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I have met a great many who are trying to lead a Christian life, who are much troubled over the question of guidance. They wish to do the will of God in all things, but what puzzles them is to tell what the will of God may be in every case. When any one starts out with the determination to obey God in everything and to be led by the Holy Spirit, Satan seeks to trouble him by perplexing him as to what the will of God is. Satan comes and suggests that something is the will of God that is probably not the will of God at all, and then when he does not do it, Satan says, “There you disobeyed God.” In this way, many a conscientious young Christian gets into a very morbid and unhappy state of mind, fearing that he has disobeyed God and has lost His favor. This is one of the most frequent devices of the devil to keep Christians from being cheerful.
How may we know the will of God?
First let me say that a true Christian life is not a life governed by a whole lot of rules about what one shall eat, and what one shall drink, and what one shall do, and what one shall not do. A life governed by many rules is a life of bondage. One is sure sooner or later to break some of these man-made rules and to get into condemnation. Paul tells us in Rom. 8:15, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption (placing us a son), whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” The true Christian life is the life of a trusting, glad, fear-free child; not led by rules, but led by the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). If you have received the Holy Spirit, He dwells within you and is ready to lead you at every turn of life. A life governed by a multitude of rules is a life of bondage and anxiety. A life surrendered to the control of the Holy Spirit is a life of joy and peace and freedom. There is no anxiety in such a life, there is no fear in the presence of God. We trust God and rejoice in His presence just as a true child trusts his earthly father and rejoices in his presence. If we make a mistake at any point, even if we disobey God, we go and tell Him all about it as trustfully as a child and know that He forgives us and that we are restored at once to His full favor (1 John 1:9).
But how can we tell the Holy Spirit’s guidance that we may obey Him and thus have God’s favor at every turn of life? This question is answered in James 1:5–7, r. v., “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him, but let him ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he who doubts is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.” This is very simple. It includes five points.
(1) That you recognize your own ignorance and your own inability to guide your own life—that you lack wisdom.
(2) The surrender of your will to God, and a real desire to be led by Him.
(3) Definite prayer to Him for guidance.
(4) Confident expectation that God will guide you. You “ask in faith, nothing doubting.”
(5) That you follow step by step as He guides. God may only show you a step at a time. That is enough. All you need to know is the next step. It is here that many make a mistake. They wish God to show them the whole way before they take the first step. A university student once came to me over the question of guidance. He said, “I cannot find out the will of God. I have been praying, but God does not show me His will.” This was in the month of July. I said, “About what is it that you are seeking to know the will of God?” “About what I should do next summer.” I said,“Do you know what you ought to do tomorrow?” “Yes.” “Do you not know what you ought to do next autumn?” “Yes, finish my course. But what I want to know is what I ought to do when my university course is over.” He was soon led to see that all he needed to know for the present was what God had already shown him. That when he did that, God would show him the next step. Do not worry about what you ought to do next week. Do what God shows you, you ought to do to-day. Next week will take care of itself. Indeed, tomorrow will take care of itself. Obey the Spirit of God for to-day. “Be not therefore anxious for the morrow; for the morrow will be anxious for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6:34, r. v.). It is enough to live a day at a time, if we do our very best for that day.
God’s guidance is clear guidance, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Do not be anxious over obscure leadings. Do not let your soul be ruffled by the thought, “Perhaps this obscure leading is what God wants me to do.” Obscure leadings are not divine leadings. God’s path is as clear as day. Satan’s path is full of obscurity and uncertainty and anxiety and questioning. If there comes some leading of which you are not quite sure whether it is the will of God or not, simply go to your Heavenly Father and say, “Heavenly Father, I desire to know Thy will. I will do Thy will if Thou wilt make it clear. But Thou art light and in Thee is no darkness at all. If this is Thy will make it clear as day and I will do it.” Then wait quietly upon God and do not act until God makes it clear, but the moment it is made clear, act at once.
