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 three articles, we began to learn how we can seek guidance, and some of the ways that God guides us. The list isn’t exhaustive, but Nicky Gumbel compiles main groups of the ways 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 were caught up in more of the 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, and some people have even had experiences of the audible voice of God. Some of these people include 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 other three CSs that Nicky Gumbel mentions in the Alpha Course are common sense, counsel of the saints (or wise, praying Christians) and circumstantial signs. Last time we journeyed through the next two – common sense and counsel of the saints. These two keep our feet grounded in relationships and thinking things out. Life experience is important when considering your life’s direction. It’s important to be naturally supernatural – remembering that we are more than a thinking mind, but also not to ignore the supernatural. After all, God IS supernatural. We are encouraged to use our minds, although with divine 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.”
Just five months ago, I struggled about whether to help my parents during my mother’s illness. She was in the hospital for over a month, just as my father had been three years before that. At that time, I left behind my volunteer work in Ottawa, to help my mother care for my dad, but also to help her, because she is frail. She still is, since normally my dad is her caregiver, despite his own health. I reasoned out whether I should go by considering my options. Leaving South Africa is a lot more expensive than leaving Ottawa for Toronto. This was a big factor. So was leaving Tony behind in the pre-Christmas season, right before school exams, where we are two of the teachers. I also had remembered a dream that I had where I was promised that God would basically take care of my parents while we were on our mission. So between the reasons of finances, mission work, our school and the dream, I had to trust God. And it turned out well in the end. Strangely enough, I got quite sick myself here in South Africa, but that’s a different matter. What kept me in South Africa, apart from the dream I had been given, came down to two things: common sense and trust in God.
The next CS is Counsel of the saints, where we seek wise mature Christians for prayerful advice. These people could be mentors, pastors, other family members and people you are drawn to for their godly wisdom. Proverbs 12 verse 15 reminds us that “A wise man listens to 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.
Now to the fifth CS of God’s guidance, which is Circumstantial signs. Some people in church history have made it their ‘mantra’ to seek signs, particularly if they don’t know the other ways that God can guide us. Signs can be surprise answers to prayer, and other times, they can seem like perfectly ordinary situations that are what you need right now. Sometimes it’s as simple as a door opening with favour in a job search, and other times, more supernatural, like a manifestation of favour. Some people are skeptical of obviously supernatural things like the occurrence of gold or crystal dust appearing on people during meetings, as well as gemstones and feathers. These are signs of God’s glory, giving us a little peak into the wonderful aspects of what heaven is – creative, colourful, and beautiful.
However, signs also can be simply directional. They point us towards the way we should go, like a signpost on the highway. If you are driving on the N1 in the Karoo, you need to know where the next town will be. You may need to stop for petrol and something to eat. You are looking for a signpost, and direction on where to find what you need, without getting lost. We need a map, a signpost, and assurance that we’re going in the right direction. It is the same with our lives. We plan our route, but sometimes there are a few detours.
God is in ultimate control of events. The writer of Proverbs points out in Proverbs 16:9: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Sometimes God opens doors, as the Apostle Paul mentions a door of opportunity 1 Corinthians 16:9. He says, “There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.” So opposition isn’t a no to a great opportunity, it’s just a challenge. Sometimes God closes doors. In Acts 16:7, Luke shares: Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.”
Nicky Gumbel shares in Alpha about two occasions where God firmly closed the door on something he really wanted, and he also believed at those times that it was God’s will for the doors to be open. He said, “I tried to force the doors open. I prayed and I struggled and I fought, but they would not open. On both occasions I was bitterly disappointed. But I understand now, years later, why God closed those doors. Indeed, I am grateful that he did. However, I am not sure we will ever know this side of heaven why God has closed certain doors in our lives.”
I distinctly remember a door closing to me before I came to faith in Jesus Christ. I was a semi-professional artist and was keen to work in set design and props for theatre, film and television. After all, I was from Toronto. Toronto was known as Hollywood North, although that term has expanded to include Vancouver as well. Even though I had contacts, those doors slammed tighter than ever. If my art career didn’t come to a struggle, I might not have begun seeking God as I did.
