How Does God Guide Us?
(Psalm 25:4-12) Dr. Merv Coates
Adie and I want to thank you for welcoming us so warmly whenever we have worshipped with you here. And when we have brought international student friends you have welcomed them also. Thanks for making us feel at home – we love this international fellowship.
The other day a Chinese student friend asked me a question: He said, “You guys often talk about God “guiding” you. What do you mean? How does God guide you?
You and I often have decisions to make, don’t we? Say, for example, you have been offered a job in Wellington at the end of your university course. All your friends are here in Auckland. You are unsure whether to move or not. You need wisdom from God for life’s decisions.
Or suppose you really like a particular girl / guy, but you come from very different backgrounds. Should you ask her out? In which country should you live? Do you want to serve God together? You need wisdom from God for life’s decisions.
Or maybe as a single person, you are deciding whether to live long-term in NZ, or move to Australia! You need wisdom from God.
Today I want to try to explain some of the Bible’s teaching on how God guides His followers, and give a few examples from my own life. I really hope it helps to answer some of your questions. And if you have further questions about this, you can easily ask Peter or Elizabeth, or one of the other leaders afterwards.
Today I want to start with a Psalm from the Old Testament. In Psalm 25 the writer calls on God to guide him in his decisions. He’s saying “Please God, I need help about my future. Show me the way ahead. Shine Your light on my path / Show me the best way. Give me wisdom – to make a good decision.”
To give you a bit of background, the writer of Psalm 25 is going thru a hard period of life. For instance, verse 3 says that some have “dealt treacherously with him” - without cause (v3). That means they’ve caused him great trouble. In verse 16 David says “I am lonely and afflicted”. He also says “I’ve been put to shame”. He’s been disgraced. That can be one of the hardest experiences of life can’t it? But he’s not just blaming others: in verse 7 he admits he himself has brought some of his troubles on himself, and he prays “[God, please] Do not remember the sins of my youth, and my rebellious ways.”
So let us put on the screen some key verses of Psalm 25:4ff. As we read this Psalm, please look at the slide and notice all the words that are about God guiding us:
4 Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; 5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are my God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. 6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
7 Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you LORD are good. 8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. 9 He guides the humble in what is right & teaches them his way.
… 12 Who then are those who fear the Lord? He will instruct them in the way they should choose. … 14 the Lord confides in those who fear Him. He makes His covenant known to them.
I especially like verse 14, “The Lord confides in those who fear Him”. He takes us into His covenant plans & purposes.
Next, please note the 3 kinds of people God guides –
Firstly, v 8 He instructs “Sinners” in His way!! Phew!! That’s a relief. So we don’t have to be perfect to get guidance from God.
2ndly in V9 He guides the “humble”. It’s a common theme in the Bible that God draws near not to proud people, but to those who have a humble spirit before God. Isaiah 57:15 “Thus says the high and lofty One, who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy, ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, but also with those who are humble in spirit …. To revive the hearts of the humble.”
And then V12, 14 adds a 3rd group of people God guides: The Lord confides in “those who fear the Lord”. That does not mean we are scared of God, but that we have the deepest respect for God, worship Him, and humbly realise that God is FAR greater and wiser than we are. We recognise that He is awesome & majestic & powerful, as well as compassionate and merciful.
This is the attitude we need to have towards God, if we want Him to guide us in life.
Now you might be thinking, “OK, so I need to have a humble heart towards God, but I’d also like to know some of the specific ways God guides those who are humble”. I’ll come to that in a moment. But let me first emphasise that receiving God’s guidance is not about a knowing a formula or process for getting the right directions. It’s all about having a personal relationship with God, who cares for us as a heavenly Father. If we don’t have that relationship, we cannot receive His guidance.
One student jokingly suggested that it would be quite nice if, on the day we give lives to Christ, God installs in us a GPS system - a Global Positioning Satellite system. A GPS is a receiver you can stick in your car that receives information from 32 orbiting satellites. My brother in Australia loaned us his car with a GPS. It was so much fun. It could be tuned to different voices - so if you want to be told where to go by a man with a BBC accent you can do so. Anyway, you punch in the address you are going to, and the nice voice tells you exactly what to do. It’ll say things like, “At the next intersection, take the first exit. Continue for six kilometres. Now you are at your destination.” If you make a wrong turn it might even say something like, “When it’s safe, do a u-turn.” It always says, “When it’s safe”. Which might be a comment on my driving.
Now some people might want God to do something like that for us. They would like God to build some kind of GPS antenna into our heads. So we could just stick up our antenna and pray “God, just show me my next move; tell me what to do, who to talk to, who to marry, where to go! - Just make life work for me.” That way we might think we would have no worries about knowing God’s will.
