During our last article, we learned that we can fast from negativity. As we continue the process of rooting out lies we believe, and ongoing complaints that draw us down, we become more free. We learn a higher perspective, and see life with promise and hope. I hope that you are continuing to live, think, see and speak positively. While we may encounter difficult times, we don’t need to make it worse. In fact, we can receive blessings and joy even in times like those.
There is one commonality in all seasons: difficult and easy – God’s faithfulness. He does not change and continues to carry you through thick and thin. We also discover the depth of God’s love, since this really is all we have. We need to hear and listen to God’s voice. This is a time for learning deeper identity in Christ, where we learn that he does fulfill our deepest needs of significance and security.
It’s good to bring our major decisions to God. We need to make decisions every day – but we have potential to grow in these decisions. One is in how we spend our money. Another is in how we spend our free time. These resources are not endless, but while we can grow our finances, we can’t gain more time. And then there are our really big decisions. Where to live? What career should we work towards? Which church or ministry do we join? If we are to marry, whom should we marry? We all need God’s help. Guidance is part of our relationship with God. Psalm 32:8 gives us the promise that the Lord “will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” So we need to seek him. Jesus taught that he is the shepherd and we are his sheep. He was originally speaking to country folk, but he also speaks to us, today. We must learn to know his voice. John 10:3-4 shares that “the gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.
We need to understand our purpose and why we were put on this earth. The first commandment is to love God. But we all have callings. Some will be creatives, others engineers, some pilots, others entrepreneurs. But that is not all we are. The future possibilities are more varied than we think. God has a plan for our lives. So we are encouraged to follow the Apostle Paul’s advice in Ephesians 5:17. He said “don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” And in Ephesians 2:10, he shared: For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” God has a unique job for us? Yes he does! And it’s not always to be a pastor or work in a church. Most of us are called to something in the marketplace. You could be a godly businessman, a teacher, a writer, an astronomer, musician, chemist and so much more. What makes your heart sing? The prophet Jeremiah shared in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Nicky Gumbel shares, “God is saying, ‘Don’t you realize that I have a really good plan for your life? I have prepared something wonderful.’ This cry from the Lord’s heart came because he saw the mess his people had got themselves into, when they didn’t follow his plans. All around us we see people whose lives are in a muddle. Often people say to me after they have come to Christ, ‘I wish I had become a Christian five or ten years earlier. Look at my life now. It’s such a mess.’ If we are to find out about God’s plans for us, we need to ask him about them.”
We make mistakes when we fail to ask God for help. We stumble on our own past mistakes, bad advice, and confusion. Sometimes we try to please our parents instead of following the path we’re meant to lead. One example is Vincent Van Gogh’s physician, Dr. Gachet, whose father wanted him to become a doctor, but his dream was to be an artist. And then there’s the case of rebellion. How many of us pull a Jonah and run from God, and then end up in the belly of a fish. Isaiah shared God’s heart in Isaiah 30:1-2: “What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”says the Lord. “You make plans that are contrary to mine. You make alliances not directed by my Spirit, thus piling up your sins. For without consulting me, you have gone down to Egypt for help. You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection. You have tried to hide in his shade.” Pharoah in this example is a symbol for leaning on worldly help, rather than God’s help.
Jesus led the way by consistently following the Holy Spirit. In Luke 4:10 and John 5:19, he said that he only did what he saw the Father doing. He also knew his purpose from the beginning, although he also had to trust the Father.
When I was baptized as an adult, I was given a scripture by my then pastor, Laurie Barber. It’s Proverbs 3:5-6, which is, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” This has been one of my guiding words, so I return to these verses often. Psalm 37:5 “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.”
This guidance works whether it’s in finding a life partner, ministry partner, job or where to live. Nicky Lee met his wife Silla in university. During that time, he came to faith, but Silla did not at that time. He wanted to pursue his relationship with her, and asked God for guidance. He prayed that if the relationship were to continue, she would come to faith by the end of the term. On the last day of the term, they attended a party, and at the end of it, Silla asked Nicky to go for a drive. She blurted out random directions, which brought them to a place that had great significance to her. She turned to her boyfriend and asked to be led to Jesus. At the very end of the term, just before midnight, Nicky had his prayer answered. Sometimes the answer is gradual. Other times the guidance is instant, although it takes time to work through the details.
