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Seeking guidance

In our preoccupation with making the 'right' decisions to know what to do next, Lucy Mills suggests the ways that God wants to lead us forward

What does God want me to do?

Guidance is a big issue in the Christian life, but is this the right question to ask? Lucy Mills is learning that other questions are more important ...

Decision-making can be a chore. I feel the necessity of it weighing me down on a daily basis. What should we have for dinner? What do I need to prioritise? Being self-employed means it’s my responsibility to structure my day, which means I have to decide what to do first. This can be obvious when there is something of high importance on the agenda. But when one task is as good as the next? I have to kick myself out of paralysis and just pick one.

As Christians we can get paralysed too. Faced with life choices, we ask: which is right? Which is wrong? We worry about taking a wrong turn and missing what God has in store for us. What if we choose the wrong job, the wrong partner, or if we get on the wrong bus? Sometimes our worries over ‘getting it right’ put us in permanent freeze mode.

Or perhaps we’re still dwelling on previous choices – which don’t seem to have worked out so well. We worry we got it wrong and live our lives with an ache of regret, never able to enter into the present. We’re consumed by second-guessing the past.

We want to do the right thing. We don’t want to choose badly. Tell me what to do! I have wailed this at God on occasion, and often received no reply. I worry my hearing is off, or that God rolls his eyes and says, “Just make a decision, will you?” (Note: God doesn’t do this.)

But as life goes on, I begin to suspect something: not all choices are right and wrong. Sometimes, they are simply alternatives. They may lead to different outcomes, but these outcomes are not necessarily right or wrong either. There is a whisper inside me that murmurs: “It’s not about choosing A or B. It’s about how you live.”

What attitudes do I foster towards those who share my life? How do I show love in my home, my workplace, my church? How do I act in whatever it is I do?

These are the choices that matter. Choices over how we behave, and how we treat others. What we do behind closed doors, in the secret places of our lives. Choices to act in line with who we are called to be in Christ, turning away from sin. This matters. It matters because we are precious vessels, made in God’s image. Sin muddies us. It hurts us. It hurts those around us and sin hurts God.

When we worry whether we’re in the wrong place or in the wrong job, we’re focusing simply on the stage in which we play out our lives. But God is interested in us and how we live.

Wherever you go, God says, will you walk with me? Wherever you work, will you treat your colleagues with kindness and respect? Whatever stage in life you are, will you stand up for justice, will you honour me in your relationships and in your home, will you refrain from greed, malice and envy?

There’s that old platitude: bloom where you’re planted. Let’s not live our lives second guessing where we are or where we have been. Let’s focus on living for him now.

So how can we hear God?

Often I assume, without realising it, that I should be able to hear God and sense God’s leading because I signed up years ago. I neglect to spend time with God, learning his voice and sensing his ways. I get frozen over trivialities and sit huddled in the shallows. But God calls me to go deeper – deeper into that abundant life Jesus has offered us. We have been given an awesome gift – the Holy Spirit, God’s very breath! – to counsel us. But how often do I bother to nurture an awareness of this Spirit, allowing myself to be still and listen?

I come with my questions and requests, but often don’t hear what my Helper is telling me. And most of the time I’m still asking the wrong questions. “Do you want me to do this or that?” or “Where should I go? What should I do?”

God is concerned with who I am. Everything springs from that. If the heart is a wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23 NIV), that’s where I need to focus my efforts. Even if we’re in a great place for God to use us, it won’t help if we’re not taking time to know him and honour him.

Many of us are not good at listening. We find silence uncomfortable in a world full of noise. We forget the promise of Jesus – that he will be with us always – and box ourselves in, trying to map out our lives, to program in the route. The exact route.
God, however, is not a Sat Nav. He may say “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21), but this is to do with how we live our lives, not necessarily mapping out every event or decision.

God nudges. God whispers. God can be silent, but still present. God teaches by experience and allows us to learn from mistakes. God frequently takes his people ‘the long way round’ because that benefits their characters and helps them grow more into Jesus’ likeness. I’ve begun to believe that God allows us to make many choices using our own wisdom, preferences and common sense.

Sometimes God speaks clearly and we get a sense of his purpose; these are treasured moments. But God is no less with us when the route is less defined, when there are a number of options and none seems better than the rest. It can be a challenge. Sometimes we’d rather have the Sat Nav! But it’s through our choosing and our journeying that we grow into maturity, that we learn to stop and reflect, that we deepen our understanding of the lives we lead.

God does guide me – sometimes calling me to do something, or go somewhere specific. Something burns within me; I know what I am meant to do. But much of the times God’s guidance is showing me how to live here and now, to conduct my life in a way that glorifies him, wherever I am. If only I would shut my mouth, open my heart and listen.    

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