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The Holy Spirit as Our Guide
The passages below are taken from Charles Stanley’s book, “The Wonderful Spirit Filled Life,” published in 1992.
Not long ago I was photographing in the Bahamas on a little island called Inagua. There is a small commercial port on the island where salt ships dock to load huge quantities of salt for export. As I was watching the activity around the docks, I noticed three large wooden posts. They were lined up several yards apart off to one side of the area where the ships enter the loading area. The posts—--or towers—--were approximately fifty feet high, and each had a light on top.
Having spent seven years in Miami, I was familiar with buoys and channel markers. So I assumed the posts functioned as some sort of guidance system for the ships. But since they were on land and not out in the channel, I couldn’t figure out exactly how they worked. So I asked.
The shape of Inagua forms a natural harbor. For the most part, the water leading into the harbor is too shallow for ships to enter. There is one deep but narrow channel that leads straight into the protected harbor. The three posts guide the salt ships through the channel and ensure they don’t veer to the left or right (or for you purists, port or starboard). As the freighter’s captain begins to make his way through the channel, he aligns the three posts so it looks from his perspective as if there is only one post. In this way, he knows he is in the channel.
One of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit is that of a guide. Yet it is not always easy to discern His voice. People often ask me, “How do I know who is talking to me? How can I tell the difference between my thoughts and God’s?” In the following chapters we are going to look at some spiritual markers that will always line up when the Holy Spirit is guiding us. Since God is not the author of confusion, He does not want us to be confused about an area as vital as this one. So He has given us some clear channel markers to ensure that we stay right on course with His will for our lives.
Before we jump into an in-depth look at each marker, I want to pause and focus your attention on something Jesus said concerning the Holy Spirit as a guide. In talking to the disciples about this very issue, Jesus said,
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.(John 16:13, NASB emphasis mine)
This verse speaks volumes, but we need to consider four key truths before we go any further in our discussion.
1. The Holy Spirit will guide us.
The emphasis is on the word guide. Jesus doesn’t promise that the Holy Spirit will control us. He doesn’t promise that He will drive us. He doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit will force us to do anything. He says He will guide us.
Granted, there are times when I wish the Holy Spirit would control me. For instance, when I am tempted. Or when I become so task oriented that I become insensitive. Or when it’s a beautiful
Saturday afternoon and I need to study, but everything in me wants to grab my camera and head for the mountains. Life would be much easier—--and I would be a much more enjoyable person--—if the Holy Spirit would reach out and take control of me.
But that is not the case. He is our guide, not our controller. At no point do we lose our ability to choose to follow His leading.
Consequently, we are always responsible for our words and actions.
2. The Holy Spirit is a trustworthy guide.
The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth. He guides believers into truth and according to what is true. That makes Him a trustworthy guide.
The Holy Spirit helps believers discern between what is true and what is not; what is wise and what is foolish; what is best and what is simply OK. Each day is full of decisions. Most of our decisions concern issues not clearly spelled out in the Scriptures, for example, where to attend school, whether to hire a particular applicant, how much to budget for vacation, on and on it goes.
As you are barraged with the details of everyday living, the Holy Spirit will guide you. He will give you that extra on-the-spot sense of discernment you need to make both big and small decisions. And the wonderful thing is that as you develop a greater sensitivity to His guidance, you will worry much less about the decisions you make. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is a trustworthy guide.
3. The Holy Spirit is God’s mouthpiece to believers.
The Holy Spirit does not speak on His own. Like Christ, this member of the Trinity has willingly submitted to the authority of the Father. Everything He communicates to us is directly from the Father: “He will not speak on His own initiative.”
God has chosen to communicate to His children through the
Holy Spirit (Acts 11:12). He is God’s mouthpiece to believers.
When God chooses to speak directly to you, it will be through the Holy Spirit.
When you think about it, this really makes perfect sense. After all, where does the Holy Spirit reside? In you! And in me! Therefore, He is the perfect candidate for communicating God’s will to Christians. Living inside us, He has direct access to our minds, emotions, and consciences.
