Saturday night my wife had some friends over, so I took a stack of books up to my room to read, think and study. I started out thinking about our Monday night explorations of God’s will for our lives, and looking through Elisabeth Elliot’s book A Slow and Certain Light (which is now published under the unimaginative title God’s Guidance). I ended up reading the whole thing, for a second time. I was more blessed this time than the first time I read it.
I want to recommend this book for any of you who want to do more exploring of the things we’re discussing on Monday nights. Elliot lays out some foundational spiritual principles for becoming the kind of people who can hear and know God’s guidance. I’ll post some of the most helpful quotes from the book over the next few weeks, but the whole thing is worth reading.
Below I’ve given her outline with some comments. Here’s a very helpful perspective on the leading of God in our lives.
What is Promised? That God Himself will be our guide.
Sometimes, Elliot writes, we think we just need God to answer one question that’s nagging us (like, Who will I marry?)– “There is just one thing we will have to ask God for, and we hope he will not find it necessary to sort through the other things…We know what we need – a yes or no answer, please, to a simple question. Or perhaps a road sign. Something quick and easy to point the way. What we really ought to have is the Guide himself. Maps, road signs, a few useful phrases are good things, but infinitely better is someone who has been there before and knows the way.” (p.20)
““I have found in the Bible plenty of evidence that God has guided people. I find, too, assurance that he is willing to guide me. He has been at it for a long time. His hand reaches toward me. I have only to take it.” (p.26)
The Conditions: What things should we see as necessary for us to know God’s guidance? ”
- The Recognition of Who God Is. On this topic, she writes: “The first condition is the recognition of God himself. It is not who does he think I am, but who do I think he is. I confess that after many years I am still having to go back often to this, to Lesson 1 in the school of faith. I forget what I learned. I start out on false premises; who I am, what I need, why my case is special, what I’m hoping for, what I pray for, or something – anything but the thing that matters most: who God is. To learn who he is we go to the Bible. The Bible is a book about God. It tells us all we need to know about him, and it shows us how he makes himself known to human beings.” (p.30)
- Belief. “Faith means, for one thing, believing what God says.” (p.36)
- The Obedience of Faith. “It is not reasonable to ask for guidance in one matter if we are aware that in another matter we have rejected guidance already given. Let us first go back, if possible, to where we turned away. If this is no longer possible, let us confess our sin. It may often be a ‘small’ thing in which we see that we have been disobedient, while it is a ‘big’ decision that we are asking guidance for, but it is the big thing that has stopped us, brought us to attention, and forced us back to God. If he asks us then about something smaller, we are given the chance to correct it. All our problems are theological ones, William Temple said. All of them have to do with our relationship to God and his to us, and this is precisely why it makes sense to come to God with them.” (p. 52)
- The Glory of the Name
- Making a Beginning
- Prayer and Fasting. She gives this this great practical note on praying for God’s guidance: “Sometimes, to make sure I don’t forget the details [when I pray], I make a list. The necessity of recalling all the things that have any bearing on my need for guidance – the pros and cons of all the possible courses which seem open, the circumstances which look to me significant, the reasons I have for wanting one thing above another – helps me to sort out exactly what it is I am asking. And sometimes, through this sorting, I see that I ought to ask something quite different. So Paul’s advice to tell God the details may actually contain the solution. The fact that I am telling God, too, makes them look different. It casts a different light. ‘In thy light shall we see light.’ All my muddle-headed thinking before I started praying was a waste of time and only kept me in the dark.” (p.46)
- One Man’s Cross. “What is that cross? It is, I believe, the thing required of me today. ‘Let him take up his cross daily,’ Jesus said, ‘and follow me.’ Some duty lies at my doorstep right now.” (p.50)
The Objectives: If God is guiding us, where is He guiding us too? What is our destination?
- The Father’s House. “We are going in the same direction–Home.” (p.61)
- His Name’s Sake
- Help for Others
- Commitment. “Without a clear understanding of the ultimate objective, the intermediate objectives make no sense to us. ‘Why this, Lord?’ we keep asking. But if we bear in mind that we shall, beyond any doubt whatsoever, finally dwell in the house of the Lord, settle down to stay in his presence, then the intermediate pastures and waters, even the valley of the shadow or the place of dragons, are understood. They are stations and landings along the journey, and they will not last long.” (p.69)
- The Knowledge of Truth
The Means: How can we expect God to guide us?
- Supernatural Means. Elliot’s discussion of the supernatural ways (see list below) God Guides is excellent. And she includes helpful thoughts like these: “These examples are enough to illustrate what we would call the supernatural means. They may seem to us to have been used only in far-off times or faraway places, but this may be only because we ourselves are living, like the prodigal son, in a far country, trying to forget all about the Father’s house. It is much more in keeping with Christian faith and with Christian intelligence to acknowledge the possibility of miracles anywhere, anytime. But there is one thing we ought to notice about these miracles. When God guided by means of the pillar of cloud and fire, by the star of Bethlehem, by visitations of angels, by the word coming through visions and dreams and prophets and even through an insulted donkey, in most cases these were not signs that had been asked for. And when they were asked for, as in the case of Jehoshaphat and Ahab, they were not accepted. Supernatural phenomena were
given at the discretion of the divine wisdom. It is not for us to ask that God will guide us in some miraculous way. If, in his wisdom, he knows that such
means are what we need, he will surely give them.” (p.85)
Dreams and Visions
- Natural Means. This is maybe the strongest part of this strong book.
Duty. “‘Do the next thing’ is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever had.” (p.87)
Timing. “We will know when we need to, not before…I would always ask desperately to be shown God’s will but he never showed it to me until the time came. And when the time came, it was as clear as sunlight.” (p. 88)
God Calls Us by Name
Human Agents. “We ought to look first of all to those with whom we have some special relationship.” (p.95)
Gifts and Abilities. “It is a Scriptural principle that the divine energy acts upon the stuff of this world…Common things take into divine hands accomplish divine purposes.” (p.97
Our Own Frame of Reference
Advice from Friends
The Harder of Two Things
There’s a lot more, and, again, I suggest reading the whole book. I’ll be posting more extended quotes form it over the next few weeks.