Thursday, April 11, 2013

J I Packer and Mistakes We Make in Seeking God's Guidance

I'd have to say that J I Packer is my long-time favourite Christian writer and teacher. Always one of the first people I'll check with if I can. And one of his most classic books I've had for a long time, and known about for longer, is Knowing God. But of course, I've never read it cover to cover :O! So today I was doing some more dipping into it, and read some of the stuff about discerning God's will, or getting guidance from God. I'm sure I've never read it before, but even more certainly there is great stuff to read there, lots of sound wisdom. Here is a section he wrote about "Six Common Pitfalls", or mistakes we often make as Christians, when trying to seek and follow God's will for our lives...
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. 
[Source: Knowing God with Study Guide (1993), pp269-271.] 

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