DIVINE GUIDANCE IN RETROSPECT
by Morris Inch
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DIVINE GUIDANCE IN RETROSPECT
“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6). We are not told precisely how the Spirit managed to dissuade them. Perhaps due to adverse circumstances, further reflection, a spiritual prompting, or some combination.
“When they tried to enter Bithynia, the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” Once again they were diverted from their intent.
“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Accordingly, they agreed that this was God’s leading.
What are we to make of this provocative passage? Initially, that Paul and his companions were engaged in proclaiming the gospel. This was in keeping with Jesus’ anticipation that his followers were to do so once the Holy Spirit empowered them (Acts 1:8). Starting in Jerusalem, extending to Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth.
Second, they might assume further guidance once engaged in the task assigned to them. While not similarly assured that this would be the case otherwise. Which recalls the athletic idiom, “Run toward the light.”
Third, there might be a variety of means employed. For instance, some avenues of service are not available. At least not for the present. Others appear inviting, but prove not to be so. Meanwhile, the Spirit primes us for what will transpire.
Fourth, unexpected opportunities present themselves. Such as might readily be overlooked, were it not for the prompting of the Spirit. So that one is wise to keep his or her options open until God’s leading becomes more evident.
For instance, it occurred to me early on that God might want me to serve him overseas. So that I looked into this prospect, only to have the door temporarily closed. In was not until years later that the opportunity afforded itself.
Fifth, there is a range of means at the Spirit’s disposal. As noted above, sometimes circumstances intervene. I was once invited to teach in a Chinese university. This seemed incredible to me given the Communist orientation of the educational establishment. At the same time, the official admitted that they would not want me to instruct more impressionable children. As it turned out, I was not able to accept the invitation.
It sometimes seems as if the Spirit whispers his instructions. These are not strictly speaking audible. They characteristically occur when engaged in devotional practice.
It appears that only in rare instances does the Spirit seem to raise his voice. As perhaps in the instance when discouraged with the results of my ministry, I blurted out: “I’m tired of being good!” It was then that it seemed as if someone admonished me, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). Startled, I looked around to see who had quoted this apt text. Only to find that there was no one present.
Does this exceptional experience indicate that I was more spiritual than most? I did not interpret it in this manner. It seemed rather to confirm that I was not being attentive.
Then there was the time when I felt impressed to alter the text on which I was to preach. I did so reluctantly, but with an exceptional response. As if guided by someone with much greater insight into the situation.
Sixth, we would gather that Paul was a capable mentor for his companions. Not that I think of him as especially easy to get along with. Barnabas impresses me more along this line.
So that we should choose our mentors carefully. Which recalls a time when I was having lunch in the school cafeteria with the resourceful counselor Don Tweedie, when a student paused at our table to ask for his advice concerning the choice of a major. “It doesn’t matter all that much,” he replied. “Find someone who has an insight as to how best to engage in life, and learn all you can from him or her.” Thus to ascertain the leading of the Spirit.
Finally, keep in mind that God is eminently creative. So that he can and does provide guidance in a variety of ways. Sometimes in a singular means, and on other occasions by way of some combination. So that we may harvest what others have sown, and sow what others may reap.
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