And so, the next question becomes, How can I recognize His guidance when He is revealing the next step? When we were house hunting, I had really wanted the next step to show up in neon lights. But that obviously won’t happen. And then I found a book that gave me some really good advice on how to know when God shows “the next step.” And I really have to thank Gigi Tchividjian here. Through her book, A Woman’s Quest for Serenity, she helped me understand how to discern God’s guidance, when so many other things were making it hard to hear His leading. (If you can find her book, it is well worth reading.)
Though He won’t give us a neon sign, I’m learning that He has given us other “keys” to help us find the next step in His plan for us. (Gigi calls them “lights,” and they are what I based these “keys” on.) To boil it all down, God guides us in three different ways: guidance from the inside, indications from the outside, and confirmation from God’s Word.
1. Guidance from the inside would be what our conscience tells us, what our heart tells us, and, most importantly, what the Holy Spirit tells us. This would be the impressions or convictions that we have from the Holy Spirit about what He wants us to do or what the next step is. Sometimes it coincides with what we want to do, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it makes sense, and sometimes it confuses us even more. Sometimes it speaks to the current concern or situation that we are praying about, and sometimes it hits us out of the blue, completely unrelated to anything we were thinking about. But we need to be deliberate about being receptive to the Holy Spirit, about actively listening for Him to speak to us. And we need to expect that He will.
2. Indications from the outside would be open doors or circumstances falling into place that seem to be saying “this is the way you should walk.” Maybe it’s about an issue you are praying about, or maybe it’s God interrupting your plans with something new that He wants you to do. It could be a need that comes to your attention or a fork-in-the-road that calls you to make a choice. It could be a call to move forward, or it could be a call to take a step backward. And these indications could also come from other people. It could be impressions that they have had about you, or it could be wise advice from godly people.
(But as we consider “open doors” here, remember that not all open doors are from God. Satan would love nothing more than to get us out of God’s perfect Will for us by dangling enticing offers before us. With every open door, we need to seek God’s wisdom, be discerning, and be willing to obey whatever God calls us to do in that situation. Maybe it is an open door from God, or maybe it’s just a test or an opportunity to practice doing those things.)
3. And confirmation from God’s Word is just what it sounds like. It’s when God leads us, through His Word, in the right path. Sometimes, after praying for guidance, the Spirit leads us to a passage that speaks directly to our problems. And sometimes, we find God’s message to us as we go about our normal Bible reading. We should be regularly reading God’s Word - immersing ourselves in it - so that we can know it as a whole, and not just pulling out the verses that we want when we want them.
While we do our regular reading, we should always be alert for any passage that speaks to us, because there is so much more to glean from Scripture than just the answer to a particular problem or prayer request. In the course of reading God’s Word (even if we are looking for specific guidance in something else), we may be led to passages that speak to us about something we weren’t even considering. Such as about forgiveness or how we use our tongue or how we treat others, etc. It may be that God wants us to settle these areas before He guides us to the answer that we are looking for.
Guidance from God’s Word also means that we check the steps we want to take against His Word. He will never, NEVER, ask or tell us to do anything that violates a Biblical command that He has already revealed to us in His Word, no matter how strongly we feel that He wants us to do it.
Therefore, things like affairs, cheating, lying, harshness, premarital sex, jealousy, idol worship, running after wealth, gossiping, dabbling with the occult, contacting the dead, taking an ungodly job, spousal abuse, homosexuality, taking a life, etc., can never be God’s Will for us. Even if our inner convictions and the outside circumstances are telling us to do it, God’s Word says, “Don’t do these things!” And His Word is the Truth, The Measuring Stick. So to try to find permission in His Word to do these kinds of things would mean that we would have to twist what He has already clearly revealed as His Will in these (and many other) areas. (Hey, I’m just the messenger here. Read the Word for yourself and take it up with God if you think I am wrong.)
Those are the keys to discover God’s Will for us, the next step. And when all three of these “keys” say the same thing, we can confidently take the next step as it has been revealed. But if any one of them says something different, we need to wait. Wait and recheck Scriptures and pray some more until all the keys match. And in the meantime, we need to continue to live the life we have now, faithfully and obediently and for God’s glory, leaving the future and the timing up to God. And then, when the keys match and the timing is right, the doors will open smoothly in time. We are just responsible to do the next step as we best believe that God is leading us.
(But we need to be careful to resist the urge to be hasty, or to interpret subtle or ambiguous signs as saying what we want them to say. We should be cautious about interpreting any guidance that we get. And even more so when the decision is a significant one. Proceeding cautiously and wisely also involves asking God to and trusting God to close the door if we are not on the right path. And then, if He does shut the door or change our direction, we need to just trust Him and be willing to follow.)
Posts in this "Understanding God's Will" series:
9c: Verses 9d: Idolatry 9e: Unanswered 9f: Not Listening 9g: More Verses 9h: Effective Prayer 9i: Still Waiting 10: Bad Things Happen 11a: Happens For A Reason? 11b: Marriage Trouble 11c: Deliberate Ignorance 11d: Bad Things Beyond Us 12: God Works Good 13: Limiting God? 14/15: God Forcing Things? 16: Change God's Mind? 17: But God Can't Change? 18: Our Responsibilities