The Bible has much to say about God’s guidance, making it plain that God leads and guides His people (Ps 23:2-3, 2 Cor 2:14, John 16:13, Ps 25:5), but it’s the ‘how?’ of divine guidance that often confuses us. There are times when God’s word seems to tell us directly what to do, times when a word of prophecy comes to us with startling clarity, but there are also many occasions when we feel torn and do not know which way to go, and we feel then that our Christian journey is rather like ‘plaiting fog’, as the idiom goes.
In Acts 16:6-10, we see something of the difficulties involved in guidance. Paul and his companions had clear plans as to where they should go; it made sense to continue in the direction they were heading to preach in the province of Asia, but they were ‘kept by the Holy Spirit’ from doing that (Acts 16:6). They then intended to enter Bithynia, ‘but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.’ (Acts 16:7) These phrases do not give us perhaps the fulness of answers we would like (how did the Holy Spirit do this? – through circumstances, illness, opposition or what?!) Nonetheless, it was only when Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man begging for help that they moved on to the province of Macedonia. (Acts 16:9-10)
Perhaps what we see here is what A. T. Pierson dubbed ‘double guidance’ or ‘permission and constraint, prohibition and restraint.’ Sometimes, we feel unease or disquiet in our spirits, which can be God warning us not to do something, even though (to all intents and purposes) that seems the best thing to do. On other occasions, we feel the nudge (and even the shove!) of the Spirit, pushing us into new territories or unfamiliar places.
Nicky Gumbel writes of five compelling signs of God’s guidance, talking about commanding Scripture, the compelling Spirit, the counsel of the saints, common sense, and circumstantial signs. Certainly we see that guidance is perhaps not as clear-cut as we would always like it to be, but these verses remind us that God is an expert at both opening and closing doors (Rev 3:7) and as God’s flock, we need to be attentively listening for the Shepherd’s voice. (John 10:3-5, Is 30:21)