A thought about guidance: inquiry vs divination

I have had many conversations with Christians about how to know God’s will for our lives. One of the things that I have noticed is that people have very different ideas about the Lord’s guidance and how to find it. Getting perspective from the divine is a very old idea, stretching back deep into the Old Testament times and out to all the pagan religions. In some ways I wonder whether we haven’t picked up some wrong ideas from the Old Testament and paganism about finding out the will of God as New Testament Christians. I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but I would like to share some initial thoughts about the topic and hear your responses.

It comes across to me that many Christians feel a certain amount of pressure to be guided by God – whether it is for big decisions like work and marriage, or daily. After all, they are taught that spiritual people are led by the Spirit. That all sounds wonderful until you get practical about it. That’s when all the problems and differences in people come out. Many believers, feeling intense pressure to please God, end up seeking His will in different ways. The classic approach is to look to Scripture. Some look to the bible as a magical source of guidance, flipping through the pages looking for a verse to jump out at them. Others study it, trying to tie all the strings together into a coherent biblical worldview that they can be “guided” by. Others look to their circumstances – to signs and patterns in the physical world – for help in deciphering the path forward. They say things like “I prayed for a car last night, and then this morning I saw a BMW advert on TV. Maybe God is trying to tell me I should get that model”, or “I have been really sick for a while now, maybe God is angry with me!”. I am sure there are other approaches. I must say that I have experienced examples of all these during my life that I believe were guidance from Him, and yet I want to say that I have also seen many times how we can vainly strive for guidance in these ways unfruitfully.

The point I want to raise is that it seems to me that Christians can be easily sucked into “Christian divination”. Instead of inquiring of The Lord like David, we can end up taking matters into our own hands. Instead of fostering relationship with the Holy Spirit, it becomes transactional, which is a hallmark of pagan spirituality. When we do “Christian divination” we are the ones who interpret which verse jumps out at us, or develop our own theology, or begin to guess God’s responses through ‘coincidences’ and what is happening around us. The thought occurred to me the other day that this kind of reading of omens and leaning on our own interpretations is fundamentally different to inquiring of the Lord because it actually doesn’t need an answer from Him! Instead of bringing us into connection with the Most High, it leaves us in control of guidance – and (most significantly) it leaves us spiritually lonely. How have you been guided by God in the past? How did you know it was truly His guidance? Why do you think people struggle so often in this area?

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9 thoughts on “A thought about guidance: inquiry vs divination

  1. I really liked your post. Succinct and well said.

    I think you captured all the ways I’ve “heard” from God in the past. Sometimes I think my “readings” were spot on, and others, they were definitely manipulated.

    Currently, I “subscribe” to the view (now this is for me personally, God may work differently with other people) God leads me as I go. The picture I get is kinda like a radar that bleeps when God wants this or that. Maybe like a metal detector where the metal is God’s wish.

    Now I’m not personalizing “God’s will” into some individual map that I must discover, I’m talking more on an every day to day basis in real life–real time situations, e.g. resolving anger, guiding conversations, managing time. I think he gives me hints on how he’d most be pleased sometimes. More specifically, I think these nudges are from his Spirit within me.

    It’s not fully fledged out and bullet proof. But that’s my working praxis as of now. And I feel closer than ever to him.

    K

    • Hi lylelife,

      Thanks for sharing – that is very interesting. I like your approach because it is an “inside-out” way of making choices rather than the outside-in approach I was talking about i.e. Christian divination. I am really interested to hear how you came to this point in your lifestyle? Also, do you believe that it was God teaching you to make choices in this way?

      • It just feels very natural. Kind of like if I was in a close relationship with a friend of mine, and periodically in the day they could jump into my mind and give me advice on what to do or what to say… which I think makes sense, if we’re – as believers – told to “walk with God” like Noah, or “follow Jesus” like the disciples, or “be led by the Spirit” like the church.

        As far as how I got to this point/method: I couldn’t tell you 1) briefly, or 2) explicitly how I arrived here. LIke I said just a second ago, it all feels very natural and has seemed to steadily been developing towards this manner of interaction with God through the past 3-4 years. I’ve basically gone from one end of the pendulum – from being divinely guided as to what clothes I picked out for the day – to the other – for instance, only finding God’s will in the black and white (and red?) of the Bible. Now I’ve nestled somewhere in between.

        Do you think God interacts with his children in ways that reflect their temperament types, or do you think he is more fixed in his method of revealing the wishes and plans he desires his disciples to walk in?

  2. One of the writings in the Bible that I fnid most absurd is how the disciples “inquired” from God who to elect as the twelth disciple… they drew lots! Though, to be fair, they did pray beforehand.

    John, I think your illustration of how Christians sometimes seek guidance in circumstances is very spot-on. One of the biggest problems that I have with that, is that people often hear (coincidentally?) what they want to hear, I have a similar doubt about the many “prophetic words” that fly around charismatic churches. It’s usually vague and (almost) always appealing/flattering to the hearer.

    There’s a couple of “words” that I believe I received from the Lord in my life. They were
    To go to France to serve in the Church (this remains a WIP)
    To study engineering (I did)
    To break up with a girl that I loved very very much (I did)
    To stop playing computer games (I tried, failed, and still try)
    To not ever buy a motorcycle (I’ve obedient)

    In all of these cases I felt a vivid, instinctive sort of instruction. Especially with the latter 3, it was as if God was actually speaking to me deep within.

    There were other, less “big” things that the Lord instructed me on, in similar ways.

    I think one of the big challenges with this matter is:
    What if you enquire from the Lord about something, and you get no answer. Before you say “keep asking”, what if the decision needs to be made by a certain time?

    • Its encouraging to hear you’ve followed the Lord in those times when you’ve felt He is speaking. Interestingly, not many of them were “flattering”, as you mentioned earlier. My view is that God’s will is often more descriptive than prescriptive on an individual level. In other words its less like a rigid train track and more like a parking lot. So if we enquire and there is no ‘train track’ answer, I guess you can park anywhere in the parking lot.

      A quick thought about the disciples throwing lots, it only happened once and that was before the arrival of the Spirit at Pentecost. It is fascinating, I think there was an Old Testament practice similar to throwing lots in the Temple to find out something from God. Do you know of it? I think it was called the Urim or something…

  3. Yup, I know about it. It involved two stones/jewels.

    Ah, in typical John style, you use an analogy but like with Jesus, I have to ask you to explain yourself. The train track is easy enough to understand. But, what do you mean with the parking lot? Maybe use a real-life example to explain?

    • Feel free to write something for the blog on the topic in Frank’s article about knowing God’s will. Interestingly, I had a short discussion with him on another blog (about an unrelated topic). Many of these authors are quite accessible online if you comment on their websites.

  4. A parking lot is different to a train track because the train has a deterministic path while the car almost always has more than one option of where to park. So the question is, which automobile do you feel like? 😛 Perhaps we see God’s will for us like a train-track when it is a parking lot. As long as we park in the confines of the parking lot of His will, He is pleased. Here is the article that I took the metaphor from, have a look, it blessed me a lot – http://huiskerk.co.za/doc/rethinkingthewill.pdf

  5. I read the article and it blessed me too. In fact, I couldn’t have read it at a better time. I had a bit of a crisis in my life that I may have missed God’s will on something… or rather: gone off track with my life plan, but the article re-assures me that there is hope for me yet…

    It’s a great article and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in following Christ 🙂

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