God is a guiding God. All through the Bible he guides his people. He is the God of the pillar of fire and column of smoke, leading his people through the wilderness (Exodus 13:21). He is the God of the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30, Numbers 27:21, and 1 Samuel 23:9-12), a mysterious source of direct divine guidance. He guides people in New Testament times too, as seen in the Book of Acts (e.g. Philip’s and Paul’s movements in 8:26-40 and Acts 16:6-10). If our minds are renewed through God’s word (Romans 12:2); if we pray for his wisdom (Philippians 4:6); and if we submit to his commands in all our ways (Proverbs 3:6), we can be confident that he will honor his promise to make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Other people know the Bible better than we do – and perhaps they also know us better than we know ourselves. Proverbs 20:18 says “Make plans by seeking advice.” So to make significant plans without seeking advice is dangerously unwise. When asking people for advice, don’t choose flattering friends who’ll say what you want them to say (Proverbs 29:5). Ask people from different churches and different backgrounds, ask old and young, ask people who would be upset if you didn’t ask them. Proverbs 3:5-6, which speaks of God making our paths straight, is probably the most famous passage on guidance in the whole Bible. But the very next verse is relevant too: “Do not be wise in your own eyes” (3:7).
TAKE YOUR TIME
Putting the first two “takes” into practice requires time. Proverbs 21:5 says “haste leads to poverty” and hasty decision-making does so often lead to poorer outcomes than might otherwise have been the case. Sinclair Ferguson says: “God’s guidance will require patience on our part. His leading is not usually a direct assurance, a revelation, but His sovereign controlling of the circumstances of our lives, with the Word of God as our rule. It is therefore, inevitable that the unfolding of His purposes will take time – sometimes a very long time.” (I’m told that quote comes from his book Discovering God’s Will.) Attempting to short-circuit the slow unfolding of God’s purposes by impatiently making a decision is a recipe for regret in the long term.
BUT WHAT ABOUT PAST MISTAKES?
Everyone reading this post will have made bad choices in the past. We always need reminding both of God’s forgiveness and his sovereign control. Just as the genealogy leading up to the birth of Jesus includes immoral relationships (see Matthew chapter 1), so God’s plan for the world incorporates our regrets, mistakes and sins, and similarly leads towards the glorifying of his Son. There is great comfort in this – if you’re more concerned with Jesus’ splendor than with your own self.
Recommended reading: “Thou Our Guide” (a chapter on guidance in Knowing God by J.I. Packer)