Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Spiritual Disciplines- Guidance

We are continuing to look at the Spiritual Disciplines, and this morning we are looking at Guidance. Guidance is experiencing an interactive relationship with God that gives direction and purpose to daily life. Guidance is how we make an important decision as God’s people. It is how we see our options and then choose one of those options.

The Bible gives a lot of direction on how to live, and it is important to know our Bible, so that we know the general principles that should direct us. When we look at the Ten Commandments, for example, we see that we shouldn’t worship other gods, or steal, or murder, or lie. But, the Bible doesn’t necessarily tell us who we should marry, or if we should get married at all. The Bible won’t tell us which career we should pursue, or if we should change careers. The Bible won’t tell us precisely how we should help a family member or friend who is in trouble with drugs. And, when we are diagnosed with a serious illness and the doctor gives us three options for treatment, the Bible probably won’t tell us which medical treatment we should choose.

When it comes to these kinds of specific personal issues the Bible doesn’t always have much guidance to offer us besides some general principles. General principles are good for how we should direct our lives generally. But, most of us aren’t usually trying to decide between stealing our neighbour’s car or going to Bible study. In that case, the Ten Commandments’ direction to not steal is helpful.  
It's also worth saying that we probably shouldn’t expect God to give us direction on things that are plain in Scripture (Lk 16:31). If God has told us not to steal, we probably shouldn't ask God if it's okay to steal (unless there are some extreme circumstances we are dealing with). …. 
We need more specific direction to decide if we should go back to school or stay with our career. Many of our decisions aren’t actually about right and wrong, they are often a matter of calling. We are often having to decide between two good things because it is unwise or impossible to try to do both. Or, maybe you shouldn’t do either because you are already over committed.

Jesus was well aware that we were going to have to make decisions that require more specific direction than the general teachings given by him and the rest of Scripture. In John 16 Jesus tell his disciples,
 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:12-13).
 So, what we need are practices that can help us learn the direction of the Holy Spirit.

There are a few practices that can help us make a decision in these matters. There are things we can do as an individual. In this I would recommend Dallas Willard’s book, “Hearing God”.

First, it is probably a good idea to make sure we clear away anything that might make it hard for us to hear from God. If we have a blatant sin in our life that is persistent and we don’t repent of it, then it will likely make it harder to hear from God until that is dealt with. God might care more about that sin being dealt with than whatever we are trying to make a decision about. (Imagine a mob hit man trying to hear from God about what home to buy. God likely has larger concerns in that man's life.)

It is also important to come to God with an obedient heart. If we are unwilling to follow what God will say, then it seems unlikely that we will receive direction until we would be willing to follow the direction received. Why would God give us direction that we aren't going to follow? That isn't to say that we will follow that direction without difficulty or question. Jesus took some time to be okay with God's direction in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46; or consider Saul's experience in Acts 9).

We also probably need to slow down to hear the Holy Spirit’s direction. If we are really distracted and frantically busy we will probably not be able to hear from God until we find a way to become inwardly still.

The main way we hear God, personally, is through an impression on our spirit, or as an awareness of certain thoughts entering our mind. An impression on our spirit is something like the feeling of conscience. For example, when you are about to do something you know is wrong and something in you doesn’t feel right, that’s your conscience. Or when you know you should do something to help someone, the pressure inside you is your conscience. … Similarly, you will sometimes have thoughts enter your mind. You might have an idea, or an image enter your mind. That might be God communicating with you. (Which isn't to say that every thought in your head is from God.) …

It isn’t always easy to discern between our thoughts and God’s voice, though. … I once had a woman come to me absolutely certain that God told her to go to university to become a doctor, and that the church was supposed to pay for it. She was completely sure of herself. I was presented with two options- 1) Do what she said, and therefore obey God’s command. Or, 2) don’t do what she says, and be disobedient to God. … That is the problem with trying to discern God’s will on our own. Sometimes we twist our own thoughts to make them seem like God’s direction. She was not open to the idea that maybe she heard wrongly, or that something like this had to be discerned with a community.

Sometimes it is important to have someone else help you discern God’s guidance. There is an ancient tradition of going to a wise and saintly elder to help you hear God. There are a number of names for this kind of relationship- the most common name at present is ‘Spiritual Director’. A good spiritual director can be very helpful to see on a regular basis, but especially when you have an important decision. … Choose a spiritual director very carefully. Unfortunately, not all people who call themselves spiritual directors are good, and even if they are good, your personality might not ‘click’ with theirs. A good spiritual director can help you walk into a deeper relationship with God. …

When you look for a spiritual director you are looking for an experienced Christian whose life has depth when it comes to spiritual matters. You are looking for someone who loves God and loves you. You are looking for someone who understands suffering, and how someone can grow through suffering. It is also more important that this person knows God, rather than merely knowing about God. You can have a PhD in Hebrew and not really know God. They should be someone who listens more than they speak. They should be someone who helps you hear God, and not someone who just gives you advice as if they are God.

It has also been a practice in the Christian tradition to call together a group of wise, faithful, and prayerful Christians to help you seek guidance. When I was discerning a call to ordination to the priesthood my priests called together four people from my church who committed to help me discern if I was called to become a priest or not. We met once a month. They asked me questions, I told them my thoughts and doubts, and we prayed together. In the end they told me that I should go to seminary and pursue the priesthood. … It was helpful to have a number of people help me. They were honest enough to ask me hard questions and they loved me and the church enough to know that it was important to hear rightly.

We see this practiced in the book of Acts as the early church sought direction regarding how the Gentiles would be included in the church. In Acts 15:28 we read the conclusion to their group discernment- “…it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”. This doesn't have the ring of absolute certainty, but they had enough confidence to move forward on this important matter. 

We can hear God as individuals, and that is a norm as we live day to day. No doubt God also wants us to learn to make decisions on our own without having to be told minute by minute what to do, but there will be times when we are in need of guidance and it is important that we develop the skills and relationships that are important for those moments. It is important that we take time to learn to discern God’s voice within ourselves. … It is also helpful to have a mature Christian we look up to that we meet with periodically to help us discern what God is doing in our life. It doesn’t matter if we call that “spiritual direction”, but it is a relationship that many Christians throughout history have found to be helpful. Wise elders are very much in need in the church. … It is also important to have fellowship with other Christians in a small group. It should be a group of people we trust- people we can be honest with- people we can pray with- people who love us and who we love back- people who love God and yearn to know God better. … God wants to speak with us, and give us direction for our lives. For this reason we were given the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us. May we be attentive to all the ways the Spirit is speaking to us. AMEN

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