Saviour, Like a Shepherd Lead Us!
A Christian Renewal Booklet This material was originally published in two consecutive articles in The Morning Watch, Spring and Summer 1989
By Rita Bennett
When I pray the phrase from the Lord's Prayer “and lead us not into temptation,” I sometimes stop and think about the first three words, “and lead us.” One of the most important needs in life is to find God's direction. How the Good Shepherd longs to lead you and me, and yet we so often go our own way, rushing about to make decisions without consulting Him. Even when we do find time to pray and read scripture, often we haven't learned the art of listening to God for direction and protection.
A young man, a newly rededicated Christian, was working on a fishing boat for the summer. One morning he had read the Bible and prayed, spending time getting in touch with God, but as he was working that day, he was hit by some equipment which knocked him into the icy northern ocean. A person can live for only minutes in that cold water, and this fine young man was never recovered.
The Lord received His child into heavenly glory -- the loss is ours -- but I know God didn't want this accident to happen. I'm sure He tried to warn that young man, just as you, as a good human parent, would do if you knew your child was going to be in danger.
A woman who was driving down a steep roadway felt impressed that her son would have an accident there. She was so shaken she immediately went to a friend's house and told her about it. As she shared, again she felt this overwhelming warning. Later, when she saw her son, she urged him not to go out with friends that night, however, the young man felt old enough to make his own decision. That night the accident occurred and her son was severely injured. My third example is happier. A person I know was driving up a steep grade that blocked her view ahead. Suddenly an inner voice said, "pull over to the side of the road." She obeyed immediately. Moments later a truck coming along on the wrong side of the road sped by her with inches to spare. Over the years I've heard many accounts of how God has tried to protect His children, sometimes through a vision or dream; or He's given knowledge to someone else so he or she could intercede: but so often that person did not know what to do with what was received. I'm sure that as we learn better how to receive and understand God's messages, we will be able to avoid many dangers ahead. (Hosea 4:6)
God Does Speak To Us Today
You're probably thinking, "How can I, in my busy life, find time to listen for guidance?" I, too, battle to squeeze in time for fellowship with the Lord, as I know it's vital importance. In writing this, I remind myself as well as you. Besides finding time, learning to hear from God is not always easy. I've often failed, but other times succeeded in receiving His messages. It's like learning a foreign language. As with a new language it takes time, persistence, trust, openness, practice, and then faith to step out. It also requires humility to recognize your mistakes and go on. Add to this the fact that the dark powers in the universe and on earth are doing their best to keep you and me from hearing and communicating with God, thereby becoming His spokesmen and women. Then, because it is hard to hear directly, you can become overly dependent on words others have received. It's much easier to have someone listen for you, but they're not always right, either! Wonder of wonders, He does speak, and sometimes we hear and understand clearly. At these times it's like Isaiah 30:21, "Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it, whenever you tum to the right hand or whenever you tum to the left."' (NKJV) If you are in fellowship with God, much of the time you can receive guidance in this effortless manner. I've been a Christian forty-five years, and renewed in the Spirit for twenty-eight of those years, and I've had my struggles hearing clearly from God. Still, I have learned some things that I want to share with you.
1. He Guides by a Witness in Your Spirit
Though in one sense God is outside and beyond you, yet since you are a Christian, He is also waiting in your spirit to talk to you, to guide you. The woman who pulled her car over to the side of the road obviously was in tune with God that day and her life was saved. God wants to speak to you about your own and others needs, therefore it is vital to learn to hear His voice. Your spirit is the part of you created in the image of God, with which God can communicate. From this holy place you can be as aware of God's Presence as you can be of a human being's. This awareness isn't necessarily on a physical level -- although there are special times when that is so -- but comes through your spiritual senses which are much keener. It's a quickening, a witness to the truth within. Jesus is the living Word, the Sword of the Spirit, cutting through what is of Him and what isn't. Sometimes without waiting long I know deep inside what He wants me to do. Other times it takes longer. To clear your reception, pray through the Lord's Prayer reflectively and make sure you've asked forgiveness where needed, and have forgiven everyone else -- at least on the first level, that of the will. (One good place to do this is in preparing to receive Holy Communion.) If I'm having a hard time hearing from the Lord, and especially if l have a definite need, I may decide to fast. If your health permits, you may want to do this, or if not, perhaps a friend can fast in proxy for you. (Unless diabetic, an easy fast is only fresh citrus juice and water for a day.)
