How Do We Discern God’s Guidance in Adversity?

For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end. -Psalm 48:14

In talking to friends here and back in the USA, through this time of lockdown, stressful situations, and restrictions, it appears many are seeking God’s guidance and help. So how do we discern God’s guidance?

What we learn from others is that God’s leading “was done in such a way that I couldn’t possibly have missed the point. The whole experience seemingly was designed to point to and give credit entirely to God and none to me.”

Through such examples, we learn that God has an infinite number of interesting ideas in guiding us. He seems to love to create the unexpected, so that we’ll rely more on him and less on “general principles” about guidance.

We like to read books on “The Three Steps,” “The Four Principles,” and “The Five Rules” of God’s guidance, but just when we think we’ve discovered a formula of how he works, he goes off course and does something entirely different. We learn that he doesn’t want to give us a formula, but to give us himself.

And what a great gift to us that is!

God, the Lord of the universe and Creator of all, wants to stay by our side and be our guide, not to give us a roadmap. This is where we part ways with religion and live life by faith—informed trust. Religion gives us endless rules, principles, rites, rituals, incantations, customs, laws, but faith gives us something real, someone to trust and love—a relationship.

To keep us from falling into just another religion of dos and don’ts, and to keep us in a living relationship, God constructs new, unexpected, personal (and often humorous) ways of leading us from point A to point B.

Take a look at the lives of the famous (or even the not-so-famous) great saints who have stories to tell about how God guided them in critical circumstances. I particularly love the New Testament account of Paul’s “visit” to the island of Malta because it serves as a model of how God so often leads us.

On the surface of it, Paul and his entourage were just blown off course by a sea storm and driven onto a small, insignificant island. But as we read on, we discover that in this unscheduled stop Paul had a divine appointment with some very specific people God had in mind from the very beginning. It didn’t even look like guidance to many of those involved, but it turned out to be the clearest possible involvement of God in the midst of great danger.

And it’s in adversity where we learn some of life’s best lessons. God’s guidance is often most obvious during life’s storms, battles, reversals, losses, sorrows, and shipwrecks. Sometimes, we find ourselves in a particular place just because our ship sank, and we washed up on the beach, dazed and soaking wet.

I remember when I was training to run the hurdles, the exuberance of youth collided with sound knowledge! I rushed into training without understanding that I needed to do this in gradual increments, rather than in a rush of adrenaline. A painful experience learned and applied to future successful training. At that time, I hadn’t heard the term “body shock fatigue.” From what I have been told, muscle soreness occurs when you target a particular muscle, and the level of pain differs for each of us. But overall body shock fatigue occurs when we train very intensely—an accumulation of stressful, forceful workouts.

Often, in the midst of challenging times, our family thought that nothing worse could have taken place, that God seemed to have abandoned us, that he didn’t care about us, and nothing made any sense at all. We complained long and hard about “shock fatigue” or the rotten set of circumstances he had given us, and we tried to persuade him that if he really was a loving God then he wouldn’t have done it this way. But in the end, we finally got the point that he always knows what he’s doing and that he alone is in charge of the world, and we aren’t.

So what we learned, over the years in ministry and foreign missions, much travel, frequent moving, dangerous situations, and opposition of all sorts and on all sides, is this: some of the worst things that have happened to us have turned out to be some of the best things that have ever happened to us.

If you feel like you’ve prayed and prayed, and God still seems to be doing nothing about your situation, then wait. Yes, I know that’s easier said and done, and I’ve said this many times before, but God is a God of action in seeming inaction. What you are feeling is understandable, but it is not real. For even when you don’t sense him in your life or feel that he’s not working for you, he is. Instead of being discouraged, think about the many creative and unpredictable ways he has led you before or guides others around you. The more we come to love and enjoy his character and to be dazzled by him, the more we trust in him and wait for, and come to recognize, his guidance.

SF recommends: Guidance from God by Alastair Howard

Photo credit: Mike Page

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