|Being Led by the Spirit
Proverbs 4:11 I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. NASB
The book of Proverbs is full of verses like this one. From the beginning of the book to the end, we read about wisdom and are told to listen to it and apply it to our lives. In chapter 8, wisdom is personified to emphasize its importance. Proverbs was one of the first books of the Bible that I studied as a new Christian. I was amazed at how many rich truths were contained within this incredible book. The more I study it the more I realize that the experiences we encounter in everyday life are covered in this book in ways that continue to amaze me. Who would not desire to be wise enough to know what decisions to make in life, especially when it gets difficult? Obviously some people are foolish but everyone makes foolish decisions at some point in their life, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. Proverbs teaches us to not be like the fool. The greatest thing we can learn about wisdom, both from life and the book of Proverbs, is that it is invaluable. Proverbs says:
Proverbs 16:16 How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver! NIV
No amount of money could replace the benefit of wisdom! Wisdom means to have knowledge and to know how to use that knowledge correctly. Being foolish will always have a bad result.
Proverbs 10:21 The lips of the righteous feed many, But fools die for lack of understanding. NASB
I want to focus on wisdom as it relates to being led by the Spirit of God. Wisdom is different than being led by the Spirit, but the Spirit of God can bring wisdom, through the study of God’s word. In order to gain wisdom and allow it to work in our lives we must apply God’s word to it.
James 1:22-25 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. NIV
When we hear the word wisdom, we sometimes think of elderly people who have been through many life experiences and therefore have learned what is or is not good for them. Younger people sometimes run head first into things that an older person would know was a mistake. There is a saying that says there are three types of people in the world; dumb people, smart people and wise people. Dumb people never learn from their mistakes, smart people do learn from their mistakes, and wise people learn from other people’s mistakes. Even in the contemporary world, there are some people who are wise and care about truth. But true wisdom and knowledge comes from God, and to respect Him is the beginning of all wisdom:
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. NIV
The philosophy of the world is almost always wrong. It is generally backward in every sense and in nearly every situation. The world’s philosophy is in opposition to what the Bible teaches. It is foolish, lacking true wisdom. The Bible warns us about this:
Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. NIV
This is not to say that a Christian cannot lack wisdom, certainly this can happen. But the Christian man or woman, who seeks the truth by studying the Scripture and applying it to their lives, will always exhibit a wisdom that the world cannot obtain.
The Bible teaches that God is willing to give us wisdom if we ask, (James 1) and He is pleased when we do so. God told Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted, and Solomon asked God for wisdom. God was pleased (1 Kings 3:5-10). I believe it was a wise decision for Solomon to ask for more wisdom.
I also believe that the wisdom God gives only comes through the Word of God. This is clear by reading the context of passages like James chapter 1 where he tells us we must not merely listen to the word, but we must do what it says (James 1:22). The Word gives us wisdom if we do not merely read it, but apply it to our lives.
Before I continue I want to look at some passages that speak about the leading of the Spirit:
Galatians 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit , you are not under law. NIV
Paul is writing to the Galatians about being under the law. They were trying to merit God’s favor by doing the deeds of the Law, rather than resting in His grace. Paul calls them fools for attempting to live and think this way. Paul explains that if we are led by the Sprit we will not gratify our sinful desires, but if we live by the law, we will not be successful. But what exactly does it mean to be led by the Spirit? Does this mean that God will speak to us directly? Are we supposed to listen for His voice or wait for a tugging of the heart so we can know what to do? I do not believe so.
Many Christians speak as though God is constantly telling them every move to make in life. They truly feel God is telling them, through the Spirit, what Church to attend, what house to buy, where to live, what job to have, when to make a career change, what person to marry, and so on. They feel that God has a plan for their lives and if they somehow break away from that plan they will be chastised and have a life of misery until they get back on the right path again. The problem is, the only way they can tell if they are or are not in God’s will, is by how they feel. While they say that God is directing them in their decision-making, they are simply following what they “feel” God is telling them. Their emotions and feelings are running their lives, not God. People want to feel like they are doing what God wants them to do. If they get what they consider to be a ‘blessing,’ then this conditional relationship is somehow validated to them. This, however, is living on intuition, not living under the influence of the Spirit.