2. God Confirms Direction Through Scriptures
God's Presence is so refreshing and so vital, yet even so you still may not understand His answer for a specific need, but will need to take other steps. Sometimes I'm led to a place in the Bible the Lord points out to confirm what He's already shown me in my spirit. It is a spiritual application of the Scripture, and when this happens I always make sure it's in agreement with basic Christian doctrine. Someone described the Bible as a road map and said, "It needs to be consulted every day." Sometimes this road map will get quite specific! I'll give an example of how such confirmation works. Years ago, after much prayer, I felt God wanted me to leave my job. I loved my work and had felt a strong calling to be there. It was a difficult decision, but that very evening, kneeling to pray, I opened the Bible and my eyes fell on these verses: "Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid…Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day forward I will bless you (Haggai 2:18-19 KJV)." I thought, "what a wonderful promise of fruitfulness. I wonder if that could be for me." Then I looked at the Scripture again and found a date in it; to my surprise it was the exact date I was reading it, September 24! (in the year 1964.) I was so excited I woke up my friends in whose home I was staying overnight, and they rejoiced along with me. At times it seems there will be a Scripture tailor-made for you and your circumstances. After all the Bible is a supernatural book and God can use it to speak to you specifically if He chooses. Of course, I don't always have chapter and verse for everything but it's great when it happens. It's amazing how many times since our spiritual renewal, God has given Dennis and me direct confirmation through Scripture. Often these special words will come when we're making a big change, or are in a challenging situation (when this happens I like to write the date next to the verse in the Bible). Guidance from Scripture has other purposes -- to show you whether a decision is against the basic truths of the Faith; or to show you what your rights are as a Christian, that is, what you should be claiming as your inheritance. These are good reasons to study God's Book
3. Look to Jesus, and Check for His Inner Peace in Your Spirit
I'll give you a personal example about inner peace. Some two years before Dennis and I were married, I was interested in another person. I moved to Spokane, Washington and about six months later received a letter from this man saying he had gotten married. When I received the letter I began to cry. My friend, Eunice, came into my room and asked if someone has died? I thought, "Yes, I guess so." Yet at the same time that I was crying, I was feeling such peace. I was really happy. It just didn't make sense. Shortly before, I had read a book by Watchman Nee, called The Release of the Spirit, in which soul and spirit were clearly distinguished. The author explained that the soul, composed of intellect, will and emotions, was a mixture of good and evil and could not be fully depended on in this life. He explained that we needed to get in touch with our regenerated spirit, which is joined to God's Spirit, in order to know God's direction. The lessons in Pastor Nee's book came back to me, and I understood exactly what was going on. This whole experience made quite an impact on me. Nearly a year later Dennis came into my life, and I realized God had a different plan and that it was His very best plan for me. I couldn't ask for a more loving and supportive husband than Dennis. He is so special! And God has given us an important work to do together! (We've been married twenty-three years as of October 1989.) So after I pray, if the answer I receive agrees with the other confirmations, and I have peace in my spirit ( as distinct from my soul), I know I'm on the right track. Learning to know when your response is from your spirit, and not only from your soul, is highly important and yet not always immediately distinguishable. This is another reason we need these times of fellowship with God. Sometimes to get direction I ask myself, "What would Jesus do? How would He handle this?" To get more personal, I ask, "What would Jesus have me do?" This helps me get more specific since Jesus, while on earth, had a different purpose for being here than I do. He came to show me what my Father is like, to rescue the world from the takeover of Satan, to express the greatest love known to man by dying for me, to give me eternal life. What I need to do then, will in some ways be different from what Jesus did. Praying in the Spirit, in my Holy Spirit language, helps me to clear my mind from distractions and to pray for things I don't even know about intellectually. It's good to pray this way before getting still to listen, and sometimes during your listening time. Consistent inner peace about a matter is a good indicator to help guide you.
4. God Speaks Through Circumstances
I may find that circumstances around me are pointing me in one particular direction, but in several different ways. Say, for instance, you've decided you should take some time off from your busy schedule for rest and recreation. You pray about it and ask God's direction. You feel good about the idea and peaceful inside. Your scripture lesson that day turns out to be about Jesus telling his disciples to “Come away and rest a while.” Now comes the circumstances to confirm. A friend phones to say they are taking a trip to Europe and their cabin on the lake is available, at no charge, for two weeks! Then in the mail you receive a check from a person you loaned some money years ago and forgot about, or from some other surprise source. Everything works out for you (and/or your mate) to take time off from your job. You 're beginning to get the picture that God is leading! After you've prayed, pay attention to the happenings around you. Be alert! He's trying to get a message through to you.
5. Talk to a Baptized in the Spirit Christian, One Who is Still Growing
If I'm still undecided, I may talk to a Christian person, such as a minister, or priest, lay-leader, prayer-counselor, intercessor, one who has had "a good track record" over the years and have him/her help me pray. We will pray together and also separately about my decision. Perhaps several times.