The whole secret of guidance is an absolutely surrendered will, a will that is given up to God and ready to obey Him at any cost. Many of our uncertainties about God’s guidance are simply because we are not really willing to do what God is really guiding us to do. We are tempted to say, “I cannot find out what God’s will is,” when the real trouble is we have found out His will, and it is something we do not wish to do, and we are trying to make ourselves think that God wants us to do something else.
All supposed leadings of God should be tested by the Word of God. The Bible is God’s revealed will. Any leading that contradicts the plain teaching of the Bible is certainly not the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself. A man once came to me and said that God was leading him to marry a certain woman. He said that she was a very devoted Christian woman and they had been greatly drawn towards one another and they felt that God was leading them to be married. But I said to the man, “You already have a wife.” “Yes,” he said, “but we have never lived happily and we have not lived together for years.” “But,” I replied, “that does not alter the case. God in His Word has told us distinctly the duty of the husband to the wife and how wrong it is in His sight for a husband to divorce his wife and marry another.” “Yes,” said the man, “but the Holy Spirit is leading us to one another.” I indignantly replied that “Whatever spirit is leading you to marry one another, it is certainly not the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of the evil one. The Holy Spirit never leads any one to disobey the Word of God.”
In seeking to know the guidance of the Spirit, always search the Scriptures, study them prayerfully. Do not make a book of magic out of the Bible. Do not ask God to show you His will and then open your Bible at random and put your finger upon some text and take it out of its connection without any relation to its real meaning and decide the will of God in that way. This is an irreverent and improper use of Scripture. You may open your Bible at just the right place to find right guidance, but if you do, it will not be by some fanciful interpretation of the passage you find. It will be by taking the passage in its context and interpreting it to mean just what it says as seen in its context. All sorts of mischief has arisen from using the Bible in this perverse way. I knew an earnest Christian woman once who was somewhat concerned about the predictions made by a false prophetess that Chicago was to be destroyed on a certain day. She opened her Bible at random. It opened to the twelfth chapter of Ezekiel, “Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness.… And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate” (Ezek. 12:18, 20). Now this seemed to exactly fit the case and the woman was considerably impressed, but if the verses had been studied in their connection, it would have been evident at once that God was not speaking about Chicago and that they were not applicable to Chicago. It was not an intelligent study of the Word of God and therefore led to a false conclusion.
To sum up, lead a life not led by rules but by the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit. Surrender your will absolutely to God. Whenever you are in doubt as to His guidance, go to Him and ask Him to show you His will, expect Him to do it, follow step by step as He leads. Test all the leadings by the plain and simple teachings of the Bible. Live free from anxiety and worry, lest in some unguarded moment you have not done the right thing.
After you have done what you think God led you to do, do not be always going back and wondering whether you did the right thing. You will get into a morbid state if you do. If you really wished to do God’s will and sought His guidance, and did what you thought He guided you to do, you may rest assured you did the right thing, no matter what the outcome has been. Satan is bound that we shall not be happy, cheerful Christians if he can prevent it, but God wishes us to be happy, cheerful, bright Christians every day and every hour. He does not wish us to brood but to rejoice (Phil. 4:4). A most excellent Christian man came to me one Monday morning in great gloom over the failures of the work of the preceding day. He said to me, “I made wretched work of teaching my Sunday-school class yesterday.” I said, “Did you honestly seek wisdom from God before you went to your class?” He said, “I did.” I said, “Did you expect to receive it?” He said, “I did.” “Then,” I said, “in the face of God’s promise, what right have you to doubt that God did give you wisdom?” (James 1:5–7). His gloom disappeared, and he looked up with a smile and said, “I had no right to doubt.” Let us learn to trust God. Let us remember that if our wills are surrendered to Him, He is ever more willing to guide us than we are to be guided. Let us trust that He does guide us at every step and even though what we do does not turn out as we expected, let us never brood over it but trust God. Let us walk in the light of simple trust in God. In this way, we shall be glad and peaceful and strong and useful at every turn of life.