Guidance - Jon Fryer
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.
Apparently Mary heard from God pretty clearly. Big glowing light appears in her bedroom, and tells her that she is going to get pregnant with God’s child. Sorted. And yet for me, hearing from God is never that simple. If I were Mary the story might have gone slightly differently, because angels don’t come and speak to me… or if they do, I’m not in the right frame of mind to recognise them.
Imagine, Mary is busily doing her makeup, when an angel sticks his head through the window.
‘Greetings Mary, you who are highly favoured by God. The Lord has sent you flowers and wants you to bear his son’ says the angel.
‘La, la, la’ says Mary, ‘better get on and do my flute practice – Joseph likes a bit of music in the evenings when he’s finished his supper…’
‘Oi, Mary, I’m talking to you’ says the angel. ‘The Holy Spirit will overshadow you… look, here he comes now!’
‘Toot! Toot!’ says Mary ‘Hmm, wonder where all these flowers keep coming from? This flute things not working out for me… maybe I should go and get my guitar?’
‘…and she’s buying a stairway to heaven…. Hmm, wonder what that bird is doing, keep flying around like that – it better stay away from my washing I tell you… Oi, mister, what are you doing with my flute!’
‘Finally!’ says the angel. I’ve been trying to get your attention all morning! Listen…’
… and its not just Mary. The Christmas story is full of people who hear from God very clearly indeed. Not long after Jesus is born these three characters turn up:
Mary’s just got rid of a bunch of sheep-hugging hippies who have been talking to angels when some rich beardy-weirdy geezers from China turn up and say that God told them to a follow a star all the way to an unknown stable in an unknown village in Israel to worship a baby who will be king of the world. You know what’s really cool – they would have had to have set out long before the baby was born to travel all that way… God was speaking to them and sent them the star to guide them before the event happened. It must have been God!
…except it doesn’t actually say that God spoke to them. It says that they saw his birth star from the East, and understood its meaning, and so came to worship. God didn’t ‘speak’ to them in the normal sense of the word at all…
… so maybe, just maybe, its not that God doesn’t ever talk to us, maybe its not that he doesn’t send angels with messages to his people today, maybe its just that we’ve forgotten how to listen. Maybe its just that we’ve forgotten what to look out for.
So why do we want guidance from God? Why do we need someone telling us what to do? The first spiritual answer is that as Christians we want to please God by doing what He wants us to do. And so we want to check out what it is that he wants so that we can do it.
The second spiritual answer is that all sorts of things are out there that want to lead us and guide us to do things – friends, family members, advertisers, teachers, religious gurus, politicians, everyone wants you to do things their way. And how can you know which way is best? Do we overspend on presents at Xmas in this country because we want to imitate the Magi and give gifts to our love ones, or would they be just as happy with something less extravagant? Will they love you less because you only spent £30 rather than £50? Are we overbuying simply because we have been programmed to receive our guidance from TV ads.
With all of these voices clamouring for my attention, life is so confusing that sometimes I need help. Actually, lets rephrase that. Often I need help. And as I have just said, sometimes our help is not reliable. Take Christmas for example. Christmas is very confusing, and there are lots of jobs to that you don’t normally have to do. Fortunately I have found some help from a website called Cartoon Church, so all is good.
Job number one: buy tree. You would think buying a tree would be simple, twig in a pot, sorted. But no. Big, small, real, plastic, fibre optic, you name it you can have it. Which is best? Fortunately I have a guide.
Job 2: Wrap Presents. Why are presents never square? They’re always octagonal with nobbly bits or something… but again, my trusty guide will help me, and everyone’s presents this year will be wrapped just lovely.
And why is the sticky tape always out of reach, or needed just when I’m using both hands to hold the paper together? And where does the end go? I have a guide to tell me.
And don’t even get me started on decorating the damn tree. Normally a nightmare of conflicting artistic choices, but this year all be well thanks to my trusty internet guide.
Anyway, that was just a silly way of illustrating that not every source of advice will be useful. Not every source of guidance is reliable. Not everything that you hear or see will be useful to you.
And that is why we seek guidance from God. We need a source of help that can be trusted. We need someone to direct us who can be relied upon. Who better than the maker of everything? At least God is going to have your best interests at heart, right? So let’s seek our guidance from God.
