In the past few weeks, the Lord has been leading us to attend a church closer to where we live. This has not been easy because we gone to our present church for twenty years. However, over time God has convinced us that this is His will for us.
Yesterday, we told our friends at church. Each person had a different reaction. Some were surprised, some not surprised. Some cried. Some understood that where God leads, you must follow, even when it does not make sense. Some related it to their own situations with trying to discern God’s leading. One person was certain of what they were supposed to do, then found that reversed by circumstances. Another told us of their obedience resulting in disaster. Two people said we are making a mistake and they were going to try to talk us out of it. The most discussion seemed centered around how a person knows the leading of the Lord.
God’s leading was once a visible thing. Back when God’s people came out of Egypt, He led them through the wilderness with signs they could see.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light. (Psalm 78:14)
This verse tells of visible signs yet even in this example, there are some clues about the way God leads. Night speaks of darkness and not knowing where I am going. In those situations, the leading of God can be the brightest. It often stands in contrast to the confusion or hesitation that is part of not being certain. That is, when life is murky the will of God can be totally bright, like fireworks against the night sky.
His leading in the daytime is another matter. When I can see what is happening around me, the leading of God might be more like a cloud. I am aware of many things and unless the cloud is very prominent, it is not as easy to see. There may be other clouds, other options. Which one is of God? How can I know His leading in the midst of everything else that pulls at my interest and affections?
I noticed yesterday that folks have ideas about how God leads them and tend to think that everyone else makes decisions the same way as they do. For instance, one person told me that the “leading of God” is mixed with what you really want to do yourself and this must be what I really wanted. Another said that God changes His mind based on the circumstances, indicating that His leading is more about whatever way the wind blows, so if situations change, we might change our mind.
Those ideas seem more about my will than God’s. Jesus teaches that the leading of God is not about my I-wants. In fact, I cannot be certain of His will until I’ve come to the place where I have dropped my own preferences and am willing to go whatever direction He says. Jesus said,
If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (John 7:17)
Dropping my own desires might take a long time. Part of the problem is not recognizing them in the first place, or even thinking there is anything wrong with what I want. However, Jesus prayed “Not my will but Thine be done.” His will was never mixed with sin and selfishness. This speaks to me. My will can be polluted. I need to drop my own desires if I’m going to hear and follow God’s will.
For us, being aware of that ‘requirement’ made it easier to pray, “Not our will, but Thine be done,” yet getting there took several weeks. It also meant being aware and honest about our own motivations. We finally came to the place of being willing to go or willing to stay, whatever God wanted.
Once there, knowing God’s will becomes easier. Sometimes His Word makes it clear, but on issues like this one, it was more like the Holy Spirit nudging us, giving us a divine elbow in the ribs. Once we made the decision that He wanted, the nudge was replaced by a sense of, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Does going with the will of God mean everything will be rosy? Not necessarily. Jesus prayed the same thing and willingly followed the will of His Father. By doing so, He was crucified. The will of God may not be a bed of roses, but it will be obedience, and never done in vain.
Our friends look for reasons. Our rational and human minds want to have reasons. However, faith is not like that. Faith means that when God sends a cloud or a fiery light, you follow it. We can ask why or what He has in mind, but that is not necessarily an expression of faith. Instead, faith just does what He says and lets Him decide how much He will show us about His reasons and purposes for it.
Lord, I’m challenged by whoever said, “Live in such a way that your life and actions cannot be explained by any other reason than God is at work.” This is both a scary place to be and a delight. I don’t know what You have planned, but I do know that yielding to Your plans is always better than resisting. Yielding also makes walking with You a great adventure. We want to be close to You, so clouds or bright lights, here we come.