But let me say that in the Christian understanding of life, such an arrangement could never be possible. Why? Because God is not at all like a computer programmer sending us signals or directions from afar. God is a personal Being, who has allowed His creatures to have a personal relationship with Him. And if you and I want to make wise decisions, our aim is not to get certain processes right, but to keep close to the Guide. If you don’t remember anything else this morning, please remember this one thing -The key to receiving God’s guidance is to keep close to Him - our Guide
Let me illustrate how this works: I wonder if anyone has ever moved to a country where rules are different, or where they drive on opposite side of the road to what you are used to? We spent a few months in Eritrea, Northern Africa. I was disorientated/tried not to veer onto wrong side of road. But it was particularly confusing when we came to roundabouts. Adie had to remind me which way to look, because old habits die hard. Anyway, came the time when we wanted to make a long trip, down to the Red Sea – a distance of hundreds of Km on some dangerous winding roads. We asked around for guidance. Some tried to explain the way, but we were greatly relieved when a kind Eritrean Christian leader said –“I can’t explain how to get there, It’s complicated and dangerous, – but I’ll go with you.” And that’s what God does for us. He doesn’t give us the whole plan / detailed instructions ahead of time, but he says, Stay close to Me, and I will show you the way.” Step by step.
If you DO walk with Him, here are some of the ways God will lead you:
1. He leads by illuminating [=shining His light on] the meaning of scripture for our lives.
To illuminate means to shine a light on something. It is in this sense that Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word [God’s word] is a lamp for my feet and a light shining on my path.” SO before we look for any other guidance from God we need to read scripture carefully, and often. And attend Bible studies and church services where scripture is explained. And we need to follow through on what God shows us.
For example, if you cruise through even 2 or 3 chapters of the New Testament you will find plenty of directions for your daily life. Let’s listen to a sample: the Bible says “Let your way of thinking be transformed. …. Use your gifts/ talents to build up other people; love others without showing favoritism; honour your parents; treat your wife and children with respect and love; keep in step with the Holy Spirit; give generously to God’s children in need; invite them home to dinner; pray for people who make fun of you; stop being mean and bad-tempered; employers treat your employees well; employees do a good days work for your employers; work as if you are serving Christ, doing God’s will from the heart.
Wow! Do you want to know God’s will? Do all those things and you’ll be well on the way.
So many of our decisions are really “no-brainers” if we follow the guidance of God’s Word.
I like the story Nicky Gumbel tells on the Alpha course: about a person who recently started to follow Christ. This person read Jesus’ words, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God”. He figured this would include paying taxes. So he wrote letter to Inland Revenue/ tax department: “Dear sir. I have just become a Christian. I owe you money for tax. I cannot sleep at night. Here is $100. --- If I still can’t sleep I’ll send you the rest!” At least he was beginning to follow God’s will.
A personal example – About 4 years ago I was carted off to hospital because I had a serious brain infection. I was seriously confused in my thinking – worse than normal. Was falling over, had blurry vision + some paralysis in my face. While in hospital I became extremely grateful for our medical system / doctors and specialists, nursing staff and laboratory people (hats off to any nurses or doctors here!) I was also very appreciative of the prayers of friends and family – they were literally life-saving for me – but that’s not my main point.
While lying there, thinking about all the medical privileges we have, my mind went over and over to a verse from the Bible - 1 John 3:17 - “If anyone has the world’s goods/ world’s medical help, and sees his brother in need, and yet refuses to help, how does the love of God abide in them?” God’s Spirit shone his light on that scripture to me. I sensed a specific application for me. I thought this: Most of our fellow-believers in Africa and Asia have no such privileges. In the same circumstances they would probably die. If was as if God was saying, “If you have resources that can help, and do not try to care for your brothers in need, how can my love abide in you?” By highlighting that scripture and bringing it home to my conscience God was saying, “Find ways of sharing resources with those not so privileged as we are, whether here or overseas – financial resources, knowledge resources, spiritual resources.”
If we keep on listening to God’s guidance in the Bible, God gradually renews our thinking. We develop “spiritual wisdom” / spiritual sensitivity & discernment – so we start to think His way about life. Nobody becomes wise overnight! But wisdom develops as we live according to the Word of God. As we read scripture, We can pray like in Psalm 25: 4 Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; 5 Guide me in Your truth and teach me.”
Closely related to this is a second way God guides us:
2. God provides wisdom for our decisions in answer to prayer.
So James 1:4-5 writes: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” That tells me this: That when you ask for wisdom, you should expect God to give you wisdom - by one means or another.
