Common Pitfalls in Seeking God’s Guidance

J. I. Packer has a very helpful section in his book, Knowing God on common pitfalls when it comes to seeking God’s guidance in one’s life.  If you have never read this book, I highly commend it to you.  It is truly a classic – good for the soul.  It will enlarge both your head and your heart for God in ways that most books written by mortals can’t and won’t (especially the likes of books being written in our day and age).  So, get a copy of Knowing God at your earliest convenience and be blessed as you read it with your head and heart.

Here is the bit on common pitfalls in seeking God’s guidance from J.I. Packer:  

 First, unwillingness to think.  It is false piety, super-super-naturalism of an unhealthy and pernicious sort, that demands inward impressions that have no rational base, and declines to heed the constant biblical summons to ‘consider’.  God made us thinking beings, and He guides our minds as in His presence we think things out – not otherwise.  ‘O that they were wise…that they would consider…‘ (Deuteronomy 32:29).

Second, unwillingness to think ahead, and weigh the long-term consequences of alternative courses of action.  ‘Think ahead’ is part of the divine rule of life no less than of the human rule of the road.  Often we can only see what is wise and right (and what is foolish and wrong) as we dwell on its long-term issues.  ‘O, that they were wise…that they would consider their latter end.

Third, unwillingness to take advice.  Scripture is emphatic on the need for this.  ‘The way of the foolish is right in his own eyes; but he that is wise hearkeneth unto counsel’ (Proverbs 12:15, RV).  It is a sign of conceit and immaturity to dispense with taking advice in major decisions.  There are always people who know the Bible, human nature, and our own gifts and limitations, better than we do, and even if we cannot finally accept their advice, nothing but good will come to us from carefully weighing what they say.

Fourth, unwillingness to suspect oneself.  We dislike being realistic with ourselves, and we do not know ourselves at all well; we can recognise rationalisations in others and quite overlook them in ourselves.  ‘Feelings’ with an ego-boosting, or escapist, or self-indulging, or self-aggrandising base, must be detected and discredited, not mistaken for guidance.  This is particularly true of sexual, or sexually conditioned, feelings.  As a biologist-theologian has written:

The joy and general sense of well-being that often (but not always) goes with being ‘in love’ can easily silence conscience and inhibit critical thinking.  How often people say that they ‘feel led’ to get married (and probably they will say ‘the Lord has so clearly guided’), when all they are really describing is a particularly novel state of endocrine balance which makes them feel extremely sanguine and happy (O. R. Barclay, Guidance, p. 29).

We need to ask ourselves why we ‘feel’ a particular course to be right, and make ourselves give reasons – and we shall be wise to lay the case before someone else whose judgment we trust, to give his verdict on our reasons.  We need also to keep praying, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23f.).  We can never distrust ourselves too much.

Fifth, unwillingness to discount personal magnetism.  Those who have not been made deeply aware of pride and self-deception in themselves cannot always detect these things in others, and this has from time to time made it possible for well-meaning but deluded men with a flair for self-dramatisation to gain alarming domination over the minds and consciences of others, who fall under their spell and decline to judge them by ordinary standards.  And even when a gifted and magnetic man is aware of the danger and tries to avoid it, he is not always able to stop Christian people treating him as an angel, or a prophet, construing his words as guidance for themselves, and blindly following his lead.  But this is not the way to be led by God.  Outstanding men are not, indeed, necessarily wrong, but they are not necessarily right, either!  They, and their views, must be respected, but may not be idolised.  ‘Prove (test) all things; hold fast that which is good’ (1 Thessalonians 5:12).

Sixth, unwillingness to wait.  ‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting.  He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not His way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time.  When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God.  When action is needed, light will come.

I find these very helpful in my own life.  In them, I feel in all these six pitfalls (as Packer describes them) a stinging and painful reminder of my own impatience with God; of my own pride; of my own self-confidence in situations where I am seeking God’s guidance on major decisions.  I bemoan wasted opportunities to trust the Lord; opportunities He gave me to wait upon Him and do what was right.  I cry, “Lord be merciful to me for I am a sinner…Restore to me the years that the locusts have eaten…With You there is forgiveness that You may be feared” (Luke 18:13; Joel 2:25; Psalm 130:4).  I hope that you find this equally helpful.

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