I am extremely leery when I hear a person repeat this familiar phrase, “God told me…(you fill in the blank).” The idea here is that as Christians, we get certain insights that we would not get if we were not Christians. For example, we know which car to buy or what direction to take when we travel. Just ask God and He will somehow communicate this to our heart. Usually we are just waiting for confirmation to do what we want, not to do what we need. This is not what the Bible is referring to when it speaks of being led by God. Here is what Jesus said:
John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. NIV
John 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. NIV
Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Sprit of truth. He (Holy Spirit) will guide us into all truth. This does not mean that the Spirit of truth is going to tell us what car to purchase, what color ear rings to wear, or how to get a stain out of our sweater. That is not what Jesus is teaching us. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the light, He came into the world as light, but the world being in darkness could not comprehend the light (John 1). The Spirit is sent by the Father to live in us as that light and The Spirits points us to Jesus. How does the Holy Spirit do this?
The Spirit of God will lead us to and through the Word of God and will help us understand its meaning. This is key; the answer to our life is already found in the Scripture:
1 Corinthians 2:10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. NIV
As a Bible teacher, the question I am asked most frequently by Christians is how can they know the will of God? This especially concerns them when it comes to their careers. Some people not only believe there is a general will of God laid out in Scripture, but that there is also a specific plan for our individual life. The Bible, however, does not teach this. Yes, there is a will of God for our lives, and that is found in the general will of God already stated in the Bible.
This modern ideology of being led by the Spirit in such a personal matter is not found in the Scripture. This teaching was derived from the Charismatic movement in which they teach that God still personally reveals Himself to man and claim that verification of such revelation is evidenced by what they feel and experience. The Scriptures, however, teach no such thing. We are never told to seek God’s answer by looking towards our emotions or feelings. No Bible verse tells us that the Spirit will lead us by tugging at our hearts. This is not what being led by the Spirit means. The Word of God speaks to us the truth and the Holy Spirit empowers us to be able to understand that truth and shows us how to apply that to our lives. Let us look at how this works.
Lets say a Christian wants to know if they have a job that is within God’s will for their life. How can they know for sure? This can be answered by simply looking at the Scriptures. First we must consider whether or not the job falls within Biblical guidelines. For example, a job in the pornographic industry is clearly not one that God would desire for his children to have. By reading the Scripture we can know, without a doubt, that God would not want us to have that job. However, if your career is not sinful in nature and does not require you to do anything that is contrary to Scripture, then your job is not in opposition to God’s will.
The next question we should consider is whether or not you need an income? If the answer is yes, then the Bible is clear in that it says we need to work to make money. Every person needs to eat and the Lord does expect someone in the family to work to support it.
Proverbs 21:25 The sluggard's craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work . NIV
1 Thessalonians 4:11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. NIV
2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work , he shall not eat ." 11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. NIV
There are certainly many other passages that teach the same thing; we are to provide for own family. We are not to be constantly eating from another man’s table. We can learn from studying the Bible examples of places we should or should not work at, but there is no mention in Scripture of God having a specific job in mind for each believer. It simply teaches us to work. Regardless of what skill or what career you choose, we are only admonished to follow the will of God by working. If you choose to change careers, that is fine. God is simply pleased by your faith in Him to provide for you. It does not matter whether you are a computer science technician, a carpenter or a trash collector. These jobs have one thing in common; they provide an income for us and are all within the will of God for our lives. Those who need an income, but remain idle because they are waiting for God to tell them exactly where to work are simply not living within the will of God. There is no need to pray for answers. God has spoken. He said to “work”.
This is what being led by the Spirit means. We listen to the Spirit by allowing Him to direct us through the truths of the Scripture. The Bible is very practical and logical in many regards. There is no need for us to rely on our intuition. The Spirits guides us as we study the completed revelation of God. Often, people will sit around waiting for God to speak to them directly. But, God has already spoken to us in His Word. By reading the Bible they would be learning His will. Conviction would come to simply work somewhere. It is foolish to wait for God’s answer when it has already been given to us.
