Understanding and Testing Guidance

So you're experiencing a stirring in a particular direction, a pricking of your conscience, a lack of peace. How do you know if it's from God? Dr. Kayser has 30 questions you should ask to test guidance. In Part Two of this series, he lays out the first twelve.

Last week we started looking at the hot topic of guidance. I was hoping we would be able to finish it off today, but it does not look like that will be possible. Let me begin by taking three or four minutes to give some review. A great place to begin is the definition of guidance given by Charles Hodge. He was a Presbyterian theologian in the 1800's. He said:

Christians admit that the children of God are led by the Spirit of God; that their convictions as to truth and duty, their inward character and outward conduct, are moulded by his influence. They are children unable to guide themselves, who are led by an ever-present Father of infinite wisdom and love. This guidance is partly providential, ordering their external circumstances; partly through the Word, which is a lamp to their feet; and partly by the inward influence of the Spirit on the mind.1

I've charted those three parts of guidance with this triangle [Chart B]. The first and most important is Biblical guidance. We saw last week that the Bible is the only authoritative revelation that we have today. If God has spoken to an issue in the Bible, then we have no freedom to ignore it. If God has given liberty in the Bible, we can freely take it. There is nothing beyond the Bible that can bind our consciences. And we looked at a very unusual Scripture that demonstrated that.

So the question might come up: "Why bother looking at either Providence or subjective guidance?" And there are three reasons that we started to examine last week: first, because Scripture talks about it. Second, because it is useful. We saw last week that though it is not normative, God's subjective work brings comfort, assurance of salvation, gives wisdom, opens our eyes to things we wouldn't have noticed otherwise, burdens person x to be involved in a ministry that might otherwise have not been tasteful, etc., etc. It is very useful.

The third reason is that we limit the hand of God if we deny providential and subjective guidance. While God has clearly said that there will be no more inspired revelation after 70 AD, He just as clearly has indicated the continuation of many kinds of subjective revelation till the end of time. We gave 13 such examples, including the law written on the heart, faith, assurance and illumination.

The Reformed theologian of the Civil War era, James Henley Thornwell, said:

To say that God cannot communicate an intuitive conviction of His presence to the mind is ... boldly and presumptuously to limit the Holy One of Israel. No good reason can be given why an immediate revelation of Himself is not as possible and easy as an indirect manifestation of His glory through the wonderful works which He has made.2

The famous John Murray said:

It needs also to be recognized that, as we are the subjects of this illumination and are responsive to it, and as the Holy Spirit is operative in us to the doing of God's will, we shall have feelings, impressions, convictions, urges, inhibitions, impulses, burdens, resolutions. Illumination and direction by the Spirit through the Word of God will focus themselves in our consciousness in these ways. We are not automata. And we are finite. We must not think, therefore, that a strong, or overwhelming feeling or impression or conviction, which we may not be able at a particular time to explain to ourselves or others, is necessarily irrational or fanatically mystical...3

And then he went on to say what we said last week — but it must be bound by the Scripture. Isaiah 8 says, to the law and to the testimony. If they do not speak according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them.

One of the objections people often give is that we can't understand subjective guidance. But there are thousands of things that we cannot understand. I read about the longest flight made by a homing pigeon. To test its homing instinct, the bird was taken from its home in Saigon, Vietnam to France. And to make sure that the bird did not see landmarks, it was under cover in a ship which travelled the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Yet as soon as that pigeon was released, it shot straight as an arrow to Vietnam and returned after 24 days of flying. What in the world is that? We don't understand it fully. We have a video tape of a tern that flies thousands of miles across open sea with no landmarks to Hawaii. When you know where Hawaii is on the globe, that is a remarkable thing. But what is even more amazing, is that the parents fly several weeks before the babies do. When the babies are strong enough, they too fly to Hawaii across the uncharted seas as straight as an arrow to an island they have never been to before, and which is so small compared to the sea that it still has scientists baffled. God's instincts in the animals are every bit as hard to understand as the Spirit's subjective illumination, promptings, instincts and premonitions. Why are some people blind to the Scriptures and others have the lights go on? We don't understand it, but we know from the Scripture that it is the Spirit's illumination of blind hearts. So don't discount subjective guidance simply because you cannot understand it.

