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

Chapter 5: Supernatural Guidance


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:  

·    God's personal protective care.  

·    All supernatural guidance is not from the Lord.  

·    The role of personal prophecy in decision making.  

·    The pitfalls of putting out a fleece.    

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:  

·    Take bold steps of faith confidently.  

·    Determine the validity of supernatural guidance.  

·    Evaluate personal prophecy from a biblical perspective.  

·    Seek God's guidance in a mature way.    

O Spirit, Come  

O Spirit, come, and in our hearts abiding,

Teach us the right, that we may walk there-in;

Show us the truth, and there our footsteps guiding,

So shall we shun alluring paths of sin.  

- Fanny J. Crosby

Hearing God's Voice Today

Key Scripture: "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)  

People have an innate desire for God to communicate with them super­naturally. Unbelievers may feel that a supernatural act of God would be convincing proof of His existence. Believers, on the other hand, may desire that God would convince them of His perfect will. As a result of such clear direction, all doubt of a wrong decision would be removed. Unfor­tunately, avoiding personal responsibility is a prime reason that Christians want God to communicate directly with them. They want to remove the need for individual decision making or for personal consideration of the problem.  

Types of Supernatural Guidance  

There are several types of supernatural guidance that Christians claim to experience today:  

Direct supernatural guidance is most commonly claimed. God's com­munication is direct and often dramatic through dreams, visions, signs, an audible voice, and angels.  

Personal prophecy is an indirect communication from God that comes through another person\'s revelation.  

Putting out a fleece requires a sign from God to confirm His will. The sign usually has no connection to the decision being made.  

Inward guidance is a strong inner impression that is neither visible nor audible. There is little basis in Scripture for expecting this type of guid­ance, although it is popularly accepted.  

Many assume that supernatural revelation for personal decisions was a common occurrence for early Christians. But on closer examination of the New Testament, we find that it was so infrequent that God left no clear instruction about receiving it.  

Receiving direct supernatural guidance from God is problematic because humans are not well‑equipped to receive it. Zechariah (Luke 1:12), Mary (1:29‑30), and the shepherds (2:9‑10) became frightened at their angelic visitations; Zechariah's reaction brought a severe trial to his faith (1:20). But there are always exceptions. When God does guide supernaturally, it is usually to lead believers to do something that would never be logically considered. The task may be out of their area of expertise. God is also more inclined to give direct guidance to young believers, who are not yet ready to take responsibility for major decisions. He may also be providing an unmistakable point of reference. Finally, God sometimes does things just because He's God and only He knows the reasons.  

The longer we stay in communion with God, the less He needs to guide us outwardly. He wants us to be so in tune with His will that whatever we decide will automatically be what He has chosen for us. This type of closeness occurs only as we wait before the Lord, praising and worship­ing Him. The Lord inhabits the praises of His people, so take time to worship Him - to be quiet and listen.  

God's Protective Care  

After salvation Christians still experience problems, and no amount of faith will save us from every crisis. God allows challenge and pain in our lives in order to build character and to increase dependency on Him. Yet God often shows His marvelous grace by extricating us from precarious situations. These are often predicaments of our own making - dilemmas caused in part by limited insight. But God is still interested in rescue missions, and we must recognize our need for rescue. Otherwise, we will miss many benefits of God\'s grace.  

But the recognition of our need for rescue must be accompanied by the conviction that God will come at the right time. We need this not only for the sake of humility but also for courage. One of the reasons we hesitate to take important steps of faith - toward better relationships and better opportunities to use our gifts - is that we fear catastrophes that might overtake us on the way.  

Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus proved His willingness to care for His followers by delivering them from serious predicaments. He dramati­cally demonstrated this in His first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1‑11). Such festive receptions often lasted for a week. Part way through the feast the host's wine gave out. By changing water into wine, Jesus demonstrated something profoundly practical about God's willing­ness to come to our aid in everyday affairs. He saved the groom's family from dreadful embarrassment and possible social disgrace.  

