Evangelicals these days tend to be particularly uptight about guidance. Anxiety is caused by: (a) uncertainty about how to get it; (b) fear of consequences of not getting it. The following notes are based on a chapter by J.I. Packer in Laid-Back Religion, 71-89:-
The desire for guidance is a mark of spiritual health.
The world has alternative sources of guidance: gurus, palmists, astrologers, clairvoyants, agony aunts, counsellors.
The fear of spiritual ruin through mistaking God’s guidance is unwarranted: it assumes that missing one point in God’s plan forever ruins the whole, leading to a permanently second-class Christian life.
But God is able to restore erring believers, eg Jacob, Moses, David, Peter. See Joel 2:25.
The basic principles in guidance is to choose wise means to achieve the noblest end – that of glorifying God.
Wisdom consists in applying Scripture, comparing alternatives, weighing advice, taking account of our heart’s desire, estimating our capabilities. There is a personal touch from God in bestowing interest, blending hearts, etc.
Many today seek direct guidance, perhaps because of (a) anti-intellectualism; (b) humility; (c) the idea that God will is irrational by human standards; (d) the idea that God in his love will furnish ‘special instructions’ every time we face a major decision; (e) the presence in Scripture of stories of direct guidance. Some seek guidance by making their minds blank and then receiving thoughts emerging into consciousness as divine directives. So Oxford Group. But this method is theologically and psychological dubious. Others want an accurate plan of the future. ‘But Scripture directs us to live by God’s precepts, rather than by prying into his hidden will of purpose’ (Packer); cf Deut 29:29. Others draw lots or seek for signs. This can be used to support any number of crazy schemes and ideas. Still others look for private messages in the Bible. All the above tend to fanatical zeal or passive idleness.
Positive guidelines: (a) seek to please God; (b) note the teachings of Scripture, especially the summons to love, the obligations of the moral law, and the development of spiritual wisdom (Prov; Jas); (c) follow Scriptural examples of godliness; (d) let wisdom suggest the best course of action, and heed advice; (e) note nudges of concern from God; (f) cherish the peace that belongs to those who do God’s will, Php 4:7; (g) observe the limits which define what is possible; (h) be prepared for guidance to be witheld until the right time; (i) be prepared to be led to do what you do not like, and then for God to teach you to like it! (j) remember, even if you make a bad decision, God forgives and restores.
A major error is confining the search for guidance to ‘significant’ decisions about about work, home, partner. This isolates guidance from the flow of day-to-day living.
The fashionable view of guidance as ‘God told me…’ is novel, can lead to much foolishness, and lacks Scriptural warrant.
God’s prime means of guidance is by instruction about how we should live, Ps 32:8; 25:8-9. God’s guidance is more like marriage guidance or child guidance than it is like instructions from a control tower or predictions from a weather forecaster. In Ps 23:3, we see that the believer is not so much ‘called to be’ (say) a shepherd as called to be holy, in furtherance of God’s glory.
Scriptural teaching is our basic guide for living. Often, the general principles of Scripture are all the guidance we need or get. The moral law leaves us with considerable personal freedom in areas such as hobbies and interests.
The Spirit leads by: (a) helping us to understand biblical guidelines; (b) prayer; (c) motivating us towards spiritual growth; (d) making us delight in God’s will.
Apparent direct disclosures from God: (a) do not have canonical status; (b) are not the ‘norm’; (c) when in the form of ‘impressions’, can come from sources such as wishful thinking, mental illness, and satanic delusion, as well as from God; (d) should be tested by the canons of biblically-informed wisdom.