How do we know when we are truly discerning God’s leadership and when we’re not? What happens when we’re following what we believe to be His leading yet the results are not particularly fruitful? When we’re certain it isn’t contrary to Scripture and isn’t going to bring harm to anyone (except perhaps embarrassment to oneself), should we still move forward with some measure of confidence?
This is a question all who are seriously committed to following Jesus will ponder, wrestle, and perhaps even become exasperated over. There are no easy answers; it is one of the mysteries that leads us to depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But isn’t that the very problem, that we are trying to accurately discern the Holy Spirit? When God leads us, He doesn’t send an email we can later retrieve and re-read. He doesn’t leave a voice message we can replay with others so they can help us determine whether or not we’re understanding Him correctly. He does, of course, give us the Scriptures against which we should always apply its message carefully. But it’s precisely the Spirit’s help we need to lead us in those gray areas, those issues that are not about right and wrong, but about better and best. He sees the path ahead of us and we ourselves can not.
John chapters 14-17 give us a treasure-trove of information about the Spirit’s workings in our lives, as explained by Jesus in his last hours. I was re-reading some of these this morning and was struck again by these verses: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me.” (John 16:13-14) Ultimately, if it is truth, it belongs to God.
So as I am daily seeking God I am continually asking, “Am I hearing you correctly in this area?” I maintain this posture no matter what the apparent circumstances because it is most important to me to “keep in step with the Spirit” as Paul says (Galatians 5:25). Still, the stronger my desire to accurately discern God’s leading, the more dependent I am upon His guidance to correct me if I’ve got it wrong. While I am completely confident of His ability to speak to me, I am thoroughly dependent upon His desire to communicate with me. The part I don’t trust is me, in my ability to hear correctly. And so He is wonderfully patient to affirm His guidance in a myriad of ways, unexpected encouragements that come through sources I cannot manipulate.
But here I am in one of those spots between perceived guidance and affirmed evidence. No one will get hurt by my continuing in this process; as a matter of fact, it doesn’t involve any other person; it’s just between Him and me. My own heart and mind are reluctantly obedient at this moment, I’ll just tell you. I really want to quit. There is no caution in my spirit, no sense of concern or warning, and I am very familiar with these movements of the Spirit. He employs them with me frequently and often proves their validity after I submit to them. Therefore I am going to assume it is His Spirit urging me onward even though I am really discouraged, perhaps feeling a little foolish, and am weary of the long journey in this direction. If I don’t really want to do this thing, but am not doing it out of fear or guilt, then perhaps this urging forward is the Holy Spirit. Perhaps He really is the engine driving this when I’d really like to bail out. No voicemail; no email; no notes in the mail. I won’t hear concretely from Him, only subjectively, which leaves extra room for error. So I’ll trust again in His desire for me to keep in step with Him even more than my ability to do so. I’ll have to trust that even if I’ve got this thing wrong, He’ll teach me something through it that will in some way enrich my walk with Him. Trust. It’s a hard thing.