Jesus showed His willingness to rescue us in a most comforting way in His last miracle. When the soldiers came to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. Undoubt­edly, the apostle had intended to kill him. Jesus' healing of the ear therefore symbolizes God's ability to rectify our mistakes. Moreover, His providential power often protects us from the extremes of our own impul­sive and destructive tendencies. This is one of the important ways in which He shows His providential care for us. Understanding His willingness to rescue us should not lead us into a careless Christian walk. Instead, it should make us more determined to take bold steps of faith.  

As we attempt to understand God's direction, sometimes it is hard to know exactly what God wants us to do. There are times, however, when we do understand His will but panic at the thought of following it. Our mind becomes filled with imagined future disasters that paralyze us from going forward. For that reason, we need to be fortified with confidence in God\'s willingness to rescue us, if and when necessary.  

After much prayer Maria felt that the Holy Spirit was leading her to buy a home. A widow for five years, Maria lived in a small apartment near her work, but she had tired of paying rent. Because of a slump in the economy, many homes were being offered at reasonable costs. A real estate agent showed Maria several prospects before she found the one she really liked. The small brick house was in her price range and close to the shop where she worked. Furthermore, its appraisal was approximately $10,000 more than the selling price. Overjoyed, Maria carefully estimated how much everything would cost. Her savings were just enough for a down payment and closing costs. Since her car was paid for, she felt that she could handle the few extra dollars each month for the mortgage payment.

Having been coached by her brother, who was a businessman, Maria asked all the right questions. In fact, she was so persistent with her questions (and phone calls) that the loan officer was relieved when the loan finally cleared. At Maria's request the agent was trying to cut through government red tape so she could move in immediately. The agent had graciously opened the house for Marie to investigate several times. Each time Maria expressed her joy at finding such a bargain. Moreover, she used her time with the agent to witness about her faith in Christ. He seemed open, and Maria felt good about the situation.  

However, the more Maria thought about the house, the more she wondered if the Holy Spirit had really led her to buy it. She decided to call the agent to inquire about withdrawing the con­tract. He assured her that everything had been approved - it was too late. Convinced that the Holy Spirit was now directing her to get out, Maria panicked. She called the agent and then his supervisor. This time she complained that the agent had tricked her. The mortgage payment would be ten dollars more per month than was estimated at the beginning. When told that the deal was closed, she harassed the loan officer and called the government office twice.  

The most convincing point, as far as Maria was concerned, was the accident. On a rainy night another car slid into Maria's, totally destroying its front end. Suddenly she saw a way out of her dilemma. Rather than use the insurance money for a used car, Maria could buy a new one. Car payments would certainly disqualify her from the mortgage loan. So she bought a brand new car. Finally proving that she was financially unable to make mortgage payments, Maria was able to break the contract.  

Although Maria had lost some money, she felt relieved at the outcome. The agent's supervisor stood behind her employee; otherwise, he might have lost his job. The loan officer shook his head in disgust. Everyone involved hoped they would never see Maria again. By manipulating the situation, Maria had not trusted God to take care of her. And in the process, she had destroyed her Christian witness to two unbelievers.  

Humanly, we want advance solutions to any problem that might arise. But there comes a time when we need simply to move ahead, trusting God to come to our aid. He can abundantly safeguard our vulnerabilities and inadequate planning. Since God will not steer a parked car, it is only as we move forward that we discover His infinite ability to navigate.  

A Light Unto My Path  

"God is present in the company of the righteous" (Ps. 14:5).  

“You have made known to me the path of life" (Ps. 16:11).  

"But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord" (PS. 141:8).    

Life Application: In Exodus 3, God directly guided Moses through a burning bush. Think of a time when you were not confident God was guiding you. How did you deal with those times you felt alone in your decision-making? What steps can you take to better your communication with God?

Verifying Our Perception

Key Scripture: "They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Tim. 4:4).  

