Guidance. It’s one of those topics that people most ask for teaching on in churches. It’s one of those topics that no matter how long we’ve walked with God we all still deal with from time to time.
We want easy answers. We want to know what God would have us do. We joke about asking him to write it in the sky. And sometimes we turn to the Bible, hoping that it is the handbook of instructions for life on earth which someone told us it was.
Yet the answers are not easy. God doesn’t write it in the sky. And the technique of randomly opening the Bible and reading the first verse we see doesn’t help. (Not of course that you’ve ever tried that, have you? Take it from someone who has – it’s very hard to make an out-of-context verse from Old Testament narrative guide you in deciding anything of any significance!)
So, what is next? How can I know how to please God? How can I know how to invest myself best?
I’ve been asking those questions lately. There is one decision in my life currently which is driving this questioning. To some extent, anyone I talk to thinks that this decision is already a fait accompli. To them, my final decision is obvious. And I know why. If I were they, I would be saying the same thing to me.
In fact, to seek the wisdom of other believers is an important part of seeking guidance. When I trust the discernment of those around me, I do not lightly ignore their advice. And yet…
And yet, a line of a Sara Groves song comes to mind: ‘My journey is my own. I live, I breathe, for an audience of One’. What does that audience of One desire for me? The One who is beyond understanding, whose paths are beyond seeking out? Yes, he guides through the community of believers. But his ways are higher than ours and sometimes human advisors miss what he is doing.
So, how then do I make this decision?
- Of course I need to ask the wiser people around me.
- Of course I need to weigh up my gifts and passions and question how these might lead me to choose (which is, by the way, what often informs the advice we receive from others).
- Of course I need to consider the cost and the benefit of each possible option.
- Of course I need to apply such Scriptural principles as might be relevant.
But more than anything else, I feel that the Spirit is teaching me that guidance comes from TIME spent in the place of intimacy with the triune God.
Listen to this from Ruth Haley Barton in Sacred Rhythms. I read it recently:
discernment is about falling in love and letting that decide everything. It is about falling so deeply in love with God that nothing else matters. It is about trusting God so much that all we want in this life is to abandon ourselves to the goodness of his will. It is about knowing God so intimately that we can tell what he wants just by turning our heart to him. It is about loving ourselves and God and others so much that we will wait until we understand what love calls us to and then give ourselves to it, even when it costs us.
What does love call me to? That’s harder to determine than what my gifts and passions are, what the costs and benefits are, what limits Scripture might place on my decision-making in this context. But, you know, it’s as I sit and wait in the place of intimacy, before the One by whom I am fully known, that I begin to hear the voice of love.
And he has begun to speak to me. Not as fast as I would like. You know me! But then, of course, so does he. And he knows what I need to know and when. In fact, his idea of what I need to know and mine seem to differ quite substantially so far. I, after all, am in his presence because I want guidance on this decision. He, on the other hand, is more interested in the personal transformation which might come from this process.
So, without telling me what decision is better, he has so far shown me how governed I am by fear, how some of my reasons in favour of the first option I’m considering are not reasons at all but result from fears about what would happen if I took the second option. He’s also shown me how I am still (irritatingly!) basing my identity in my doing rather than my being. And finally he’s shown me that I still struggle just to wait. I want answers and I want them now! But he wants me. And he wants me to want him above all else.
Haley Barton finishes her words of advice with this sentence. I’m beginning to recognise her wisdom in this…
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
Where are you with decision-making?