Then later, after my third attempt to start a career ended; this time in radio broadcasting, I was stuck in a hallway with closed doors. I had been told in radio school that you normally get three opportunities as a professional in that industry. Many people struggle with the first job, which is usually in promotions, or in the studio as a board operator. I was a board operator. I wasn’t the best, but I was consistent and loyal, at least until the time that I had to be away while driving my then-housemate to Alberta for a new radio job. While I was in Alberta, I visited radio stations and creative directors to gain contacts for future jobs. After I returned, I was let go, because one of my bosses really needed me one weekend. It didn’t matter that this was an act of kindness to another radio person, and helping another radio station in the same company. I was devastated. However, I found a full-time job doing what I trained for – in creative writing, audio production and scheduling of ads. I moved across the country for this opportunity, and carried as much as I could hold in my little car. I found a beautiful walk-in basement apartment in Nelson, British Columbia, and commuted to Castlegar, where the creative office was.
My enthusiasm and talent carried me a long way, as well as good nutrition and vitamins. However, after a time I burned out, simply because I stayed in the station for hours and hours at a time. The job was more than one person could handle. Although I did have help at times from a creative pool, it really was too much for one person, especially someone who was new. So after four months, I was let go. By this time I had given up so much to be there in BC, including a bariatric by-pass surgery, since I was now in a different province. My flat rental lease also meant that I had to stay for nearly two more months. Then I got some beautiful referrals from a creative director I met earlier that year in Red Deer, Alberta. He referred me to the creative director in Lloydminster, Alberta, and I applied for a vacant position as a writer. Two months previously he referred me to another creative director in Medicine Hat in southern Alberta, but I had told this man that I didn’t think it would be fair for me to leave my new job yet. He accepted that explanation and told me he would ask me again at another time.
Since I had glowing references and some experience, I thought I might have a chance in a job writing ads. This job didn’t require me to schedule ads or produce; it was one position rather than three. I could have done this – and he seemed excited about my references. This director must have dug deeply in my past jobs, because he wasn’t happy that I was let go twice within the industry. Unfortunately, he didn’t give me that third chance that I was hoping for, and I had to move back across the country to rejoin Tony. Upon my return, there was a job opening as an administrator in the community radio station that I had been a part of since 2001, as a volunteer radio host and audio producer. I thought I would have a chance at that, due to my years there, over fifteen years in admin, and two years of radio school. I was on the short list, but I didn’t come in first. The girl who got the job apparently had more than fifteen years admin experience, although no radio school. So the door again closed.
I spent some time in prayer and sought wise counsel from a prophetic lady, who is now part of a pastoral team at the Ottawa Vineyard. I told her that I was still seeking radio work in some way, although I knew I would eventually return to consider full-time ministry. She prayed and told me, “All I see are closed doors. It’s useless continuing in this hallway – you need to seek a different direction. Sure enough, I had further confirmation about that. Three months later, the Medicine Hat employer emailed me again and asked if I would consider working for him. I did consider, although I had to be honest and tell him that it didn’t work out in BC. Unfortunately, he never replied to my email, so I expected that door was indeed shut, as my pastoral friend told me.
Sometimes God opens doors in a remarkable way! The circumstances and the timing point clearly to the hand of God (for example, Genesis 24, where Isaac’s servant was given specific directions to find his master the perfect wife for him). He brought home Rebecca, who was smart, loving and willing to go). Nicky Gumbel shares a special story of open doors in an unusual way.
“Michael Bourdeaux is the head of Keston College. (This is) a research unit devoted to helping believers in what were communist lands. His work and research are respected by governments all over the world. He studied Russian at Oxford. His Russian teacher, Dr. Zernov, sent him a letter that he had received because he thought it would interest him. (This letter showed) how monks were beaten up by the KGB and subjected to inhuman medical examinations. (It showed) how they were being rounded up in trucks and dumped many hundreds of miles away. This letter was written very simply, with no adornment. As he read it, Michael Bourdeaux felt he was hearing the true voice of the persecuted church. The letter was signed, “Varavva and Pronina.”
