Principles for guidance

Most Christians agree that seeking God’s guidance in their lives is thoroughly important and worthwhile. In the Bible, the words ‘guide’ and ‘guidance’ tend to refer either to the physical guidance of God’s people from one place to another (e.g. Exo 13:21) or, the guidance of the Holy Spirit as pertaining to teaching and authority (e.g. John 16:13). In a number of the psalms, reference is made to God guiding his people (see 48:14, 67:4, 73:24) but such instances are non-specific. There are also references to God’s guidance in the proverbs, however, this usually relates to walking in ‘the paths of justice (2:8, ESV)’ and ‘delivering you from the way of evil (2:12, ESV)’. Whilst all these things are important and require guidance from God of one sort or another, this is generally not what people mean when they speak of guidance.

What most people mean by ‘guidance’ is God making known to them what they should do in the specifics of everyday life. This can relate to large life-changing decisions, for example: ‘Where should I live?’; ‘For which job should I apply?’; ‘Who should I marry?’. However, it may also relate to less life-changing, yet still significant things, such as: ‘Which church should I attend?’; ‘To whom should I give money?’; ‘How should I serve my church?’. In all these things, the Bible does not offer a definitive answer e.g. you should work in London, attend a particular church and give money to a particular charity. Given this, how do we seek God’s guidance and how can we know where God is leading?

In the first instance, we should turn to the Bible. Although the question ‘where should I work?’ is not directly answered, the Bible lays down some principles that impact upon this decision. For example, although working in a brothel is never specifically outlawed in the Bible particular principles and commands that directly relate to such work would make this an occupation incompatible with a plain understanding of scripture (1). In a less obvious sense, the scriptural principles relating to work may affect the area of the country in which we live and the type of work we will find. For example, the Bible makes a number of comments on those who will not work (2). If we are able to work but we make excuses for not accepting particular jobs this would appear to cut across the principles laid down in scripture (3). If we are able to work and appropriate jobs appear in places which are not ideal but in which we are able to live, or that do not relate to our preferred area of training but for which we are nevertheless trained, then the Bible makes clear that we should accept such work even though it does not conform to our preconceived specifications of that which we hoped for. In this sense, the Biblical principle of working when we are able should have an effect on both where we live and what we do. So, in the first instance, we should see what scriptural principles have an impact upon the area in which we are seeking guidance.

Of course, there are still undefined decisions we may face for which there is either no directly applicable principle or, for which there are two or more equally valid routes for us to take. Having considered all relevant scriptural principles, in the second instance we can turn to circumstance. For example, in seeking work, we may have a preferred geographical area and specific specialism in mind as our ideal – there is nothing wrong with this nor with actively pursuing it. However, if no jobs in our preferred area become available or we receive no interviews for that place our circumstances suggest the Lord would have us elsewhere (especially if he has provided the opportunity for work in another place). Likewise, if the Lord wants us to have a specific job in our particular area of preference he will set the circumstances such that we will be able to take that job. Therefore, where our decision is not otherwise prohibited by scripture, we can look to our circumstances to see what the Lord would have us do. If he would have us in a particular area he will open the doors to allow it and if he would not he will remove those opportunities from us.

Through prayer we can also know God’s guidance. If there is a particular situation which we are keen to actively pursue we can pray that, if it is His will, God would open the doors for that specific set of circumstances to come about. If it is not his will for us, for whatever reason, the Lord will not cause such circumstances to come about. Alternatively, we may not have a specific set of circumstances in mind but simply wish to follow wherever the Lord may lead. In this case, we can pray that He would only grant us the set of circumstances in which He would have us go. In either case, if we are truly seeking God’s guidance and not our own predisposed ideals, we should be earnestly and honestly praying for God to grant us opportunities in the way he would have us go and we should pursue those things when they arise.

Finally, it is worth noting that sometimes we have a number of perfectly valid options available to us, none of which go against scripture and all of which are within an acceptable set of circumstances. If we have committed the decision to prayer and have sought God’s guidance on the matter, we are free in this case to choose whichever option seems best to us. In truth, we can rest assured that by His sovereign nature we cannot act entirely outside God’s will. If we have made every effort to act in accordance with God’s expressed will and all options still appear viable we have liberty to act in whichever way appears best to us. In such circumstances, simply by laying an option in front of us that he knows we will freely choose, God can guide us through our own intellect and volition.

So, there are three ways that work together for guidance. Firstly, we look at the principles laid down in scripture. If what we are aiming to do goes against commands and principles in the Bible then God is clearly guiding us away from such things. Secondly, we can know by our circumstances what God would have us do. Where he is clearly guiding us away from something he will close doors and prevent those opportunities from arising; where he is guiding us towards a particular area our circumstances will be such that opportunities to do something else will be removed. Thirdly, we can pray that God will make clear to us where he would have us go and what he would have us do. Above all else, God is sovereign. Where the three ways of knowing God’s guidance have been met, all options remain and each appear valid we have liberty to choose the option which seems best to us as God can still guide through our own volition. Through these things we can know God’s guidance.

1. Such as Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18; Proverbs 6:32; Matthew 5:27-32; Matthew 5:19; etc
2. Proverbs 6; Proverbs 20:4; Proverbs 21:25; Proverbs 26:13-16; 2 Thessolonians 3:10-15; etc
3. Of course, there are many through illness, lack of available jobs, etc who want to work but cannot