The Spiritual Practices put us in a place where we are better able to interact with our environment and God. God can then reach inside our spirits and transform them. Just as our body needs to eat, breathe, exercise, drink, sleep, etc., so our spiritual self needs to make sure it is being sustained, cared for, and trained. The results include spiritual growth, a life controlled by the Holy Spirit, evidence of the fruit of the spirit, and the ultimate goal, living life like Jesus did.
The Spiritual Practices are not:
- Meritorious laws that earn favor with God
- A way to show how spiritually mature we are
- Unpleasant or difficult
Instead, they are:
- Activities we do that when practiced allow us to do activities we cannot now do.
- Adaptable to work with our temperaments and gifts
- Adjustable according to the rhythm and seasons of our lives
There are two kinds:
Abstinence – when we stop doing something that is perfectly normal to allow ourselves to focus more on God, His Word, and growing in godliness. These also help us resist our tendency toward sins of commission (when we do something we shouldn’t do). We withdraw to breathe in all that God can provide to us, breaking the hold that the world has on our lives. Practices of Abstinence help ready us and create room for the Practices of Engagement.
Engagement – when we do certain activities that help us grow in Christ and obey his commandments. The Practices of Abstinence have opened up the time and broken up the preoccupations so we are now free to learn of, focus on, and practice those things that God commands us to do. These assist in keeping us from our tendency toward sins of omission (not doing the things we should do). We engage to breathe out all that God commands us.
This Journey Element requires more time than most to complete so break it down into sections. The three opportunities to Comment provide obvious breaking points.
Learning to Listen and Do
Guidance is the flip side of Prayer. It is God communicating to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit with the ultimate goal of transforming our lives to be more like Christ’s, to be conformed to the moral law He has already revealed to us in his Word. He is guiding us to carry out His will and plan for our lives.
Since the Holy Spirit is always with us, we are receiving guidance from Him all the time. Most of us need to learn to listen and recognize His voice, which takes practice in itself. He speaks to us and guides our thoughts, often without us even realizing. We need to be reminded to listen, to look to Him for guidance in the ordinary daily events and not just in emergencies or the big life changing decisions.
Your first assignment this week is to write the word “Listen” on a couple of 3 x 5 cards and put them where you will see them. Then Listen.
Guidance is the one spiritual practice that actually is dependent on many others. You will need to practice prayer, meditation, study, confession, solitude and silence to fine tune your spiritual senses to recognize the voice of God. His ultimate purpose is not to get you to do the right things, or to choose the correct path, but to make you into the right kind of person.
The next step is to decide that you want to be guided. So…..do you?
It all comes back to faith that God knows better than we do and can be trusted with our lives. We can start by learning to listen to the Spirit as we carry out the daily ordinary activities of our lives and interact with people. We aren’t asking Him what we should do, we are asking Him if there is anything else we should do, how can we be Jesus’ representative at this moment? What would He have us do? Then wait. If nothing, move on. But, if you do notice the Spirit nudging, respond with action.
Remember, it only works if you are willing to respond. Is there something you should have done, but didn’t? Now’s the time to do it.
Over time, we will get to a point where we won’t even have to ask or listen, it will be obvious what the Spirit wants us to do. It all depends on our walking in the Spirit, and continuing our use of the spiritual practices, ultimately learning to say, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”
Making Godly Decisions
Do we need to ask God for His input on every decision? Does He care what I eat for breakfast, or if I wear black or brown shoes? Does He care if I buy a car or where I go out to eat?
God cares about everything, but He is most concerned with our internal spiritual growth, our heart, our attitudes, that we reach our spiritual potential and bring glory to Him. With that in mind, He has already provided us with 100% of his moral law in the Bible. We need to know and understand what it says through meditation, memorization and study and then apply it to our lives. Just doing this will take care of most of our decision making problems.
For those areas outside His Moral Law, and there are plenty, it is useful to run through some of the following criteria and scenarios before you make any decision.
- COMMON SENSE: Use common sense and good judgment – don’t hold out for a “miracle”.
- PERSONAL PREFERENCE: In areas where there are options of equal value, choose your personal preference. He has promised us the desires of our hearts.
- PROS and CONS: Take into consideration any circumstances surrounding the situation. These could include open or closed doors (opportunities), cost, value, availability of others, supplies, time, etc. Make a list of pros and cons based on this information.