In August 1964, Michael went on a trip to Moscow. On his first evening there, he met up with old friends who shared how the persecutions were getting worse. In particular, the old church of St Peter and St Paul had been demolished. They suggested that he go and see it for himself.
So Michael took a taxi and arrived to the location at dusk. He came to the square where he had remembered once housed a very beautiful church. He found nothing except a twelve-foot fence, which hid the rubble where the church had been. Over on the other side of the square, were two women, who were climbing over the fence to try to see what was inside.
He watched them, and when they finally left the square, he followed them for a hundred yards, and eventually caught up with them. They asked, “Who are you?” He told them, “I am a foreigner. I have come to find out what is happening here in the Soviet Union.” They took him back to the house of another woman who also asked him why he had come. He said he had received a letter from the Ukraine, via Paris. When she asked who it was from, he replied, “Varavva and Pronina.” There was silence. He wondered if he had said something wrong. A flood of uncontrolled sobbing followed. The woman pointed and said, “This is Varavva and this is Pronina.”
The population of Russia was over one hundred forty million. The Ukraine, from where the letter was written, is over eight hundred miles from Moscow. Michael Bourdeaux had flown from England six months after the letter had been written. He and the women would not have met had either party arrived at the demolished church an hour earlier or an hour later. That was one of the ways God called him to set up his life’s work.” If you want to learn more about Michael Bourdeaux’s story, read his book “Risen Indeed.”
Sometimes we hear God correctly, but we get the timing wrong. Don’t be in a hurry when you are seeking direction. Sometimes, God’s guidance seems to come immediately when it is asked for. Yet often, it takes much longer – sometimes months or even years. One example of this time lapse concerns a calling I had, to go to Sierra Leone. I was encouraged by a career missionary named Gladys, who prayed for me a year after I returned from my first mission trip in Kenya. Gladys shared prophetically that I was to return to Africa, and I thought she meant Kenya. But no, she meant West Africa. She asked me if I had ever heard of Sierra Leone. This was in 1994, and I prayed into the opportunity and found that there were no current opportunities. A few years later, Sierra Leone descended into an awful civil war. So I put that prophetic promise on the shelf. Later, I discovered that Tony’s spiritual mother was from Sierra Leone, I thought that was interesting, but didn’t figure that would be a future clue.
Then 11 years later, Tony tells me that he was very blessed by his first mission trip in western Kenya. He had no idea that it would be so fulfilling to help plant the Alpha Course in Migori, Kenya. He told me, “hey, let’s do this again. We can do this again somewhere.” It was then that I had a word impression from the Holy Spirit. His still, small voice told me, “Sierra Leone.” Sure enough, in 2009, Canadian Alpha people were offered different international opportunities, and Sierra Leone was one of them. We were to give two Alpha course conferences in the east and west ends of Freetown – the same city where Tony’s spiritual mom, Emma, lived. A huge door opened up for us – despite circumstances that threatened to cancel our journey. This was the Iceland volcano eruption that cancelled all flight traffic across the Atlantic for well over a week. We eventually arrived, but that is a whole other story, where we made it despite adverse circumstances.
So, we may have a sense that God is going to do something in our lives, but have to wait a long time for the fulfillment, as it did for me going to Sierra Leone. It took sixteen years! On these occasions, we need patience like that of Abraham. The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 6:15, that Abraham, “after waiting patiently … received what was promised.” While he waited, he was tempted at one point to try and fulfill God’s promises by his own means – with disastrous results. Just read Genesis chapters 16 and 21 and see what I mean. Ishmael represents doing something in the wrong time and in our own strength. Ishmael was not the planned promise.
Sometimes we hear God correctly, but we understand the timing completely wrongly. The Holy Spirit spoke to Joseph in a dream about what would happen to him and his family in the future. He probably expected immediate fulfillment, but he had to wait years. Instead of being promoted, he was sold into slavery, was dishonoured by his employer’s wife, and he then ended up in prison.
Indeed, while he was in prison, it must have been hard for him to believe that his dreams would ever be fulfilled. It took thirteen years after the original dream, to see God’s fulfillment. The waiting was part of the preparation. If you’re not familiar with Joseph’s story, read Genesis chapters 37 to 50.