That said, we shouldn’t get too hung about ‘finding God’s will for our lives’ or other holy sounding phrases either. Let me explain what I mean. I have heard many Christian young people over the years stressing over what job God wants me to be doing, or how ‘I need to find the one and only possible boyfriend/girlfriend that God created just for me’. Honestly, I think that’s rubbish. If God had one single narrow path mapped out for your life then the very first time that you sinned it would all be over – you would be off that path and you could never please God again. That’s not my God. My God believes in grace, in second chances, in options, in fixing what has been broken. The whole idea of a single choice in any situation that is the only choice that will please God is not in the Bible. Yes, there are some choices that are better than others, and all choices have consequences, but your life is not a tightrope walk trying to keep a grumpy old God happy. Listen, the world is what we play in. Life is not like a narrow path, life is like a field. There are boundaries that God doesn’t want you to cross, and there is a very narrow gate that is the only way in, but once you are in that field then anywhere you go in it will please God. Its all good. In fact, one of the reasons He gave you free will was to see what you would choose out of all of the good things that He puts in front of you. Often when God chooses not to answer our prayers for direction and guidance its because He doesn’t mind – the choice is yours, and He wants you to make the decision!
Hearing from God is not difficult. There are many ways that we can hear from God, but the fact is that He is speaking to us all of the time, and if He seems silent it is because we have forgotten what to listen for. The easiest mistake to make is to forget the Bible. The Bible is God’s default method of communication with His people. God knows that people are forgetful, so he wrote down everything He wanted to say so that it could never be lost. And in terms of general guidance, the Bible is the best guide God will give you on how He wants you to live your life. As J. John says, its all very simple. If the Bible says ‘Yes’, then it means ‘Yes’. And if the Bible says ‘No’ then it means ‘No’. Got that? Often God remains silent when we ask Him stuff because we have already been given the answer. A while back a member of the church (who shall remain nameless) came up to me and said he thought that God wanted him to quit his job. His job was working illegally for a man who was defrauding the taxman and doing other not quite legal stuff. We prayed, and then I told him that he already knew the answer. The Bible says ‘Thou shalt not steal’. Don’t do that job. Guidance made simple. Some people may argue that the Bible contains lots of stuff that is not clear, which is fair enough – ask someone who knows what they are talking about to help you with that stuff, but the Ten Commandments are very clear indeed. Don’t do these things. All the guidance you ever need on whether stealing is ok, end of story.
If the Bible says ‘Yes’, then its ok. If the Bible says ‘No, then its not ok. Anything else is up to you, and if God has a problem with it then he will tell you. God is far more interested in how you live rather than where you live. God is far more interested in how you do things rather than what things you do… And if he really needs to tell you something specific, He will make sure that you get the message, even if needs angels to do it! You don’t have to worry about pleasing God as long as you live in the boundaries that He has set, and as long as you keep an ear out for when He is specifically calling to you.
If you remember the story of the three kings coming to visit Jesus, they were being a bit dense about trusting King Herod (and these are supposed to be ‘wise men’?!). Fair enough though, God hadn’t told them not to trust him, so they were on their own. But God really didn’t want them telling Herod where to find Jesus, so He sent an angel to warn them in a dream… and according to this picture the dream apparently involved a Christmas tree too, but dreams are weird like that, even if they come from God! If God wants to catch your attention about something then He will do, as long as you let Him. The Magi could have said ‘Wow! Freaky dream about a fairy on a tree’ and gone on their way back to Herod, but they chose to believe that God was speaking to them, and obeyed the angels message.
So what are the ways in which God can talk to us? God speaks to us in all sorts of ways. Angels. Burning bushes. Talking donkeys. A star to follow. These are all in the Bible. But God usually prefers to be a bit more subtle about things. We have already talked about dreams. Sometimes God talks to us in dreams, when our waking minds can’t get in the way. God talks to me in dreams more often than He does in some other ways – I guess my mind is too busy to hear Him except when I’m asleep! Other times God sends us pictures and visions – images that stay in the mind so clearly that you can almost touch them, even if they seem totally irrational at first. These pictorial ways of speaking often need someone else to interpret what God is saying to us – its God’s way of making sure that we pay attention by forcing us to talk about it with others!
At other times God gives people clear words to speak to us, either words of knowledge about things they could not otherwise know, or words of wisdom that explain what God desires, or words of prophecy that reveal God’s plan.
Coupled with the Bible, these things are the roadmap God gives us to get through life, the plan that lays out the direction we should be moving in, even if the exact route is at places left up to us. But a map is no use to anyone if you don’t know which up it goes. And that is why God gives every person on the planet a conscience. The conscience inside of you that makes you feel bad when you hurt someone else is the compass God gives you to say ‘This way is up!’. You don’t need to seek God to find out what is right and wrong in most situations – if you listen to what your heart is telling you, you probably already know. The Bible says: Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." (Isai 30;21). Its like having a high court judge in your brain telling you what God approves or disapproves of! And God says that saying ‘Well God didn’t tell us personally’ is no excuse, because every human being hears that voice inside. Every single person can meet God – they only have to look around them.
