If we understand why we have callings that’s wonderful, but for many, if not most of us, we then wonder, how do I know what good works God has called me to? How do I learn to listen to his guidance?
There is a great lecture from the Alpha program called “How does God guide us?” that lays out a simple road map for listening. They call it the 5 CS’s and I find them very useful when faced with questions and decisions.
- Commanding Scripture
- Compelling Spirit
- Common Sense
- Counsel of the Saints
- Circumstantial signs
As Nicky Gumbel, the Alpha speaker rightly points out, we don’t have to “wonder” if we should do something that the Bible already specifically says we should do, such as being patient, gentle and humble (Ephesians 4:2). If you feel called to something specific which isn’t necessarily a general command the Bible, ask yourself if it is in line with the Bible’s teaching. Will it promote truth and love?
I think many of us experience the prompting of the Holy Spirit long before we realize it is the Spirit. To me, this really ties in to how God can use our desires to draw us to Him. With this one, we need to test the voice we’re hearing to make sure it is God’s voice and not our own egos or someone else’s.
I love this one. Apparently John Stott once wrote, “God’s promises of guidance were not given to save us the problem of thinking” (I found this on someone else’s blog so haven’t checked sources myself). Checking your brain at the door is the last thing you should do when you’re trying to discern your calling or make a decision. Weighing options and considering pros and cons are important steps to take. The tough thing here is that the world’s common sense may look very different than what is actually common sense. It may seem like common sense to overwork yourself in order to earn a lot of money but if it compromises your health and your relationships, it isn’t.
Counsel of the Saints
Ask the advice of people you trust – people who know you well. Advisors help plans succeed (Proverbs 15:22). Balance is required here too. We do not want to rely solely on someone else for our direction – it could be a form of spiritual laziness to depend entirely on what someone else thinks is good for you, rather than going through the process of trying to listen and discern for yourself. In the end, others cannot make decisions for you.
These “coincidences” or other signs that line up to show us the right way to go, should be viewed more like whipped cream or the icing on the cake. The extra confirmation is nice to have and can be very reassuring, but we should not be guided solely by these.
All five of the CSs work together and I think it’s good to be aware of these because God speaks in many ways. At the same time, I want to emphasize that knowing the Bible inside out is one of the surest ways of learning to hear God’s voice. When we spend time learning the words he has already provided to us, we will better recognize his voice when he does speak through other avenues.
I have to admit, I have never been good at keeping a regular time of reading the Bible. It has sounded like a chore for most of my life. There have been patches in my life where I’ve read huge swaths in a sudden spurt of interest and need. There have also been long expanses where I’ve relied too heavily on what I have already learned, instead of continuing to read. When you’re a missionary kid who grew up in the church, with Bible class at school and countless Bible studies and small groups, you can start to think you know the Bible well enough. But I keep realizing that the Bible is the living word of God and there are always new things to learn from it as we pass through new and different experiences in our lives. As I’ve delved into this project of studying the concept of calling, I am drawn to the Bible in a new way because it has so much to say about work, desires, calling, gifts and our attitudes and motives. I am enjoying the study of the Bible in light of this new interest.
In some ways, it feels like I’ve had the training manual my whole life and yet only now see the bigger purpose in it. As if I had been an athlete this long already without knowing what sport I was practicing for. I was told to live by the training manual, to learn the rules, follow the guidelines for the reward. People told me it was the best training manual to live by and it was easy to see that too. So I mostly lived by it and understood its usefulness and believed in its ability to train me into a great athlete but it was hard to maintain motivation when I didn’t know what it was all for, like an athlete continually practicing, wondering when there will be a competition.
Reading John Ortberg’s book God is Closer than You Think, he writes that often we think we’re saved for heaven someday, not for the here and now. We’re told this is how we should live on earth so that we please God and ensure our spot in Heaven. But the training manual is for today and the WHY is clear. God has assigned each athlete on the team a task, the training we’ve been doing will help us accomplish it. Suddenly the manual is so much more important, and listening to the coach is much more necessary. We’re not just putting in time at the gym in this life, we’re supposed to be running some races.
Understanding calling is like understanding that I’m actually training for something in this life, not just training so that I’m in shape when God returns.
Obviously, the Bible is so much more than this rather poor training manual analogy, but I’ve used it because that is what is resonating with me right now – the need to dig into it because I want its direction for the task at hand.
What is your experience with looking for guidance? Have the 5 CSs played a role? Has your understanding and relationship to the Bible changed over time?