How does God reveal Himself to us? Is the Bible our only reliable source for guidance, or are there other ways? Most importantly, when faced with decisions-especially those of momentous impact–how do we know whether something is from God or not?
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” (Isaiah 30:21 NIV)
This is the most famous verse about God’s guidance, yet we need to recognize its context. It was specifically spoken to the prophet Isaiah–which is not to say God cannot or will not also direct our paths in the same manner, but we must be careful to understand that just because we feel God approves of a particular course of action doesn’t necessarily mean He does–after all, there are schizophrenics in institutions who genuinely believe God told them to commit their crimes!
Which leads us to a primary principal of Divine revelation: 1) God will not contradict Himself. If He has already spoken on a matter in Scripture, it is vain for us to try to argue our way out of it. Because His Word says not to kill, He will not “lead me” to murder. Because He says, “You shall not commit adultery,” (Exodus 20:14 NIV), unfaithfulness is always wrong. My situation–regardless of how sincerely I feel “guided” differently–will not be the exception to the rule. Too many sad stories of serious deception occur when people prioritize feelings over the truth of Scripture; we must remember that “…even Satan changes himself to look like an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14 NCV).
Which leads us to another principal. 2) We must never put feelings above the Word of God. So, yes, the Word of God can, at times, seem unrelenting and immovable. Remember Hagar, and how difficult it was for her to do what was right? She’s the Egyptian slave-woman sexually given to and impregnated by an eighty-something Abraham because Sarah wasn’t conceiving, then harshly beaten–so much so that she ran away. We are not told how she was enslaved, but she was a human being with feelings and opinions and preferences like each of us–none of which mattered in the position she found herself in. Yet when the angel of God confronted her in the desert, she was told to go back:
“The angel of the LORD found Hagar beside a spring of water in the desert…The angel said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s slave girl, where have you come from? Where are you going?’ Hagar answered, ‘I am running away from my mistress Sarai.’ The angel of the LORD said to her, ‘Go home to your mistress and obey her.’ The angel also said, ‘I will give you so many descendants they cannot be counted.’ The slave girl gave a name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are ‘God who sees me,’ because she said to herself, ‘Have I really seen God who sees me?'” (Genesis 16:7-10, 13 NCV)
God told her to go back–but even in this difficult directive provided comfort through the promise of a nation of descendants through her, and in the end, she felt heard, and obeyed.
Feelings are unreliable indicators of God’s will. Sometimes what God expects of us is difficult and not pleasant; He does not let us out of our difficult situations, but rather comforts and helps us bear up within them. It’s so easy to complain and reason that He wouldn’t ask that much of us. Yet Jesus gave everything–why do we assume we shouldn’t have to give something!
God never contradicts Himself, and feelings are unreliable indicators of His will, but before leaving His followers, Jesus promised them (and us) His Holy Spirit, “But the Helper will teach you everything and will cause you to remember all that I told you. This Helper is the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name.” (John 14:26 NCV)
Jesus gives us His Holy Spirit, and it is He who teaches us everything and causes us to remember everything Jesus told us. But–He does not cause us to remember what we do not yet know, so we must be diligent to faithfully search out and study His Word. So how does God reveal Himself to us and guide us in making decisions? 3) The Spirit of God Himself helps us to understand and correctly apply God’s Word. Not just the explicit portions of Scripture, mind you; when we really know the Bible, He helps us develop a feel for His heart on other issues, too!
But is there any other way to know what God really wants us to do in a particular situation not addressed in Scripture; can I ask Him for guidance on a specific issue? Of course I won’t consult a medium, or read palms or tea leaves or horoscopes, or use ouija boards; God forbids these because He is truth and we will not get that from evil spirits. Yet Gideon in the Old Testament asked for confirmation twice about something God told him, (“let it be wet” and it was; then, “let it be dry” and it was), and I believe God is patient with us when we seek Him.
Because He “…wants all people to be saved and to know the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 NCV), God is merciful beyond belief, and knows exactly what is needed for each of us to be fully convinced, and our faith strengthened. 4) Thus, He goes above and beyond to meet us where we’re at to provide what we need to believe, and He does it in various ways, including answered prayer and confirmation.
That is why, I believe, there were so many supernatural manifestations–miracles–in the early days after Jesus, and why there are reports even today in remote pockets of the world where the miracles will serve to confirm God’s authority and engender faith. We in the modern world, however, have become much more cynical and tend not to see as many obvious physical manifestations of His power because God gives what we need to believe; He is not in the business of curiosities or amusement.
So, how do we make a God-honoring decision? A) First, we line it up against Scripture–does it violate any clear-cut Biblical teaching? B) Next, we search for God’s heart–even if it doesn’t specifically violate a command in the Bible, does it go against something you know God would have you do instead? It’s not wrong, for example, to sell a junk car, but if you know of a needy family that has a desperate need and you can honestly live without the money, maybe you should just give it to them. C) What about wise Biblical counsel–have you bounced it off of someone who will advise you according to what God says, rather than what they think you should do? And, of course, (D) have you prayed?
I leave this for last not because it is least important, but because if you haven’t taken the other steps it is too easy to feel God is leading you to do something unbiblical.
Thank You for Your Holy Spirit, who helps us understand truth. Thank You for Your Word, which is truth. Thank You for Your faithful people who advise us according to Your Word. Thank You for the privilege of approaching You in prayer to seek Your will in light of Your Word. Amen.