In the Kentucky farmer and writer Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow, Berry has his novel’s namesake character, Jayber, talk about the quiet work of God’s guidance in our lives: “Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often, I have received better than I deserved. Often my faintest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led—make of that what you will.”
I don’t know about you, but I can certainly identify with Jayber Crow. As I have pursued my Christian pilgrimage, I have many times felt overwhelmingly lost while traveling through life’s valleys. But, amid my hopes, desires, goals, mistakes, and surprises, I, like Jayber, have received better than I deserved. And looking back, I have strangely felt God’s distinct guiding hand leading me all the while.
Which leads us to the question: “How do I go about receiving & following divine guidance?” It is a common question asked by many. While I have experienced and believe God uses our desires, goals, and mistakes in leading us as Christians, I think there is a process involved from Scripture to be followed as well. I call this process the stop, look, and listen method.
When I was a child, and like many of you, my parents gave me guidance regarding street and railroad crossings. Before crossing a busy street and intersection or traversing a railroad crossing, I was to stop, look to see if any cars or trains were coming, and to listen for any of the same before proceeding. I believe that following my Heavenly Father’s divine guidance is very much the same.
Usually the need for guidance comes as we face life’s street and railroad crossings. We come upon problems and other life circumstances, whether those problems or circumstances are financial, relational, physical, educational, professional, or spiritual. In each of these situations we come to street/railroad crossings or forks in the road, to use another analogy, where choices are varied, and decisions are required before proceeding. It is in these times when God extends His guiding hand to us to reveal His will in us.
When these times come, we must do three things. First, we must stop. Determine not to proceed until receiving some direction from God. This may take some time and require a degree of patience, but it is necessary to experience God’s guidance. Second, it is necessary to look. Look closely at or examine the problem or circumstances before you. Sometimes God brings us to a life crossing situation to use the circumstance itself to speak to us or to arrest our attention to further direct us to the source of His guidance. For example, if a job opportunity being considered closes, then God has said “no” from the circumstance itself, and it is then necessary to await further direction. And third, it is necessary to listen. There are three primary ways God uses to speak into our lives to which we must listen to enable Him to guide us:
- Listen to the voice of God in the Word of God – the Holy Scriptures. God’s primary means for giving us guidance is the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Bible is our rule and instruction book for faith and practice. If we know and understand the Scripture, we will be well on our way to having His guidance. God never guides His people contrary to the clear teachings, commands, and principles of His written Word.
- Listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit as He speaks into your conscience. Rom. 8:14 says, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit guides us by impressing specific scriptures, thoughts, sensations, and directions into our minds, and bringing our desires and goals into line with His (cf. Ps. 37:4). To hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers in our consciences we must be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:17-18; Col. 3:16), our minds must be clean receptors (Prov. 4:23; Rom. 8:6-8; Rom. 12:1-2; Phil. 4:8), there must be ongoing conversation with God through prayer (e.g. Col. 1:9b-10a; James 1:5-8), and we must be living in obedience to God’s holy, revealed truth (John 14:21).
- Listen to the insight of Godly counselors who themselves listen to the Word of God and to the Holy Spirit’s whispers. Prov. 15:22 says: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” And Prov. 20:18 says: “Plans are established by seeking advice; so, if you wage war, obtain guidance.” Godly counselors help clarify issues and tend to confirm what the voice of God in the Word of God says.
If after these three steps there is still some unclarity as to how you should address the street or railroad crossing of your life, choose the way that seems best, all things considered, and commit it to the Lord, and proceed asking Him to bless or block your way and redirect you as He deems fit.
Most importantly, when you receive God’s guidance, you must be willing to follow it, regardless of your thinking, feelings, or preferences. It is God’s will and direction; He knows best. We simply must obey His guidance. Prov. 3:5-6 says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding: in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
When you follow God’s initiative, you will be glad you did. And with Jayber Crow, you will receive better than you deserve, and you will not be able shake off the distinct feeling of satisfaction that you have been led by God’s guiding hand.
There is nothing better!
Your friend & pastor,