Let us consider yet another career to further illustrate this point, the wonderful privilege of working in the ministry. I often hear Pastors and other Christians speak of how God called them to go into the ministry. Some even express this sentiment in the little details of their walk with God, such as sharing their faith with others. They might claim that God told them to talk or not to talk to someone. Again, the Bible has already said to share our faith with every one. There is no question of whether or not we need to witness to others. We do not need to wait for God to speak to us directly regarding this issue. We should not wonder if it is God’s will to do things that the Scripture already tells us to do. Simply do it. If God has provided you with the resources then it is God’s will.
What about being called to be a pastor? Does God really ‘call’ people to be pastors? When pastors share stories about the exact day and time that God called them to preach, is this in harmony with what the Bible teaches about being led by God? Lets consider this passage:
1 Timothy 3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. NIV
Here Paul is writing about the position of being a leader in the ministry. He does not address this in a way that suggests God calls specific individuals to become pastors. He says very practically, if you desire (NASB uses aspire) to become an overseer, then you desire a good thing. This is something you choose to do. Not everyone has this desire, and that is fine. But if you do desire to do this, it is noble. It might be argued that the calling of God is found when we desire a certain thing. But that concept is not taught in this passage, and this too would be highly unreliable. I do not desire to get up every morning and go to work, but I know I should. The Bible teaches that we have fleshly desires. So how do we distinguish between a desire of the flesh and the spirit? Only through the word of God can we determine the right answer.
As we discussed earlier, we must use God’s word to determine if our occupation is within the will of God and this is especially true with a career in the ministry. God teaches us that there are guidelines for being a pastor. Being a pastor is a noble desire, but first a person must check to see if they qualify. Having the desire for this position is not enough:
1 Timothy 3:2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap. NIV
A person desiring this position:
1. Must be above reproach
2. Must be the husband (which means being a man) of one wife
3. Be temperate
4. Be self controlled
7. Be able to teach
8. Not given to drunkenness
9. Not Violent
11. Not quarrelsome
12. Don’t love money
13. Manage your family well
14. Children must give proper respect
15. Cannot be a recent convert
16. Have a good reputation with the outside community
If you fall under these guidelines, welcome to the job. You do not need any further confirmation in your heart to know that you are able to preach. However, if you do not fit these guidelines, you are not to go into the ministry. No amount of desire or tugging at your heart can change that. God’s Word has spoken and only those who fit this category can and should preach. One time someone came to me and told me that his wife recently was called to preach. I asked him how he knew this. He said that she just felt God told her. I explained to him that God would not have done this. God has already stated His will on the matter and here in this passage and others, said that a woman is not to hold this position within the church. God is not going to contradict himself. Another person said that God called his brother, a brand new Christian, to preach and even told him in which Church to do so. I shared this passage and showed him where it says an overseer should not be a recent convert. Again, God will not contradict himself. The leading of the Spirit guides us to what God has already revealed in His Word. It is not a tugging on the heart in some special way to reveal information to us, especially when that revelation contradicts what He has already said. The Bible simply does not teach us that the Spirit leads us in this way.
Let me give yet one more example: marriage. Many people really stress over which person “God would have for them” in their lives. Some have even broken off relationships because they feel God did not call them to marry that person. In reality, they simply were not comfortable with the other partner. People who have questions about marriage can learn about the will of God in the passage found in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul speaks to those who have never been married and to widows. He also address those who are currently married and those who were married and are now divorced. Paul speaks to the unmarried by saying that they are free to get married if they desire to do so but they may also choose to remain unmarried. Both are within the will of God. The only qualification for the partner is that they must be a believer. So, if you wonder about the will of God regarding whom you should marry, then the Spirit of God will teach you that you may marry whomever you desire, as long as they are in the Lord. We are not taught that there is a certain path in our life laid out by God and that we must marry only whom He has chosen for us. There are no instructions about making sure we marry the person we “feel” God wants us to. There will be no punishment if we fail to marry the right person. As long as they are saved we are free to choose whom we desire. God has already instructed us on his plan for marriage in His Word, we do not have to seek a certain sign or feeling to know if we are or are not in His will. As foreign as it may sound, there is no such thing as the “right” person or “soul mate” that God wants for your life. You may have several options. Of course it is not like picking out a car, but my point is that we are within the will of God to choose whomever we want to marry within the guidelines set forth in His Word. Paul also speaks in this passage to those who are already married and he tells them not to separate or divorce. No Christian would ever get revelation from God to divorce they’re current spouse and/or marry someone else. That would contradict what He has already said in His Word. I would encourage everyone to study this chapter to better understand this subject.
