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General Bible Courses > Living by the Book > Guidance by the Book

Chapter 2: Following Step By Step


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:  

·    How to be guided by God step‑by‑step.  

·    The limitations of a vision.  

·    God's responsibility in guidance.  

·    Your responsibility in making decisions.    

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:  

·         Receive guidance one step at a time.  

·         Renegotiate your vision based on new insight.  

·         Seek God's will with confidence.  

·         Take initiative in making major decisions      

Lead, Kindly Light

Lead, kindly Light, amid th' encircling gloom,

Lead Thou me on;

The night is dark, and I am far from home;

Lead Thou me on;

Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene - one step enough for me.  

 - John Henry Newman

Seeing God's Will Dynamically

Key Scripture: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Ps. 119:105).

"Work on only one task at a time" is the best advice time‑management training can offer. Because the human brain works better when it focuses on one thing, this principle applies to all areas of life. The insight that results from a completed task clears the mind to think creatively about the next one. Undergirding this sound advice lies a biblical principle. The Bible shows God guiding His people incrementally - as they focus on one step at a time.  

Keeping this principle in mind, Christians should ask themselves two pertinent questions: (1) How much insight should I expect God to pro­vide? and (2) Which of my expectations are unreasonable and likely to cause disappointment? These questions deserve careful consideration, since most believers assume that God reveals the future when He guides. They expect clear insight into the future, often asking for specifics in financial or professional situations. Moreover, internal and social pres­sures often activate a search for more guidance than is needed.  

Furthermore, the vocabulary that Christians use when referring to God's guidance can be very confusing. Instead of saying they have decided to go into ministry, many believers declare they have been "called." The use of this word implies that they have either had vivid insight into the future or a direct mandate from God. The use of such terms as "call" or "vision" suggests a binding command or a focus of responsibilities for some future period - often a lifetime. Having a call or a vision suggests hearing the audible voice of God, having a strong inner impression, or receiving an outward confirmation. None of these leave any doubt as to their origin. As a result of such terminology, Christians have come to expect too much specific guidance from the Lord.  

The word plan always implies guidelines for the future. Yet God seldom charts such a road map. When speaking of a plan, a believer needs to know the difference between God's ultimate plan, which cannot be known, and His immediate personal will, which can be discovered. Fur­ther problems arise when Christians jump to the conclusion that knowing God's will today is predicated on knowing His will for the future. This rationalization may leave the believer:  

  • Frustrated and disappointed.  
  • Ambivalent about taking any steps.  
  • Robbed of a confident decision.  
  • Prone to read too much into the Lord's guidance.  

Christians who lack assurance of a dramatic call may be too hasty to bail out of a commitment - feeling that perhaps their first decision was not really God\'s will. They lack joy in Christ, and their fruitfulness suffers.  

Scripture reveals a different view of God's guidance. Although He sometimes gives believers a special glimpse of their future, such occasions are rare. In most instances, God's direction comes little by ­little. His guidance may be compared to a lamp, which softly illumi­nates the path just ahead and provides light for only one step forward. Too many Christians envision God's direction as a giant searchlight that reveals events for years to come.  

Instead, God leads one step at a time - one insight at a time. His guidance comes incrementally, moving us forward in the light He is giving and enabling us to understand better His guidance in the step beyond. God's guiding light is subtle, which leaves the mystery of the future intact. Accepting that God's guidance comes only one step at a time is very liberating. For presuming to know the future can set you up for great disappointment. And you may be saved the embarrass­ment of announcing to others what you have mistakenly defined as divine guidance.  

Julie and Mario, both committed Christians, met at a large singles group sponsored by several area churches. Imme­diately Mario was smitten by Julie, an extremely attractive young woman from a neighboring church. The more he thought about her sweet spirit and commitment to Christ, the more convinced he became that God was leading him to marry her. She was the one for whom he had waited all these years. He confided his revelation first to his friend Clay, "God has told me I am to marry Julie." Clay, a more mature Christian, urged him not to mention it to anyone until he was absolutely sure. "After all," he said, "if it is God's will, then a few weeks won't make any difference."  