Once you feel that you have received supernatural guidance, the next step is to determine if it is genuine. Seek confirmation about its specific details. One effective way is to test its content by asking yourself if it aligns with biblical revelation. If it does, then you have permission to ask God for help to carry out your mission. He is not offended by your request. You may find it necessary to ask Him to provide clear reasons for the guidance, but you must be willing to listen to His voice.  

If the Lord has directed you to do something that requires a cash outlay, such as a missions trip, and you have no funds, ask Him to supply your needs. Specify the amount you need by a certain date - without telling anyone. Then when the money appears, there will be no question as to its origin. If help does not come, take a "wait and see" attitude.  

To help you understand supernatural guidance, you should do the following:

  • Read the Bible, for most answers lie there.
  • Heed particular scriptures that come to mind.
  • Gain maturity by trying to discern God's will.
  • Know God's character and what delights Him.
  • Listen to the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.
  • Use circumstances to confirm or deny specific guidance.
  • Get godly counsel from two or more witnesses.  

If a supernatural experience comes when you are healthy, well‑rested, fully awake, and not under stress, test the content. Don't get too analyti­cal. You must also remember that an authentic vision may have human elements as well. That's why it is crucial to test the individual parts of the vision. If one part is correct, another may have sprung from biases or preconceptions. One way to check the authenticity of a vision is to get counsel from a qualified individual - someone who is sensitive to super­natural guidance.  

A Light Unto My Path  

"For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, 'Do not fear; I will help you'" (Isa. 41:13).  

"'Test me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it'" (Mal. 3:10).  

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace‑loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere" (James 3:17).    

Life Application: God is not offended by your request, provided it aligns with the vision or direction He's provided. Is there something you've been avoiding asking Him about? Don't be afraid - He loves you and wants to hear from you!

The Place of Prophecy

Key Scripture: "But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the pur­poses of his heart through all generations" (Ps. 33:11).  

The Old Testament is replete with both personal and national prophecies. Second Kings 8 records Elisha's prediction of a famine that was to last seven years. His prophecy was given to the nation of Israel and to one woman in particular.  

Many years before the prophecy, Elisha had been befriended by a Shunammite woman and her husband. They had provided him with living accommodations when he was in the area. In gratitude, Elisha promised that God would answer her specific prayer for a child. That same year God provided a son to her and her husband. But tragedy stuck when the boy was still very young. After suffering a headache, he suddenly died in his mother's arms. The grief‑stricken woman traveled from Shunem to Mount Carmel to fetch Elisha. Sensing her urgency, he went back with her. The prophet succeeded in raising the boy to life, and his mother was eternally grateful.  

The Shunammite woman must have kept in touch with Elisha, but nothing more is heard of her until the prophet\'s prediction of a famine. Elisha told her: "Go away with your family and stay for a while wherever you can, because the Lord has decreed a famine in the land that will last seven years" (v. 1). The woman took her family to Philistia and stayed there. When the famine was over, she came back to beg the king for the return of her property. Providentially, the king was discussing Elisha's exploits with his servant Gehazi. The prophet's servant had just mentioned the woman's story when she came into the palace. As a result of the unique coincidence, the king restored her land - and all the income produced during her absence.  

The Shunammite woman had every reason to believe Elisha's prophecy, for his reputation was above reproach. She had seen Elisha raise her own son to life, which resulted in a greater faith in his powerful and merciful God. Furthermore, the woman knew that Elisha would not benefit person­ally from the prophetic word to her.  

The New Testament does not record instances of prophecy for personal guidance in matters that could be determined by spiritual principles. Personal decisions were made by obeying and applying biblical prin­ciples. Personal prophecy is the revelation of guidance that one person claims to receive for someone else. The person claims direct knowledge of God's will for another person in the area of personal decision. God sometimes uses supernatural guidance to get a person\'s attention in specific circumstances. But there is no New Testament evidence that prophecy is to be used for personal guidance. A prophet is gifted above and beyond an ordinary person in proclaiming Christian truth; neverthe­less, his or her prophecy is not intended to replace common sense or wisdom from God.  