In this area of guidance, we all make mistakes. Waiting is HARD. Bethel Music has a song about taking courage, where they sing “Take Courage my heart, stay steadfast my soul, He’s in the waiting. Hold on to your hope as your triumph unfolds, He’s never failing.” This song has given comfort to many a person trying to figure out how God will fulfill his promises. They may believe him but are confused as to HOW and WHEN this will happen. There is a reason why we are reminded in Proverbs 3:5-6 to “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.” Sometimes, like Abraham, we try to fulfill God’s plans by our own wrong methods. Or like Joseph, we get the timing wrong. Sometimes we feel that we have made too much of a mess of our lives, by the time we come to Christ, for God to do anything with us. But God is greater than that.
Joel 2:25 reminds us that God is able to “restore to you the years which the swarming locusts have eaten. He is able to make something good out of whatever is left of our lives – whether it is a short time or a long time, if we will offer what we have to him and then cooperate with his Spirit. It’s this same verse that gives me comfort for lost time due to my recent illness with boils, which is still ongoing. It curtails my work here in Worcester, but not completely. God is using the circumstances to show fruit in the lives of the teens we disciple. I’m trusting that God will help us work out the details of what must be done while he’s still healing me. Thankfully what I am able to do, is still a blessing to those we are serving.
Here’s another example from Nicky Gumbel. Lord Radstock stayed in a hotel in Norway in the mid-nineteenth century. When he was there, he heard a little girl playing the piano down in the hallway. She was making a terrible noise: “Plink, plunk, plink, plonk” It was driving him mad! Then, a man came and sat beside her at the piano bench. He began playing alongside her, and filled in the gaps. The result was the most beautiful music! He later discovered that the man playing alongside was the girl’s father, Alexander Borodin, the composer of the opera Prince Igor.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:28 that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” As we falteringly play our part, seeking his will for our lives: the Holy Spirit comes alongside us, and helps re-story our lives in the most beautiful way. While I waited for the Iris Harvest Missions school to accept my first application, I was shown an impression that Jesus was weaving together my three dead careers: art, ministry and radio, into something beautiful. He was taking these skills, talents as well as other abilities, and weaving them together into something unique. It was this weaving that helped create my ministry here in South Africa – and he’s not finished the weaving. He’s creating more and more in me, and in Tony too. It’s all been a learning curve.
So likewise, when you are seeking guidance from God, you begin to open yourself to the ways that you can be led. There are many, but the main ones include reading (commanding scripture), listening (compelling spirit), thinking (common sense), talking (counsel of the saints), and finally watching (circumstantial signs and waiting). While we open our hearts, and explore these ways, God comes and sits alongside us. Just like the composer came alongside his daughter, he works all things for our good. He takes our plink, plonk, plink, plonk, and makes something beautiful our of our lives.
So it’s a matter of trusting him and being open to the many ways he guides us. Be still in your heart before him, for he does hear our prayers.
Lord, I ask that you will bless those who are seeking you. Direct them in the way they should go. Open the right doors. Give them dreams, impressions and let them hear your still, small voice guiding them. Let them find encouragers who can give them wise advice, and figure out what they must do through good common sense. Give them confidence, hope and a spring in their step as they sense you walking with them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you missed the first three parts of this message, we have it available as podcasts on our Copples Western Cape website. You can also take the Alpha Course. Much of my series on God’s guidance is influenced by the talk on “How does God guide us? This is my favourite talk on the entire course, no matter which version I’ve viewed. If you are seeking and need to learn more about the Christian faith, please do attend an Alpha Course. You won’t be sorry.
As for our podcasts, you can visit audio versions of this talk (and many others) at the WTGIG podcast page on Coppleswesterncape.ca. Scroll down to podcasts 44, 45, 46 and 47. It’s free, although we gratefully receive any free-will donations through the Iris Ministries Canada Canada Helps portal. We are missionaries who live entirely by faith, with the exception of my husband’s pension. God does supply our needs through surprising ways.
I hope that you’ve been blessed by this message and other articles as well. Please do share with me if this has impacted you.