Exactly two weeks later, Julie announced to the group that she was marrying her childhood sweetheart Jay. He was being discharged from the Navy in July, and they would marry soon afterward. Julie was radiant as she shared how God had confirmed the decision to them both over a period of months. Mario was hurt but not nearly so much as he might have been. Silently he thanked God that only Clay knew of his mis­take. Fortunately, Mario realized the mistake was his. Unlike some Christians, he did not get so caught up in his personal "revelation" that he got angry both with the other person and with God  

Trusting the future to God gives us courage to take important steps of faith. And taking the first step places us in the best position to know God\'s direction for the next step. Since illumination comes only as we stay in motion, we can trust Christ most fully by taking careful, prudent action that we believe is in His will. At times we may feel led to change our circum­stances or relationships. This can be a somewhat frightening experience. But we can be sustained by our confidence in God's guidance and protection. Developing a solid biblical perspective will keep us anchored to the Rock, as we fully expect God to lead us in His own way and time. Although our life may be quite challenging, it will never be boring. We will be able to enjoy a true adventure of faith.  

A Light Unto My Path  

"A prudent man gives thought to his steps" (Prov. 14:15).  

"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it'" (Isa. 30:21).  

"But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).

Life Application: Think about a plan you have for the future. Does it align with scripture? Pray and ask God for confirmation. Consult with your spiritual leaders for wisdom.

Renegotiating a Vision

Key Scripture: "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Gal. 5:18).  

Amazingly, God seldom reveals the future through supernatural guid­ance. This was true even with the great saints of the Bible. Therefore it is important to distinguish between supernatural activity generally and guidance specifically. Although supernatural guidance is still experienced by Christians, it is the exception rather than the rule. God usually leads by a step‑by‑step process. Many Christians have discovered that their final goal was quite different from what they had originally perceived as God\'s will. Knowing this, we still find it difficult to release the "visions" we feel God has given us.  

Will, a businessman in his early forties, recently released a cherished dream. Years ago his parents had promised that they would one day move out of the family home and sell it to him at a modest price. How Will had looked forward to the time when he could live in this large, plush suburban residence with easy access to his job downtown!  

But during the past year he and his wife Claire concluded that their family would benefit more from a move to a smaller house in the distant suburbs. As a result, they would have more time and finances for other interests. Will confessed, “"The hardest part of the decision was admitting that I no longer wanted this."  

Will's experience demonstrates the need for staying flexible as we plan our life. Our goals and aspirations are always based on limited informa­tion. Each day brings new insight and therefore the need to change our perspective - slightly or sometimes drastically. But pride, stubbornness, or inertia can bind us to a course that is no longer best. Therefore an important part of maturing is adjusting our dreams to conform to the current reality.  

Angela Costello is an excellent example of someone who had to revise a vision. She found that her dream needed an alteration. In her story Angela tells how it happened:  

Becoming a professional musician was the goal of my life. My vision took shape in a recurring dream in which I was wearing white and seated at an elegant white piano. My mother taught me to read music by the age of three, and my first concert was at the age of six. Throughout those years I improvised on the piano lessons and wrote my own music. In high school I wrote the class song and original music for several beauty pageants. I continued to play in churches as well as with several contem­porary bands.  

While in college I went to the music center almost every night to play the piano and compose. My themes were always real-life situations - ballads written about everyday things. When my friends went with me, they would often cry as the song minis­tered to some special need or crisis in their lives. By my senior year, I had written almost three hundred songs. Some were really God‑inspired because people were healed or delivered after hearing them.  

As president of the student body, I booked all the talent who performed at our college. That resulted in a telephone relation­ship with a New York talent agent. After a year, I confided to him that I also performed. His reply was, "Send me a tape." Three months later I received a call asking, "Can you be in New York in December?" My dream was finally materializing. In late December I made my first recording. The whole experience was very heady. ­I was treated like royalty, whisked about from one party to another. People there seemed very accepting of a twenty‑year-­old novice. I came home to Virginia determined to live in New York for the rest of my life. Because my fiance Greg wanted no part of that, I wrote him out of my life entirely.  

After graduating from college, I went back to the parties and the premieres. But one night brought a turning point in my career. After recording for 18 hours, I took a break and walked through the deserted studio. Thoughts flooded my mind about God - and the people who worked with me. Although three claimed to be Christians, the other seven were agnostics or believed in other religions. Could God be using my Christian music to reach them? Meditating on this, I turned the corner and looked into the engineer's studio. There were all my colleagues - even the pro­fessed Christians - sniffing cocaine.  