Paul's prophecy, made on a ship to Rome (Acts 27), was indeed a revelation of the future. Although Paul gave counsel in light of it, he was not told what to advise. Instead, he was told what he should do. God had promised safety, but no other guidance. Therefore Paul's advice to the seamen was purely logical. 

Response to Personal Prophecy  

Perhaps someone has approached you with a prophecy concerning a personal decision. Perplexed, you may have asked yourself, Should I do this? What if it's God's will and I don't realize it? What if I don't follow the prophecy? Will something terrible happen to me? First of all, remember that the prophet is probably coming to you with the best of motives­ sincerely believing that it is a divine revelation. As a Christian, you should give the person the benefit of the doubt by expressing your appreciation for their interest in you. Above all, be respectful. You may look for factors to confirm the prophecy, but you are free to disregard it completely unless it is a moral decision.  

Valid prophecy will confirm what God has already told you, for His desire is to communicate with you on a one‑on‑one basis. And if the Lord gives you a word meant just for you, do not tell anyone until He gives you permission. If you believe that you have a word for another person, test your own motivations and weigh your words carefully. More often, God will give you a person's name for intercession. Immediately write down what the Holy Spirit reveals to you because sensitivity to God's voice comes from responding to Him quickly. As you intercede, ask God to guide you in follow‑up actions, such as a letter or a phone call.  

Since human psychology remains basically the same in believers and unbelievers, you could be influenced by the persuasive power of a prophet. The prophecy may be an attempt to manipulate or control. If so, you could be at the mercy of a strong‑minded person who has little or no under­standing of your problem.  

Prophet versus Counselor  

A prophet may be a pastor, evangelist, teacher, or fellow believer. Those with a prophetic gift often zero in on a person's problem or pending decision without establishing a personal relationship. Prophets purport to speak in the place of God - never asking our wishes or giving us alterna­tives. They tell exactly what the Lord wants us to do. Our resulting emotion may be uncertainty as we question, "Is this from God?"  

The test of a prophet, of course, is the accuracy of his or her predictions. The recipient of personal prophecy does not have the luxury of waiting around to see. Therefore, often out of fear, many Christians attempt to fulfill the prophetic word by marrying a particular person, moving to a new location, changing jobs, canceling a surgeon's appointment, etc. Each can be a valid choice, but God does prefer to speak to His children concerning their own personal decisions without intermediaries.  

Unlike a prophet, a counselor interacts with the people being counseled. A relationship evolves as the counselor allows us to share our feelings, circumstances, and problems. A counselor accepts us unconditionally. He or she will listen as we discuss the pros and cons of possible choices. This results in a greater confidence in our own problem‑solving ability. A Christian counselor will direct us to seek the Lord\'s will before making a decision. And a counselor will not be offended if we seek confirmation from other mature Christian counselors. How to find good counsel will be discussed at length in Chapter 8.  

In the meantime, be wary of those who offer personal prophecies. Respect the prophet but investigate their purposes and prophecies. The key word is freedom - the prophet has the freedom to prophesy, but you have the freedom to disregard the prophecy if it is off target.  

A Light Unto My Path  

"For waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advis­ers" (Prov. 24:6).   “

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said" (1 Cor. 14:29).  

"You must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20).    

Life Application: Has someone ever approached you with a prophecy concerning a personal decision? How did it make you feel? Did you seek confirmation through prayer, or consult your pastor?

Putting Out a Fleece

Key Scripture: "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (Prov. 16:33).  

The primary biblical example of putting out a fleece is found in Judges 6. There Gideon asked God for a sign on two separate occasions. Putting out a fleece is seeking knowledge of God's will through a predetermined sign. But the Bible nowhere indicates that seeking fresh guidance in that way is either healthy or normal. In fact, the practice may indicate a lack of teaching - or a lack of faith. Furthermore, those who practice fleecing seldom ask for a sign that is directly related to the decision. And the sign requested is usually not miraculous but rather mundane.  

