But church leaders are not the only ones who abuse spiritually weak people with that kind of manipulation. Have you ever known people who claim to have a personal inside track on God’s will? They use phrases like “God led me”, or “The Lord told me.” When that happens, we need to be very careful (discerning). Some people who sincerely mistake or confuse their own self-serving pride with God’s will have been sincerely wrong and have blamed Him for some of the most outrageous behavior.
Bob Mumford, in “Take Another Look at Guidance”, compares discovering God's will with this docking procedure that is used by many sea captains:
There is a certain harbor in Italy that can only be reached by sailing up a very narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals. Navigating that channel is extremely hazardous, especially at night, and over the years, many ships have been wrecked. In order to guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted on three huge poles in the harbor. When the three lights are perfectly lined up, they appear as a single, bright light. Only then can the ship safely proceed up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights, he knows he's off course and to follow any one of them is certain danger.
God has also provided three harbor lights to guide us. The same rules of navigation apply--the three lights must be lined up before it is safe for us to proceed. The three beacons of guidance are:
- The Subjective Witness- When a mother noticed that her four-year-old daughter was ignoring her food, she asked, "Why aren't you eating?" The girl replied, "I can't eat; God told me not to." Her mother scolded: "God wouldn't tell you not to eat your supper." The little girl looked up at the ceiling, and then conceded, "Well then, maybe it was Moses." It is true that God speaks to us in mysterious or inaudible ways. The Bible tells us that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us, guides us, leads us and inspires us. However, it is dangerous to follow that single light alone. There are lots of people who claim to have received, so-called, “spiritual” direction that often contradicts the spiritual sense of others. I remember a man who announced to a young woman that God told him that he was to marry her. The problem was that God didn't her that; she believed He was leading her in a different direction. Obviously, one of them was wrong; possibly both were wrong.
- Divine Providence- God gives us direction through His people. His Word advises that with many counselors, there is safety. If we have some idea that we think has been inspired by God, it is wise to seek the opinions of a few other spiritually mature Christians before acting. When no one else senses that what we believe is the will of God, it probably isn’t. God is not responsible for confusion. And furthermore, if God truly is the inspiration for our plans, He will provide external circumstances to validate them. The Apostle Paul illustrated that for us when he told of how God opened “doors” of opportunities when he was going where God was directing him. When a closed door doesn’t easily open, it may be that God has closed it and is trying to direct us elsewhere.
- The Objective Standard- The most important indicator that God has provided for our leading is His Word. Our impressions, our reasoning and external signs, no matter how sincerely we believe may be from God, aren’t enough to discern truth from error. The best protection against deception is to know God's revealed truth, the Bible. That is where we can find the absolute principles of God that are essential for wise decision-making. And because our systems of laws and rules are based in God’s law, they too provide other objective standards to help us avoid the trappings of “situation ethics.” It is never right to do wrong in order to do something good.
We have God’s Spirit to lead us, God’s provisions to encourage us, and God’s Word to instruct us. All together, these three beacons give us confidence and assurance that the directions we've received are really from God and that they will keep us from dangerous confusion and lead us safely along His way.
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing. Psalm 143:10