Incensed and on the verge of tears, I confronted them. They apologized profusely, swearing never to do it again. I felt I had no choice but to walk out. My integrity and common sense had been compromised because I passionately wanted a music career for the Lord - and for me. On the plane home I suddenly realized that my vision of white had symbolized the purity of my music ministry.  

From then on everything changed. The talent never left, but the passion was tempered. God gave me a real desire for missions. On several trips to the Philippines and Africa, I have seen bona fide miracles. But none were more miraculous than the revision of my vision. And God has also given me the real desire of my heart – Greg - to whom I am now married.  

Much can be learned from Angela's experience. No matter how definite our sense of leading, we must regularly seek further insight or reconsider our direction. We may discover that our vision needs adjustment at some point. Even ministry and vocational situations have time limits. And since we could wait indefinitely for dramatic guidance, it is necessary to move ahead, even without a call or supernatural insight into the future. God can lead us by the information He withholds as much as by the information He gives.  

Several years ago Ben was driving to National Airport in Wash­ington, D.C., anxious about catching his flight. He had left home irritated with his wife for delaying him. Now, after nearly an hour fighting bumper‑to‑bumper traffic in a blinding snowstorm, it became certain he would not make the flight. As he stewed, the car radio announced that his flight had indeed left without him - and had nose-dived into the Potomac River a few seconds later. Only a few passengers at the rear of Florida Flight 90 had managed to escape. Ben's seat assignment had been in the non‑smoking section in the front. Thus he would have been among the drowning victims (One of a Kind, p. 105).  

Ben's experience graphically points out that we are only dimly aware of God's ongoing work behind the scenes of our lives. He sometimes miraculously intervenes as He did in Ben's life, allowing us to know "after the fact" what He has done. Although we may fervently desire to know the future, God protects us for several important reasons. Knowing the future may:  

  • Paralyze us with an overwhelming dread.  
  • Stifle moment‑by‑moment obedience to God.  
  • Prevent step‑by‑step faith and trust in God.  
  • Stunt growth of intellectual faculties for decision making.  
  • Encourage the loss of curiosity and excitement, causing boredom.  
  • Overload the mind, which handles only small bits of information.

Unaware of these dangers, many lose heart when they do not receive a divine revelation of the future. They jump to the conclusion that God cares only about moral decisions. As a result, they approach important deci­sions rationally with no reliance on the Lord. Not only have they reached an incorrect conclusion, but a dangerous one. God does care about the decisions that we make; He has a will for our choices as He lovingly provides enough light and insight for taking the next step. God alone can be trusted to guide us. Furthermore, knowing that He leads one step at a time will give us courage to take important steps of faith, even though all the facts are not in.  

A Light Unto My Path

"If the Lord delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm" (Ps. 37:23).  

"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed" (Prov. 16:3).  

“Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble" (1 John 2:10).    

Life Application: Read Psalm 147. List at least five things God has provided for you, and spend time praising Him each day for His provision.

Guidance is Dependent on God

Key Scripture: "He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake" (Ps. 3:3).  

Many Christians live under the mistaken assumption that light and dark­ness coexist equally in their lives - assigning equal power to God and Satan. In doing so, they forget the absolute power that light has over darkness. A beam of light literally pierces the darkness, but darkness can never overtake the light. Jesus said it best: "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). As His light shines in us, the darkness is eradicated. Because Christ's power is greater than that of Satan's (1 John 4:4), Christians ought to live a victorious life (Rom. 8:37).  

Guidance is ultimately God's responsibility. He takes the initiative in guiding Christians who are open to divine direction - intervening unexpect­edly and giving guidance even when no request has been made. Con­sider how God called certain great leaders for extraordinary work in His kingdom. Both David and Moses were tending sheep; Saul was looking for lost donkeys; Gideon was threshing wheat; and Nehemiah was serving wine to the king. All were involved in mundane tasks when God sovereignly intervened in their lives and revealed His will to them.  

