In this journey we have been on to get to know God better, J.I. Packer adds another characteristic of our Father. He is also our Benevolent Guide. If “God Be For Us…” is the section of his book we are in. That reference is probably based on Romans 8: 31 “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” “Thou our Guide” is the title of the chapter we are on and the discussion in this post will be on how Christians receive guidance from a God who is for us. Surely God is probably going to be a good guide and we should desire His guidance. Proverbs 1:5: says “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Before I sat down at my computer to write today, I just left worship service at my church and we always have a lay reader who reads Old Testament Scripture early in the service. Today, she made a well-known quip that she was reading from the Bible, which she said is an acronym for “Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth”. If God has a plan for you and me [see the previous post “God Has a Plan”] and it is a good plan, should we not want to take advice from our wonderful God? Should we not desire His basic instruction?
Again the big question is how do people go about receiving God’s guidance?
Packer believes that many Christians make the mistake of thinking that divine guidance comes from the “inward prompting by the Holy Spirit, apart from the written Word” [Knowing God, 234].
I once had an experience with a man who professed to be a Christian. I took his profession at face value. I was standing in line at my church, waiting to go into Wednesday night supper and he came rushing into the building. He declared to all of us in the foyer “God has given me a Mercedes; the Holy Spirit prompted me to buy my new luxury car!” What seemed unusual is the fact that this man told all of us earlier that he had limited means; in fact, he had a history of repeatedly taking free resources from our church.
That’s one of my experiences with someone who relied on the Spirit and not the Word, but Packer cites more examples. He tells of a woman who awakens each morning, consecrating her day for the Lord. The Lord tells her whether to get out of bed or stay in bed. The Lord tells her whether to put on her right shoe first or second [or leave off the left shoe entirely]. The Lord tells her to put on stockings or leave off her stockings. She truly believes the Holy Spirit dresses her.
Then there is the case of a woman who stayed at another woman’s house for the night and took money accidently left on a dressing table by her hostess. She said the Holy Spirit told her to take the money to illustrate the Scripture “all things are yours.” When the hostess discovered her Holy Spirit action [the guest put the money under her pillow], she had her guest charged with thievery.
Lastly is the tale of the “quiet refined lady rather past middle age” who, in order to help her friends receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, required them to perform a unique act. They had to lie in bed with her back to back and neither person had on bed clothes. When queried about her process, she simply said “I have felt distinctly led by the Lord to have my friends get into bed with me like this” *
What all these examples show are a reliance on pure feelings and an assumption that our God and Father is not rational. Packer of course believes in the Holy Spirit, but “the true way to honor the Holy Spirit as our Guide is to honor the Holy Scriptures through which He guides us….the inward promptings…[are the] pressures 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 Bible gives us positive ideals by which we should behave; guidelines that are grounded in Scripture are not likely to suggest we spend beyond our means, dress with Holy Spirit promptings, steal money because the Bible tells me so or ignore commonsense ideas about inappropriate nakedness in the name of Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Packer says God’s guidance encourages us to be like Jesus. Be as virtuous as you can, up to your limit. Know the responsibilities of your role in life: husband, wife, parent, children etc. and perform your role to the best of your ability following Biblical guidelines. I have been reading the Psalms lately as well as Proverbs; both books offer excellent examples of guidance. General Biblical axioms apply very well to everyday life. “Turn from evil and do good” is an admonition from the psalmist which is a big idea but it will serve as commonsense guidance for everyday choice making. All of this is not just the reading of words; these words are God’s words and asking Him for the strength to help you carry out His guidance is very appropriate. That just makes good sense.
But people declare that being “led by the Spirit” is a real reference to Romans 8: 14. Is this not a real thing? Packer writes that Romans 8: 14 is not a reference to being led by inward voices as much as it is about “mortifying known sin and not living after the flesh.”
These questionable “Spirit-led” decisions that I have written about are what Packer calls “vocational” decisions. Focus on his words about these types of decisions: “He [God] guides us vocationally through the means of our thinking, our consulting, our reflecting, our praying, our allowing Him to convince us that this, rather than that is the way we should be going.”** Certainly there is room for feeling in this statement but it is clear to me that Packer does not feel that our Holy Spirit feelings will lead us astray from God’s Word. Psalms 23: 3 says “He guides me in paths of righteousness” to which Packer adds, “—but not anywhere else.”
Life is a journey, I don’t know about you, but it is nice to have some help getting to where I am going, a helpful GPS system, a good map or even a human guide. I don’t want to get lost. I don’t want to waste my precious time. I want to arrive safely at my desired destination. I believe in the Holy Spirit but I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit will prompt me to do something that is against God’s word. I will always have feelings as I travel down the road of life, but God’s word…
The words of His Bible are the guardrails…
*examples cited come from Hannah Whitall Smith, Religious Fanaticism
**from Packer and Nystrom, God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions