Spiritual Disciplines: Guidance
By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. Exodus 13:21-22
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders Let me walk upon the waters Wherever You would call me Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander And my faith will be made stronger In the presence of my Saviour Oceans – Hillsong United
Summer has arrived here at camp. It you have any doubt, all you need to do is stop by the dining hall during meal times. Gone are the quiet lunches with a small handful of year-round staff scrounging something from the leftovers in the walk in cooler. Instead, there is a room full of excited, enthusiastic, energy filled young adults just completing their staff training time before campers begin to arrive in a few days.
In addition to the noise and energy they bring to camp each summer, they also bring a fair amount of questions about their future. It is a season of life where few have certain plans and even fewer will see those exact plans play out the way they expect them to in the next few years. It is a time in life where they are learning a lot about themselves and the world around them. It’s hard, now being old enough to be mom to most of our summer staff, not to get a little nostalgic as I remember my late teens and early 20’s.
One of the things my friends and I sought after fervently in those years was guidance. We prayed for hours and hours for God to reveal the next steps we were to take in life to us. We hoped and, at times flat out begged, for the Spirit to reveal every detail of the next 20 years of our lives to us. We wanted to know what jobs to pursue, where to plan on living, who were going to marry (and when!), how many kids we would have, and we were confident it would all be amazing.
Seeking guidance from the God is not a new idea for most of us. We all have hit those big decision points in our lives where it seems there are no good options or, at the very least, no clear black and white options to choose from. When all the paths forward seem equally good, or bad, how can we know which one to choose from?
This week we are looking at the last of our spiritual disciplines, the discipline of guidance. It’s a unique one because we often engage in it without much thought to be it being a spiritual discipline. Instead, we engage with guidance in a search for answers, in a hope that the Spirit of God will be a magic crystal ball of sorts revealing our future to us. In so doing, we loss out in a deep richness this discipline has to offer all of us.
Guidance is something not only to be sought after when life changing decision loom large on the horizon, but in daily life as well. Seeking out guidance helps us stay involved in communities which challenge us to grow in our faith instead of becoming complacent. Seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit on a daily basis reminds us that we have been given the Spirit as a helper in this world. It also reminds us that we are not designed to make all of our decisions on our own.
To this end, Richard J. Foster speaks of the lost appreciate for communal guidance in our individualistic world today. He observes that much has been written about how to seek out guidance from the Holy Spirit on individual matters as an individual but very little is being said about how to seek guidance as a community on behalf of both individuals and the community itself.
One of the most powerful examples of God’s guidance for a community of people is found in the Old Testament when He leads his people out of Egypt. By day they are led by a pillar of smoke and by night they are led by a pillar of fire. Wouldn’t it be amazing if, to choose a college, a pillar of fire appeared in front of your car and guided you to the school you are meant to attend? Or the job you are meant to work at? Or the person you are supposed to marry? I mean, I know they were walking through a desert, but at least there was no doubt that they were following God’s leading!
Foster offers us several models to help us more fully embrace the role of the community in seeking God’s guidance for both our lives and the life of our faith communities. He points to St. Francis of Assisi who, at the start of his ministry, strongly doubted if he was to engage in any sort of preaching ministry. He didn’t trust his own judgement in the matter so he turned to two of his closest friends and asked them to gather those they trusted to pray about the manner. St. Francis of Assisi is known today as someone who preached so powerfully the word of God that even the birds would stop singing to listen to him.
Another model Foster talks about are what he calls “meetings for clearness.” This is a group of people who know an individual well, have spiritual maturity, and unafraid to be honest and candid. They gather to seek guidance the Holy Spirit regarding a question or decision with which a specific individual is struggling. Similarly, Foster proposed that matters of high personal importance could also be brought before a believing community for discernment.
A final point Foster makes regarding this community idea of seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit is the idea of making business decisions by first and foremost seeking guidance. Some form of this can be seen in many church governance models in practice today. The goal of those responsible for the decision becomes something more than majority rule or general agreement, but hearing the voice of God. Foster offers a beautiful example of this in speaking about John Woolman who, in 1758, found himself challenging the Society of Friends on the issue of slavery. In response to his genuine, Spirit-led challenge, they worked as one voice to remove slavery from their midst. Even more so, they are the only known group at the time who not only freed their slaves, but attempted to reimburse them for their time in bondage.
Seeking guidance doesn’t have to be something you do all alone. Allow others to walk along side you and listen to what the Holy Spirit may be trying to speak to you through them.
- What are you seeking guidance about in your life at the moment? How can you invite others into that process?
- In what ways does your community of faith seek guidance from the Holy Spirit?