6. Other Confirmations May Come
Other confirmations may come in a variety of ways: through gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy, word of wisdom, word of knowledge, discernment, tongues and interpretation, (see - 1 Corinthians 12:7-11); through a dream, a vision, a sermon, a word from a friend, or a letter, magazine article, or book. Sometimes even a road sign! One time I was driving to a meeting.where I was speaking and saw a sign that said, “Fresh oil on the road ahead!” It seemed the Lord was assuring me His anointing was going to be on the meeting. Though this category isn't number one in guidance, nor should it be used exclusively, it may effectively add to what God has already shown you.
Be careful not to use the supernatural gifts as your first source of guidance. Some who don't want to make the commitment, nor feel they can take time needed to hear from the Lord themselves, are tempted to use inspired words given by others for their major direction. This is not wise. Some feel that others are so much more "spiritual" than they, that surely they will give them the right direction. Such people would do well to get inner healing prayer so they can know they're just as valuable as any of God's kids. It's been surprising to me over the past few years to see how many Spirit-filled believers have felt “inspired” by someone to make a major financial investment in a business venture and have lost much of their life's savings as a result! Perhaps God wants you to take time off from attending too many meetings, even Christian ones, and taking time to nurture your relationship with Him on a one-to-One basis. You need some time with God by yourself alone. The gifts give great encouragement, but you should not primarily seek to hear from Him in a secondary way, that is, through another person. In making a major decision I always want at least three, four, or perhaps more confirmations. Examples of some major decisions are: change of job, decision to move, marriage, whether to travel – especially overseas, church home, financial investments, schooling for your children, medical choices, any decision where there's a major commitment of time, and so forth. On smaller decisions “two or three witnesses” may be adequate, but those should be taken from among the first three categories in this teaching. Your mate should be a part of decisions that include you both. Ifhe or she isn't in true agreement, the word is usually, “wait” or “don’t do it.” On the other hand, I also believe God finds it difficult to lead an immovable object. Once you have two confirmations, begin to move ahead and if it's of the Lord, others will follow. Remember the motto, though, “When in doubt, don’t.” Although you may have moved ahead in a certain direction, don't make a final decision until you are sure. And don't forget good old common sense, either (this is of course after you have cleansed yourself in prayer, and you know your decision is assisted by a clear conscience). Be careful of guidance received through the senses such as smell, sight, taste, hearing, physical sensations, seeing balls of light, or auras, angelic visitations and so forth. Watch out for such “methods,” especially when they seem to work the same every time. God may on occasion speak to you in some of these ways, but you need to be cautious of making techniques out of them or seeking them. You need to test any phenomenon that comes from outside your spirit. Everyday decisions such as should you brush your teeth, or go to sleep at night obviously don't need specific prayer! Don't be like one group I heard of who advocated having a vision before they would step outside the door! Or a pastor who got so far away from the Lord that he got into the occult and checked his horoscope daily for direction! Why do people go to astrologers and read horoscopes (horror scopes) for guidance? The answer is they need help and know it, yet they haven't learned the right way to get it. Receiving God's true guidance is vital for you and your family. Consider it a top priority. The good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11-15). Take time to listen to Him. He is the truly safe Person to follow. Prayer: "Dear Lord Jesus, Your close friend the Apostle John wrote that three times You called Yourself the good Shepherd (John 10: 11, 14). Help me also to trust Your leadership and know You want the very best for me. When I have not looked to You I've gone astray. Help me to remember how You came all the way from heaven looking for that little lost sheep and carried me on Your shoulder from darkness into light. Help me remember that You're always with me, and within me, to guide me. Forgive me when I haven't paid attention to Your voice, to Your direction, to Your love. Thank You that when I've "blown it" and not heard or followed, You are always willing to forgive and-forget. Thank You for Your patience. On the decisions I have to make today I pray dear Lord, 'incline my spirit in the direction You want me to go, and disincline my spirit in the direction You do not want me to go'. Thank You for Your faithfulness dear Lord."
Pause and Reflect
Copyright 1989 Rita M. Bennett
Copyright 1989 Rita M. Bennett
All rights reserved. No portion of this booklet may be reproduced in any form whatsoever, except for brief quotations in reviews, without permission from the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America First Printing, 1989 Christian Renewal Publications Edmonds, Washington 98020
Scripture references marked KJV are from the King James Version. Scripture references marked (NKJV) are from the New King James Version © 1979, 1980, 1982 Thomas Nelson Co., Publishers.