God’s guidance, as described in the Alpha course, comes down to Five CSs. This isn’t CS Lewis, but rather: Commanding scripture, Compelling Spirit, Common Sense, Counsel of the Saints, and Circumstantial signs. We’ll journey through the first two.
Commanding Scripture usually involves general guidance. Some general guidance shows that we can be sure about certain things that are wrong. Here’s one example. If a married man falls in love with another woman and wants to leave his wife, can this be God’s will? No, he is not being led by God. It says in Exodus 20:14, that you shall not commit adultery. Another example relates to the justification for paying our taxes. We’re shown in Romans 13:7 that paying taxes is our civic duty, and what is due to the government should be paid.
Then there is specific guidance – through scripture illumination. There are many examples in Church history of missionaries who were given their calling and direction through one verse. The original call and context was to Abraham, but others had a similar call to leave their homes and trust God. They were given comfort in the Lord’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12:1, “The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” This same call was repeated in Genesis 18, since Abraham had moved but still had not left yet his country. This was a common call to the Irish missionary monks that travelled all over Europe from the seventh to eleventh centuries.
However we need to be discerning when seeking scripture illumination. Nicky Gumbel says “Sometimes a verse seems almost to leap off the page at us.” But don’t just open a Bible at random and expect a message – it could get very confusing. Imagine if you open a Bible to the verse where Judas decides to hang himself, and then you open to the verse where Jesus says “go and do likewise.” That’s not God’s leading – it’s scripture confusion.
Let’s go back to general guidance. There are scriptures saying that we should marry a Christian and not someone of another faith. One of these is 2 Corinthians 6:14, where the Apostle Paul advises, “don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?” But the Bible doesn’t say specifically who to marry! God will guide you another way for that. Paul also advises about whether you should change your job when you become a Christian. He generally advises not to. Job changes do happen in scripture, but it’s more common to remain in the same job with kindness and influence. Peter and some of the disciples changed their profession of sorts. They were fishermen, and then they became fishers of people. Levi the tax collector left his job for Jesus, but others are called to live faithful lives where they are. Paul advises in 1 Corinthians 7:20-21, to basically, bloom where you are planted unless you are called out of your job into something better. Paul was speaking about being an indentured slave or servant, which in his days was not like the brutal human trafficking of current days. We can liken this scripture to employment. Paul says, “Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it.”
Not everyone is called to be a pastor, priest or missionary. One of the leaders of our Afrikaaner church believed she was called to full-time ministry in music and teaching. Her outreach has touched many people, and she was the first speaker we saw in our church. I still remember her talk about the colour purple and our identity in Christ. It tied in with a vision I was given three times in our church. Jesus is indeed calling us into our true identity. However, that doesn’t mean that your calling is to go into long-term full-term ministry. Sometimes it’s for a season, and other times, it’s a part-time thing. All of us are called into ministry, not just those who are clergy. It turned out that Erika’s call included her very much needed medical skills. I applaud her for having a re-think and confirming that she has more than one ministry. Caring medical professionals in their places are indeed fulfilling a calling. I have great respect for the South African doctors who have listened and treated me.
Nicky Gumbel has his own calling story. He comes from a family of lawyers – barristers in particular. He still has a very logical way of describing faith and life stories. He had fifteen different occasions where he was spoken to about leaving the law profession to become an Anglican priest. Many of these were various scriptures in circumstances that led him to his final decision to say yes. He finally was given a prophetic word by someone later that gave confirmation to his call.
Compelling Spirit is the second CS. Sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to grab us through dreams, impressions during prayer, godly desires, and supernatural enlightenment of our minds and hearts. The Holy Spirit works in different ways. Some are quiet, some are not.