- PRIOR EXPERIENCES: Also consider the results or experiences of prior similar decisions.
- WISE COUNSEL: It is always helpful to get the opinion of one or more wise spiritual counselors. Make sure they have nothing to gain from your decision, and that they give you Biblical principles and personal experiences to support their counsel.
- SPIRITUAL EXPEDIENCY: Search God’s Word and look for the most spiritually expedient outcome. Don’t be afraid to take risks for God.
- CHECK EMOTIONAL BIAS: Admit any emotional bias and make sure it does not impact the final outcome.
- FREEDOM: Remember there may be equally good choices and others may not make the same decision as you.
- RESPONSIBILITY: Whatever you decide, take responsibility for it.
How Does the Holy Spirit Guide?
The Bible is full of examples of numerous ways the Holy Spirit guided believers. From the appearance of angels to a still small voice, God will use whatever He wills to communicate with us. The end game is that we gain the mind of Christ so we begin to think as He does, and are so guided. Here are some examples of ways believers have heard from the Lord.
- Dreams and visions
- Audible voice
- Word of Scripture captures your attention while reading
- Word of Scripture comes to your mind
- A thought or idea comes to mind
- You “feel” moved to do something
- Another person speaks to you
- You are moved to create something
- Conviction deep in your soul
- Can’t get something out of your mind
- Wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it
Remember, whatever His leading, it will never conflict with the moral code presented in His Word. If it does, it is not from Him.
Finally, a few more things that might be helpful as we begin to deepen our relationship and rely on the guidance of the Spirit of God.
- Many times you will only get guidance when you need it and not before.
- You will not always know and may never know all the circumstances or the reasons why.
- Receiving guidance has nothing to do with spiritual maturity.
- Guidance is not insider information, fortune telling, or a Christian horoscope – He is not going to tell us what is behind Door #3.
- God’s will is not always hitting the bull’s eye or staying on a tightrope. If we stray, fall off, or miss the mark, He will come find us and lead us back. He is the Shepherd and we are the Sheep.
- Standing still is not an option. He expects us to decide, move on and mature. Saying No or deciding to wait is not standing still.
- Be careful not to confuse your own voice with that of the Shepherd.
- If you understand what you are supposed to do and then don’t do it, the Spirit’s voice is quenched.
- Spiritual maturity is recognized by the amount of time it takes us to respond to the voice of God.
- Identify the decision. If the decision does not qualify as common sense or personal preference continue on.
- Continue to Pray for the guidance of Holy Spirit throughout the entire process.
- What counsel does God’s word provide?
- Is there a deadline for making this decision?
- Rate the importance of this decision. Consider the financial, moral, physical impact on yourself and others now and in the future.
- Consider the pros and cons of your options.
- Consult wise counselors.
- Consider your prior experiences with similar decisions.
- If possible, sleep on it, walk away from it, clear your mind.
Sometimes decisions are obvious. They make sense, everyone agrees. It works out well.
Sometimes decisions are difficult. They go against conventional wisdom. People think you’re crazy. And then it doesn’t work out.
Sometimes decisions are easy and we make them difficult. We over spiritualize them and then miss them altogether. And the answer was right in front of our nose.
Sometimes decisions are to do nothing, to hold our tongue, not strike back, not send that email, not go to that party, to wait, to trust, to listen.
Sometimes decisions left unmade are opportunities lost, adventures put on hold, potential unmet.
I love this story below.
I have heard it many, many times and it always reminds me of how our miraculous, wonder working God often provides for us in ordinary, obvious, and personal ways.
A Decision Making Disaster
There once was a man who lived in a big house on a river. One day, during a horrible rain storm, the river starting rising. The wind blew, the water crashed against the levee and the levee eventually broke. The town officials sent out an emergency warning over all channels.
The man began to pray to God to rescue him.
The water began to cover his yard and the entire street began to flood. The local Fire Dept began emergency evacuation procedures, driving up and down the street, warning people to leave now while they could still drive their own vehicles.
They knocked on the man’s house. He said he would be ok because God would miraculous rescue him.
But the water kept rising. The man had to move upstairs as the water filled the bottom story of his house. He continued to pray, with complete confidence that God would rescue him.
A police motorboat came by looking for stranded people. They saw the man looking out his window and urged him to step out the window and into their boat. “The river is still rising,” they said, “but we can take you to safety.”
