An Integrated Guidance System
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When I was in high school, my Dad owned an airplane — a single-engine, four-passenger plane. As a family, we did some local pleasure flying as well as cross-country flying on vacations. I never had any interest in getting a pilot’s license, but I sometimes navigated for him and even did a little flying, with his help, of course. During that time I learned the importance of having a good guidance system, including instruments and maps, which would help you arrive at your destination.
Airplanes have a variety of instruments the pilot can use to keep the airplane flying at the desired altitude and on the correct heading. There is a compass to show which direction you are flying, an artificial horizon to make sure your wings are level and an altimeter to show your current altitude. Another instrument shows your rate of ascent or descent, so you can fly at a constant altitude, or climb or descend at an appropriate rate. Some small planes have a special receiver that locks on electronic beacons positioned around the country; you can navigate by flying from one beacon to another, and the receiver on your airplane shows whether you are flying directly toward the beacon you have selected. There also is an autopilot that uses the instruments to fly the plane for you. You might say the autopilot comprises an integrated guidance system because it uses many different sources of information to guide the airplane’s flight.
People also need guidance systems. Christians in particular often want to know God’s will for their lives and might expend a lot of effort to determine what God wants them to do. What am I supposed to do with my life? What should I do about a particular situation? How can I know what God wants me to do?
I suggest that God has given you several sources of information that form an integrated guidance system, and I call it an “integrated” system because all the inputs work together to provide guidance. It’s not my intent in this chapter to address the topic of guidance in depth, but rather to help you change your thinking about certain elements of guidance. Before we consider those, however, let us briefly examine the three main elements God uses to provide guidance.
The primary and most important element of guidance is the Bible. In it, God reveals his will for mankind and believers in particular, including basic principles that will help you make everyday decisions. If you are short on money this month and you wonder whether you should rob a bank to pay your bills, your knowledge of the Bible should help you decide against robbing a bank; that is basic guidance. The Bible is the objective standard for all of life’s decisions. It’s objective because it’s based on eternal principles and isn’t distorted by feelings, prejudices or circumstances. It’s the standard by which you must judge everything else.
Scripture sometimes states God’s intent very clearly. For example, consider the following scripture: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:19-20, NIV). Why did God commit the message to us? So we can serve as Christ’s ambassadors to the world, representing him and appealing to men on his behalf. The purpose is clear.
People would like to believe God doesn’t exist; or if he does exist, he isn’t terribly concerned with what happens down here on earth; or if he is concerned, he has to accept what we do because he gave us a free will. The Bible is very clear, however, that God has a purpose, that his will is for everything to support that purpose, and that everything he gives you enables you to do your part in fulfilling his purpose.
Romans 8:28 states “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (emphasis added). Ephesians 1:11 clearly states that he “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (emphasis added). This means your very salvation is evidence you have a role in fulfilling God’s purpose. Well, if you have a significant role, how do you know what it is? How do you know what God wants you to do? The Bible provides critical insight to God’s will and if you don’t know what the Bible says, you can’t begin to know his will. The Bible is the most important element of guidance and all other elements must conform to it.
The second important element of guidance is the Holy Spirit himself, a subjective witness. He is subjective in the sense that he shows you how to apply God’s principles and will in your particular situation. He serves as a witness of God’s will because he knows what it is and confirms it to you. Probably the most common way the Holy Spirit provides guidance is by providing you with a sense of peace. If you choose to do God’s will, you can expect to have an internal sense that what you are about to do is “right,” independent of your state of mind. Conversely, if you choose to do something opposed to God’s will, you can expect a lack of internal peace or even a disturbance. As you develop your own spirit, it’ll also let you know whether you’re adhering to proper standards; we usually call this your conscience. The Holy Spirit also directs you by giving you impressions, hunches and spontaneous thoughts, so learn to recognize them as potential elements of guidance, too.
The third important element is circumstances. These are situations God coordinates to confirm his will and assist you in doing it. There are no accidents in life, because God is all-powerful and causes everything to ultimately conform to his will. If what you are doing is God’s will, you can expect him to work out the details, often without your involvement.
God may also use angels, dreams, visions, revelation, prophecy and signs to provide guidance, but you should always be certain that the three most important elements confirm it. All elements of guidance from God work together, which is why I refer to an “integrated guidance system.”
In addition to these elements, I suggest that God has given you something very fundamental that also reveals his will for you. In fact, this is so basic that you may have difficulty recognizing it at first as an element of guidance.
We can often identify God’s will simply by considering what he gives us, because he always has a purpose for what he gives. You probably have never considered your character as a source of guidance; a source of aggravation, maybe, but never guidance. But let us consider the fact that God gave you your character, and then the possibility that God intends for your character to guide you.
There are some significant scripture passages that list various character aptitudes; one such passage is in Romans chapter 12. You need to realize that God gave your gifts or aptitudes to you and that you can only use them properly if you change the way you think. Paul writes:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us (Rom. 12:2-6).
Paul then lists the operation of several character types, such as prophesying, serving, teaching and encouraging. His statement about renewing your mind is in the context of God’s will for your life, the grace and measure of faith he has given you, and the different gifts he has given you to perform your role for the benefit of others, not for personal consumption or enjoyment. This clearly states that what God gave you was grace, a God-given ability that enables you to do his will. These character types are gifts in the sense that we are to offer our abilities to those who need them. That means the gift is for the person you serve; it’s not God’s gift to you, but rather God’s gift through you.
God has a purpose and his will is that everything support that purpose. He reveals his general will and purpose through the Bible, which we should consider an objective standard for all decisions and actions. His Spirit helps us understand how to apply scriptural principles to our situations and assures us with peace when we make good decisions. He also works out the details of our circumstances to assure and assist us.