In any case, last week we outlined 13 kinds of subjective guidance — all of which were called a revelation by Scripture. The ability to think rationally is said to be enlightenment or illumination in John 1:9. Now that's an amazing thought. A pagan couldn't even think, if God didn't enable him to. Romans 1-2 says that pagans who have never opened a Bible still have such a clear knowledge of God's existence and of His moral law, that they are left without excuse. And that law written on their hearts and that knowledge of God is said to be a revelation. We call it general revelation, because it is given generally to all men. We also saw that wisdom, promptings, conviction of sin and repentance are all called a revelation. Faith is a very special form of revelation. The opening of our eyes at salvation. Doctrinal insight. Insight in spiritual warfare. Wisdom needed for sanctification and decision making. The call to the ministry. These may be dim, very easily mistaken, subject to error. But they are all a part of God's guidance. And we saw that all three parts of this diagram need to be in place.

Now let me give two illustrations of how these three sides of guidance dovetail together. First, the call of a king. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul is rejected by God as king. God says, The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today [and that word "today" is key to what we are going to be looking at], and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. So God has already given the kingdom to David. But if David is 15 years old here, it will be another 15 years before he is anointed as king by the people. In fact, it will be a few days before God anoints David, even though David was given the kingdom that day. So we have the kingdom given, a few days later David finds out about it, is anointed with oil by Samuel and receives the Spirit's empowering for kingship. The trouble is, the people don't call him as king. There is a time of waiting and testing that God has for David. Finally, in 2 Samuel David is recognized as king by the southern two tribes and is anointed with oil by them. But it will be another 7 years, 6 months before the whole of Israel recognizes David as king. So you can see that there may be time gaps between the three corners of calling. Until God's providence moved Israel to anoint him as king, he did not push it.

A person might say, "But God explicitly rejected Saul and anointed David! Why did David wait for seven years before he took his place as king?" And the answer is that calling is not just subjective. Until the people voted Saul out, or voted David in, both Bible and Providence prevented him from entering into his calling. The Bible says that kings have to be called by the people. You see, the Bible informs all three corners of guidance over here. And there are many examples like that in the Bible. But let me use a current example

When a pastor is called to the ministry, the Presbytery seeks to ascertain if he has all three dimensions of calling upon his life. And since we are seeking guidance on the election of an associate pastor and of some deacons, this might be an appropriate issue to think about today.

When I was called to the ministry I didn't hear any voice from heaven. Nor (oddly enough) did I have a desire to enter the ministry. I loved to minister, and had a burden to minister, but the official status scared me to death. Some people's call to ministry is a deep longing with no fear whatsoever. But for me, it was a combination of things: first, a realization that I had the Biblical qualifications. Other people recognized that. I could see it. And I knew that it didn't matter how gifted I was, or how passionate I was about preaching or how subjectively called I felt to ministry, if I failed to meet the Biblical criteria, I would have to deny that God had truly called me because God does not contradict Himself. And in such a situation, I would have to unleash my burdens in other avenues of ministry. You don't have to be a pastor to exhort, to counsel, to evangelize, to visit the sick in the hospital, etc. It would be wonderful to have a church full of such people to do those things. And so there are some people who are very gifted, but they will never be a pastor or an elder or a deacon, because they miss one of the Biblical qualifications for office. I had a pastor ask me if I would allow him to be a pastor since he had had an unbiblical divorce and remarriage. And after asking some questions to make sure I knew the situation, I told him that he should immediately resign because he was a serial polygamist. And while polygamy does not bar a person from being a Christian or from ministering in the church, it did bar him from the high office of pastor/teacher. And he said, "but I am gifted and called to be a pastor. Why would God gift and call me and then not let me serve?" And I walked him through this three-fold process and showed him how God's call involved all three. I told him that I could meet every other Biblical, subjective and providential criteria for being a pastor, but if I was like one of my African friends who happened to have two wives when he got converted, I would have to say that I was not called to be a pastor. God could have prevented that in his providence, but he didn't. Can you see that?

So I was processing through all of the Biblical evidence. Chapter 1 of Timothy indicates that a teaching elder needs to understand God's law and God's gospel. Chapter 2 of Timothy indicates that a man of God needs to be a man of prayer. Chapter 3 indicates that he needs to have the qualifications that a ruling elder or a deacon would have. Chapter 4 indicates that he has to be skilled in the Scriptures, has to love meditating on the Scriptures and teaching them. Chapter 5 indicates that he had to have burdens to exhort, rebuke and counsel. And as I went through the qualifications for pastors in 1 & 2 Timothy and in Titus, which are much more extensive than those for ruling elders, I began to realize that God had been working all of those things in strong measure within my heart. I could not get away from them.

And so the subjective was lining up with the Biblical. So let's look at the subjective side. It consisted of four things: 1) as I have just mentioned, first of all an inner love for, burden for and growing desire for the kinds of ministries that Scripture associates with a pastoral position. 2) Second, a recognition that God had gifted me in these areas. 3) Third, (and not all truly called pastors have this, but) it included strong checks in my inner spirit when I would contemplate going into any career other than being a pastor. I was so tempted by fear of the ministry to run from my call, but any time I would think about it I would have a strong check in my spirit, sometimes so strong that it almost made me sick. It's hard to explain that one, but I just call it a check in the spirit. Some people call it a lack of peace, but it went way beyond lack of peace. 4) And the fourth dimension of the inward call was a faith that this was indeed what God wanted me to do. How do you explain an assurance of faith? Is it infallible? No. We know that there is such a thing as presumption. But I had an assurance that God wanted me to be a pastor. And that assurance of faith took me through eight years of education and over $100,000 of education costs. It took me through discouragements and ministry backlash.

Then there was the providential side of guidance. From the time that I went to Bible school, hoping that God would not call me into the ministry, people kept telling me that I was gifted, God's hand was upon me, I needed to go into the ministry, and when I protested, I had quite a share of rebukes from people who thought that I was running from God's calling on my life. The providential side continued with my education. For a poor missionary boy, the educational requirements in the PCA was a huge stumbling block. But I was confident that God would enable me to finish if it was His will that I be a pastor. Then providence opened the door and the church called me and Presbytery concurred in that call. They all dovetailed.

And when you are seeking God's guidance as to who you should vote for, you need to think about all three aspects. Does the person meet the Biblical criteria. If not, no matter how badly we need elders, it is not God's will at this point for them to be elders. And if you are an elder candidate, rather than dreading an election, you should view it as part of God's process of guidance. If you feel strongly called, don't view it as a catastrophe if you don't get elected the first time. Think of David. It took him several years from the time that he was first anointed with oil by Samuel, given the Holy Spirit for empowering, and knew himself to be called to kingship, until the time when the southern two tribes finally voted to make him king and anointed him with oil themselves. And even then, the northern ten tribes didn't accept him as king for another 7 years and six months. David had all the qualifications and all the desires, but he trusted God for His timing. The same will be true of any candidate I present to you for assistant pastor. Even though I am authorized to hire an assistant without congregational input, I see it as a valuable part of God's guidance. Nor do I think that a vote for elder or for associate has to be a supermajority. Scripture uses the technical Greek word for majority vote. There have been many elders who have been voted in by a slim majority who have proved themselves to be such invaluable servants of the church that in upcoming confirmations they have received 100% votes. Subjective and providential guidance is not infallible. But it is valuable. And God is indeed in control of the process.

Before we go into the 30 tests of guidance, let me try to give you enough illustrations of both providential and subjective guidance that you can feel confident in what is meant [Chart D].

I look back on the ancestry of my mother and my father, and it is fascinating to see the times that God providentially intervened — and marvelously intervened, or we would never be here. One time my mother took a flight from Toronto to Detroit with a stopover at Buffalo. And they had to wait quite a while in Buffalo to de-ice the wings. Finally they told everyone to get off because the flight had been cancelled. She immediately got her ticket redeemed, dashed off to the train station to catch the train. On the way out she overheard them say over the loudspeakers that they changed their minds and were going to take off anyway. She and one other man decided not to get back on board. Now at that exact time, my father was mysteriously driven to prayer that God would intervene on whatever danger she was facing. He didn't know her that well, and didn't even have eyes for her. But God put a terrible premonition of danger upon him until he prayed. As it turned out, the plane crashed, and everyone aboard was killed.

In that illustration we have both providence (God making sure that she got off the plane) and subjective (God stirring up the heart of my father to pray). When my mother got back from Christmas break, she told the story of how she had been providentially spared from crashing, and my Dad got to wondering if God might have something more in mind than just praying for that one event. So you can see how God can have multiple purposes in mind with his guidance. Is it normative? No. But boy does it get our attention.

And God gives guidance through very mundane events as well. The second item under providence is that there are spiritual gifts and even natural abilities. If you are color blind, don't apply for a job as a home decorator. Right? God closes the door on many things simply by what He has sovereignly made us like. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that a female shouldn't be a pastor. If God had wanted her to be, He would have providentially made her a male. And so the way that He made her is part of His guidance. And those are usually fairly obvious, though occasionally people are blind to the obvious, aren't they?

The next item is a hungry man who shows up at your doorstep. 1 John tells us that we need to do something about helping if God has placed us in the vicinity of a need.

In Romans 1:13 Paul says, I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now)... That didn't rule out Paul's coming at a later time, but Paul wasn't upset when God made good plans be delayed. Providential closing of doors, or slowing of things down is just as surely God's guidance as the burden to go that God had placed on Paul's heart. The burden would be fulfilled, but perhaps not for several years.

Under the subjective column, we have already looked at the first two. Assurance of salvation is given by the Spirit within us. Illumination so that we can understand in the Scripture.

But let me give a story of Admiral Sir Thomas Williams, so that you can see how subjective guidance can sometimes not even be understood completely. And yet it can still be just as effective. And later, I will give you some Biblical examples of this. Admiral Williams was a commander of a ship crossing the Atlantic. His course brought him in sight of the island of Ascension. No one lived there at that time, and no one ever visited except to collect turtles. The island was barely visible on the horizon, but when Sir Thomas looked at it he was seized by an unaccountable desire to steer towards it. His desire became more and more urgent and distressing, until finally he told his lieutenant to prepare to put about the ship" and steer it in that direction. The officer respectfully objected that this would delay them. This only increased the Admiral's anxiety, and the ship was steered towards land. As they approached they saw a white flag and discovered 16 men who had been ship-wrecked many days before, suffering from hunger. This Admiral didn't need to seek for this guidance of God. It just happened. He couldn't get away from it. And perhaps some of you have had something similar. Perhaps you have been awakened in the middle of the night with a sense of urgency that someone was in trouble, and as you prayed, the dread began to leave. That has happened a few times for me. Is it normative? No. But will you be able to shake it off? Probably not, if God is moving you to pray.

The danger in bringing up examples like that is that if it has never happened to you, you might be tempted to question whether the Lord guides you. But (as far as I know), that only happened once to Admiral Williams. Those night-time promptings have only happened once every few years for me. Most subjective guidance is in the categories of wisdom, insight, faith, assurance. And even in the area of providence, many times we don't recognize God's hand of guidance until years later. Allan Mallory was talking at Presbytery about how the Lord appears to be opening the acquisition of Calvary Baptist church for them as that church has voted to disband. He said that when they moved into town a couple years ago, they wanted to find a house within walking distance of the church since his emphasis has always been on community outreach. They looked at 36 houses, none of which were close, and finally had to settle for one that was five minutes drive away. But the new church location is two blocks away. It has taught him to have patience in God's long term planning. But as he mentioned that, it reminded me of a string of providences long before Allan came to town. Glenn Durham started that close relationship with that pastor years before. There were providences of leading in his life that were mundane and maybe weren't even recognized at the time.

Let's look at another example in the subjective column. Psalm 25:14 says, The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him... Spurgeon said:

It signifies familiar intercourse, confidential intimacy... Carnal minds cannot guess what is intended by it, and even believers cannot explain it in words, for it must be felt to be known... [For someone as academic as Spurgeon, that is remarkable. But he said, "for it must be felt to be known..."] He who does not know the meaning of this verse, will never learn it from a commentary.4

And it is true that it is hard to explain why (for example) you have a faith that God will do something everyone else thinks is ridiculous, or why you feel a check in spirit or a sense that we do not have the go-ahead to do something. I used to enjoy talking to JW's and running circles around them since I had read and digested most of their books, and had underlined and marked up the best verses in their translation to nail them with. But there was one lady who came to our home that when I would open my mouth to talk, it was as if the Lord put His hand over my mouth and would not give me persmission to say a word other than brief word of testimony and saying that I couldn't talk. This happened at least four times. Subjective guidance is hard to explain. But if you read the comments of the Puritan writers Jermin, Morison, Dickson, Thomas Goodwin, William Gurnall, William Fenner, John Trapp and Thomas Watson (and those are all collected together in Spurgeon's commentary on the Psalms), you will see that they apply the verse to illumination, to faith for practical issues, to having a premonition of the future, to assurance and basically to the 13 issues of subjective guidance that we talked about last week.