To demonstrate God's lovingkindness toward His people, both the Old and New Testaments use the analogy of a shepherd and his sheep. In John 10:1‑15 Jesus describes the freedom and security a sheep enjoys under the care of a good shepherd. His example of the Palestinian shepherd portrays a balance between compassion and direction. The sheep were totally dependent on the shepherd, who was responsible to herd them safely from one pasture to another. In the same way our Good Shepherd protects and guides - going out of His way to keep us on the path of His will. The relationship between the shepherd and his sheep are examined below:

The Shepherd   The Sheep
Has a recognizable voice    Know shepherd's voice
Calls sheep by name     Are known individually by name
Goes before sheep   Follow shepherd
Brings security   Are saved by shepherd
Protects from robbers      Are protected by shepherd
Gives abundant life    Are led to pasture by shepherd
Takes absolute responsibility    Are totally dependent on shepherd
Is a firm leader      Have little sense of direction
Is compassionate   Are easily confused
Sacrifices life for sheep   Are able to graze unhindered

Christians are often fearful that guidance will not come. But God\'s desire that we know and do His will is even greater than our own concern. Jesus has promised every believer that guidance will come when needed. This reassurance can release us from four types of fear:  

Fear: God will not give all the information that I need to know His will.

Reason: Believers who suffer from low self‑esteem may feel unworthy of God's guidance.  


Fear: If He does reveal His will, I might not understand it.

Reason: Believers fear missing a key signal, which would place them outside of God's will.  


Fear: My past decisions may have been out of God's will.

Reason: Because of new insight, Christians may discover that they should have made a different decision.  


Fear: The sin in my life might keep me from finding God's will.

Reason: As constant "fruit inspectors," believers scrutinize every action looking for evidence of sin in their lives.  

Our Lord is so concerned with His children that He will give all the information necessary for a decision - and the ability to understand it. Sometimes He withholds key information to prevent you from moving in a certain direction. If you feel you have made a past mistake concerning a decision, be assured that you probably made the best decision with the available information. Further information may simply signal a need to correct your direction now. God had to get you moving in a particular direction. Remember: He takes the initiative in guiding believers, in spite of their confusion or waywardness (Hos. 14:4). Therefore your confi­dence in God's adequacy, power, and guidance will triumph over any personal inadequacies you may feel in decision making.  

Another question that has baffled Christians for centuries is the seeming conflict between God\'s sovereignty and human free will. Rather than having our faith sidetracked by debating the pros and cons of the two positions, we should accept both as fundamental truths - God is sovereign and people have a free will. Our search for God's will, therefore, should be carried out in an attitude of security, not anxiety. Guidance for believers is a promise, not a mere possibility (Heb. 6:13‑20)  

A Light Unto My Path  

"Teach me your way O Lord; lead me in a straight path" (Ps. 27:11). 

"I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you" (Ps. 119:10‑11). 

"Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders" (Ps. 119:27).  

Life Application: Read the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Think about a time when you made a mistake (even when you thought you were following God's will). How did Jesus save you?

Growing in Responsibility

Key Scripture: "I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word" (Ps. 119:101).

In our early days as Christians, God made following Him as easy as possible. While we were young in the faith, we were not yet ready to take the responsibility for major decisions. But as we mature, God places more responsibility on our shoulders - expecting us to take the initiative for thinking through important decisions. His guidance comes through our responsible efforts to understand and carry out His will. Moreover, He is building into us a sense of personal accountability.  

Paul had his first major decision made for him when he was struck down on the Damascus Road. And he was given specific guidance concerning his new life and ministry. But as he grew in the knowledge of the Lord, direct guidance lessened, and he was required to accept a greater level of responsibility.  

One of the natural ways God guides is through duty. He desires that we proceed day‑to‑day, doing what we know is right. Christ commissions believers to be faithful in the little things of life - duties at work and in the home. Without the fidelity to seemingly insignificant things, our search for guidance in more important things will be futile.  

Wes looked at his watch. Brad Sanford of the Forrestal Manu­facturing Company was late. As the minutes ticked by, Wes became more angry. He had spent two weeks preparing this report, working late at the office every day and weekends. He had not seen his wife or kids more than fifteen minutes in all that time. "The nerve of that guy," he muttered, "making me wait like this. I assumed he was a Christian since he goes to our church."   

Trying to calm down, Wes began to think about his family. His wife Rita had been tired and irritable when he talked to her yesterday. He tried to remember what his children looked like awake. His late hours and weekend work had become a pattern. "Oh, no!" he thought, "I completely forgot Joey's softball game. And our anniversary was sometime last month. I wonder if Rita got her car fixed. I seem to remember her saying something about it when I finally got into bed the other night. Oh, Lord, why do I feel so stressed? What is happening to me? I can't seem to hear you anymore!"  