So, we see that we can take the wisdom of God coupled with the true Biblical leading or guidance of the Spirit through the word, to find Gods will for our lives. If we yield to the Spirit and apply His wisdom then we will have far less trouble in our lives:
Proverbs 3:21 My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; 22 they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. 23 Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble; 24 when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. 25 Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, 26 for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared. NIV
Proverbs 11:8 The righteous man is rescued from trouble, and it comes on the wicked instead. NIV
The Bible tells us to be wise, use discernment and to not haste fully make decisions. To seek the will of God on a matter means we should consult God’s Word to see what He has already revealed about the matter. This does not mean we just open the Bible randomly and blindly point to a verse. This is not how God talks to us. The Bible clearly teaches that we should rightly divide the scripture. We rightly handle God’s Word when we do not take things out of context to make them fit our life. We should read the entire context of every passage to get the proper meaning.
Exercising wisdom and discernment is something that comes as we study God’s Word. For example, sometimes during a very hectic day things might occur that would cause me to become angry. It can happen quite rapidly, maybe because of what someone has said or done. There were times when I acted on this anger and the result was disastrous. I felt really horrible afterward. Sometimes (most always) I was angry for no good reason. But I still felt compelled to act on my anger the moment I felt it overtake me! However, I have gained some wisdom through these past experiences. As I have studied and meditated on God’s Word He has shown me my anger needs to be controlled. Now, when I get angry and desire to act on it, I allow the Spirit to lead me. The Spirit does this by reminding me of these verses that I have studied and read. It’s as if He says, “Chet, remember these passages”:
Proverbs 13:3 He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. NIV
Proverbs 29:11 A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back. NASB
James 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. NIV
If I yield to the Spirit of God, I save myself a lot of heartache. Many more examples come to mind, but I pray these will be sufficient to give a better understanding of being led by God. God does talk to us, but only through the Word of God. He does not verbally speak to us in an audible voice nor does He speak directly to our hearts in a manner inconsistent with God’s Word. Our wisdom and our discernment come through the understanding of His Word.
I think it is helpful to understand that we are supposed to be good stewards with our lives. "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy" (1 Corinthians 4:1-3). Every person has been given a life here on this earth, and what we do with that life is important. First, in order to obtain eternal life we need to accept the gift of God – Jesus. But the other choices we make are just that, choices. We are not programmed robots to only perform what God has planned for our lives and are therefore punished if we mistakenly detour from that plan. But we are responsible to exercise our God given talents, and use them properly:
1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. NIV
The gift referred to in this context can be the talents we have in life. Some people have the natural ability to understand certain technology better than other people. Even though they may have worked very hard to obtain this knowledge, they have been given the ability to learn such complexities by God. Someone else might have a natural ability to sing. While they can certainly learn techniques to become a better singer, it is God who gave them this talent. We should use our time, talents, gifts, abilities or learned skills, to be wise stewards. When we possess certain gifts, we usually desire to use those gifts. It is natural and practical to do these things. It certainly does not mean that God has a specific job in a specific place for you to use them.
Does God play a role in our life at all then? God does and will intervene in our lives in order to help us. It is important to understand the way He leads us. He may use events or circumstances in life to help us better understand His word, or even lead us to read it. The Spirit is always pointing us to the truth of God’s Word. It is also comforting to know that in whatever circumstance we encounter He will use those things for good:
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. NIV
He will help us, and will intervene. If a person does not have a job it would be wise to ask God to help them find a job. If we do not like our current job, God may open doors to new ones, but often times there are multiple choices available to us. For someone desiring the companionship of a mate, then God may send someone your way. He might send two or three. God does know what is best for our lives, and He will intervene to help us. Our only obligation is to follow His will as He taught in the Scripture, and allow the Spirit to lead us to understand and apply it. While He may open doors and offer choices to us as we pray and seek His wisdom, there is no path already ordained for each of us to take. Our only concern is that we make sure whatever do is within the will of God as presented in His written Word.
May the Spirit of truth guide you into all truth.
1 John 4:4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. NIV