My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA. I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.
During our last two articles, we began to learn how we can seek guidance and some of the ways that God guides us. Nicky Gumbel compiles the main groups under the term CSs. These include Commanding scripture (like when scriptures come alive to us personally), and Compelling Spirit (which includes some of the many ways the Holy Spirit can speak more directly). We are caught up in the more supernatural ways under compelling spirit. We can hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a whisper. We can be given impressions, full movie-like visions, dreams, and inner knowings, which is similar to intuition. We can be helped and strengthened by angels. Some have had experiences of the audible voice of God, such as Jesus, the prophet Samuel and Heidi Baker, upon her conversion when she was 16. Heidi shared in the Compelled by Love movie that the voice told her that she “was called to be a minister and a missionary, and she was to go to Africa, Asia and England.”
The Holy Spirit can also touch our hearts through anointed Christian music and prophetic art. I know that some people are comforted with some of my own prophetic art. It speaks to their souls and gives them hope. It makes them feel loved.
The other three C.S’s that Nicky Gumbel mentions in the Alpha Course are common sense, counsel of the saints (or wise, praying Christians) and circumstantial signs. We’ll journey through the first two.
Some Christians seem to put common sense to the side, but this kind of wisdom is important. We learn this through life experience, and it’s also important when considering your life’s direction. It’s important to not get “spooky spiritual” and act like every aspect of our lives is supernatural. We need to be naturally supernatural. We may be blessed supernaturally, and include this as a daily part of our lives, but we also live in a physical world. We also have been given minds to think, learn, meditate and reason out things. Psalm 32:9 reminds us to “not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.” We are encouraged to use our minds, albeit with divinely inspired ideas. The Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7 to learn and grow. He told him to “think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.”
Earlier I mentioned it’s important to be naturally supernatural, and not “spooky spiritual.” Praying out loud in a weird voice, and being overly religious in routine matters are silly things that abandon common sense. Nicky shares a story in Alpha about one lady who asked God for guidance on which shoes and socks and other clothing items she should wear. Some things are left for us to decide. As long as our clothes are clean and modest, there shouldn’t be a problem!
Nicky says, “It is true to say that God’s promises of guidance were not given so that we could avoid the strain of thinking. Indeed, John Wesley, the father of Methodism, said that God usually guided him by presenting reasons to his mind for acting in a certain way. This is important in every area – especially in the areas of marriage and jobs.”
Some people choose to take a certain course of action that seems to be in line with scripture. They may pray to be given reasons not to go ahead If it is not His will in that case, and to be given peace if it is is the way they should take.
Back in late November 2018, my mother was in the hospital, after some emergency bowel surgery. I prayed on whether I should return to Canada, and stay with my parents, as I had done three years previously. My dad had been in hospital for over a month. My sister begged me to come and care for them, since she could not. After my dad was released, I cared for him in dispensing the right kind of medicine at the right time, while Mom and I worked on his meals. I’m glad that I was there for them during those months. Coming forward to last November, my initial thought when Mom was so ill was that I would be needed to help my dad care for her. They do have a personal care support worker, although this isn’t always enough. So I prayed. I prayed for wisdom, a dream, an impression, and had nothing. However, back in August 2016, I was given a dream, where I had died, but my parents continued on and even thrived without my care. I remember sharing this dream with Marie, one of our Iris Western Cape leaders. Marie was given the insight to say, “You’re worried about your parents. Holy Spirit is saying that he will care for them while you are away on mission.”
I did remember this dream, so it did give me comfort, and I did have peace that they would eventually be OK. My cousin and aunt stepped in, I had people pray, I texted Mom’s care company with a heads up, and I was able to use my iPad to Skype both parents. I did all I could from a different continent in a different time zone. Later, when I shared this story, my friend and colleague Maggie was given the insight that it was actually MY choice on whether I should return to Canada to help. Yet, what kept me in South Africa, apart from the dream I had been given, came down to common sense.
I weighed pros and cons against each other. The pros were that it would be helpful to my parents and would bless our relationship. The cons included the cost of airfare, other transport, and food. It also included the extra load on Tony being alone in ministry here in South Africa. While he could have managed, there was also our western coast holiday that he would go on alone, not too exciting. So I chose to stay and pray. After I made that decision, I had peace. Two other missionaries gave me comfort. One of them told me that she had lost both parents while she was away on missions, first in Asia, and second in Africa. It was not an easy decision. Thankfully, Mom had good care, and my dad had some help, although he was out of his element. We look forward to our time with them on our home visit. We’ll have four days in July.