Rev. Joseph Fowler was to speak at a prayer breakfast for Christian businessmen in his community. He had been extremely busy all week, and Friday was only two days away. Several times he had asked the Lord what his topic should be, but no answer came. Joe never bothered to jot down any notes since he knew the Lord would come through for him. By Thursday night he still had no word from the Lord. Joe prayed once more, "Lord, please give me a sign in the morning." Early Friday morning he hurried to the restaurant where the breakfast was being held. As he took his seat at the head table, several men nodded approvingly, noticing that Joe had no notes.  

By the time everyone had eaten, Joe was beginning to get nervous, for he still had not heard from the Lord. He did not have a clue concerning his topic. But as he was being introduced, he spied a picture of George Washington in the back of the room. "That's it!" he almost shouted aloud. "I'll speak on what it means to be an American." Joe began to speak, desperately trying to remember the sermon he had given on the Fourth of July. He added a few personal comments. Eyeing the clock on the wall, Joe realized he must go on. Finally, after rambling for twenty minutes, he sat down to polite applause.  

Rev. Fowler had rather carelessly shifted the responsibility to God for providing a topic as well as the exact words to say. However, God is not obligated to give supernatural direction. The minister, presumptuous in assuming that he could manipu­late God into giving him a sign, discovered that God expected him to do his part by planning ahead.  

Fleecing tries to compel God to give a quick answer and is therefore not appropriate for Christians. Those who continue the practice put God in a position to perform some sign concerning their personal future. God has plainly indicated that He guides one step at a time; yet fleecing is an attempt to take many steps at once. Still, God may honor a fleece, especially that of a young believer who asks sincerely.  

Fleecing is not to be confused with reasonable circumstantial guidance. If you think you have received supernatural guidance, ask the Lord for an indication that the guidance is from Him - but only after you have done everything possible to resolve the decision. If you have been responsible but have reached an impasse, then you are free to request a circum­stance as an indication of guidance. This is a logical next step.  

God is patient with the elementary state of our faith, yet He may allow a hard experience when we are psychologically and spiritually ready to handle it. Often He wants to wake us up or to prod us into more mature insight. Therefore we can expect adversity as a way of molding character. A trial can actually be an opportunity for growing in Christ-likeness. The result, as far as God is concerned, is spiritual strengthening.  

A Light Unto My Path  

"You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees" (Ps. 119:68).  

"To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue" (Prov. 16:1).  

"I have come to do your will. O God" (Heb. 10:7).    

Life Application: How easily we can become complacent when we know God is always there for us. And that can lead us to take unfair advantage of His guidance. How can you better plan so that you don't "Fleece" God?

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. We are more likely to experience supernatural guidance in our early Christian walk.



2. __________ guidance might come in an audible voice.



3. Revelation of moral and doctrinal truths __________ the type of guidance received by early Christians.


Was not

4. The encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus was a point of reference for Paul.



5. We can trust God to provide enlightenment to help us grow __________.



6. Gideon asked God to validate a revelation.



7. We should test the __________ of the guidance to determine if it is from God.



8. Valid guidance will align completely with biblical revelation.



9. It is __________ to ask God to provide resources to help us carry out His plan.



10. We must determine the divine versus the human origin of a visionary experience.



11. New Testament evidence suggests that prophecy for personal guidance __________ commendable.


Is not

12. Christians should look at personal prophecy concerning guidance with anticipation.



13. We should validate every personal prophecy.



14. The power of suggestion is (small, great) when following a personal prophecy.



15. Personal prophecies often contain emphatic advice about situations of which the prophet has little understanding.



16. Scripture points us away from fleecing.



17. Casting lots was popular among the (Israelites, Christians).



18. __________ is often an abdication of responsibility.



19. Circumstantial guidance and putting out a fleece are the same.



20. We should ask God for a sign unrelated to the guidance we seek.



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