Sometimes this compelling comes in a way that strikes our consciences. The Apostle Paul tried to go to two provinces in what is now present day Turkey to preach the gospel and minister to the people there. Twice they were given strong leadings that said NO to going there. While these areas later accepted the gospel, God had other plans at that time. It was then that Paul was given a strong dream of a man from Macedonia, and they knew they must go there instead. Read Acts 16 and you’ll have the story. If Paul had not listened, he wouldn’t have met key future leaders in the church, like Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. And there are more examples. So listen!
God actually speaks to us when we pray. Imagine going to a doctor and sharing a list of current and past illnesses, along with all their symptoms. It’s like you’re reading a shopping list. Then you decide at the end of the list that it’s time to leave, so you thank the doctor and leave without hearing what they have to say. Can you imagine how that doctor feels? They wanted to help but weren’t given the opportunity. So if we do stop and listen, after we share our hearts, what will we hear?
God often speaks in impressions. These can be a thought that comes into our minds, or a picture. Tony gets thoughts, I get pictures, although sometimes we can get both. These need to be tested, since the thoughts or pictures aren’t always from God. Sometimes they are from ourselves, or somewhere else. Does the impression promote love? Is it in line with the Bible? Does it lift up Jesus?
Paul Cowley is a man who God has inspired to work with inmates, the military and the homeless. His past life of brokenness brought him through prison, the military, two divorces and finally to a life in Christ and a loving family. He has encouraged many inmates, ex-offenders and us personally when we drove him around on a visit to Ottawa back in 2006. He shared in a recent Alpha Course video about how he was given an impression to bless his complaining, bitter father. His dad was also sick and he helped care for him in hospital. When it was time to send him home from London to Manchester, Paul was given an impression on his heart on how to bless his dad. He brought him to Euston station, “put him on the train and sat him down. Right in the middle of the carriage (he says he) had this overwhelming feeling of love for (his) dad. It was really weird. (He) almost started to cry in the carriage. Paul looked at him and felt really sad for him, that they had never really had a relationship. (He remembers) having a meal with his father. All that stuff came up for him. And in his mind, came this idea, to upgrade his ticket, to a first-class ticket to Manchester. Paul bought a very expensive single first-class ticket back to Manchester. He walked him into the first-class compartment; he sat him down and kissed him on the head. Then as Paul stood on the platform with his wife, Amanda, she asked “What on earth are you doing?” He said, you know what? I have no idea. I just really wanted to see my dad happy.’ And as Paul looked at him through the window of the carriage, he saw his father took his hat off and put it on the table. He hit the recline button and went back in his seat. Then he clicked his fingers, and some of the waiters brought him a cup of tea and biscuits. And he got his newspaper out and started to read it. And as he was doing that, he just turned to look at Paul out of the window. He had the biggest smile on his face that you could ever see. It was like every birthday, every Christmas had all come together. And he was beaming. That was the last time that Paul ever saw his father. Three weeks later, he died of a massive heart attack. Paul then thought, “was that me, making up an idea that I might buy him that ticket? Or was that God guiding me? Paul has a real peace with his father now. Despite years of heartache and grief, Paul’s image of his dad is of his beaming face from the train carriage as he drove off.” This is a beautiful example of how a loving impression that’s acted on can bring great blessings from God.
God sometimes speaks to us by giving us a strong desire to do something. An example of this is from Philippians 2:13, “God works in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure.” This was a scripture that Nicky Gumbel battled with for some time. When he first came to faith, he didn’t want to be a priest. Eventually he came round and was very happy to be one. In time he felt it was all he wanted to do. When God gives you a strong desire to do something, it doesn’t mean that he will give you your worst fear. It just means that he has something for you that you will love, and he will help you prepare your heart for it.