Wisdom is obviously much more than just knowledge/ cleverness. Wisdom is the God-given ability to understand what is best for a particular situation. SO that we choose the best of the options available to us. Why do we need this form of guidance? Because the Bible doesn’t address some of the specific situations we have to decide about. E.g., when searching for guidance in the Bible you won’t find words such as “computer programmer” or “mechanical engineer”, or “Brazil”.
Think about the area of boy/girl relationships. The Bible won’t tell you who to marry or IF you should marry. What you need is the application of careful thought and Biblically guided wisdom. I’ll tell you a secret. I have asked Adie if I can share this so I don’t worry – I won’t get into trouble later. I once had girlfriend whose name was Helen. When we were in High School we were regularly going out together. We enjoyed many of the same things – sport, playing music, Aussie Rules football, Youth for Christ concerts etc. Our families liked each other. But as time went on, I started to realise we were bad for each other. We were getting a bit too physical. During the time we were going out we both stopped growing spiritually. We became distracted from caring for others/Ministries we had been involved in. So, we made the difficult decision to break off the relationship. Looking back I thank God he gave us both the wisdom to know the best thing to do in the situation + the strength to carry it out. Of course NOW I’m very grateful for that – otherwise I would never have met Adie and I would never have come to NZ! I am very thankful that God gave us wisdom.
3. God sometimes guides by over-ruling decisions that might take us in the wrong direction
There is an example of this in Acts 16:6-7. Here Paul and his team are wanting to spread the message of Christ into new regions of Asia Minor, where there were some large cities. Their plan made sense, BUT let’s read what happens: Acts 16:6-10 (ESV)
6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul[a] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Their plan seemed to be wise, but in ways that we are not told, God said, “NO, I have better plans for you.” God closed 2 doors, before he opened the door for them to preach the gospel in Macedonia. Proverbs 19:21 says: “You can make many plans, but it is the LORD's purpose that will prevail”.
It’s a great relief to know that God has unlimited ability to influence the circumstances in our lives, and even over-rule any of our decisions that might take us out of his good purposes.
4. God guides you through His Holy Spirit “prompting” us in our daily matters of life and witness.
The Bible describes this as God’s “still small voice” in our spirit. Isaiah 30:21 “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it, whenever you turn to the right hand, or to the left.” This is the work of Holy Spirit, who Jesus describes as our “Counsellor”. Many of you will have already experienced the Holy Spirit prompting you to do certain things to bless others. Some people have trouble understanding how this works.
I quite like the story Steve Brown tells story of his daughter Jennifer who once asked him, “Daddy, you are always talking about how God talks to you. He never talks to me. How do you hear God?” With a rare burst of insight, I said to her, “Honey, do you know the new girl in your class and how you told me she looked so sad because she didn’t have any friends?” Jennifer nodded. “Who told you that she was so sad? And who told you to be her friend?” “Oh,” Jennifer said, “so that’s Him.” Mmmm. That’s Him. And as you walk with God day by day, you will sense him prompting you: “Go and speak to that lonely person / Encourage her”; Invite them home to a meal - You know something? That’s Him. You will sense Him saying: “phone such and such a person / visit that sick brother /give that family some money/ apologise to this person / welcome a newcomer to your church.” That’s Him!
5. Finally, God leads through the shared wisdom of fellow-believers.
Sometimes it can help a lot to ask the opinion of someone we trust / especially a wise, trusted leader. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Lay the situation out before them, listen to their thoughts, and then it’s up to you to prayerfully weigh up what they say.
I was once facing a new crossroad in my life. I was about to begin a role in a Christian ministry that was going to stretch me, because I was actually quite a shy person.
I wanted to be clean spiritually so that God could use me to help others. SO I went to a Baptist pastor friend in Melbourne, someone who knew me well. I asked him to pray with me that God would show me anything that might interfere with His work in my life. And as we prayed, God shone His search-light on one area of my attitudes – He showed me I was too conscious of what other people thought. Whenever I engaged in a Christian service I would be thinking about what people thought of me, rather than what they thought of God, & what God was doing in their hearts. I asked God to forgive me, and to help me with that a bad attitude. It was an important step for me. An example of how God used another person to guide me.
So there are many different ways in which God speaks to us. My main point is this: We don’t have to worry too much about the mechanism (HOW God guides) – the key thing is to keep close to Him. If God your heavenly Father wants to show you something specific you can rely on him to do so.
The ONLY way to make good decisions is to walk hand in hand with God. Let’s pray this week that God will help all of us to take His hand, read His Word, and listen for His loving guidance, so we can play our part in God’s great purposes - for His glory. AMEN.