Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Divining the Divine

How do I ascertain God’s leading on a matter?  What am I to do?  Christians ask this question of the Lord quite often hoping for clarity in the midst of ambiguity.  The needs are varied, and generally there are two or more possible plans of action.  Individuals concentrate on things like relationships, education, and employment.  Two individuals, a man and woman, combine to form a family, which is more inclined to consider housing, transportation, and offspring.  Gather these families and individuals together into local assemblies and the issues are buildings, gospel proclamation, discipleship, and mission work.

Some have a habit of doing nothing until forced by circumstances to make a choice and concluding the forced option is the most correct.  The opposite error concerns those who enact as many possible choices at once, assuming that the one that continues on is correct.  Both courses of action are fueled by a fear of making the wrong choice and be operating outside God’s will or his “best,” yet both are invalid as they are means of divination: the former method is passive in its approach, while the latter is active.  Both attempt to discern something that has never been promised in Scripture by means that are condemned.
There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer  or a charmer or a medium or a wizard or a necromancer, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lᴏʀᴅ.  And because of these abominations the Lᴏʀᴅ your God is driving them out before you.  You shall be blameless before the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners.  But as for you, the Lᴏʀᴅ your God has not allowed you to do this. (De 18:10-14)
Of course, no Christian would think that he or she is practicing a form of sorcery by these actions.  After all, the Holy Spirit is allegedly guiding their decision or indecision.  This simply demonstrates an ignorance of the Holy Spirit’s work.  What does Jesus of the Spirit?
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.  (John 15:26)
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  (John 16:13)
Notice He never says that the Spirit will lead into the perfect will of the Father.  Rather the Spirit points to Christ and the truth found in Scripture.  With that in mind look at a passage from Paul’s second missionary journey.  He and Silas began the second missionary journey by revisiting churches in Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium, during which Timothy was asked to join in the spread of the Gospel (Acts 16:1-5).  All was going well, then something changed:
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.  So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  (Acts 16:6-10)
From Iconium, the group traveled to Pisidian Antioch from where Paul desired to head due west toward Ephesus, but he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit.  Then he attempted to go north toward Byzantium, but the “Spirit of Jesus” stopped that plan, leaving only one path, which lead to the port city of Troas from where he would sail to Europe.

From the description Paul had wanted to stay in familiar territory and evangelize Asia Minor, and the plan was solid: the gospel needed to go forth.  What God did instead was confine his choices to force the path toward Europe.  Was Paul somehow out of God’s will for not going to Troas first?  Certainly not.  There was no mandate from the Lord in that direction.  Paul was operating in Christian freedom based on what he had received from the Lord.
“But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”  (Acts 9:6)

And he said to me, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”  (Acts 22:21)
All of this coming on the heels of Jesus’ general commission:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  (Acts 1:8)
Rather than ringing his hands over what he should do after being filled with the Holy Spirit at his baptism (Acts 9:17), Paul went about
[proclaiming] Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”  [And he] increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.  (Acts 9:20, 22)
There was no hesitation for some mystical, spiritual leading: he went straight to work, operating within the confines of the revealed Word of God, not the unrevealed, and received commendation for the gospel as it went forth.
On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.  (Gal 2:7-9)
How did the Holy Spirit lead Paul and Silas away from their intended destinations to where the Lord intended?  We have no idea.  The ultimate test, then, of whether we are operating in the will of God is by reading His word.  What has He commanded?  What are the warnings or limitations placed on His elect?  Between these questions is a broad area in which you and I are free to operate and conduct ourselves.

We are not called to fret about tomorrow trying to read the tea leaves of God’s design and then worrying that you should have purchased Bigelow brand instead of Lipton to gain the secret knowledge.  Instead of concerning ourselves with the uncertainty of what has not been revealed, in Christ we can daily move with assurance in what has been revealed, knowing that His providential hand guides it all for our good.  Just keep doing the good works He has given you to do.

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