4. The Holy Spirit speaks.
The question of whether God still speaks today is one that has spawned numerous books, articles, and lectures. It is not my purpose to present a tightly woven argument about why I believe God still speaks today. Suffice it to say, I do believe God, through the Holy Spirit, communicates directly with believers. No, I don’t write these revelations in the back of my Bible and call them inspired. Neither do I run around telling everybody what “God told me.”
My experience (as well as the experience of many godly men and women) is that the Holy Spirit, at the prompting of the heavenly Father, still communicates with believers today. In the following pages I will describe several occasions when I feel the Holy Spirit spoke to me. None of them were audible. But that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Holy Spirit indwells me. He doesn’t need my ears. What He needs is a listening heart and a renewed mind.
The book of Acts records several occasions when the Holy Spirit spoke to Paul and Peter (11:12; 13:2; 16:6; 20:23). It can’t be denied that those men had a special gift and call upon their lives. They were apostles, men handpicked by Christ to take the gospel to the world. But the same Holy Spirit that indwelt those men indwells every believer. Just as they needed divine direction at critical times in their lives, we need it today.
In his letters to the Christians in Rome and Galatia, the apostle Paul refers to believers as “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18). It would be difficult to lead someone you were not communicating with. The same is true for the Holy Spirit. If we are going to be led by the Holy Spirit, we can only assume He is more than willing (and able) to communicate with us.
I have not always looked to the Holy Spirit for guidance. It wasn’t because I didn’t think He was trustworthy. And it wasn’t because I didn’t think He was able. To be honest, for a long time I wasn’t convinced that God was interested in guiding me. I wasn’t convinced that God really cared about my everyday decisions. Decisions that affected our church were one thing, but most decisions are hardly that monumental. I had a difficult time believing that God took interest in the details of my life. At times I have felt a little guilty bothering Him with the mundane decisions that fill my time.
Maybe you have had similar doubts. I talk to Christians all the time who struggle with this issue: “Does He really care where I go to college? Does it really matter which job I take? Does it make any difference which house we buy? Does God really care about where our kids attend elementary school?” I would catch myself thinking, How could the God of the universe—--who is watching events in important places such as Washington, the Middle East, and Moscow
—--how could He really take my puny decisions seriously? So, I went to Him with the big things and did my best to handle the little things on my own. Don’t get me wrong. I prayed about the small things. I always prayed. But I didn’t really expect any divine guidance, so I didn’t look for any. I just took everything in stride and did the best I could.
Then one day a very familiar passage of Scripture took on new significance for me:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.(1 Peter 5:6—7, NASB)
Suddenly, it dawned on me. If God encourages me to unload on
Him all the things that are worrying me, it must be for a reason.
According to this passage, the reason is, He really cares about me.
He’s not too busy to care about the things that concern me.
If you have kids, you experience this phenomenon all the time. They come running in with what they believe is a major crisis. But to you, in your adult world, it is no crisis at all. How do you respond? You bend down and listen intently. You take them in your arms and assure them that everything will be all right. When you can, you work to help them solve their problem. Why? Because of the nature of the crisis? No! Because it affects someone you care for.
When you are concerned, God is concerned. Jesus echoed this idea in the Sermon on the Mount when He said,
Do not be anxious then, saying, “What ha11 we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “With what shall we clothe our selves?” . . . for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (Matthew 6:31—32, emphasis mine)
How comforting! He knows what we need. He notices even the smallest details. The principles we will be discussing apply to every facet of your life. God is concerned about your job, your house, your kids, your vacation, your choice of church, your finances, and even your hobbies. If it matters to you, it matters to God. Why? Because YOU matter to God.
THINK ABOUT IT
• Describe an experience you’ve had when you were certain that the Holy Spirit was speaking to you.
• Can you recall a time when you ignored the Holy Spirit’s guidance?
• Do you believe that anything that matters to you matters to God?
• Do you live as though you believe it?
• Review for a moment the four truths presented in John 16:13:
• The Holy Spirit will guide us.
• The Holy Spirit is a trustworthy guide.
• The Holy Spirit is God’s mouthpiece to believers.
• The Holy Spirit speaks.
• Are you willing to try casting all your anxiety upon God during the coming week? (165-170)
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