But since we saw last week that all three are subject to misinterpretation, it's helpful to have some guidelines. And I want to fly through 30 guidelines.

Key Steps to Guidance and Biblical Tests of Guidance

  1. Is your motive for seeking God's will God-centered? Do you have a deep desire to see Him lifted up? "The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant" (Ps. 25:14). for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:3).

The first question that we should ask ourselves is this: "Is my motive self-centered or is it God-centered? Do I really have a deep desire to see God lifted up, or am I being selfish in my request for guidance?" That verse I just read says, The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant." James 4:13 says, You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Don't expect guidance if you are waywardly going your own way. James says that you won't get it.

  1. Are you coming in faith? Do you really believe in guidance? "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths" (Prov. 3:5-6).

Second question: Am I coming in faith? Do I really believe in guidance? According to Hebrews 11 it is impossible to please God or to be rewarded if we do not come in faith and if we do not diligently seek Him. The lack of guidance some people have is because they have no faith that God does indeed guide His people. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths." He's not talking about providence there, because everyone gets their paths directed whether they trust or don't trust. This is something promised to those who trust.

  1. Are you seeking God's ways in everything that you do? "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths" (Prov. 3:5-6).

The third question is from the same verse: am I seeking the Lord's ways in everything that I do? If you are already deviating from what God has shown in His Word, why should God bless you with leading?

  1. Are you willing to do God's will, or are you just looking at the options you have? "If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority" (John 7:17). For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:7-8).

Fourth question: "Am I willing to do God's will, or am I simply looking at the options I have?" And here we are exclusively talking about illumination of your understanding of the Scripture. Let's say that you are seeking for wisdom in understanding the Scripture on an issue, but you have no intention of obeying the Bible unless you discover that God's will is going to be doable and comfortable. Jesus said, If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority." Unless you want to do what the Bible says before you know -- in other words, unless you are willing to give God a blank check as you approach the Scripture and to say, "Speak from Your Word Lord, and I will obey" Jesus indicated that God is not going to give illumination or added insight. There is no integrity in that kind of approach to Scripture.

  1. Have you completely yielded your life to the Lord this day? (Rom. 12:1-2)

Related to this is point 5: "Have you completely yielded your life to the Lord this day?" Romans 12 says, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. That's just reinforcing the same thing we said earlier: that God won't give you insight into Scripture if you aren't yielded to Him.

  1. Are you diligent in your seeking of God? Fasting is often a means of seeking God's will. I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me (Prov. 8:17). Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions (Ezra 8:21). And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart (Jer. 29:13).

Listen to the Scriptures under point 6:

I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me. (Prov. 8:17)

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. (Ezra 8:21)

In context, Ezra wasn't seeking the Biblical way to go. He already knew that. The context indicates that there were bandits, and he didn't know what way to take to avoid them. He was asking for guidance on how to get to Jerusalem safely, and how to be safe in a way that would glorify God. And so they fasted. And God providentially answered. And so the question is: are you diligent? Have you fasted?

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13)

  1. Is there any sin the Spirit has convicted you about? If so, confess it. [context is putting away sin] The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail (Isa. 58:11).

A seventh test of our guidance is to ask if there is any sin that the Spirit has already convicted us about. If so, confess it. Isaiah 58, verses 1 and following are a list of things that Israel needed to repent of. And there are several "ifs' If you repent of this, and if you repent of that, then (verse 11 says), The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought... Remember that we said that conviction of sin is a form of guidance — and if you ignore God's guidance of conviction, why will God give you other guidance?

  1. Pray specifically and definitely believing that God will give you the wisdom that you need (James 1:5-7). And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive (Matt. 21:22). Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24).

The eighth guideline is to pray specifically and definitely, believing that God will give the wisdom that is needed. James 1:5-7 promises wisdom to all who ask in faith, but also says that nothing will be given if we are doubleminded and don't have faith. James says, Let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. Matthew 21:22: whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive. That should be obvious, so I won't belabor it.