Wes had not discovered the necessity of being faithful to his family duties - everyday details that can be neglected in day‑to‑day living (1 Tim. 5:8). He had allowed the demands of his job to overshadow his spiritual and family responsibilities.  

Abraham knew how to be faithful in little things. The resulting relationship was friendship with God Almighty (Isa. 41:8). Abraham's sojourn from Ur had been divinely directed. But as he obeyed, God required more respon­sible decisions of him. When Abraham decided that his son Isaac needed a wife, he did not wait for God to bring the woman to him. Instead he logically decided to send his servant on a mission back to his homeland (Gen. 24). As a result, God did work miraculously in the situation, but only after Abraham dealt with the problem rationally.  

Rahab of Jericho recognized the power of the God of the Israelites (Josh. 2). Although she was moved by Him to shelter the spies, Rahab was forced to make some logical decisions. She decided how to hide them and what to tell their pursuers. Furthermore, she made a covenant with them: In exchange for their safety, Rahab's whole family would be saved from disaster. She carefully planned the spies' getaway and assisted them out of the city.  

God used Abraham and Rahab in their own frame of reference. In each case He could have intervened miraculously from the beginning. But He allowed them to think through the problems logically before making a decision. And so it is today. God will use us in our own frame of reference, compelling us to make complicated decisions that require initiative on our part.  

Sometimes we may interpret this negatively, assuming that this shift of responsibility from God to us is a lack of personal spirituality or the Lord's indifference. We may be thinking, "If I were more spiritual, I would know instantly what God wants me to do!" But the opposite is more likely true. The fact that we are wrestling with decisions may be a sign of spiritual growth. Furthermore, the Lord is never indifferent. Actually He is giving us more opportunities to grow by allowing us to make major decisions. God uses these challenges to develop both our reasoning and our ability to handle responsibility. Additionally, our experiences provide adventure ­fundamental to living a fulfilled and fruitful life. This adventure is akin to the abundant life Jesus promised.  

Self‑esteem increases as a result of our sense of purpose and partner­ship with Christ (Mark 6:37‑44). Being a friend of Christ goes beyond being a servant, for friendship implies a mutual relationship. Because of a close association with Christ, our choices reflect His mind and heart. His guidance comes through our responsible efforts to understand and carry out His will.  

Our responsibility involves four important areas. We should:  

  1. Develop an attitude of willingness - the starting point for knowing God's will.  
  2. Pray for guidance and then obey God's will once it is known.  
  3. Study Scripture seriously, especially in the area of guidance.  
  4. Use our minds to make the most reasonable and logical choices.    

A Light Unto My Path 

"For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end" (Ps. 48:14).  

"I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths" (Prov. 4:11).  

"I will guide him and restore comfort to him" (Isa. 57:18).    

Life Application: Read 1 Corinthians 7:17-24. Paul writes that God can use us no matter our situation. How can God use you in your present circumstance?

Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Test your knowledge by taking this short quiz which covers what you just read. Select the correct response based on the lessons and concepts.

1. The guidance of God comes one __________ at a time.



2. A call suggests an audible voice of God, a strong inner impression, or an outward confirmation.



3. Expressing a need for a __________ is another way of expressing a need for a goal.



4. Believers often assume that God's plan refers to a blueprint for their lives.



5. Many Christians __________ believe that a call from God is usually a mandate given for life.


Do not

6. Paul used a circumstance as guidance when he ministered to the women.



7. Because of further light, Paul __________ feel free to negotiate his vision.


Did not

8. Knowing the future would greatly enhance the growth of our intellectual faculties.



9. Light has absolute power over __________ .



10. Our security comes from the fact that guidance is ultimately the responsibility of __________.



11. God usually intervenes, even when no request has been made.



12. The shepherd was known for his __________ and leadership.



13. God __________ allows our lack of understanding to keep Him from leading us in the path of His will.



14. We need __________ about sin.

Healthy concern

Extreme fear

15. God will guide us most fully as we take responsibility for knowing and doing His will.



16. The element of adventure comes close to what Christ described as an abundant life.



17. Challenging decisions help to increase our sense of __________ and personal worth.



18. Jesus implied that guidance for the disciples would come as they took the initiative.



19. Jesus called His disciples friends after they had grown significantly in __________.



20. Praver helps to clarify our thinking.



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