Tony also experienced this change of heart three times. The first time was after I encouraged him for weeks to go on a short-term mission in western Kenya. We were invited to Migori, Kenya to plant the Alpha Course and my own early Ways to Grow in God teachings. After a month or so, the two of us went on a Daniel fast, which is to be vegetarian, for eight days. Many people also prayed over us, and yet Tony believed he had not yet heard from God on whether to go with me. He kept saying no. He told me it was my thing and not his, even though this particular trip was tailored to have him encourage and teach Alpha leadership, which is and was his heart. He didn’t see that aspect of it at the time. So I eventually put my heart’s desire and what I believed was God’s call back into God’s hands. Only God could make it happen. I’m not God.
I went away for a weekend to Belleville, Ontario and stayed with a close family friend. That morning I prayed with a ministry team member and shared my heart. I finally felt peace. That afternoon, Tony called me with a different tone in his voice. He wasn’t harsh but rather, full of joy. He came right out with, “I have something to tell you. We’re going to Kenya!” I couldn’t believe my ears. Apparently Holy Spirit spoke to him and changed his mind within a few minutes. Everything made sense to him. What the Holy Spirit said to him floored me. He said, “Hey you. Your wife gave up her missionary career to marry you. The least you can do is to make her dream come true and go to Kenya short term with her.” It was like Tony was hit by a cricket bat. He hadn’t always recognized the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. It takes time to recognize his voice.
Tony went through a similar process again before applying for Harvest School after his retirement, although he had two prophetic words spoken over him about a new ministry that would start a new chapter of his life. He relented and applied for Harvest School, along with my own re-application from the year earlier. It was the right time, and Tony was willing to go through the experience. He thought it may enhance the many different lay ministries he already did in Ottawa. There’s nothing wrong with his ministries. It’s just that God had a new season for him, as well as me as a couple. It was time for us to jump into ministry together.
Tony’s experience at Harvest School began with resistance, since Heidi Baker spoke a bit too soon on the long-term call for his comfort. She was to speak on our identity and calling, which is an essential foundation of our faith, let alone ministry. However, there were so many young students keen on a long-term call, that Heidi responded to their yearning. So Tony was annoyed and told me that he didn’t want to be a missionary. This upset me and I grew very sad and quiet. People noticed, but I didn’t know what to say in my frustration. I felt like I was stuck, but all I could do was to stay still, while the Holy Spirit refined my own heart. Though the school, he learned to speak in tongues, recognize prophetic words, release them in ministry and he grew comfortable in stopping for the one. By the end of the school, he told our house parents that he was “ready to be a long term, full-time missionary.” Isn’t it amazing how hearts can change in God’s leading. Tony’s a lot more fulfilled now in this new season, even though he enjoyed the last season in Ottawa. God gave Tony the same desire that was in line with his life purpose – to encourage, uplift and empower people. The only difference was a different location – from Ottawa, Canada to Worcester, South Africa. All his skills, wisdom, knowledge would be used to teach and in other practical ways. His love of music, internet and prison ministry would all be used. The ministry to children however, would be a stretch, but that’s another story.
So God speaks through scripture, either directly or indirectly. We need to know the whole Bible and its message. Pray as you read, and listen. Understand the message in its original context by learning about the cultures of the time. But also read the scripture again and ask how Holy Spirit would speak to you. Sometimes, it’s a message of love, wisdom and peace. Sometimes it’s conviction of sin that leads to changing your mind and coming to him. Sometimes it’s a direction leading. It’s a wonderful adventure.
And then there is the compelling of the Holy Spirit. We’ve shared the examples of the Irish missionary monks, Nicky Gumbel and Tony. The Holy Spirit speaks in so many supernatural ways. We’ll share more about that in our next article, as well as common sense, counsel of other prayerful people, and circumstantial signs.
Lord, thank you for the many ways that you guide us. Thank you for not leaving us in limbo, but patiently drawing us to our purpose here on earth. Thank you for your wonderful plans for us, and how you put love in our hearts. I ask that you would open our eyes and ears to hear and see you and your direction in scripture and begin to recognize your voice. Help us to journey and experience the other ways we can hear and see you, through your Holy Spirit and the Bible. Surround and fill us with your love. In Jesus’ name.
If you’d like to hear the audio version of this article, please listen on Ways to Grow in God podcast page, and scroll down to: #44