‘Good ideas’ vs. the Holy Spirit’s leading

I have been learning in recent years the difference between a “good idea” and the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Sometimes we come up with something to do for ministry or otherwise that just sounds really good, or involves a perceived benefit that is consistent with scriptural principles.  But when we seek the Lord intently, His still small voice suggests a different direction.  The experience is often so surprising, that we need to pray again, and ask others with spiritual discernment to confirm it.  I have had two such experiences lately.

First, I was asked during this last school year to consider being a candidate for a spot on the board of directors of a national organization I belong to.  I was certainly honored by the invitation.  It would involve being flown to a couple meetings during the year, put up in a hotel, etc.  Moderate commitment, high honor.  Sounded like a great idea.  But as I went to the Lord in prayer, the Holy Spirit said that this opportunity would be a distraction for me, a fork in the road away from my calling.  So I politely declined, but that was hard.  I really wanted the honor and influence.

Second, this summer I had this great idea about leading a small group of former students and others in our circle of relationships.  In conjunction with the group, I was going to create a resource (small book) that would help those seeking God to understand what true relationship with God looks like.  The group was going to be awesome, with times of intimate worship, praying for each other, and sharing our hearts.  But when I went to the Lord more purposefully, He redirected me.  He gave me two specific things to be about this summer.  Neither one was to run this group.  Or write that book.

What if I had done either or both of these things?  Would the Lord have blessed them?  I don’t know.  God is constantly taking our Plan B’s and turning them back into Plan A’s, so he is gracious and merciful.  He works with us where we actually are, not where we should be in an ideal world.  So I personally believe he would have blessed both of these ventures, but to a limited extent.  In other words, I believe there would have been some fruit (good results) that would have come from both of these things.  But in the end, I believe they would have been a bit empty, leaving me wondering why God didn’t do more.  I think this is where many in ministry are at (including me): ‘why doesn’t God do more?’  I’m sure there are lots of answers to that question, but one answer may be that we are pursuing ‘good ideas’ rather than the H0ly Spirit’s leading.

In 2 Samuel chapter 7, David has a period of peace and rest, and wonders why he lives in a nice palace while the Ark of the Covenant and God’s presence among the people resides in a tent (the Tabernacle).  He wants to build a beautiful temple for the Lord.  Even the Lord’s prophet Nathan thought this to be a good idea, saying “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.”  But that night, the Lord spoke to Nathan, and told him that it was to be David’s son, Solomon, who would build a temple for the Lord.  Interesting.  It sounded like such a good idea—so good that the “man after God’s own heart” and the Lord’s anointed prophet were about to go for it.  But for God’s own purposes, He had other ideas.  And this I know, God’s purposes always work out better than our own.  And I believe we would almost always choose them if we could see with His eyes.  But since we can’t, we must seek and trust.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

As a man prays

“As a man prays, so is he.” -A.W. Tozer.

Came across this quote from Tozer.  Powerful.  I need to pray.   (HT: Campus Crusade for Christ, Jesus Film project.)

The rest of the story…

I had the great privilege and honor to be the speaker at Senior Honors Night last Friday night.  I was chosen by the seniors of the student government at Los Altos.  I have been somewhat overwhelmed by the response to the message.

In my speech, I talked about how what’s important tends to get lost in the platitudes of graduation time.  Seniors need to know how real life goes, and real life doesn’t always go according to plan.  I shared about our own trials with losing our son and with my wife’s cancer.  My main point was that material success can’t be counted on, can be lost, and won’t satisfy.  What we all really need is to learn to love.  But what is love?  Is it that emotion we feel at graduation or when we are “falling in love.”  No, that is merely an aroma of it. I told the story of Robert McQuilken as an example of real love (click to get his story).  Real love involves choosing to love even when it’s hard and we don’t feel like it.  Our world is desperate for this kind of enduring, committed, beautiful love that can transform our relationships, our careers, our very lives.  Everything else in this world can be taken from us, but what we do for love remains.

I was immediately caught off guard by the response of the audience.  I was humbled and a bit embarrassed.  Not to mention the fact that I was really sick and had to duck out early.

But since then my heart has been a bit heavy.  Because I was not able (because this is, after all, a public school) to give the rest of the story.

The rest of the story is that we, in the natural, probably cannot love like Robert McQuilken.  We cannot give out that which we have not received.  What enables someone to sacrificially put others’ needs before their own without getting their needs met in return? I believe it can only be done when one has been changed by and is secure in God’s love.  The Father fills us with his love (Romans 5:5).  And the only way to access God’s love is through relationship with Christ.  Once we are “in Christ,” we have access to the resources through the Holy Spirit that enable us to live this kind of life.  Of course, not all Christians seek this to the extent that they are changed much.  But in those that do, healing, beauty, and love can flow like streams of living water.

Without God’s love filling us and it overflowing out onto others, attempts to love others sacrificially usually devolve into codependence–the need to be needed, the living out of one’s identity as a slave to others, the martyr complex.  This kind of life breeds bitterness and resentment.  “Why don’t they appreciate all I have done for them! I’ve given up everything for them!”  Codependents seek to get life by giving themselves up for others, rather than finding life in the heart of the Father.  We cannot ultimately get life through other people, but we can experience the life we get from the Father with other people, and that is what makes our joy complete. When we are tranformed by the Father’s love, the people around us become wonders rather than curses.

So if you really want to love well and get to actually eat the double-double (inside joke from my speech), pursue God and all He has for you.  Everything else will leave you wanting and will not remain.

Providentially, my pastor preached on being found in God’s love just this Sunday.  What a perfect part II to my speech.  Listen here.

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