Common sense is one of the factors that need to be taken into account when we choose a partner for life. It is common sense to look at three important areas: Note, there are exceptions to the rule, but being in line with these helps.
These include spiritual compatibility, personal compatibility, and physical compatibility. If you are a Christian, it is best to marry a Christian, preferably at a similar level in their journey of faith. The Apostle Paul advised that your spouse should be of the same faith, so there is no battle on whose world view comes first. This example is more extreme, but it does state the point that there is a dissonance that happens when there is such a difference. 1 Corinthians 6: 15-17 says, Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. That’s the negative aspect. People of different faiths and world views will likely clash, or one will succumb to the other. It’s not always a happy story, although there are exceptions.
On the positive side, two Christians with like callings grow closer when praying, ministering, and studying the Bible together. As a couple, you are drawn together not only by a shared life and sex, but by a strong spiritual bond that deeply blesses both spouses. Tony and I acknowledged that bond in our wedding theme from Ecclesiastes 4:12: A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Can you imagine what the third strand of the cord is? One strand is the husband, the second strand, the wife. The third strand is Jesus. If God is at the centre of the marriage, the marriage will be strong and held together by him.
Potential spouses also need personal compatibility, such as a strong friendship with shared interests that have nothing to do with sex. Tony and I are married, but we are also friends. We share music, faith, humour, stories, shared ministry with children and teens, a love for prison ministry and radio. We both love many kinds of music, although we aren’t joined at the hip in all we do. We try to support each other in our different talents and interests. Tony encourages me in my art, and I support him and ask for his wisdom in many things, including engineering matters (his original discipline). We enjoy each other’s company, without jealously guarding the other for each waking moment. We do have other friends.
And we do need physical compatibility – to be attracted to each other. Nicky Gumbel jokes in an old Alpha video that “God does not expect you to marry someone you’re not attracted to.” This doesn’t take into account pre-arranged marriages, where couples grow to love each other, but I am thankful that these couples do find happiness that grows in their shared lives together.
Common sense is also needed in finding jobs and careers. If you are in a specific career when you come to faith, it’s best to stay there unless you are called to something different, for a different season of your life. When I came to faith, I was an artist, but my income was as a grocery store cashier. I stayed there for another seven years, before I became an office worker. But that wasn’t my career, it was my job. Somewhere between coming to faith and giving up my cashier job, was my call into ministry. I called it ministry with a Big M. I didn’t know what that would look like at the time, whether I would be a hospital chaplain, assistant pastor, or a missionary. However, coming to faith does not mean that you will be a pastor or a missionary. You could be, but God can use you where you are. We need godly people in all professions.
The Apostle Paul also encouraged the Corinthians who had become Christian to stay in their profession at least for a season. Here is what he says in 1 Corinthians 7:17, and 20-24: 17 Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches. 20 Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you.21 Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. 22 And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. 23 God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world.[a] 24 Each of you, dear brothers and sisters,[b] should remain as you were when God first called you.”
Yet, if you feel increasingly uncomfortable in your job, then ask yourself, “Where is this job taking me?” What is my long-term vision, and does this lead to it? Or should I go in another direction? Write out your pros and cons list, but be open to other ways that may confirm the way you go. Just before I left my cashier position, the company told us that they were giving everyone a pay cut, and for those who would leave, they would get $750 Canadian dollars for every year they had worked for the company. This was a buy-out. The pay-cut was over five dollars an hour, and I wasn’t given that many hours as it was. I was tired from long hours on my feet, and while they originally said no to my request for the buy-out, they eventually relented. I was given enough of a pay-out to buy a computer and nice office clothes. At the time I was learning word processing and computers in between my first degree and studying for my second. I remember at the time, that while I chose the route of leaving the job through common sense, this was confirmed by the still small voice of the Holy Spirit telling me that “this was the end of an era.” And so it was. I had worked as a cashier for fifteen years.
The next CS is Counsel of the saints, where we seek wise mature Christians for prayerful advice. These people could be mentors, pastors, older family members and people you are drawn to for their godly wisdom. When I mention the word saints, perhaps for some of you, you picture paintings or sculptures of heroes and heroines in church history. Some of these have been canonized in the Catholic church. I don’t specifically mean these people. Saints in a generic sense means anyone who has come to faith in Jesus Christ. Some of these people are very wise and very godly. Wisdom is regarded as an excellent virtue to live by, and is elevated in the book of Proverbs. Generally though, we can all agree with Proverbs 12:15, which is “A wise man listens to advice.” We really don’t know everything. We need help from each other to not make mistakes that will cause pain. Proverbs 15:22 also reminds us that “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they will succeed.” Proverbs 20:18 advises that we need to “make plans by seeking advice.”