  1. Pray with some others in agreement.Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven (Matt. 18:19).

The ninth principle is to pray with some others in agreement for guidance. Some have wondered why the whole church was called to pray and fast if I am doing most of the preliminary negotiating. Three reasons: first, it is the New Testament pattern in Acts 13:2-3 and in Acts 14:23. Second, the heads of households will be voting on this, and you need wisdom on how to vote. Third, Scripture indicates that there is a community of faith. When there is corporate agreement, God gives guidance. The Ezra passage we read earlier is another example.

  1. Do you have daily devotions (Psalm 5:3) and time in the Word (Psalm 119:105)? [Psa. 119:105]{.ul} ¶ Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. [Psa. 5:3]{.ul} My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up.

The tenth principle may seem too obvious to mention, but I know how infrequently some people have devotions. If guidance is first and foremost through the Word, we need to be in the Word to have guidance. Psalm 119 says, Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. And many passages call us to have daily time in the word and in prayer.

  1. Do you have all the available facts? He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him (Prov. 18:13). The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him (Prov. 18:17). The simple believes every word, but the prudent man considers well his steps (Prov. 14:15).

The eleventh test simply asks, "Have I done research?" Some people are too lazy to apply wisdom and they depend wholly upon providence (with the phrase, "But it was an open door") and others depend wholly upon the subjective (with the phrase, "But I felt led.") Scripture indicates that if you do not search out a matter, you will stumble. Proverbs 18:13 says, "He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him." A couple verses later it says, "The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him." Let me emphasize as strongly as I can, that there is nothing unspiritual about research. In fact, the very opposite is the case. The person who is too lazy to do research, and instead asks God to give him wisdom out of the blue, is the one who is unspiritual. ." Prov. 14:15 "the simple believes every word, but the prudent man considers well his steps." Just keep in mind that some open doors lead to elevator shafts with a rude awakening at the bottom.

  1. Have you made a list of the pros and cons to either course you might take? (Luke 14:28-33)

The twelfth thing we can do is to make a list of pros and cons for either course of action. This is kind of a subcategory of the previous point. Sometimes this helps to objectify what is troubling to us, and the very act of putting it down on paper makes the right decision obvious. In Luke 14:26-33 Christ gives two illustrations using this procedure (that some people think is unspiritual) with a very surprising conclusion: He indicates that people ought to weigh the pros and cons of becoming a Christian. That may seem so unspiritual — yet it comes from the lips of our Lord. Listen. He says,

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26-27)

So first of all He is saying, "Yes. There are enormous sacrifices that I require to being my disciple. You have to die to yourself; you have to follow Me and stop being selfish. But then he in effect says, "Think of the alternatives and it will be obvious that being a disciple is worth it. It's a tough decision, but if you put the pros and cons down on a sheet you will see eternity in hell on this side and eternity in heaven on this side, and the decision will be so obvious. But why do people not make the right decision? Because their fleshly nature hates God and makes them want now at the expense of the future. They don't want to know all the pros and the cons. In any case, he uses two obvious illustrations of this "pro and con" test of guidance. Verse 28 says:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it — lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish." Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. (Luke 14:28-32)

OK? This guy's weighing the alternatives. Do I really want to be a conquered nation in subjection to this king who is at war with me? Well, the alternatives, given my resources, are certain death, and so even though this is a tough decision, it's obvious which one I should make. And here's Christ's conclusion:

So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:33)

Christ is saying, "You too have a tough decision, but if you weigh the alternatives, what choice do you have?" He goes on in the next chapters to give several illustrations to show that apart from sovereign grace, people would rather risk hell than to become subject to Christ, and how Christ conquers His elect anyway. But the point of this passage is that if weighing the alternatives is good enough for building a tower and fighting a war, it should be used for coming to Christ. But we could just as easily say the reverse. If weighing the pros and cons is a spiritual thing that Christ calls us to do for salvation, surely we can use this for mundane matters like building a tower or getting married to a given person, or taking a vacation. Don't think it is unspiritual. It's analyzing God's providence. It's a great test.

We don't have time to finish all the tests of guidance. We will finish those next week, Lord willing. But hopefully you are getting a feel for how to walk in guidance. And may the Lord bless you. Amen.


  1. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975), 67-69.

  2. James H. Thornwell, "The Personality of the Holy Ghost," in Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, Vol. 2 (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1871), 359-360.

  3. John Murray, "The Guidance of the Holy Spirit," in Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 187-188.

  4. C.H. Spurgeon, "Psalm 25:14," in The Treasury of David.

Understanding and Testing Guidance is part of the Guidance series published on August 15, 2004

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