J.I. Packer – Knowing God – Selective clips from Chapter 20
To many Christians, guidance is a chronic problem. Why? Not because they doubt that divine guidance is a fact, but because they are sure it is.
They know that God can guide, and has promised to guide, every Christian believer. Books, and friends, and public speakers, tell them how guidance has worked in the lives of others. Their fear, therefore, is not that no guidance should be available for them, but that they may miss the guidance which God provides through some fault of their own.
This is me. When it comes down to finding God’s will for my life, to often I am looking for a shooting start to point the way. I know God can communicate but I am anxious that it won’t be obvious and I will miss the direction.
Belief that divine guidance is real rests upon two foundational-facts:
- The reality of God’s plan for us
- The ability of God to communicate with us.
Has God a plan for individuals? Indeed He has. He has formed an ‘eternal purpose,’ a plan for the fullness of time, in accordance with which he ‘accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Ephesians 3:11, 1:10, 11).
Moreover, Scripture contains explicit promises of divine guidance whereby we may know God’s plan for our action.
‘I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you,’ says God to David (Psalm 32:8)
Earnest Christians seeking guidance often go wrong about it. Why is this?
Their basic mistake is to think of guidance as essentially inward prompting by the Holy Spirit, apart from the written Word.
This class of problems concerned with what we may call ‘vocational choices’–choices, that is, between competing options, all of which in themselves appear lawful and good. Examples are: should I contemplate marriage, or not? should I marry this person, or not? should we aim at having another child? should I join this church, or that one? should I serve God in the land of my upbringing, or abroad? which of the professions open to me should I follow?
This is me again. I hate having choices. Some people I know love making decisions about everything in order to customize every part of their life. Some want to jailbreak their phone so they can choose so many other options and I personally say I like it the way it is. When it comes to finding God’s will for my life their often seem to many choices and so many turns and in order to avoid having to make a U-Turn I better make the right turn. I like the way J.I. Packer puts this next phrase for life.
The idea of a life in which the inward voice of the Spirit decides and directs everything sounds most attractive, for it seems to exalt the Spirit’s ministry and to promise the closest intimacy with God; but in practice this quest for super-spirituality leads only to frantic bewilderment or lunacy. Hannah Whitall Smith writes of the woman who each morning, having consecrated the day to the Lord as soon as she woke: would then ask Him whether she was to get up or not,’ and would not stir till the voice told her to dress. As she put on each article she asked the Lord whether she was to put it on, and very often the Lord would tell her to put on the right shoes and leave off the other; sometimes she was to put on both stockings and no shoes; and sometimes both shoes and no stockings; it was the same with all the articles of dress…
The biggest mistake of all is the failure to grasp that the fundamental mode whereby our rational Creator guides His rational creatures is by rational understanding and application of His written Word.
The true way to honour the Holy Spirit as our guide is to honour the Holy Scriptures through which he guides us. The fundamental guidance which God gives to shape our lives– the instilling, that is, of the basic convictions, attitudes, ideals, and value-judgments, in terms of which we are to live–is not a matter of inward promptings apart from the Word but of the pressure on our consciences of the portrayal of God’s character and will in the Word, which the Spirit enlightens us to understand and apply to ourselves.
The Spirit leads within the limits which the Word sets, not beyond them. ‘He guideth me in the paths of righteousness’ — but not anywhere else.