The Bible says that:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard
Romans 1;19-20 says ‘what may be known about God is plain, because God has made it plain. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse’.
So we have a map and a compass, all we need now are some landmarks to show us where we are. And God gives us these too. If you look around you, if you listen, then God speaks all of the time. Its not a big booming voice, its a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit that perks your ears up to something on the tv, something someone says, to a poster on the wall, to the scenery – all of creation is God’s message to us, and He can use anything He wants to to guide us. When people say ‘God told me…’ they usually don’t mean a big booming voice came from the sky, or a twenty foot angel with glowing wings turned up. No, they normally mean that the Holy Spirit nudged them as they went about their business and drew their attention to something that God wanted them to notice.
Having said all that, as Christians one of the free choices that we can make is to seek God’s voice more frequently. We want to hear from God because we like hearing from God. We value the relationship. We seek God’s guidance not just because we need it, but because we want to please Him. We seek to hear God because we want to spend time with Him. God will get in touch with us when He wants to, but how we do we hear from God when we want to hear from Him? As well as all of the things that have talked about, we do this in prayer. Prayer isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a time where you fill the air with your shopping list of wants and needs, prayer is an attitude of the heart that spends time listening to God as much as talking.
And when we pray that God will speak to us we need to remember some things. Firstly, we need to ask that He will speak to us – God wants a relationship with us that is as close as any lovers, and sometimes He plays the same sort of games that couples do, and will wait until you call Him first! But we can ask in faith – the Bible says ‘Ask and it will be given to you’. God will always answer when you call to Him (even if that answer is ‘I’ve already told you the answer you muppet!’). Secondly, we need to listen – how rude is it when you ask someone something and then don’t stop to listen the answer? Shut up and listen to Him! Sheesh! No wonder we think that God doesn’t speak if we never shut up enough to hear. And finally we need to be open to what He has to say. What’s the point of asking God for guidance if you are then not going to do what He says? Mary is again our best example here. God speaks, and basically says that He needs to hijack her entire body for nine months, and Mary (and lets remember that she was probably only about fourteen years old) says ‘I’m your servant girl, my body is yours. Do whatever you need to do.’ She is totally open to God’s plan, and obeys.
So that’s guidance from God, pretty much. Its nowhere near as complicated as it some people make it out to be – its about relationship, its about listening, its about trust. But is should come with a health warning, ‘cos if you ask God to take the lead you may end up in some places or situations that you didn’t expect. Like halfway round the world following a star to a stable.
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The Character of God
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The Authority of Scripture
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The Wise Mans Tragedy
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What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?
Cain and Abel
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Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?
When the Fire Burns Low
How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?
Fix Your Eyes
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Why should we look after the world God has given us?
How do we know who we are in God?
Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
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I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...
How do get to have intimacy with God?
Can we feel the breath of God?
Hearing From God
How can I hear what God wants to say to me?
The Story We Find Ourselves In
The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?
What does Passover mean to us as Christians?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?
What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Teaching for Christmas Eve...
What does it mean to have authority?
What can we do when it all seems like too much?
I Will Be With You
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What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?
A contemplative service for Pentecost
A creative/contemplative baptism service
How do we know what we should do?
A creative prayer/worship service
The Holy Spirit
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A Relationship With Jesus
What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?
The Pilgrim's Progress
If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!
Heroes, Promises and Trust
How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?
A liturgy for masculine prayer
Living Life to the Full
How do we get the most out of life?
What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?
The Presence of God
What does it mean to say God is present?
How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?
Who is Jesus?
...and what does he want from you?
To Act Justly Every Day...
What does the Lord your God require of you?
Sex and Self Image
Don't you know how beautiful you are?
Will you let Jesus be in charge?
Would you know him if he met you on the road?
The Person of the Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
The Passion of the King
What does Jesus really want?
How can we really 'count it all joy'?
More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?
The Armour of God
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The Heart of the Gospel
The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...
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How should I prepare to give a sermon?
The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?
The People of God
What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
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Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
How do we resist?
What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
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Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
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Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
We look in detail at the Lords Prayer
It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?
Becoming a Christian
What is a Christian, how do you become one?
Basics of Christianity
Here we delve into the Nicene Creed