However, Nicky Gumbel shares that while seeking advice is very important, we need to remember that ultimately, our decisions are between us and God. They are our responsibility. We cannot shift that responsibility onto others or seek to blame them if things go wrong.” The counsel of the saints is part of guidance; but it is not the only part. Sometimes it may be right to go ahead in spite of the advice of others, particularly if there is other guidance that leads that way.
When Tony and I were preparing to come to South Africa for three years, we were not sure what to do with our condo. We wanted to rent it out and live there on our return. We were advised by our financial planner to sell the condo, invest that money, and not worry about the other overhead. This meant that on our return to Canada, we would have to rent an apartment. Tony initially seemed OK with this, but I grew uncomfortable and even angry. It just didn’t seem right. So I asked my Facebook prayer group to pray into whether we should sell or just rent out our place. We also made a pro-con list, so we were also using common sense. Tony told me that if we sold, we would lose our equity line of credit and would not qualify for another one on our return to Canada. Then the prayerful advice rolled in from many in the group. Some had words of knowledge “not to sell.” Others just had an inner knowing that it wouldn’t be right to sell. One friend telephoned to tell me so, and that to sell would be a major distraction. It was hard enough renting and clearing out our condo for the couple who eventually did rent. We would have been moved significantly off our timetable if we sold. I am thankful now that we have a place to return to when we go back from our South African assignment.
So when we are faced with a decision where we need advice, whom shall we consult? We need wisdom. The writer of Proverbs tells us in Proverbs 9:10 that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This is especially the case when advice is from those who love and revere the Lord. Nicky Gumbel says that the best advisors are usually godly Christian people with wisdom and experience whom we respect. It is also wise to seek the advice of parents whom we are to honour, even if we are past the ages of being under their authority. Even if they are not Christians, they know us very well and can often have important insights into situations.”
Nicky has found it a real help throughout his Christian life to have someone who is a mature Christian, whom he respects and to whom he can go for advice on a whole range of issues. Often God’s insight has come as they talked through the issues together.
When it comes to bigger decisions, it is helpful to seek a range of advice. When Nicky was facing whether to become an ordained Anglican priest, he sought the advice of his parents, his two closest friends, his pastor, and those who were involved in the official process of selection. The people whom we ask for advice should not be chosen on the basis that they will agree with what we have already planned to do! Don’t just choose “yes” people who will rubber stamp your leaning. We should consult people on the basis of their spiritual authority or their relationship to us, regardless of what we may anticipate their views to be.
Take your time when you are choosing. You don’t need to be in a rush, unless the decision is time-sensitive, as ours was for selling or renting our condo.
During this article, I’ve shared some of the more practical ways that God guides us, through common sense and counsel of the saints. Thinking things through logically on what works best in your situation is extremely valuable. Seeking godly advice is scripturally and practically important as a foundation. Wisdom is a godly virtue that at best points to God. I also remember an evening in Harvest School where were learning about the prophetic ministry from David Wagner. He called up people who had either never had a prophetic word given to them, or had never given one to someone else. Tony went up and David took him under his wing. By the end of the evening, Tony was prophesying over people, loving them and encouraging them. His ears just needed to be fine-tuned. In the midst of this teaching, David stunned everyone by these words, “I want you to know that if any of you are lacking wisdom and want it, ask Tony. He has the gift of wisdom.” And David wasn’t just talking about common sense, logic and compassion, which Tony has in abundance. Now he was given a deposit of godly wisdom, in tune with the heart of the Father. Yet still, we as a couple still need the love, and guidance of God through our Christian community, and our Iris family. We are not meant to live our faith on our own. This is all what the counsel of the saints is all about. We need each other.
I pray that you have been blessed by our journey through some of the ways that God has guided us. What I’ve shared is only a taste of a much larger menu. I encourage you to seek the scriptures yourselves. Ask Holy Spirit to still your heart, fill you with peace and enlighten your common sense as you think through your decisions. Also listen to his promptings on whom to seek wise advice from. You’re not alone.
Lord, I ask that you will touch every heart that reads this article. Point them to you. Open their inner eyes and ears to see you with them, in whatever circumstance they are in. Surround and fill them with your love, as they seek you. Show them that you have plans to prosper them, and not to harm them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on coppleswesterncape.ca and scroll down to #46
Do you have a favourite way that God speaks to you?
Blessings, Laurie-Ann Copple
Worcester, South Africa