He said he was fine. God had promised to rescue him. They should concentrate on helping others.
Eventually the man had to move up onto the roof of his home as the water filled his entire house. There was nothing to see but water, and the tops of trees and houses all around him. He continued to pray for God to rescue him.
A National Guard rescue helicopter saw him and hovered overhead. They lowered a basket and urged him to climb in. The water was inching up the roof. They told him to hurry, as the water would soon cover his house and sweep him away.
“No worries”, he said. “I have faith God is going to rescue me”.
The helicopter flew away, leaving the man all alone. The water covered his roof and swept him away and he drowned.
When he got to heaven and met God face to face, he said he had one question.
“God, I faithfully prayed for you to rescue me. But, you didn’t and now I am dead. Why didn’t you save me?”
And God said. “Son, I sent you a warning, I sent you a fire truck, I sent you a police boat, I sent you a National Guard helicopter. What more were you looking for?”
Personal Reflections on Guidance
- List some important decisions people make during their lives.
- Name a couple of decisions you made with guidance. Where do you go for guidance?
- Name a couple of decisions you made that significantly changed your life and that changed someone else’s life? Did you get guidance for those decisions?
- What kinds of decisions do you spend too much time contemplating? Why are these decisions more difficult than others?
- What kinds of decisions do you ignore or put off? Why do you do this?
- What do you do when people ask you for guidance?
- How do you determine if you have made a good decision?
- How do you seek God for guidance?
(In your own journal, the downloadable PDF for this blog, or in the Comment section for this post)
Share your answers to the Personal Reflections on Guidance questions. Also share anything you learned from practicing Guidance.
Please watch the video above (click on the link) and answer the following questions.
- Have you ever struggled with finding your calling? What do you think the term “calling” means?
- Why do we struggle with knowing if our dreams and desires are from God or from ourselves? How could a dream or desire that comes from God be something we might fear, ignore, or deny?
- How can wrong choices become positive elements in our life story?
- How can our calling become obvious by reviewing our life story? Or how does God use our Story to reveal our calling to us?
Discuss the questions below in regard to discovering and fulfilling your calling. Answer each question from the perspective of trying to discover your calling and then from the perspective of already knowing your calling.
- Do I go here or here?
- Is it just about where I go or what I do?
- Or is it about who I am and who I am becoming?
- Do you think it is possible to live your whole life and fulfill your calling without actually knowing what it is?
(In your own journal, the downloadable PDF for this blog, or in the Comment section for this post)
Share your answers to the questions and any other responses to the video, Ignorable Calling.
John White – “You may seek guidance, but God desires to give something better, Himself. Which would you prefer to have while driving through a strange city, a complicated set of instructions from someone on the sidewalk, or a kindly stranger who says, “Look, I’m on my way there right now. Let me hop in and I’ll show you the way.”
Richard Foster – “God does guide the individual richly and profoundly, but he also guides groups of people and can instruct the individual through the group experience.“
David – “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth, and teach me for you are God my Savior and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:4-5 NIV
James – “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:5-7 NIV
John Ortberg – “Many people give little thought to spiritual guidance until the face a major decision….What they really want is not guidance…they want insider information so they can know which door to choose. They want to know beforehand which choice will lead to money, happiness, and success.”
John White – “He wants us to know his mind. He wants us to grasp his very heart. We need minds so soaked with the content of Scripture, so imbued with biblical outlooks and principles, so sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting that we will know instinctively the upright step to take in any circumstance, small or great.”
Jesus – “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” John 10:27 NIV
Sons of Korah – “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” Psalm 48:14 NIV
John Ortberg – “The problem is….that one assumes that whatever happens as a result of our passivity is God’s will. This is obviously not true. Try going out and sitting in the middle of an expressway saying, ‘I’m not going to move. I’ll just sit right here and if I don’t get run over by a car, then I will know it is God’s doing and not me acting in the flesh.’ We would consider such action stupid.”
Solomon – “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.” Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV
References for the above quotes can be found in the back of the PDF version of Bright, White and Right.
(In your own journal, the PDF, or the Comments section of this post)
Pick one or two of the above quotes or statements and share any insights or challenges it presents to you.
The next post is Bright, White and Right 8: Journal 7.4 – Fair is Fair.