Jesus meeting a fallen woman of Samaria at the well, his telling her about God, and her apparent conversion and witnessing that brought the whole town to hear him.
How does this work for people like us today? Asking God to guide is a recurring topic for most of us, and I never seem to get it straight. Dozens of times I've laid out a perfectly logical plan that leads me from A to B to C to D, and I tell God. Often, my Special Guide ignores all my efforts and plans, and takes me another way. Sometimes I reach point D. Sometimes I end up at point K.
How does our Special Guide lead us then? First, our Special Guide knows what's ahead. Sometimes what we want to see or do may not be as simple as it looks to us. We don't know that we can't cross a gorge up ahead because there's no bridge and we have to detour four miles. Sometimes God, aware of the temptations ahead, takes us on a different path because we're not strong enough to win the battle.
Second, our Special Guide has different purposes than we do. Intellectually and theologically, we know we're microscopic dots on the face of this great world. But we get confused and try to make ourselves the center of the universe. Our Special Guide doesn't indulge our fantasy, but takes us through humbling experiences to teach us reality. There are more needs to be met than our own.
Third, God never promised Abraham, Moses, Peter, or anyone else that guidance would function like a visit to a psychic. We don't go to God to get spiritual palm readings. We tend to think that if we conjure up plans and seek God's seal of approval (i.e., guidance), then voila! it comes to pass.
Is it possible we have it all wrong? Is it possible that we have no real sense of what's important for our good and our growth? Is it possible that God really knows the best plan for us and determines to fulfill it despite our resistance or arguments?
Maybe our Special Guide wants us to figure out that, through all those side roads, bypaths, and circuitous routes, God really has only a single purpose for us. That purpose is that we would be "conformed to the image of his Son" (see Rom 8:29). Actually, that's a theological way of saying God brings all these divergent forces into our lives to make us like Jesus.
We're all for the end product. Our problem is what it takes to get there.
When we talk, our Special Guide listens-maybe with a twinkle and a grin-especially when we've explained how to run the section of the universe that applies to us. Ever tactful and kind, the Special Guide whispers, "Be at peace. Everything is working together for your good and you're moving closer to my purpose in your life. I'm going to keep working with you so I can make you more and more like Jesus."
That tells me how to pray. We can ask our Special Guide to take us down the paths we need to follow so that when we get to the end of them, we'll be "conformed to the image of his Son."
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Accept, O LORD the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws. Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. --PSALMS 119:105, 108-109, NIV
forgive me when I try to tell you
how to direct me on my pathway.
I stumble a lot because I get too far away from your light,
but thanks for grabbing me by the shoulders,
and saying gently,
"Here, this is the way. Walk in it."
Thanks, Guide of my life. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.