“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
I remember learning this verse as a very small child, colouring in the large gothic letters that spelt out its truth, and declaring it (for a small confectionery reward), the following Sunday, in a tremulous voice, among my little group of peers.
But I also remember a curate (a rather intense young man with a protuberant Adam’s apple), who squatted down beside me and gently encouraged me to explain what the verse meant. “Remembering it isn’t enough,” he said. (Perhaps he begrudged the chocolate).
And he coaxed me into a discovery that has become more and more precious as the years have gone by: that God is personal; that He is speaking (“Your word IS…”) and that life is a dark mystery to be explored, requiring His illumination.
Feelings are great, and they have a purpose, but it’s certainly not to guide your life. Whoever said, “Follow your heart” was a fool. Your “heart” is your emotional centre. Emotions have a great purpose – to allow us to enjoy life, to mourn loss, to have a tangible way to experience love – but feelings are fickle, and they are not meant to be the guiding force in our life.
We need the guidance of God’s word.
A helpful book on my own journey has been James Packer’s Knowing God. Here’s a couple of underlined paragraphs:
“Guidance, like all God’s acts of blessing under the covenant of grace, is a sovereign act. Not merely does God will to guide us in the sense of showing us his way, that we may tread it; he wills also to guide us in the more fundamental sense of ensuring that, whatever happens, whatever mistakes we may make, we shall come safely home. Slippings and strayings there will be, no doubt, but the everlasting arms are beneath us; we shall be caught, rescued, restored. This is God’s promise; this is how good he is.”
“Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”
I so enjoy that last bit. “God is not in a hurry” is so much at odds with the way I normally behave when decisions have to be made! If I don’t surge forward on a tidal wave of feelings, then I get busy with lists of pros and cons, using my reason and commonsense to find the Right Thing To Do. But God isn’t in a hurry!
When in doubt, do nowt.
Easier said than done.
The verse is also helpful in the way that we receive God’s word.That is to say, it’s bit by bit. The word is a lamp for our feet, not a floodlit stadium with the Goal highlighted in flashing neon. As in the picture above, we move step by step, for He has much to teach us as the journey goes on.
Upon which point, Elisabeth Elliot comments: “Does it make sense to pray for guidance about the future if we are not obeying in the thing that lies before us today? How many momentous events in Scripture depended on one person’s seemingly small act of obedience! Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.”
God’s primary means for giving us guidance is the Bible. The Bible is our rule book of faith and practice. If we know and understand the scriptures, we will be well on our way to having His guidance. He never guides His people contrary to the clear principles of His written Word.
Second, as Packer’s book title suggested, guidance comes from a knowledge of God Himself. We need to know what pleases Him and what displeases Him. There is no substitute for walking with God, sharing with Him, and talking to Him daily. When you do that, you will experience His direction and His correction. You will come to know what His desire is. This relationship develops over a long period of time, not instantaneously. Through constant use, your senses become sharpened so that you know good from evil. Spiritual maturity forms a basis for guidance.
A third key to God’s guidance is found in the book of Proverbs, where we read: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding: in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” This means that you are not only to know God, but to trust Him implicitly. Every aspect of your life is to reflect His sovereignty over you. “In all your ways acknowledge Him,” means in your work, in your family, in your personal life, in your thought life, in your recreation, in everything you do, you acknowledge that God is in control of you. Then, lean not on your own understanding. If you think you know all the answers, if you have everything all figured out, then you are leaning on your own understanding. If you trust God, acknowledge Him in the way that you live, and do not lean on your overconfidence or past experience. Let Him guide you.
You must have knowledge of the scriptures, a personal knowledge of God, and the knowledge that you are living each day in tune with Him, expecting His guidance.
Finally, to have His guidance, you need to be filled with His Spirit. The Bible says, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” In the book of Acts, there are recorded instances where the Holy Spirit gave personal guidance. He said to do this or not to do that. He gave revelations. And He still does all these things. He guides by means of specific scriptures that suddenly come alive for you. He guides by bringing people to you providentially to give you advice and counsel. He guides through circumstances. But you must be filled with the Spirit in order to understand how all these things operate together.”The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Cor 2:14)
But I take great comfort in this verse. I’ve known it for so long that’s it’s like an old friend. And just like a good friend, it tells me the truth, like that curate long ago: Remembering the words isn’t enough. I must know the God who speaks and put my trust in what He says.
And do it.
For it makes little sense to ask for directions if I’m not going to start the car.